The year was 1763 [or 1768 according to some sources], and most people in the quiet Somerset town of Shepton Mallet had not a very high opinion of the aged resident who sat for hours at the door of his cottage and gossiped to all who would pass by and listen about his exploits, or misdeeds would be the better description. The locals were not sure whether all the tales that Owen Parfitt told were true, but if even a fraction of them were, then he had lived a rather bad life, and so when he disappeared, there were those who thought that the Devil had come along to take Owen body and soul into Hell.
Owen was a resident of the Somerset town, in South West England. Once apprenticed to a tailor, he disliked the quiet life of stitching and cutting, and he yearned for adventure and more money than could be gained by honest toil.So one day the young Owen simply did not arrive for work, and later there came a message that he had enlisted with the king's forces. He is not known in Royal Naval records, so a privateer seems to have been his chosen path, and for years he simply disappeared from the town's consciousness. Privateers were pirates licensed to rob only the sovereign's enemies. However, in the 1760s he returned, obviously a sick man, crippled by serious arthritis, announcing that he wanted to live out his life in the town and restart his work as a tailor.
Owen's elder sister, known as Old Susannah, must have been a dutiful sister, as she gave a home to the decrepit old man and tended him,even though she was herself twenty years older than Owen, which places her in her eighties. She and a local woman, Susannah Snook,used to to help the old man to bed at nights and get him up in the mornings.
Owen used to sit at his door in summer, talking to passers by who bothered to listen, and his tales were choice! He had been a pirate, a smuggler and dabbled in black magic in America, Africa, India and the Caribbean, and had enjoyed the attentions of many women, though he had never married. Many people thought that he might be spinning the tales, but he had the physique for a pirate and if only part of his repertoire of tales were true, then his life had not been lived well.
Then one day in June 1763 he had been left at his door, propped up on his great coat, some say wrapped in it, when the women who cared for him went off on their chores. At bed time when Susannah Snook came to help Old Susannah put Owen to bed he had gone. The puzzle is that he was barely able to walk and had no means of transport, had made no noise to speak of and the witnesses, a group of farm workers getting some hayricks ready against a coming storm, had seen and heard nothing. Despite searches Owen was never found and no satisfactory account of his disappearance has ever been given.
Oneoflokis 's reasonings are very well thought out and of course we will never know for sure. Frank's attention to detail is excellent as always.
You know; I've read this story in many "mysteries of" books over the years, and I've always thought, that well, maybe it was a gang of bodysnatchers that stole him away? Like Burke and Hare? Wrong area; right date for the practice...
Though a gang of irate criminals/vigilantes is also of course possible...
But whoever took him away must have meant to kill him; for a man that old wouldn't be any use to slavers...
Anyway: a good and well-researched article: with lots more detail in than Colin Wilson's book chapter! 😃
That's a pretty accurate observation, to my mind.
Fascinating mystery! I guess the clearest part is that the man met his death, probably not by his own choice. It certainly seems likely that some of the local people were involved, or at least aware of something and chose not to tell.
Tornadoes are known in South West Britain,but there is no mention of one that day. Disposal of the body at sea is a good theory, as the sea is not far away from where the disappearance happened. but there are three methods of disposing of a body without trace that are available in agricultural communities, but I don't think that Wizzley's owners would want me to show people how to dispose of murdered bodies on their pages. There are also caves in the region where a body could have been dumped.
Interesting tale. Perhaps he was taken out to sea and disposed of elsewhere. If his tales were close enough to being true he might have been wanted by those others who were double crossed. Yet another possibility comes to mind. In North America we have storms called tornadoes, and the are capable of pulling people, cows, and even vehicles up into the cloud and depositing them miles away, often in damaged condition. They are not known so much in Europe, but the cloud forms around an uprising, low pressure, with strong winds. They are like large vacuum cleaners. Or, I did notice the farmers were preparing for a storm, and they might well have taken shelter during the storm. If he was taken by people the wind could have drowned out any noise, and the rain shielded view. Nature or men, the storm may be the clue.
Owen was building up a bad reputation, so there could be a number of reasons why some people wanted to kill him.
They were simple and superstitious folk. If he sat at the gate talking Chinese and doing magic tricks it would be natural for them to think he was doing black magic and witchcraft. Witchcraft trials were within living memory for some in England around this time. The last one was in 1712.
We may find a link between the girl's skeleton and Parfitt's sudden disappearance to sail the world as a privateer. As the remains were found in a house belonging to his cousin, with whom he had a relationship, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Parfitt was behind her death or involved with it somehow, and so decided to run. Who knows? He returns years later, thinking himself safe, but could an accomplice have unburdened his own conscience before he died and named Parfitt? Then the vengeful family of the dead girl would have sought Parfitt out. None will ever know.