The Clapham Wood Mystery is the name given to a collection of unusual events which are associated with Clapham Wood, West Sussex, England, resulting in the area developing its own lore in popular culture. Events have included reports of people making unusual sights or experiencing unusual phenomona, and of family pets disappearing or sickening. There have also been several human deaths associated with the location.
Since the 1960s the area has experienced a rash of UFO sightings, reports of people experiencing nausea or the sensation of being pushed by unseen forces, or of witnessing patches of strange grey mist developing suddenly on pathways through the woods. Some people have also reported a strong sense of being followed. Studies with a gieger counter have revealed slightly elevated levels of background radiation in the area, which is surprising since the area is situated on chalk which is normally low in radiation due to a lower level of Potassium 40. Early photographs of the area appear to show a large crater or depression within the woods, although the area is now more heavily forested and difficult to search.
In 1975, several reports, including some in the national press, were made of pets going missing in the area. Initially, two dogs were said to have disappeared without a trace, a third to have vanished but later reappeared suffering from an unidentified illness for which it had to be euthanised. After news of these three cases became public, other dog owners came forward claiming that their pets had experienced agitation in the woods, or had become inexplicably aggressive.
Four deaths have occurred either in or close to the woods and have since become part of the lore surrounding it. The first death was in June 1972 when police officer Peter Goldsmith disappeared while hiking in the region. His body was discovered 6 months later. The second death was that of Leon Foster whose body was discovered in August 1975. He had been missing for 3 weeks. The third death was of Reverend Harry Neil Snelling, the former vicar of Clapham. He disappeared in October 1978 and his body was not found until 3 years later. English coroners ruled open verdicts in all three cases. Tim Withers was jailed for all four murders after he was found guilty. In September 1981, Jillian Matthews - a homeless schizophrenic - disappeared. Her body was discovered 6 weeks later. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
In their 1987 book The Demonic Connection Toyne Newton, Charles Walker and Alan Brown claimed that Clapham Wood had been used by a satanic cult called the Friends of Hecate (FoH). Part of the book dealt with an incident in 1978 when Charles Walker is said to have been contacted by an initiate of the group, who claimed that it was responsible for the sacrificial slaughter of dogs and other animals. The man said that the FoH planned to use the wood for at least another decade before finding other locations, and he claimed that people in high places were involved, and would tolerate no interference in the group's activities. Walker claimed that the cult was later forced to leave the area due to a combination of press attention and a storm, known as Great Storm of 1987, which damaged large tracts of the wood the year that the book was published.