The Unsolved Murders Of Mary Ashford And Barbara Forrest

In the Sutton Coldfield cemetery in England, there's a weather-worn tombstone, the inscription now practically illegible. Squint, and you might be able to make out the words: "As a warning to female virtue and a humble monument to female chastity, this stone marks the grave of Mary Ashford who on the twentieth year of her age having incautiously repaired to a scene of amusement without proper protection, was brutally murdered," and so on. It serves as a memorial not only to a life cut short, but to the beginning of a confounding mystery. The place: Erdington, England. The time: well, that part gets complicated. Let's start at the beginning.

On May 27, 1817, 20-year-old Mary Ashford attended a community dance at the Tyburn House Inn. She arrived in the company of her dear friend, Hannah Cox, with whom she also departed around midnight. According to Birmingham Live, that was the last time Ashford was seen alive. Her body was found submerged in a pit a few hours later.

It gets worse

It didn't take long for 25-year-old farmer Abraham Thornton (pictured above) to be charged with the murder — a nail in his boot apparently matched a footprint found at the scene. The conviction didn't stick, nor did a second attempt at putting him away. Thornton traveled to America to begin a new life, and the case came to a close.

Or it would have, if it weren't for the fact that the whole thing happened again 157 years later. In a series of eerie coincidences, Barbara Forrest met her astonishingly similar and tragic end in 1974.

Stop us when you start to notice the familiar beats: Forrest was last seen on May 27, shortly after midnight, following a night out dancing. She was 20 years old at the time of her death. Her body was found in a shallow ditch in Erdington. In an especially perplexing twist, a man named Michael Thornton was arrested for her murder. The evidence seemed strong enough — he was seen with blood on his pants and allegedly provided a false alibi to investigators, but it was all ruled circumstantial, and Thornton was set free.

Sometimes, the world doesn't make sense. Sometimes, the world is a rough draft for a story set in Derry, Maine.