In the vast panorama of dowsing, we each find ourselves ploughing a furrow of our own making. Some search for water, others for lost objects, some explore the philosophy of the dowsing dimension, while yet others aid the spiritually trapped on their timeless journey. Alan Neal, on the other hand, has specialised in the niche field of remanence, tracing the residual energy left by those who have lived, loved - and committed the odd murder - across the ages.
In the Spring of 1844, a teenage serving girl was savagely killed in the shadow of Roughtor on Bodmin Moor. In the days before forensic evidence and autopsies, let alone CCTV, it was an open and shut case.
Charlotte Dymond was just 18 years old. Her boyfriend of two years was one Matthew Weekes, who came from a village several miles away - an outsider. Charlotte and Matthew were seen walking out onto the moor one Sunday. Charlotte was found dead. Matthew left the scene without warning and and was discovered at his sister’s house in Plymouth. It was such an obvious set of circumstances that a local subscription raised sufficient funds to erect a huge memorial to the hapless Charlotte - a memorial that to this day is emblazoned with the words ‘murdered by Matthew Weekes’ - and at that point the alarm bells start to ring.
The sightings of Charlotte and Matthew on the fateful day were few and inconsistent. Matthew had made enemies of some of the locals - and Charlotte had other potential suitors. The village closed ranks resolutely around the obvious plot. Compared to the way a crime is investigated in the 21st century, the solid evidence against Matthew was minimal, yet he was all-but-condemned before his perfunctory trial. Sherlock Holmes would have had a field day - Alan Neal certainly has.
So where does dowsing fit into this doubtful conviction that led to the hanging of the aforementioned Matthew, and his subsequent burial in the coal yard of Bodmin jail?
Just as you can trace the footsteps of your wife, who has walked across the hallway a few minutes beforehand - or you can follow the processional route taken by a pagan priest carrying out his duties, before the dawn of recorded history - if your concentration and visualisation are good enough, and your motives are pure enough, you can find the remanence of selected members of a Cornish farming community as it went about its business on Sunday April 14th 1844.
Alan has traced them - over and over again. Charlotte and Matthew walk from Penhale to the Moor Gate conversing in an animated fashion, walking a few strides apart. It seems that all was not well between them. But at Moor Gate the trace of Matthew breaks away to the right and follows an uncertain path along the old road to Hallworthy. Charlotte continues out onto the moor where, a few days later, she was found with her throat cut and minus various items of clothing.
Alan has sought out the route of the murderer. The remanence is not that of Matthew, who may well have been no more than a jilted young lover, too proud to go home and face the embarrassment in a close-knit community. Alan has identified the footsteps of the real villain; has noted where his path crosses that of Charlotte; has studied how they seem to interact and how they tussle by the stream at Roughtor Ford.
Dowsing for the location of a brutal murder is as straightforward as finding flowing water under a bridge over a river. The energy of the event remains strong, and lingers long after the participants themselves have departed.
The assailant’s tracks go back to the village, poor Charlotte’s come to an abrupt halt.
There are a number of possible suspects - various local men with a score to settle or a secret to hide. Alan has his views on who really did do it, but it is left to us, the jury from the distant future, to work it through for ourselves.
What we can be sure of is that the remanence that still makes its way disconsolately down the Hallworthy road is not that of the murderer - just that of someone who still, officially, carries the can.
Without the over- emphasis on the memorial, the real killer might have got away with it for all time – well at least in this life. But the misdeeds of the past have a habit of coming back to bite you in ways you can barely imagine – and it is a bit sobering to think that some third millennium Alan Neal might one day be trawling over my own misdemeanours.
Dowsing has as many roles as there are diviners in the field, but perhaps one of its most pertinent purposes is in exposing the truth about times gone by. Whatever the media spin or the touched-up camera shot may imply, in the hands of the conscientious dowser, the rods and the pendulum don’t lie.
There are those who have felt the endless frustration of Charlotte and Matthew, aching for justice so far off in time. Just as the healer can rebalance the energy of the infirm and the earth energy dowser can dissipate the impact of negative forces, so the release of the truth from the locked cupboard of history can expose and redress the ill deeds of the past and let us all move forward.
My thanks to Alan Neal for sharing with us his passion for the cause of Matthew and Charlotte - at a distance of 163 years. If he ever gets into the JFK assassination, we may have to adjourn the TDs to Dallas!
Alan’s book Dowsing in Devon and Cornwall Bossiney Books ISBN 1-889383-39-5 describes the mystery, and Alan’s investigation of it, in greater detail.
Many thanks too to all those who, once again, helped to organise the hall and serve the refreshments. This has been a cracking set of winter talks and we very much hope to be back at the very welcoming North Hill Village Hall at the end of the year.