“Good morning, and welcome to the village of Middle Mound. There, in the White Hart, the pub you can see across the road, Charlie Birch died on the floor of the Gents’ toilets. A knife had been thrust into his chest, slicing effortlessly through his right ventricle, and quite literally breaking his heart, which given his past behaviour, was perhaps a fitting end.
This is the first time this beautiful location has featured on ‘The Unsolved Mysteries Tour’, so you yourselves are adding to its history. The purpose of this tour is of course to discover: Who Killed Charlie Birch?
We will visit all the relevant locations, read the documentation put forward by the police officers dealing with the case, and with luck see a few of those villagers involved in the mystery. Finally, as advertised, it will be rounded off with a lovely buffet lunch in the very same pub where Charlie Birch met his end.
This way please.
For many people, give or take an unplanned pregnancy, or being stranded in a foreign country due to a cloud of volcanic dust, life muddles along much as expected. For the best part, it is much the same for Middle Mound, although at a much slower pace. At least it was until that last weekend in August.
As unexpected events go, this surpassed everything which has gone before. What happened that weekend will remain infamous for generations to come. A Murder. Even the nearest town can’t make that claim.
As you can see, Middle Mound is a small traditional English village, nestled in the middle of the beautiful Devon countryside. It should be noted it did grow a little in the nineties when the new estate was built on the far edge of the common – you’ll see that later. That added a further fifty houses to the village . . . eventually.
When news of the planning application for the new homes was announced in the local paper there had been an immediate and mostly negative reaction. Petitions were signed, homemade posters rejecting the plans appeared in windows, and an articulate but anonymous letter sent to, and printed by, not only the local paper but also The Times! The author gloated for weeks.
Passionate and succinct, the letter explained how the development would ruin the character of Middle Mound, and life for its inhabitants. The development remained the only topic of conversation for months. Knowing that an influx of Townies, as the villagers call anyone living outside the village, would ruin their traditional country life, the villagers protested, complained and gossiped. Top of their agenda was protection against the arrival of the much-feared holiday homeowners. Where would future generations of ‘Mounders’ live if properties were snatched up by outsiders?
But as is often the way with these things, money talks, and the village committee eventually caved in. Their objections were withdrawn, but only once the council persuaded the developers to first improve the common, which had been ravaged by brambles, and to build a handsome extension to the rear of the church hall, providing the village with space for a much-coveted library. However, the council’s promised improvement to public transport is still awaited some thirty years later. But to be fair, all in all, things have settled down nicely.
To tourists and Townies paying a visit, Middle Mound gives the impression of being an idyllic country village. As you can see to your left, it has the required picturesque church, the aforementioned church hall, complete with library extension, and the attractive traditional pub, to which we will return, it being the scene of the crime. Along here, you can see there is also a decent mini-market which houses the Post Office, and now boasts a newly installed cash machine, hence further reducing the need to go into town. At the other end of the high street, we will find the bakery-cum-café where we will be taking tea and finding out how all our suspects came to be in the White Hart on that fateful morning. But before that, we will take a peep at the quaint Victorian primary school where Charlie Birch and the majority of the suspects were taught. Unfortunately, Middle Mound Primary is under threat of closure due to the diminishing number of young children now living in the village, making it the latest battle for the committee.
One I fear they are likely to lose as, despite the new estate, Middle Mound is for the best part, home to an aging community, which, if nothing else, keeps the vicar busy with home visits and funerals. And, as if on cue, here’s the man himself!
On the surface, Middle Mound is a happy village, people wave and call greetings to each other as they go about their business. They share lifts to town when matters of a more serious nature need to be addressed, like buying a washing machine, choosing a new carpet or, more often than not, a hospital appointment. Taking the bus is not an option if you have a hospital appointment, not if you want to arrive on time. For most villagers the bus service is really only useful on a Saturday for going to Plymouth. For a five-pound return ticket, it’s much cheaper than taking a car. The villagers can catch the nine o’clock morning bus to one of three destinations: Drake Circus Shopping Centre, The Hoe, or the port to catch the ferry. And the return journey leaves the bus station in Plymouth at six o’clock in the evening, so the villagers have plenty of time to enjoy themselves and complete any necessary business.
Unlike Plymouth, life here is quiet, it’s steady, and the inhabitants appear content with their lot. All happy in their little bubble of tranquillity.
Or so it seems. We will discover they were not happy at the time Charlie Birch was killed . . . but I’m jumping ahead.
That weekend in late August, an unexpected string of events suggested otherwise, and the end result, as you know, was that the village bad boy, Charlie Birch, ended up dead in the White Hart – in the toilets of all places – a knife sticking out of his chest.
Some of the villagers blamed it on the full moon, others on the interlopers coming to live in the village. Whatever the cause, that turn of events provided enough gossip to last the occupants of Middle Mound a good ten years, and gave Detective Sergeant Sally Carter, an ex-Middle Mounder, her first murder to investigate. Not that she wanted it of course, but I’ll come back to that.
Before Charlie’s unfortunate and untimely demise, he had been holding several of the villagers hostage in the pub. He’d not planned to do so, he’d only wanted to escape Middle Mound. But due to a series of unexpected and unrelated events, others did too. Charlie’s actions cost him his life, as having locked the White Hart securely, ensuring no one could get in and no one could get out, Charlie trapped his murderer.
Perhaps had he not done so he’d still be alive today.
It became DS Carter’s job to discover what might have caused one of them to take the knife and plunge it into Charlie’s chest.
In matters such as this, it’s important to know what caused those particular villagers to be in the pub in the first place. I’ll start with Sally Carter because one has to start somewhere, and as I’ve mentioned, she didn’t even want to be in Middle Mound, she had been bound for Europe.”
Who killed Charlie Birch? is the first in the Murder Tour series