The Cumar Killings: Return of Nodens

Since the fateful year of 1966 when detective Owen Clarke foiled Alan Rhys, Owen moved quietly to the Welsh countryside. He married and lived with his wife Lily on a farm. The victims of Rhys coped with their traumatic experiences in different ways. Stewart and Amanda Tindle lived with their loving grandparents. Though both children suffered recurring nightmares, they eventually resumed a normal pattern of life. They became, for the most part, ordinary teenagers.

Reagan Jones, who had been four when she and her family were kidnapped, was eventually taken from her relatives and moved to an orphanage due to reports of drug abuse. Reagan was changed from her time as Rhys’s prisoner. She spoke to no one, suffered terrible nightmares, and ate little. As she grew up, it became clear to her caretakers that she would never outgrow her trauma.

Caitlin MacDonell fared the worst. She moved back to Glasgow and attempted to pick up the threads of her old life. However, she failed to hold down a job and changed boyfriends just as frequently. She took to drinking heavily to cope. Eventually she moved to America and was last seen with a group of hippies in rural Oregon.

Owen tended to his farm and did investigative consulting work on the side, helping PIs and greenhorn police officers with difficult cases. Though never forgetting the Rhys case, Owen had put it behind him. He was content to have caught the man and freed his victims. The island of Anglesey returned to its former state of slow, rural life without the disruption of kidnappings, fires, and police sirens. The locals happily shunned the memory of Alan Rhys.

So when on January 1, 1970, locals discovered a strange monument on the summit of Y Gwrach, people wanted to believe it was the work of local hooligans having fun. The monument was wicker covered in yew bark. It was shaped in the likeness of an elongated human figure with antlers. The statue was very abstract in style, and many observers though it was horribly made. In his long, crude fingers, the statue held a torc and a stone.

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Supposed photograph of the monument shortly before police intervention

Police quickly took the monument down and blamed it on kids pulling a New Year’s prank. However, the rumor did start to circulate around the island that it was a sign that Alan Rhys’s vengeance was coming. Rhys had at this point been in the grave four years. To those paying attention, the next few months were a time of suspense as they waited with held breath for the first strike.

When a break-in was reported in Cumar, no one panicked. Though unusual on the rural island, no one was alarmed. Initially anyway. When police arrived at the house of Catherine Llewelyn, they found a first-floor window had been smashed from the outside. Catherine herself was nowhere to be found. The neighbors who made the call said they heard the window shatter and saw movement inside the house. They were unaware Catherine was missing and were sure she had been home. Catherine’s bedcovers were thrown back, as if to suggest Catherine had leapt out of bed in a hurry. Yet there was nothing to indicate a struggle has taken place.

Police investigators thought that someone or something had broken Catherine’s downstair window. Catherine, who was nearing 70 and lived alone, was probably so frightened that she fled from her house and got lost or had been met by an accident in the dark woods around her house.

Those islanders who remembered Alan Rhys knew that Catherine Llewelyn had been critical in turning him in. In pubs and around dinner tables, the people of Cumar and Anglesey whispered of Rhys’s return from beyond the grave. Who was next—or if anyone would be next—was anyone’s guess.

Soon on the heels of Catherine’s disappearance, five more people disappeared from their homes around the island in the span of a three weeks. The scene was always the same: a downstairs window or door smashed open and the victim gone without a trace.

The police realized quickly that these people were being kidnapped—six people vanishing from their homes in the middle of the night was too much of a coincidence. No trace of the culprit was ever found. They were clearly dealing with an expert body-snatcher.

Over the next month, ten more people went missing from their homes. The victims all lived in different towns across the island—though three were from Cumar. The only connection between the cases aside from the same crime scene was that they all happened around or during the full moon.

Fear of Alan Rhys’s wrathful ghost swept through the countryside. The North Wales police department kept the news from spreading to the mainland, though Anglesey newspapers ran headlines declaring Rhys’s vengeance.

After three months of increasing numbers of disappearances, the police were at a loss. The third full moon since Catherine had seen more than a dozen people go missing from their homes. Panic threatened to take hold of the island’s population. A small breakthrough happened when investigators found a human femur in a gully near Y Gwrach. However, they were unable to determine who the femur belonged to.

The chief constable for North Wales decided they needed all the help they could get. So he called on the man who had brought Alan Rhys down: Owen Clarke. You may recall that Clarke had been forced to resign after he caught Alan Rhys.

Owen heard the phone ring late one Friday evening. He said when interviewed later that he got a gut feeling what the call was about as he was walking toward the phone. He answered and heard the familiar voice of Matthew Dulvey, chief constable of North Wales and his former boss. After hearing the situation in Anglesey, Owen hung up the phone, put on his coat, kissed his wife goodbye, and drove to Colwyn Bay on the north coast of the country. Owen was debriefed in person by Dulvey and signed on as a private investigator.

Clarke confessed later that he had mixed feelings about the case:

“The minute I heard about the break-ins, the kidnappings, and the peculiar nature of it all, I knew I had to help somehow. It all felt connected to Rhys. I don’t know how: the man was dead; I watched him hang. But maybe he had accomplices. The whole Rhys case left us with a lot of unanswered questions. Of course this meant that I had to work for the same men who had fired me. But I swallowed any resentment I had and focused on the task at hand.”

Owen Clarke returned to Anglesey in midsummer 1970. He immediately got to work. All the disappearances were marked on a map of the island. Owen wracked his brains, trying to see a pattern in it all. While he worked, another full moon came and went, bringing with it another round of missing persons. These were added as new dots on the map.

That’s when a a revelation struck Owen. He noticed where the disappearances were not. The coastline was for the most part not affected. An idea started to form, though it was still foggy. Owen had another revelation. All the people were taken from their homes at night. No vehicles were ever spotted anywhere near the targeted homes, meaning the culprits traveled at least some distance on foot.

Owen calculated where someone could hide, yet still reach all the affected towns in a night’s journey. He drew a circle on the map several miles in diameter. Y Gwrach sat very close to the middle of the circle. It wasn’t an exact measurement, nor was this theory conclusive, but given its history, Owen knew he had to check out the strange mountain. He would at least be able to rule it out as a place of interest.

Another pattern was made clear to Owen. The kidnappings had no motive other than the act itself. The victims ranged widely in age, gender, and location. Even the time between kidnapping was random. Sometimes it was a day, sometimes five, between kidnappings. Sometimes there were two on the same night. It seemed to Owen rather like a predator randomly picking off any prey it thought would make an easy kill.

Owen went with twenty police officers and dogs to Y Gwrach during the next full moon. Every other available officer patrolled the island or waited at the entrances of affected towns. Owen and the police scoured the mountain as clouds gathered overhead. Rain fell from the clouds in torrents. The police told Owen to call off the search. He refused and continued to look for any sort of clue.

Then something strange happened. Owen said it best in his interview:

“I can’t tell you what happened exactly, but when the clouds parted for a moment, revealing the full disc of the moon, I looked down from my perch and saw a cave down below. I swore there hadn’t been a cave there when I had climbed up. I hunched over to shield my map from the rain and shined my flashlight down on it. There were only two caves on the map, and they were both on the other side of the hill. I decided to go down and check it out. Who knows, maybe our culprit was hiding in there?”

“I entered the cave and was glad to be out of the rain. I shone my flashlight around. It was a deep cave, unlike the others, and I couldn’t see the back. This kept going down in the Witch’s guts. I walked further and further in. I quickly figured there was nothing in there, but I had to make a thorough check, just to satisfy my own curiosity.”

“Well, maybe a dozen yards in, this stench hits me like a slap to the nose. It was like a rotting corpse, but so much stronger. Like a whole room of rotting corpses in the middle of a hot summer. I knew something was in the cave. I turned a corner into a larger opening and then I see it: a mass of gray and white flesh. I thought for a second it was some dead animal, but then I noticed it was moving up and down. Then I saw the blue eyes staring at me out of the shadows.”

“It was some kind of hideous giant thing, like something from a child’s fairy tale. I can’t say—even now after all these years—what it was. Though there was something in the eyes that reminded me of Rhys. However, I don’t remember Rhys looking like that. Nor smelling that bad.”

Owen confronted this monstrosity, the strangeness of which froze Owen where he stood. The thing was hunched over because of the low ceiling, but was probably eight feet tall or more when fully erect. After his mind had enough time to process what he was seeing, Owen drew his revolver and opened fire. Owen claims to have emptied his gun into the creature, yet his bullets only had the effect of making the creature angry.

The thing let our an ear-splitting howl. Owen had to drop his gun to cover his ears. Then the huge, gray hands shot out and grabbed Owen. They flung him around the cave. Owen hit the wall, breaking some ribs. As he lay on the ground, a fist came down and smashed his head against the ground. Blood ran down Owen’s face.

The giant towered over him now. The white lips opened to reveal slab-like teeth which descended toward Owen. Owen reached out and grabbed something hard. When he held it up he saw it was a skeletal human forearm. Owen jammed the bone in the open mouth. As the creature reeled back, Owen crawled desperately for the cave opening.

A hand shot out and grabbed his ankle. Owen reached out, grabbed his flashlight from where it lay, and shone the beam right in the creature’s eyes. The giant reared back and howled once more. This gave Owen enough time to crawl out of the cave and into the torrential downpour.

He was found the next morning in a delirious state in a thickly-forested gulch. Owen Clarke was taken to Colwyn Bay for medical care. When he regained consciousness, Owen babbled about the monster he had found inside Y Gwrach. His superiors feared he had suffered some kind of schizophrenic episode and kept him confined in the hospital. His mentally stability had already been questioned by some after how he handled the Rhys investigation.

Owen spent two weeks in and out of consciousness as surgeons drained fluid from his head and set his broken ribs.

In Owen’s absence, Anglesey was at the giant’s mercy. More and more people—now near a hundred total—were yanked from their homes. Thunderstorms drenched the island with rising ferocity. Cows and sheep were found mauled to dead in fields. The island’s medical offices were filled with people troubled by insomnia and night terrors.

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One of many mutilated cattle

Most of these visions shared a common element: a terrifying, antlered figure with blue eyes who attacked dreamers and demeaned their obedience.

After a month and two weeks in the hospital, Owen Clarke decided he’d had enough. He knew what was happening at Anglesey: the severe storms were reported in the local news. Owen checked out of the hospital and drove to his house, where he picked up his Remington shotgun. Then he drove all the way down to the Tower Colliery in southern Wales. His father had worked there and Owen still had family friends there.

As arranged, an old friend left three sticks of dynamite in a place where Owen could find them. Owen then went all the way back to Cumar. He waited a week until the next full moon. He stayed in an inn under a false name. The police had not given him permission to leave the hospital, so Owen had to be incognito. When the full moon rolled around, Owen returned to Y Gwrach.

When he reached the summit, Owen walked past the frog pool. Something glittering under the water made him stop. He looked closer. There, lying at the bottom of the pond was a sword, shining like silver. In all his previous times climbing up and down the hill, Owen had never seen the sword. He wondered if it too was revealed in the full moon.

Owen waded in to retrieve the sword. Owen later said that, “I don’t know what made me stop at that moment to pull out the sword. Maybe I’d been too fascinated by King Arthur as a child. Maybe God told me that I needed the sword to defeat that monster in the cave.”

Owen climbed down the east slope of the hill. There was the cave in the moonlight. Owen walked inside, shotgun in hand, the sword tucked through his belt. The giant with Alan Rhys’s blue eyes was waiting for him. When Owen turned the corner, a gray fist and the reek of death rushed at him. He ducked, firing his shotgun. The creature recoiled, yet the blast had not damaged it visibly. Rolling to avoid more blows, Owen fired blast after blast, aiming for the eyes. At last, the monster howled as it shielded its eyes. Owen dropped the gun, pulled the sword out, and ran the thing through the chest.

The giant roared in pain as black blood showered Owen. The creature tried to rise and grabbed Owen, but he rammed the sword in deeper and then leapt back. Owen ran to the cave mouth, lit the three sticks of dynamite, and tossed them at the approaching giant. When Owen turned to run, his half-healed ribs sent pain shooting through his side. Owen flinched and stumbled. The blast picked him up and threw him into the air.

Owen landed hard, breaking a leg. his left eardrum had ruptured and his left side was covered in burns. gritting his teeth against the pain, Owen looked up the mountain. The cave was gone. Tumbled rocks stood in a heap where it had been. Owen limped to his car and drove back to the hospital.

Clarke later said concerning the giant:

“I don’t know who or what it was. I still don’t, not to this day. And I can’t say I want to know. It wasn’t a man that’s for sure. It looked like a great big corpse with sharp blue eyes. Whether it was Alan brought back by some trick or that god of his—Nodens I think—I don’t know. I’m just glad it’s gone. It was unnatural.”

The storms, the visions, the kidnappings, all of it stopped that night. The police officially blamed the storms on a freak occurrence and the kidnappings on hooligans, who had been killed in a shootout with the police. The shared nightmares were silently swept under the rug. Owen was publicly commended for his actions. When he told his side of the story to police officials, Owen was ordered never to speak of it to anyone.

Owen Clarke passed away in 2017 at the age of 89. He died peacefully in the company of his loving family. Months before his death, he told a select group of friends and family his side of the Alan Rhys affair. These friends and family later told us about Owen Clarke’s incredible story.

The cave where the creature lived was never found. The case was quickly buried. With the death of the giant, the specter of Alan Rhys lifted for good. Anglesey became a sleepy little island again. And the town of Cumar a sleepy little town.

The only “loose end” to this story is Caitlin MacDonell’s child, which was conceived during her time as Rhys’s captive. No matter how much digging I did, I couldn’t find so much as a rumor about it. What orphanage it was sent to, its gender, or who—if anyone—adopted it is unknown. Somewhere out there, the child of Nodens’ promise lives on. Perhaps they don’t even know the incredible circumstances to which it was born.

Just this year, in 2018, someone bought the house of Alan Rhys. The thing at this point was a ruin. A legal liaison came to the town council of Cumar and offered them a generous deal. The liaison never disclosed who he represented.

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Alan Rhys’s house circa 1995

My theory is that perhaps it is Caitlin’s child who bought the house. If this is true, why he or she did so is a mystery. Surely it can’t be a sentimental wish to preserve the place of their conception. Any plans they have for Rhys’s old home will be posted later if they occur.

For now, the infamous “Cumar Killings” are finished. Case closed. They were Wales’s strangest string of crimes, yet no one today knows about them. Even the natives of Anglesey never speak of Rhys or Clarke.

Like the giant in the cave, the Cumar Killings have been buried, forgotten. For now.

Haber Forest Raptor

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Forests have long been breeding grounds for frightful tales. And no wonder. The trees that press close, the thick canopy that casts an all-day shadow, the hush that settles over everything, the snap of a twig nearby, and the ease with which travelers loose their way make forests alien places. Like the fathomless sea, we cannot see its deepest heart. And like the sea, sometimes monsters rise from their depths.

Haber Forest in Alberta, Canada has been home to supposed monster sightings since at least the early 19th century, if not before. Haber Forest is a 22,000 acre wilderness in north-central Alberta. It is named after Jeremiah Haber (1702-1776), an English explorer for the Hudson’s Bay Company who built outposts and villages along the Peace and Athabasca Rivers. It wasn’t until 1814 that Haber Forest was mentioned officially in a report about a caravan of settlers on their way west. The caravan vanished after last being seen headed toward Haber Forest. Though remains of their wagons were discovered years later, no trace of the forty-seven men, women, and children were ever found.

Other caravans and travelers went missing in Haber, earning the place a sinister reputation. Rumors began to circulate of a terrifying monster that lived there: the so-called “Haber Forest Raptor”.

Named after birds of prey, the Raptor was blamed as the source of thunder and blood-chilling, shrieks heard by numerous travelers in Haber. Partial skeletons of animals as large as grizzly bears have been found throughout the forest, but particularly near Thunder Bluff. Chipewyan tales, heard by early Canadian settlers, helped give rise to the Raptor legend. The native Chipewyan people of northern Alberta always avoided the forest.

The Raptor remained a thing of folklore through the 19th and 20th century. It wasn’t until 1982 that a trio of University of British Columbia students set out to prove once and for all the existence of the Haber Forest Raptor. Douglas McGovern, Martin Denis-Claire, and Phoebe Milson drove to Haber Forest with cameras and camping gear. Their plan was to camp in the forest for a week and record any and all traces of the fabled Raptor.

Four days later, the trio had packed up and driven back to Vancouver. They blamed bad weather for ending their adventure prematurely. All three were shaken and showed no interest in going back. They all claimed to have heard horrible shrieking—like the call of a giant raven—in the night. During the day they heard thunder, even when the sky was clear.

Fortunately, they had managed to take a number of photographs and some video footage. Their pictures showed swaths of forest where the trees were felled as if by a tornado. Like many travelers to Haber, the trio noted the number of tall trees which had their tops snapped off and the gashes, several inches deep, found on felled trees.

The trio claimed to have sen a giant shadow swoop down on one of these clear areas and carry off a full-grown buck. They were unable to take a picture, as it too fast. The sight horrified all three members of the group.

It was this incident that drove them form the forest, they claimed later.

Since the trio had been unable to record tangible proof of the Raptor, its existence remained a mystery. Skeptics explained that the damaged trees were caused by the severe wind storms which sweep through occasionally. The incident of with the buck was blown off, as the group had no actual proof except their own testimonies.

Ever since the disappearance of the forty-seven settlers in 1814, Haber Forest was home to a string of disappearances throughout the rest of the 19th century and the 20th. Of course, the mostly likely explanation for these are the severe storms which wrack the forest in autumn and winter.

The most noteworthy of the recent disappearances is that of Luke Bendell in 1995. An American and amateur rock climber, Luke had driven up to Haber Forest to climb Thunder Bluff, a 1,000-foot cliff and tallest peak in the forest. When Luke failed to return home, local authorities were alerted. Some of Luke’s gear was found scattered at the foot of the bluff. Luke’s body was later found in the forest some thirty yards from the cliff. While investigators were at first baffled by the distance of the body from the bluff, it was clear that a long fall had been the cause of death. Eventually, they reasoned that Luke had fallen while making his ascent, not been killed immediately, crawled into the forest, and then died from his injuries shortly thereafter.

Of course there are some who believe Luke was a victim of the Raptor, who had picked Luke up and dropped him to the ground, explaining why his body was far from the cliff. Others try to explain it by claiming Luke committed suicide by leaping from the top of Thunder Bluff. One of the investigators, who has remained anonymous, does claim that they are skeptical of the official cause of death. The amount of scattered gear and the distance of the corpse from the cliff just didn’t add up. There were also reports of lacerations on the body, which have since been explained as being caused by branches which Luke hit on his way down.

Interest in the Haber Forest Raptor died down during the later half of the ‘90s. It remained a popular legend in Alberta, but the rest of the world soon forgot about it. That is until 2008 when hiker and native Albertan John Cotter posted a strange video to his YouTube channel. Here’s the video:

John claimed he was hiking around Haber Forest when he heard the unnatural sounds. John is an experienced hiker and wrote that he had no idea what kind of animal could make those sounds. If this video is real, this proves that something lives inside the depths of Haber. John’s video rekindled interest in Alberta’s fabled monster.

In 2010 several photos were posted to a now-defunct cryptozoology forum by a man who claimed to be a park ranger for the province of Alberta. Though the originals were taken down soon after, I have saved versions here:

The setting appears to be Haber Forest. As you can see, there is something flying in the distance. If these photos are real, then they are the best visual evidence of the Raptor to-date. However, the man never revealed his identity, so it is unknown who actually posted the original. And the pictures are so grainy, it is impossible to say conclusively what we are looking at. If it is a bird, it is a strange-looking one.

The Raptor has had the same description—with only minor variations—for more than a hundred years. Canadian settlers told of a human with enormous wings and talons for feet. Some versions described it as having a naked body and a shriveled head with a beak, like a vulture’s head. Others said that feathers covered most of its body and that it had fangs instead of a beak. People guess that, for a human-sized being to fly, it would have to have a wingspan of at least 40 feet. The huge wings would explain the booms of thunder associated with Raptor sightings.

An interesting connection that people have made is the similarity between the Raptor and thunderbirds of the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest, Great Plains, and the Great Lakes region. This mythological creature made thunder by the beating of its huge wings. Many omens were associated with the thunderbird. It could be that the Haber Forest Raptor is the progenitor of these myths, or—as some have put forward—the Raptor is the last remaining member of its kind, a species of human-like bird creatures that used to live in southern Canada and the northern US.

Whether a myth, a supernatural being, or a remnant of some prehistoric race, the Haber Forest Raptor will continue to haunt Alberta. Stories, like this one, will continue to be told about it. Perhaps one day, we will find definitive proof of its existence. Until then, Haber Forest will be shrouded in mystery and legend.

The Cumar Killings: “Wicker Man”

On the Welsh island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) stands a tall hill named “the Witch”, or Y Gwrach. The hill was a holy site to pre-Roman druidic cults, but since then has become a popular destination for hiking by locals and outsiders alike.

In the 1960s, the sleepy village of Cwmmawr (Cumar in English), lying in the shadow of Y Gwrach, was home to a string of horrific deaths that shocked not only the whole island, but the rest of Britain.

In 1963, the Tindle family came to Anglesey for a week long vacation. George, his wife Martha, and their five children went on a pleasant morning walk. When they came to the foot of Y Gwrach, George pulled out his Kodak camera and began snapping pictures. While looking through the viewfinder, George noticed something—a tower or other small structure—on the top of the hill.

George convinced his family to climb up the hill and investigate. When they reached the top, they found an eighteen-foot wicker statue in the shape of a man. George was puzzled and had a look around while his family ate lunch.

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George Tindle’s photo. The only known image of the wicker statue

George found a circle of stones around the wicker statue, as well as small piles of charred wood and ash. Overgrown paths ringed the statue and the stones. George figured the place had once been the site of some local festival.

Once lunch was finished, the oldest Tindle children, Stewart, aged 10, and Amanda, aged 8, wandered off to look for frogs in a nearby pool. While trying to catch the frogs, Stewart noticed something glimmering at the bottom of the pool. Thinking it might be a coin or a lost toy, he leaned in closer for a look. But at that moment, his mother’s voice called him back.

Stewart and Amanda found a newcomer in the clearing. It was a kindly old man with bright blue eyes. He introduced himself as Alan Rhys and offered the Tindles tea, which he carried in a large thermos. The Tindles gladly accepted and Alan poured everyone large cups of tea.

As they sat around, drinking tea, Alan told the Tindles how he had built the wicker man himself; the Tindles were impressed and admired the statue.

After a pleasant conversation, the Tindles became drowsy. Soon they were all asleep. Alan Rhys stowed each of the Tindles in a duffle bag, which he hid in the bushes. He gathered up all of the Tindles’ things. Then, Alan carried the Tindles down a seldom-used path that took him to his house on the edge of Cumar village.

When the Tindles failed to return home, their relatives in Birmingham alerted the North Wales Police. Eventually, police investigators came to the summit of Y Gwrach. A junior detective, Owen Clarke, noticed a plastic wrapper that someone had been discarded in the tall grass. There was no wicker man nor any trace that one had ever been there.

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Police photograph of Y Gwrach’s summit

Owen spoke to the inhabitants of Cumar. While passing Alan Rhys’s house, he noticed little wicker statues and stylized clay models of human faces in the windows. Recognizing them as symbols of Celtic paganism, the devoutly Anglican Owen Clarke was intrigued. But when he knocked on the door, no one answered. The neighbors said that Rhys was out on one of his regular trips to the mainland.

After weeks of fruitless searching, the police reported the entire Tindle family as missing. Their family back in Birmingham mourned while Owen brooded back in Caernarfon on the mainland.

Two years passed. In 1965, William and Mair Jones, with their 4-year-old daughter Reagan, visited Anglesey over the summer. On a particularly beautiful day, they went for a hike up Y Gwrach. When they came to the top, they found an old man, who greeted them warmly, while he worked on a large wicker statue. The old man, Alan Rhys, asked them to stay for tea. He poured them very generous portions. After twenty minutes, all three Joneses were sound asleep.

As before, Alan Rhys carried the Jones family back to his house. Any sign they or he had been on the summit was meticulously removed.

It was nearly a week before the police came to Y Gwrach. This time, not even Owen Clarke’s keen eyes found a trace the Jones family had been there. As with the Tindles, the Joneses had simply vanished into thin air.

Over Christmas break that same year, the MacDonell family of Scotland visited some friends on Anglesey. Craig and Caitlin, with their two children were driving near Cumar when their car slipped on a patch of ice. They crashed into the ditch beside the road. Fortunately, a local man by the name of Alan Rhys helped pull their car back onto the road. It was a frigid day, so Alan offered the MacDonells tea.

The family sleeping in the back of the car, Alan drove to his house. He parked the car in his carport. He then dismantled it by himself, piece by piece, and sank the dismantled car into the sea, leaving no trace of the MacDonells.

As with the previous disappearances, the police searched but could find nothing. Y Gwrach had man forested gullies on its lower slopes. The working theory was that these families got lost in these gullies and died, perhaps they fell.

On February 2, 1966, Owen Clarke, now a full detective, listened to the dispatcher asking for police units. A large fire had been seen by locals on top of Y Gwrach. Owen was now overly familiar with the hill. He snatched up his receiver and told them he would look into it. Owen drove to the island and arrived around dinner time.

Owen grabbed his flashlight and ran up the hill. There, as a cold winter rain began to fall, As Owen searched the gras and mud, he found the smoldering remains of a fire as well as the stumps of candles.

February 2 is Mary’s Festival of the Candles—or Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau in Welsh. Its analog in Ireland is Imbolc. In Christianity, the holiday celebrates Christ’s presentation in the Temple. However, Gwyl y Canhwyllau is also a pagan celebration of the coming spring. Candles are used in both the pagan and Christian celebrations.

Following this clue, Owen ordered a thorough search of the hill. While that was happening, he returned to Cumar. This time he met Alan Rhys. When Owen knocked on his door, Alan opened it. He was an old man, gray-haired and with a patchy beard. He had on a sweater and knit hat. He looked Owen Clarke over with piercing blue eyes.

Rhys had been among those townspeople to see the bonfire that night. He described his shock that someone had lit such a huge fire—which was illegal—on such a rainy night. Owen asked to come inside, to which Rhys readily agreed. Alan Rhys’s house was small and dirty. The old man clearly didn’t care to clean the place. Owen found more Celtic symbols, such as replica torcs hanging over doorways and animal statuettes on shelves. They were the only clean things in the house. Owen didn’t care to look in the cellar: he feared it’d be filthier than the house.

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Police photograph of Alan Rhys’s house.

Rhys offered Owen tea. Out of a sense of professionalism, Owen declined, even though tea was exactly what he wanted on that cold night. Sitting down, Owen asked Rhys about his religion. Rhys replied he didn’t have one, but had a certain amount of respect for the beliefs of his ancestors.

Rhys dove into a long-winded story about how his family had lived on the island since before the Romans came to Britain. Owen cut him short to ask more about the fire. Owen wanted to know if Rhys saw anything else—movement on the summit or unusual sounds. Rhys said no, he hadn’t.

Aside from being a police detective, Owen was an avid gambler and was very good at spotting tells. Owen later said that as he was talking to Rhys, the man’s nose twitched and his eyes took on a watery character. When speaking of the bonfire, Rhys’s voice changed very slightly, becoming thinner than it had been moments before.

Owen pressed Rhys for more information but the old man held firm and said no more. Owen left sure Rhys was hiding something. But he needed proof. The search of the hill revealed nothing, much to Owen’s mounting frustration.

Over the following weeks, Owen became obsessed with Rhys. Owen spent his free evenings and weekends in Cumar, spying on Rhys from a distance and monitoring his movements. However, his superiors discovered his secret hobby and had him transferred off the island.

On May 1—May Day—another fire was spotted that night atop Y Gwrach. This time, a woman from Cumar, Catherine Llewelyn, had been outside when she saw the fire. She thought she saw shadows moving in front of the flames. And she claimed to have heard drums.

Police detectives found another smoldering pile of ash and branches of hawthorn and blackthorn. However, most disturbing was the blackened human arm—the size of a child’s—lying among thick grass near the ashes. The investigation became a murder case.

Park rangers were enlisted to nightly monitor the summit, which was closed off to visitors for the rest of the investigation.

Owen Clarke was called back to Anglesey in June. When he reviewed the evidence of the fires, he saw na obvious connection. Both fires took place on pagan holidays. Both times symbolic objects were left behind—candles on Candlemas and the branches on May Day. Owen guessed the next fire would be on August 1, or Lammas.

Owen and a small force of police climbed to the top of Y Gwrach on August 1. There, they waited in a hideout for nightfall. However, late in the afternoon, a severe thunderstorm came out of nowhere. The winds whipped water their faces. At last, the team scrambled back down the hill, sure no one would be able to light a fire in this weather.

But when Owen looked back behind him, sure enough a fire blazed. By the time he burst onto the summit, soaking wet and panting, there was no one there. A pile of ashes steamed in the rain surrounded by soggy loaves of bread.

Owen sat in his car, draining a bottle of whiskey as his mind churned over the evidence. He couldn’t let go of Rhys as the primary suspect, even though the man had been questioned multiple times now by different officers. Owen made up his mind: he wouldn’t rest until he had clear proof of Alan’s guilt.

When he entered Cumar, his car was stopped by a lady under an umbrella. It was Catherine Llewelyn. After asking why Owen was there, she divulged her own dislike for Rhys. Catherine was proud of her garden. Rhys, however, had a much better one but had refused to share his secret with Catherine.

After discovering Owen suspected Rhys, she agreed to help in any way she could. It was agreed that Catherine would keep an eye on Rhys and report his movements to Owen. Owen himself returned to Cumar whenever he had any free time.

Weeks passed. September 22 was fast approaching. In old Welsh tradition, September 22 is known as Alban Elfed and is a celebration of the autumn equinox. Owen knew the next fire—and next murder—would happen then.

When the equinox was only days away, Owen caught his lucky break. Catherine Llewelyn called to tell him Rhys had just left on one of his long trips to the mainland. Owen jumped in his car and sped to Cumar. He arrived after sunset.

Throwing all rules out the window, Owen broke into Alan’s home. He tore the place apart, looking for anything incriminating. When he came to Alan’s bedroom, something caught his eye. In a drawer sat a Kodak camera. What was unusual about it was how clean it was compared to everything else in the house. When Owen opened the camera, there wasn’t any film.

Finding nothing more upstairs, Owen checked the cellar. The cellar had cement walls and a packed earth floor. There was nothing in it except a lot of cobwebs and some boxes with nothing of interest in them. What was interesting to Owen were the plates, littered with crumbs, in stacks on the floor and the strong reek of human waste that permeated the air. Owen found a wooden hatch in what he thought was the far wall, but what was really a dividing wall that split the cellar in half.

In this hidden room Owen Clarke found Stewart and Amanda Tindle, Reagan Jones, and Caitlin MacDonell.

All four were dressed in ragged clothes. They were filthy, pale, and showed clear signs of malnourishment. A bucket in the corner was the source of the foul smell.

Everyone froze. No one said a word. Then the reality of the situation dawned on everyone. The captives realized with wild cries that they were free. Owen took them and raced back upstairs. Leaving them inside, Owen ran to his car and radioed headquarters.

Minutes later, almost every available cop in the region descend on Cumar. The locals were roused from their beds by the wail of sirens. After the police chief saw the place for himself, he contacted a judge in Caernarfon on the mainland. By the morning, a warrant for Alan Rhys’s arrest was issued. Alan was arrested later that day trying to cross back over to the island.

The Alan Rhys case gained nationwide fame overnight. Alan Rhys was charged with murder and kidnapping before being moved to Cardiff to stand trial. His four victims were brought to Colwyn Bay for better care at the city’s hospital.

Alan Rhys, a vigorous old man who kept his head during the initial arrest, changed markedly once he was removed from Anglesey. The longer he was gone, the more time seemed to catch up to him. His back hunched and the lines depend on his face. His once sharp mind devolved into a foggy mess. It didn’t take much for the police to get a full confession out of him.

Combined with the fragmented accounts of the four survivors, this appears to be the whole story: Alan Rhys was born to parents who secretly practiced a form of Celtic neopaganism. Ever since he was a young boy, Alan suffered from terrifyingly vivid dreams and visions.

Six years prior to the Tindles’ murder, in 1957 Alan lost his wife and three children to a house fire. Ever since then, he had to relive that night every time he slept. After much searching and performing specific rituals on holy days, Alan believes he contacted Nodens, a Celtic deity of healing, the sea, and death and rebirth. Nodens would give Alan a new family. However, he would have to make a proper sacrifice: a family for a family.

Alan was patient. He had to wait for the right families to come to Anglesey, as he was apparently forbidden or unwilling to take locals. After kidnapping the Tindles, Joneses, and MacDonells, he then sacrificed the “extraneous” members of each family on different holy days.

The four victims he kept alive were the same age and gender as Rhys’s dead family. Stewart and Amanda replaced his two oldest children; Reagan replaced his youngest daughter, and Caitlin replaced his wife. Apparently, on the autumn equinox, Alan was going to perform a ritual that would have bonded his four victims to him forever. What that meant exactly, he never said.

Caitlin said that Alan told her she was an avatar of Sulis, another pagan goddess. Nodens had promised Alan more children from Caitlin. And it was true she was pregnant when taken to the Colwyn Bay hospital. However, she never said who the father was and refused to talk about it.

Alan Rhys was convicted of ten counts of homicide, kidnapping, and sexual assault. The public outcry was so great and the crimes so heinous that Alan Rhys was sentenced to death. He was hanged on December 18, 1966. The press dubbed him the “Wicker Man”.

wicker_man copy
Digital scan of a 1966 newspaper headline

Stewart and Amanda Tindles returned to Birmingham, where they moved in with their grandparents. Reagan Jones returned to Ebbw Vale. Caitlin gave birth to a baby boy on January 1, 1967, whom she gave up for adoption.

After being praised as a hero by the nation’s media and awarded for his gallantry, Owen was quietly asked to retire since had been off-duty when he broke into Alan Rhys’s home without a warrant or just cause. Owen Clarke obeyed and went off to live in a house in the Welsh countryside. All that mattered to him was that Alan Rhys was stopped and his victims freed. Anglesey would be troubled by Rhys no more.

There were of course many unanswered questions about the case. How had Alan put all his victims to sleep so easily? No drugs of that potency were found in his home. And how did he hide the bodies of his sacrificial victims so well? Indeed, how did he build and light the wicker men during storms?

The answers to these questions and more were never found by the police.

That brings this chapter to an end. Mourning the losses they suffered, the victims of Rhys returned to their homes. Owen Clarke walked out of the spotlight. Everything was peaceful again. That is until years later when people once more began disappearing on the little island of Anglesey.

But that is a story for another time…