The Creepy Inspiration For ‘Hound Of The Baskervilles’

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.” —Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles

In A Nutshell

One of the most popular of the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles tells the tale of a family haunted by a curse that’s exacted by a vicious hellhound. The legend behind the story is that of a despised, feared, and hated man named Richard Cabell. Cabell supposedly sold his soul to the Devil, and after being entombed in a sepulchre by villagers fearful he would rise from the dead, Satan’s hellhounds returned to the grave every night, howling in frustration at being denied access to their soul.

The Whole Bushel

The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes stories. For those not familiar with the story, Holmes sends Watson off to investigate a mysterious murder surrounded by stories of a mysterious, spectral hound seen roaming the hills of Devonshire, supposedly part of a curse on the Baskerville family that has been haunting them for generations.

A great story, no doubt, but the real legend that it’s based on is no less creepy.

According to legend, a man named Richard Cabell lived in West Buckfastleigh in the late 17th century. A squire by trade, he was, by all accounts, an absolutely hated man known for his violent tendencies. Supposedly his family had supported the wrong side during the English Civil War, and Richard ended up marrying the daughter of the man who had imposed fines on the family and sent them into financial ruin. The marriage meant that he got his estate back, but the ending was anything but happy.

The locals were convinced that he had sold his soul to the Devil, apparently finding this a much more likely explanation for the return of his fortunes than the idea that he was just a stand-up sort of guy.

In an absolutely unproven version of Cabell’s story, it was said that his wife eventually found herself the target of his rage. (Death records show, however, that the historic wife actually outlived him by more than a decade.) Cabell was said to have chased her out onto the moors in a jealous rage one night, killing her. In retaliation, her faithful hound ripped out his throat.

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Cabell was laid to rest in the local church, but the villagers were afraid that he would rise from the grave and return to torment them. Instead of a simple grave, he was buried in a sepulchre lined with iron bars and a tomb sealed with a massive slab, all designed to keep him inside.

Almost immediately, villagers claimed to hear hounds howling in the night, pacing outside of his grave. Naturally, they were the hounds of hell, sent by the Devil to collect the soul that he’d been promised. Other stories claim that the sepulchre is regularly visited by demons, hoping to succeed where the hounds have failed.

That’s not the end of the weirdness, either.

Beneath the graveyard is a series of limestone caves, stretching for miles and once home to—oddly—prehistoric hippos. Deep in the caves beneath the grave of Richard Cabell is a strange formation, occurring where a stalagmite and a stalactite have come together. Known as the Little Man, it’s said to look a little too much like a man in 17th-century clothing.

Even today, it’s said that if you run around the grave seven times and then reach through the iron bars of the tomb, Cabell will start chewing on your fingers.

There’s definitely some non-supernatural weirdness going on around his grave as well. Not long after he was buried there, the cemetery became a popular haunt for body snatchers. The church attached to it has been struck by lightning, partially destroyed by fire more than once, and decimated by German bombs during World War II. Rumor has it that it’s also a favorite haunt for Satanists, but the church now stands empty and gutted after the latest fire.

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