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Campden Wonder

Campden Wonder. Perhaps the most baffling of all historical mysteries. In August 1660 William Harrison, an elderly rent-collector in the small market town of Chipping Campden, disappeared. When a bloodstained hat was found, it was presumed that he had been murdered. A local youth, John Perry, confessed that he had helped his brother and mother to kill Harrison, and all three were duly hanged. Two years later Harrison reappeared and resumed a placid life. His explanation was that he had been kidnapped, sold as a slave to a Turkish physician near Smyrna, and released as a favour. Why the youth confessed is a matter for abnormal psychology and, though false confessions to murders are not uncommon, confessions to false murders are rather rare. The absurdity of Harrison's story—70-year-old rent-collectors are not normally much sought after for the white slave traffic—suggests that it might be true, since it would not have been difficult to invent a more plausible explanation. One obvious answer, that the whole tale was made up by Sir Thomas Overbury, the local gentleman who first published it in 1676, is contradicted by the fact that Anthony à Wood at Oxford on 6 August 1662 had heard and noted that ‘Mr. Harrison, supposed to be murdered two years ago, came out of Turkey to his home in the country.’

J. A. Cannon

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