The mysterious disappearance of Owen Parfitt: Shepton Mallet's unsolved enigma

By Laura Linham

12th Feb 2024 | Local News

Old postcard of Shepton Mallet
Old postcard of Shepton Mallet

In the quiet town of Shepton Mallet, a centuries-old mystery intrigues locals and historians alike.

The strange case of Owen Parfitt, a man whose disappearance has been shrouded in mystery and legend, remains one of the town's most enduring tales.

Delving into newspaper archives from as far back as the 1800s, we uncover the story of a man whose life and vanishing act still captivate the imagination.

A family defying the odds

John Parfitt, Owen's father, lived to the age of 62, surpassing the average life expectancy of the time, which hovered around 37 years for the period between 1650 and 1750. This in itself was notable, but even more so was the longevity of Owen's mother, who lived an astonishing 97 years—a figure that even today would be considered impressive.

Owen, who was 69 at the time of his mysterious vanishing, and his sister Mary was in her 80s.

Owen Parfitt: A life shrouded in tales

Owen Parfitt's story begins in the late 1700s. A resident of Shepton Mallet, his past was as colourful as it was controversial. Having served in the military in Africa, Parfitt's return to civilian life was marked by tales of bravery, piracy, and womanising—stories that, over time, contributed to his complex persona. By the time he reached his seventies, Parfitt's adventurous life had taken its toll, leaving him nearly paralysed and dependent on his sister and a neighbour, Susannah Snook, for care.

The day of the disappearance

On a warm June day in 1768, Parfitt was placed outside his home to enjoy the sunshine, a routine that would lead to an inexplicable mystery. Despite being in close proximity to his sister, Parfitt vanished without a trace, leaving behind nothing but an empty chair and unanswered questions. The sudden disappearance of a man incapable of walking sparked a search that would yield no clues to his fate.

Differing narratives and the search for truth

Over the years, the story of Owen Parfitt has taken on various forms, with some accounts suggesting changes in weather or differing details about who was present that day. The earliest newspaper account, dating back to 1789, suggests Parfitt was briefly left alone, only to disappear in broad daylight. Despite exhaustive searches by the townsfolk and authorities, no trace of Parfitt was ever found.

Theories and legends

Speculation abounds as to what became of Owen Parfitt. The most plausible explanation is abduction by unknown assailants, possibly motivated by past grievances. However, the lack of evidence and the sheer improbability of a silent abduction raise doubts. Other theories suggest an elaborate ruse by Parfitt to escape his life, though his physical condition makes this unlikely. Then there's the supernatural explanation—fuelled by Parfitt's sister—that he was taken by the devil, a theory immortalised by the storm that followed his disappearance.

A legacy of mystery

The disappearance of Owen Parfitt remains one of Shepton Mallet's most compelling unsolved mysteries. Beyond the speculation and urban legends, it underscores the enduring human fascination with the unexplained. Parfitt's story, rooted in the rich tapestry of local history, continues to inspire curiosity and debate, a testament to the mystery's lasting allure.

As Shepton Mallet moves forward, the legend of Owen Parfitt endures, a reminder of the town's mysterious past and the enduring appeal of a good mystery.


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