[Transcription from BBC East Midland News report, February 7th 1992.]
Tomas Cambridge (presenter): In local news: long regarded as an example of folk art, is the famed 'Deer Tree' of Norwell really the product of a druidic cult? Marilyn Entworth reports.
Marilyn Entworth: It's a popular tourist attraction and a favorite of gothic photographers, but there are rumors that the Deer Tree in rural Norwell may have a dark, and recent, origin. According to experts, the Deer Tree may be created by nature-worshiping cults in the mid 70s for a ritual sacrifice. The price? A young girl's life. Here with me at the infamous site is Professor O'Hare, historian and occult enthusiast from [the] Wakefield University .
Professor O'Hare: You see, while there's been historical documentation of strange trees in other parts of the country dating back a long way, the Deer Tree here in Norwell is wrongly confused with the eighth century Widows Tree, know as the Old Derby Tree. Due to a historic fire in Norwell, the Callum Tor to the east of the village was cleared of trees only six years before the first mention of the Deer Tree in September 1977. There was no record of the tree, not even a whisper locally, no illustrations or cartography references from surveys of the tor.
One thing, one thing they did have that summer, was a disappearance late August. A woman disappears, there's a big investigation by rescue teams and police, and they never find her. Then, out of the blue, people are talking about this tree.
Marilyn Entworth: The young woman was Melissa Gervais Schmitt, an American college student who went missing near Norwell in 1977, last seen wearing hiking gear and asking for directions during a pub lunch in the nearby Danes Key Inn. She was described as visiting alone, but having a friendly demeanor with pub staff. Police investigations failed to find her, despite her missing her returning flight. Suspicions that Schmitt, who was due to start an exchange program at Kings College in September, had fled with grant money for her travel and studies, though these financial records were never proven and the case still remains unsolved.
Professor O'Hare: If Melissa was taken by a ritualistic cult it would be the first record of such for hundreds of years. There are many ancient legends regarding rituals that transform victims into rocks, animals or, indeed, trees. In references from the Inquisitions of Richard the Confessor, a 13th century priest who interrogated and cataloged cult behavior in England, these rituals are long. They're effectively torture, limbs [are] removed and replaced with branches from aggressively growing saplings, skin is stripped for bark to be stitched to the body. The wood, the plant life, it starts to spread until muscle turns into tree, eating the nutrients in bone and muscle to feed the plants. In such legends these sacrifices, the victims, they're kept alive until their brains turn to wood. If Melissa was indeed taken by this cult it spells an unprecedented survival of these old methods of nature worship.
Marilyn Entworth: Norwell police officials could not be reached for comment on Professor O'Hare's findings, though it may be that this local legendary tree has more to it than originally thought. This has been Marilyn Entworth for BBC East Midlands News from Norwell.