Welcome to Haunted Wirral, a feature series written by world famous psychic researcher Tom Slemen, for the Globe.

In this latest story, Tom tells the haunting tale of the stranger in the flame...

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for divination rituals to predict what the coming year has in store.

Some open the Bible at random and read the first text on the page to obtain advice or a warning, and another divination rite is candle-gazing.

The latter method of scrying involves a simple candle, the reciting of a certain spell, and the services of someone with a psychic gift, and such a ritual took place at a terraced house on Birkenhead’s Claughton Road on the New Year’s Eve of 1975.

The house belonged to a 50-year-old widow named Bridget Chockbury, and she was known as a psychic woman who read tea-leaves and cards.

On this Wednesday night, just before midnight, as the foghorns of the Mersey were about to erupt into their usual disharmonious cacophony, and as most of the local population were eating, drinking, singing and dancing to mark the imminent arrival of 1976, Bridget sat in a darkened room with a 20-year-old friend named Alison Jones who lived a few streets away.

Alison was curious to know if she’d meet anyone in the coming year and Bridget had suggested lucernomancy – staring into the flame of a candle and entering a mild trancelike state.

In such a state of altered consciousness, images often appear in the flame, and a trained mind – especially one with a psychic faculty – can perceive images of the future, be they faces or objects – and in this case, Bridget saw the face of a man appear.

Before she could speak, Alison gasped and her left hand gently touched Bridget’s right hand. "Bridget – who’s he?" the girl asked.

Without taking her eyes off the face of the stranger in the candle flame, Bridget whispered, "Ah, so you can see him too – you must be a little psychic, Alison."

The face of the man looked as if it was about forty – perhaps forty-five – years of age, and he had dark collar-length hair parted on the right, thick masculine eyebrows, a pair of shrewd-looking eyes, and there was a rugged handsomeness about the unknown face.

"I get the feeling this man is very interested in you," said Bridget, "and I also get the overwhelming feeling his first name is Eric. His surname is long and unusual and hard to focus on."

"Eric?" queried Alison, her eyes fixed on the ghostly little face in the flame. "I don’t even know anyone of that name."

"But he knows you," Bridget told her friend, "and although he’s a bit old for you, he seems absolutely obsessed by you. Are you sure you don’t know him?"

Alison gently shook her head. "I’m positive – never seen him before in my life; this is amazing, Bridget."

"Let’s see what else I can pick up on this Eric," said Bridget, narrowing her eyes as she focused on the candle flame. "He’s a man of wealth."

"Really now?" Alison asked with a smile.

The horns sounded on the Mersey, and next door’s neighbour turned up his TV as the midnight chimes of Big Ben were broadcast live on BBC2.

Then came all of the cheers from the people on the street outside – and the face in the flame vanished. "He’s gone," said Alison, "can you make him come back?"

"Perhaps we should try again next week," said Bridget, "there’s too much noise to concentrate now."

Three days later, Alison was leaving her local corner shop when she saw a gleaming beige Jaguar pull up.

A man got out of it. It was him – the man whose face had been glimpsed in that candle flame ritual.

There was no doubt about it – same dark parted hair, strong eyebrows and those penetrating eyes.

He halted for a moment, smiled at Alison, then went into the shop.

She walked home with a fluttering heart. She saw him again that evening as she walked to a friend’s house.

He was looking at her as his car waited at traffic lights.

It was looking as if Bridget’s impressions of him had been right – he was besotted by Alison.

Then one evening at 11pm a few days after this, a ruffled-looking Bridget called at Alison’s home.

She said she had seen Eric again in the candle, and he was strangling a woman, but whether this was in the past or future, Bridget was unable to say.

She’d had the overriding feeling Eric was some serial killer who had his eyes on Alison.

On the following day, Eric sat in his Jaguar outside Alison’s house, and the girl took down his car’s registration, then sneaked out the back door and ran to the police station.

Alison claimed she was being stalked by a strangler, and pleaded with the police to arrest him – but on what grounds could they do that? On the strength of barmy ‘visions’ in a candle flame?

A sympathetic detective traced the car registration to a certain banker named Eric, who hailed from Liverpool, but could not link him to any crime.

When Alison saw Eric leave his parked car near her local shop, she wrote the words: 'Eric the Murderer' on a piece of paper and left it under the Jag’s windscreen wiper.

Upon Eric’s return he read the note – then drove off, never to be seen again.

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