Black magic link to Cornwall's murder riddle

The talk in the bars and restaurants of Mylor harbour in Cornwall normally revolves around nothing more sinister than fishing, weather and the state of the tides. Yesterday it was of black magic and murder.

Police had interviewed 200 people overnight in the seaside town, a popular stopping off point for cruising yachts en route to France. They were questioned over the death of a parish councillor, 56-year-old Peter Solheim, whose body was found by fishermen 13 miles away, off Black Head on the Lizard Peninsula, two weeks ago.

His small white dinghy, Izzwizz, its key still in the ignition, was spotted adrift in Mylor harbour by the day before his body was found. The coastguard said he could not have fallen from his boat and drifted to Black Head on the natural tides, drift or currents.

Initial suspicions that he drowned have been discarded after unexplained injuries were found during a post-mortem examination. And yesterday one of the officers leading the inquiry said he was examining links with the occult.

Detective Sergeant John Trott, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: "His interest in the occult has been made known to us. It is a line of inquiry that we are now pursuing. His injuries are still unexplained, but at this stage we are unable to go into more detail as it could be crucial to the investigation."

Mr Solheim, who was divorced and had three children, joined a Druid sect in St Merryn, Cornwall, several years ago. A school friend, John Bastin, said he had become increasingly interested in the supernatural after the flooding of his mother's home four years ago.

"The old clapper bridge over the river Budock was replaced by a proper road bridge next to his mother's house," Mr Bastin said. "He was convinced that the flooding, it happened twice, was due to the spirits of the river. He thought they had been upset by moving the old bridge and were punishing him. This is what got him interested in the council. To get the bridge changed back."

One member of the Druids, who wished to remain anonymous, said Mr Solheim's interests had become too extreme for the group and they parted ways at around the time of the floodings. "It became clear that he wanted to go into areas that everyone else felt uncomfortable with," the Druid said.

"He started to get involved with Satanism and liked to go off and perform rituals on his own. He was always making knives and swords, and he showed them to us. We all became really worried about him.

"Once he tried to perform black-magic spells on two other people, and that really upset them. I don't know what his rituals involved, but he would always do them on his own. Eventually, he stopped coming to gatherings."

Ed Prynn, the Arch-Druid of Cornwall, said his behaviour alarmed other members. "He was a good guy and he loved the pagan way of life, but he seemed to want to go his own way, and the others didn't want to go that way. He went off on his own to do pagan worship, but it's really meant to be a shared experience."

Mr Solheim, who lived part of the time at Carnkie, near Helston, was described by friends yesterday as a committed environmentalist and strong Cornish nationalist. He had developed an interest in antique guns and built up a collection despite being unemployed after suffering an industrial accident at his job at a printworks.

Police said they were working on a dozen positive leads they had received during the overnight operation to interview Mylor's residents. One line of inquiry is that he was going to meet a man called Charlie on the day before his body was discovered.

Detective Inspector Neil Best, who is leading the inquiry, said the two men were to meet to take Charlie's larger boat to sea, possibly to France. He said Mr Solheim had towed his dinghy behind a green Citroën to Mylor harbour, with his partner Margaret. She left him with the boat and drove home. "Charlie could be very significant to this investigation because he may have been the last person to see Mr Solheim alive," Det Insp Neil Best, said.

The Falmouth Coastguard has drawn up computer simulations of prevailing winds and tides on 16 and 17 June, when Mr Solheim was last seen. The coastguard says his body could not have travelled south to Black Head unassisted but would most likely have drifted towards France.

Photographs of the dead man and his partner have been displayed around the harbour, home to the world's last sea-going oyster fleet, to jog people's memories. Yacht owners have also been questioned. "We are open-minded about motive," Det Insp Best said. "There are a number of things about his background that are interesting."