The quiet country village of Clapham lies just a few miles north of the seaside town of Worthing, nestled in the rolling Downs of West Sussex. Almost the archetypal English village, Clapham consists of a single street, named, appropriately enough, ‘The Street’ - a single long dead-end road coming off the A280, a few dozen homes, a post office and a village shop. Its only significant landmark is its 12th-century church, Church of St Mary the Virgin, located on a hill to the north of the village, behind which lies Clapham Wood – a stretch of woodland criss-crossed by public footpaths and popular with dog-walkers and ramblers.

Historically, the village would appear to have existed in some form or another since at least Saxon times, although its exact site has probably moved on more than one occasion. For some 300 years, the manor of Clapham was held by the Shelley’s – the family of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Clapham is mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086, where it is spelled Clopeham. The woods around the area made it an ideal location for the gathering of wood for timber and firewood, and led to the first Saxon settlements in the area.

Four deaths have occurred either in or close to the woods and have since become part of the lore surrounding it…..
The first such case was that of Police Constable Peter Goldsmith in 1972. Goldsmith, 46, was a former Royal Marine Commando and an experienced rambler who was in excellent physical condition. He was last seen in June that year, walking across the Downs and carrying a large holdall. His body was found six months later, hidden in a patch of thick bramble.

In August 1975, pensioner Leon Foster was found in the woods, by a couple searching for a lost horse, three weeks after his wife had reported him missing. And then the Reverend Harry Neil Snelling – the retired vicar of Clapham Parish – disappeared on All Hallow’s Eve in 1978 while returning home across the Downs from a dental appointment in Goring; his body was eventually found three years later by a Canadian tourist, who only informed the police of his discovery after he had left the country.

The murdered woman was Miss Jillian Matthews – a 37-year-old divorcee and a homeless schizophrenic, who went missing in September 1981. Her body was discovered six weeks later in a state of partial undress, having been raped and strangled. No one was ever charged with her murder.

It wasn’t until 1987, however, that anyone offered an explanation that attempted to tie these disparate events together. In their book The Demonic Connection, Toyne Newton, Charles Walker and Alan Brown alleged that the woods were being used for rituals by a Satanic cult calling itself the ‘Friends of Hecate’. Hecate is the triple-headed Goddess of the Greek underworld, and a central figure in modern Wicca.