THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SOLHEIM




‘It is my belief Watson, founded upon experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside’
                                                                                                           The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)

                                                                            I
Dawn Jewell, the owner of Erik a two year old stallion she had lovingly raised from a six week old foal, found her beloved pet butchered in 2012 when she went to feed him at his paddock in Sithians, a picturesque rural village near the south coast of Cornwall. Initially she thought he was sleeping, but as she walked closer she became aware that the ground around the body was covered in pools of blood. The result of a frenzied overnight attack that consisted of numerous knife wounds to the animals head and body. Following an equine post-mortem at the site, the vet reported that Erik’s genitalia had also been badly mutilated. One eye had been removed from the socket, along with the horse’s teeth, all of which had been taken from the crime scene by the perpetrator. ‘He was like a baby to me’, a distraught Dawn said. ‘I knew when I found him he was the one for me. I absolutely adored him’. 

Inspector Chris Strickland, the senior investigating officer on the case was quoted as saying that ‘he couldn’t rule out any link with a Satanic ritual’, but was keen to clarify that ‘it was not the only line’ his officers would be perusing. Some people in this isolated community, a place where rumours tend to spread quickly and set as fast as poured concrete, started to undertake their own detective work online as soon they heard about the incident. Perhaps motivated by the £10,000 reward offered by Graham Rickard, a local horse lover who said he felt compelled to act due to the appalling nature of the crime. The crime even made the national news, the broadcaster and horse racing pundit Claire Balding tweeting her sympathies to Dawn and suggesting that people maintain a close watch over their animals in the area.
                                         
                                                                  Dawn Jewell and Erik
Within a few days, Dawn’s mother, speaking reluctantly to a local journalist, said that she had ‘been told about the speculation that there might be a satanic link’, but seemed to quickly dismiss the idea. Most likely unaware that the reason people were so fervent in believing that dark forces might be at play had much to do with the date on which the attack took place. The crime occurring a few days after January 7th. Celebrated by some as St Winebald Day. An event named after an obscure Catholic saint that some people claimed had historically been devoted to offers of sacrifice in the satanic calendar. Although this was an idea challenged by some experts on the occult as a nothing more than a dangerous myth, local conspiracy theorists were encouraged when Commander Peter Spindler of the Child Abuse Unit of the Metropolitan Police suggested on the Radio 4 Today programme that it was a day ‘where there will be animal or human sacrifice and dismemberment’. He was one of a number of officers from a variety of different forces who had recently attended a national conference on identifying satanic abuse which was organised by a US based fundamentalist Christian group. Spindler would later be promoted to lead the investigation into the crimes of Jimmy Saville. 

Regardless of the motivation of Erik’s killer, the wide ranging national newspaper coverage of the case meant others soon came forward with similar, often equally horrific stories of attacks on livestock in the area. Jo Barr, an RSPCA spokeswoman added to the speculation when she said, ‘there have been a couple of recent attacks on sheep and there was a suggestion that the bodies were left in a formation. I believe it was a pentangle. It has been said that these are linked to satanic practices or witchcraft’. 

A few months later, just as speculation about the motivation for the crime was finally dying down, the area was hit by a new spate of animal attacks, increasing in brutality to the point where some of the local press were initially reluctant to publish full details, leading some to conclude that there was a news black-out in place. In May of the same year, a decapitated horse, the head removed with near surgical precision, was found on the beach at Pentewan by lifeguards. A cross made with driftwood forced into the sand next to its body and a dead seagull with its wings removed placed on its chest. One shocked local who had stumbled across the macabre scene whilst walking his dog was quoted as saying, ‘it was such a grotesque and disturbing sight, I don’t think I will ever forget it. Whoever did this to a defenceless animal must be pure evil’. Much was made in the media at the time that the attack had taken place on the night of a full ‘super moon’, with even well respected national broadsheets like the Daily Telegraph choosing to lead on the Satanic angle. 

Just a few days later, fifteen or so miles away in the tiny hamlet of St Tudy, a farmer woke to find that three of his cattle had been killed by someone brandishing a blunt instrument. One of the animals was missing its tongue, hacked free from its base and once again taken from the scene. Reports of further horse and pony mutilations flooded in, representing something of a pandemic of animal cruelty cases across an area usually renowned for its natural beauty and the warm welcome it reserved for the thousands of tourists who visited every summer. 

Despite the number of unsolved cases now piling up, with no sign of any suspect being caught, the police seemed to be adopting a different approach, playing down any idea of a ritual element to the crimes. Instead they continued their investigation without reference to any occult motive behind the attacks, releasing a statement that blandly stated, ‘detectives are following all lines of inquiry to find the offender and would ask livestock owners to be particularly vigilant and report anything suspicious to police’. This change of tone coming despite a notorious court case taking place in the area that seemed to challenge the widely accepted belief that ritual satanic abuse was little more than a widely discredited moral panic that belonged back in the 1980’s. The murder of Peter Solheim and the resulting revelations that came to the surface during a later trial seemingly confirmed the cliché that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. In the process providing information that was disquieting enough for people to believe that the spate of animal mutilations might well be the result of shadowy forces they would much rather not dwell on. 

                                                                                     II 

I always though he seemed normal. Until the time he told me his mother’s house had flooded because the river spirits were angry’- Peter Solheim’s Neighbour

The first sign of the gathering storm came when a boat was found floating adrift in June 2004. The keys were still in the ignition when it was boarded by the coastguard just outside Falmouth, a popular tourist spot and vibrant university town on the South Cornwall coast. The small vessel, called the ‘Izzy Wizz’, was traced to parish councillor, retired printer and antique gun salesman Peter Solheim, 56, who lived in a nearby village. Bearded and stocky, Solheim suffered from strabismus, meaning in layman’s terms he was cross eyed and because of this he tended to project an image of looking constantly confused and disorientated. Despite this he managed to be quite the hit with the ladies, in fact he had a reputation as something of a lothario, a man not to be trusted around your wife or girlfriend, a fact not lost on his long term girlfriend Margaret James. 
 
                                                         
                                                                             Solheim and James
Solheim was viewed by some as something of a fantasist, often holding court in the local pub and telling anyone who would listen about his money making schemes providing illegal weapons to shadowy criminal gangs or bootlegging dirty videos which he would buy mail order and sell on for a profit. When the police entered his house, recently renamed Valhalla by its owner in reference to his Nordic heritage, they were surprised to find an attic room containing a large library of books dealing with the occult, along with a selection of ingredients used to produce potions and a collection of ceremonial swords and daggers. Although he never purposely kept it as any kind of secret, people in the village were surprised to learn that Solheim had for many years been a practising pagan, referring to himself as Thor’s Hammer at the various covens he attended all across the county. Although his welcome had been worn out at a number of locations due to his frequent clumsy attempts to seduce female members. One coven member remembers being terrified of him, especially after he arrived at a ceremony wearing a helmet and metal breastplate rather than the more traditional white gown, before theatrically telling the group, ‘I make a very good friend, but a very bad enemy’. Something she saw as a veiled threat to intimidate them. ‘He seemed to be heading in a direction that was very dark’, she said on the subject of his occult interests. 

Solhiem’s mutilated body was eventually found floating five miles out to sea by the crew of The Clairvoyant, a local trawler. When they hauled it onto the deck they saw that his knees had been smashed by either a blunt axe or a machete and one of his toes was hanging by just a thin thread of skin. A forensic examination of the body indicated that there were eighteen separate hacking wounds across his body. His ribs were also broken and he had sustained head injuries, although these weren’t thought serious enough to kill him before he was thrown in the water. The pathologist reported that he was most likely held captive somewhere for at least two days before being thrown in the sea to drown. Initial toxicology reports showing that he had been heavily drugged with Lorazepam, a commonly prescribed drug used to treat anxiety and depression. If the trawler hadn’t been passing at the time it was unlikely that the body would have been recovered, probably being dragged by the strong currents out further into the English Channel. 

‘SATAN-CRAZED PARISH CONCILLOR MURDERED’, read the Sun’s lurid headline on July 2nd, 2004. The article going on to say that the police were probing links with ‘Devil-worship rituals’ as a result of what they claimed ‘was an obsession with black magic’. This tabloid embellishment was immediately contradicted by the police when they issued a statement which said that the murder victim’s paganism wasn’t even being considered as part of their investigation. Detective Inspector Neil Best briefing the media said, ‘the occult is a subject we are trying to focus away from’. In reality the police’s attention was already drawn to a much more mundane line of enquiry. One that developed when the son-in-law of Solheim’s partner Margaret James walked into a local police station. A long term heroin addict and petty thief, long rumoured to be a police informer, he was keen to tell them of a conversation he had a year or so before, where his mother–in-law had asked how you would go about finding someone willing to commit murder for money. 

Solheim and Margaret James had first met after he had placed an advert in the lonely hearts column of a local newspaper. They seemed a perfect match, both were best diplomatically described as ‘colourful local characters’. James, a petite vegan divorcee, could often be seen swimming naked in the sea close to her coastal home and Solheim’s cottage industry selling bootlegged pornographic DVD’s was common knowledge in the area. ‘We were at it like rabbits’, James had giggled in a police interview, although later she would claim in court that he often forced himself upon her in the later stages of their relationship. 

Jealousy had started to become an issue quite quickly. James had been known to search Solheim’s house from top to bottom looking for evidence of affairs. Once finding video recording equipment hidden among the books in his attic, along with a wax doll dotted with pins that she thought had been made in her image. Then there was the money, thousands of pounds hidden away in antique tea pots and vases, cash he made from his trading in vintage guns and sex films. When she was finally arrested, a police search found bundles of cash James had stolen from her lover hidden around her house, all because she had finally realised that he was intending to leave her and marry a secret girlfriend he had been seeing for the last few years behind her back. 

Pleading innocence, despite being caught in possession of her dead lover’s phone, which she used to send texts to herself, in order to give the illusion that he was still alive and had taken off on a fishing trip. James claimed that Solheim often took off on unscheduled trips, saying that once he had spent three whole days at a stone circle reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards over and over again in an attempt to raise demons. 

What was clear however, a theme discussed frequently both in police interviews and court, was the fact that there was no way Margaret James could have practically committed the crime by herself. Physically she wouldn’t have been capable of dragging Solheim any distance, but despite intense questioning she refused to give any information on who had helped her commit the crime. Sentenced to a twenty year sentence for conspiracy to murder the police say the case is still open and they are actively searching for one or more accomplices, even offering a reward that currently stands at £10,000 for any information leading to a conviction. 

                                                                        III

‘He used to invite you in and offer to offer to read your tarot cards. He did mine once, but to be honest I thought it was a load of bollocks’- Pete Petrauske’s Neighbour

Pete Helmut Petrauske, or German Pete has he liked to call himself, was not someone who believed in hiding his beliefs. On the contrary, he was known to walk around the estate he lived wearing an elaborate purple gown with gold edging, complete with an embroidered pentangle on his chest. The self-proclaimed ‘High Priest’ would have cut quite a striking figure even without his ceremonial robes, given he had bleached blonde hair and maintained a year round mahogany tan the colour of well brewed tea. He was the kind of eccentric figure who would now be viewed with suspicion in the post-Yewtree cultural climate. Happy to be photographed as something of a novelty item by the local press in his small council flat, a framed painting of a horned satanic figure taking pride of place on the wall behind him.

German Pete, or Lord Murak, as he was known in local pagan circles, was so outraged by the recent negative coverage of his faith in the press following the Solheim case he took it upon himself to set the record straight by making himself available for interviews with anyone who asked. ‘Any suggestion that Peter was murdered as a sacrifice is a load of crap and so is all this crap about Satanism and black magic’, he told a reporter from the Falmouth Packet. He said that he’d met Solheim a number of years before, but had distanced himself from him because he tended to cause havoc at meetings where he would arrogantly claim to have superior arcane knowledge to everyone else and always insisted on carrying around his selection of large swords. ‘His murder had nothing to do with black magic’, he said. ‘Knowing what he was like he was probably killed because he made someone angry’. 
                                                
                                                         German Pete aka Lord Murak

Fast forward eight years, and the knock as always in cases like this, came early for German Pete. The police executing a warrant as dawn broke over the Beacon estate in Falmouth, a mixture of uniformed and plain clothed officers searching his flat and removing items of evidence in plastic bags. People were shocked when they heard he was facing charges relating to historical child sex abuse charges that were claimed to have taken place over at least three decades. Especially as he had a blemish free criminal record and was always described as a ‘true gentleman’ by the females in his coven. All of whom were very keen to state on the record that at no stage did they ever perform ceremonies naked, a tradition known as ‘sky cladding’ by some pagan groups and undertaken to better absorb earth energies during worship. Within half an hour of the police leaving his flat windows were smashed by stone throwing local youths and the word ‘NONCE’ had been spray painted in red across his front door.

Sometimes people tend to judge you by the company that you keep, something German Pete, 72 was made acutely aware of when he found himself charged along with his friend, Jack Kemp, 69, an ex-tin miner who had a previous conviction for a sexual offence against a young girl. Kemp had been given the nick name Popeye locally due to his resemblance to the spinach eating cartoon character. He and Petrauske had known each other for a number of years, close to the point where German Pete would occasionally sleep with Pamela James, Kemp’s wife, whilst he sat downstairs watching soap operas in the living room. 

Kemp’s chequered offending history paled into insignificance when it was placed next to Stan Pirie’s. A man known locally as the ‘laughing nonce’, a name that stuck when his response to being accused for his crimes was to start giggling. Pirie was direct from paedophile central casting, especially given his predatory nature and refusal to plead guilty, in the process subjecting his victims to the trauma of giving testimony in open court. His bungalow, the curtains always drawn, no matter if it was day or night, was notorious locally for years, generations of parents warning their kids to stay away. Inside music would play, alcoholic drinks would be poured, grubby top shelf magazines would be on display and little girls would be asked to sit on knees or do handstands in front of a Polaroid camera. Pirie had recently been sent to jail but Kemp would soon find out that the taint of their friendship would still have a significant impact on him in the eyes of a jury at least.

The arrests of both German Pete and Kemp came about after a boozy birthday party on the Old Hill estate in Falmouth. Economically deprived, the local shop windows covered in rusting metal shutters, it was only the towering palm trees planted by the council that gave the place an air of faded seaside glamour. Late into the night, after yet another run to the off licence for supplies, an argument broke out and fists flew. More significant than the punches thrown during the fracas was the allegation of rape aimed at Jack Kemp, who quickly left the party and returned home. It was only when he woke up later the next day that he realised word had spread and other alleged victims had come forward to the police. Some of these named German Pete, as well as a third man, that most assumed was Stanley Pirie, as historical sexual abusers who had prayed on generations of local children since the 1970's.

This accusations differed from the usual sordid narrative of paedophile sex rings, if only because the esoteric and disturbing elements of their crimes seemed to hint at something darker that mere sexual exploitation.

                                                                         IV

While those that don't follow the crowd are criticised, it is not yet illegal to be a weirdo'- German Pete's Defence Barrister

Most people, you would think, would start to worry about their chances in a criminal trial, if their own defence barrister started his summing up of the case by calling you a weirdo. As blunt as this was, it was followed by a statement meant to draw a strong historical precedent. 'Just remember the people over the years who have been subjected to medieval justice when the finger of accusation has been pointed'. 

As Kemp and German Pete stood in the dock, they listened to witness evidence which was given from behind a protective screen or presented via video link. The judge deciding that it would just be too traumatic for the witnesses to stand directly opposite the accused. He also decided that given the disturbing nature of the evidence the trial should be subject to a media blackout and a reporting restriction was placed on the case. A decision that was challenged and eventually overturned following the intervention of a local BBC journalist. 

The jury and the packed public gallery heard from the first witness that the abuse had taken place in many different locations over a number of decades.  Manor houses, stone circles, woods, open fields and abandoned quarries. 'The chanting stuck in my head for weeks', the victim said. 'I didn't understand what was happening. I just thought they were weird'. She said she was taken to a garden at first, where there was an area with big stones and a fire in the middle. There were people dressed in 'gown things'. She thought they looked like Klu Klux Klan hoods with necklaces. 'I was with eight or nine other kids. We didn't understand what was going on and we were scared. I was warned that if I was naughty they would hurt me. That they had special powers'. 

She gave evidence that there were 'high priestess' present when the abuse took place, although no female suspects were ever questioned or charged during the investigation. It was said that they had bound their hands, drawn knives and poured hot wax over the victims’ bodies. The court heard how the men were said to have told one young victim that if she was a good girl, ‘she would see their snakes spit’. She also said that during one attack, which took place in a quarry, she had sat next to a boy, no older than three who had tears streaming down his face. 'That was when I first learnt about witches' she said before breaking down. The judge taking a break so she could compose herself before giving further evidence. 

The second prosecution witness, known as Victim A, had previously given evidence in the trail of Stanley Pirie a few years earlier, although at no point had she ever mentioned to the police any ritual element to her abuse in the many hours of interviews she had given. When asked by the defence why she had never mentioned it she simply stated, 'no one asked'. Her evidence spoke of her being about three when she was first abused, and five when she went to a ritual attended by a number of men and women, together with up to twelve children, where Kemp and Petraskue had acted as high priests. Rumours of a 'third man' being a constant figure in her abuse had been evident throughout the trail and a week or so into the case during a long cross examination Victim A made it clear just who this was. 

'I was taken into a big house', she said. 'There was a weird incensey smell and I passed rooms where there were chains coming off the bed, and whips. I was in a room where there was a big double bed with ropes coming out of it and a black whip with star things on the ends. I was scared. He pushed me onto the bed and I knew I was in trouble. I did what he told me, he tied ropes around my feet, they were really tight, hurting. I was telling him 'please don't hurt me' and he slapped me across the face. His eyes were looking evil'.

Victim A said she suffered pain for weeks after the attack which happened when she was nine. She spoke of being scared of being thrown into a fire. Seen as being naughty. Raped by a man that years later she had only recognised after he was murdered and his picture was shown on television. When she saw the picture she was ‘hysterical’ and couldn’t tell anyone. ‘It made me hate men’, she said. 

The Solheim connection seemed to join all the dots, at least in the eyes of the press who rushed to cover the trial in forensic detail now the press reporting restrictions had been lifted. The Sun, as always, lead the field in terms of headlines, leading with 'SEX CULT OF PAGAN PAEDOS' as a header and trawling through their library to cut and paste the worst excesses of their reporting of Solheim's murder years before. 

Sometimes the court records read more like a passage from a Dennis Wheatly novel then a criminal trial. Every ‘witchcraft as evil’ trope seemingly used by the prosecution to signal that this was no ordinary child abuse trail, this was much worse, because here dark forces beyond our usual understanding of the corruption of innocence were at play. As if the abuse itself wasn’t lurid and disturbing enough, the prosecution case focussed mostly on the ritual aspects, despite the jury hearing from an expert who stated clearly that he didn’t recognise any pagan practices outlined in the evidence of sexual exploitation given by the witnesses.

What was becoming clear was that some of the victims were said to have been as young as three as four and according to court transcripts would have represented dozens of local children who had passed through the hands of Kemp, German Pete and Solheim over the years. Apart from the ritual elements there was evidence given about photographs and videos being taken, although none had ever been found when the homes of the accused had been raided. Alcohol and sweets were given to buy silence, threats made. Take away the ceremonial robes and many critics thought the case was little more than repugnant historical sex abuse. Kemp's defence team were keen to point out that the ritual element was little more than a 'red herring' and that their client thought Paganism was 'silly' and had never shown any commitment to the faith beyond attending a few meetings with Petrauske. ‘It just wasn’t my cup of tea’, Kemp was quoted as saying. 

In the witness box Petrauske told the court that he had been a pagan for 55 years and had an altar in his bedroom, he had always been proud of his faith and was well known locally for his frequent appearances in the press. He also accepted he had a dagger and whip, but insisted they were for ceremonial purposes. He was very keen to clarify that he had no doubt the victims who gave evidence had been abused by men in robes but said he was never involved.

Insisting that his combined sentence of thirty-two years for rape and indecent assault would see both men die in jail, Judge Graham Cottle said: ‘The offences range from the extremely serious to the truly horrifying. You are two of the surviving members of a paedophile ring that operated in Falmouth in the 1970s and 1980s. I'm satisfied that you have both had a life-long sexual interest the ritualistic, sickening abuse of young, young children'.

 Some people on the local estates around Falmouth could be heard openly expressing the view that it was Solheim who had received the most appropriate justice out of the three and that the £10,000 reward money to find the other protagonists in his brutal murder was now never likely to be paid. 

The pagan community was appalled by many aspects of the case, especially the reporting. They focussed on what they saw as a vicious and unfair attack on their faith, terming it a 'blood libel', the same pernicious lies that had seen them persecuted for thousands of years. In this case purely due the actions of men engaged in what they saw as simple, if repulsive child abuse, cloaked in faux ritual which bore no relationship to their own belief system. Many made the point that abusive Church of England vicars, predatory Iman’s and paedophilic Catholic priests didn't tend to send the media into such a frenzy. Perhaps because those cases were so commonplace, with hundreds of prosecutions over the years. In contrast this case seemed to be the first recorded instance of a practicing pagan being charged for child sexual exploitation.

                                 
 

Epilogue 

As the trial came to its conclusion and as quickly as they stared, the animal mutilations in the area seemed to stop. Some more cynically minded observers believe that there are still regular cases but the local press have been warned off reporting them for fear the coverage would inspire copycat attacks. 

Following the Kemp and Petrauske verdicts, no one else has been charged, or indeed questioned, about their involvement in the ritual abuse of children in the area. Despite witness testimony that claims many other people, both male and female, were present at events where children were sexually exploited. There appears to be no current, open investigation into the case by Devon and Cornwall police. 

Petrauske attempted to appeal his eighteen year sentence in 2014, claiming that the evidence given by a witness who claimed he had bragged about having sex with girls as young as nine when in the navy should never have admissible in the trial. It was nothing more than drunken pub bragging and had turned the jury against him. His appeal was denied. 

Margaret James has kept her silence throughout her prison sentence, despite repeated police requests to name the rest of Solheim's killers. A recent appeal against her conviction for conspiracy to murder was also denied.

 
A version of this article was originally published in ‘Satan Superstar’ published by the Reprobate Press