The Case of Peter Hodgkins in Dogtown

Dogtown Commons

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town by Elyssa East is a journey into the Anne Natti tragedy and the history of the Dogtown area. The reason why I chose to post thoughts and comparisons to occult traditions in this book is because East reveals comparable clues to the theme of this event in her descriptive telling of this story; yet, she doesn’t allude much to the core principles of these archetypal clues—possibly intentional?—from her immersion as researcher-participant in her book.

Instead, East succeeds in presenting the phenomenon akin to what influenced H. P. Lovecraft–observing the setting and theme of New England mystery and uncertainty (in fact, Lovecraft also wrote about the North Shore region of MA, as well).

On June 25, 1984, Peter C. Hodgkins, Jr., killed Anne Natti in Dogtown, MA: the forest in the center of Cape Ann. It had happened possibly sometime between 9:30AM and noon.

Anne, a schoolteacher, had been camping with her husband in an Airstream camper once summer vacation started at the northern end of a Dogtown forest meadow, right around where they had their wedding ceremony the year before.

Anne was on a walk to her friend’s house. Later, Anne’s husband Erik went looking for Anne when he learned she never arrived, and it was Erik who found her body in the woods. Hodgkin’s, in his testimony,

He stated that he was in the woods riding [his friend’s] trail bike when he first saw Anne Natti walking her dog. He described the crime scene and the victim’s clothing, including her rubber slicker and pants and her rubber boots. He stated that he followed her along the path, pushed her down and hit her in the back of the head with a rock. He then half-walked and half-carried her into the woods. He checked her pockets, looking for money. He saw a dog’s leash wrapped up in a little plastic bag. He did not remember taking her clothes off, but he also stated that he slipped her clothes off, although he did not know that he had done so. He stated that he thought about raping her when he took her clothes off, and admitted having sexual fantasies when he was in the woods, but denied raping her. He did not punch her but may have hit her in the face with a rock. He did not plan the attack; it just happened. He panicked and in his panic ran through the woods and became lost but finally located the trail bike.

401 Mass. 871 (COMMONWEALTH vs. PETER C. HODGKINS, JR.)

East also attempts to recreate what led up to the terrible event Hodgkins described above:

As Anne walked through the Norton Forest this blustery Monday, the wind gusted heavily, as it is prone to do on this exposed promontory during a storm. It howled and rattled through the trees, shaking their branches to create a sudden deluge. The hood of Anne’s yellow rain slicker muffled her hearing and cut off her peripheral vision. The steady patter of rainfall intensified, drowning out the distant rumble and whine of a dirt bike.

The dirt bike rider had altered his course after seeing a homemade sawhorse made out of birch logs blocking a trail and marked with a sign saying “No Bikes.” Making his way down a path that had turned slippery with mud, he stopped under a tree to wait out the pelting rain.

[Anne’s dog] appeared through the trees, pranced up to the man’s bike, sniffed the front tire, and darted away. The man watched the dog sally to a bush, a tree, a rock, and trot back to its master, a small figure dressed in yellow walking a nearby path. Moments passed. A tiny fragment of a single day gave life to an idea that would change two lives and a place forever.

Elyssa East

East’s narrative, when observing from an occult lens, teases at the likelihood of some immense hidden iceberg submerged:

In Friedrich Nietzche’s The Birth of Tragedy, tragedy stems from the conflict between mankind’s civilizing, Apollonian desire for order and our yearning for wild, Dionysian abandon. At the time of its inception, this colonial village represented an Apollonian ideal, but by the turn of the nineteenth century, when the Commons Settlement became known as Dogtown, the Dionysian impulse had overtaken the place. The region may indeed have been overrun with dogs back then, but it also began to inspire a certain type of human wildlife. Many of Dogtown’s “witches” made fiery home brews, told fortunes, hosted buccaneers and gambling parties, and profited from prostitution. The folkloric record maintains that a couple of these women cursed anyone who attempted to enter their desolate village. Even in 1984, Dogtown remained a place where people escaped civilization either by going there to party with abandon or to lose themselves peaceably in nature.

By the twentieth century, Dogtown had become a unique landscape, an isolated, municipally bound wilderness—not a manicured park—and a ruin-filled ghost town where the Dionysian principle with its knife’s-edge balance between creative inspiration and destructive madness seemed to prevail. Dogtown enabled both Marsden Hartley and the influential postmodernist poet Charles Olson to cross the internal wilderness of their respective creative crises. Others, less fortunate, did not safely traverse either the actual, physical wilderness of Dogtown or the mental one it could impose. This wayward quality may have been the reason why a Bible-thumping millionaire named Roger W. Babson decided to have twenty-four large boulders hand-carved with Protestant prescriptives during the Great Depression. The lessons imparted by Babson’s boulders—“USE YOUR HEAD,” “TRUTH,” “BE ON TIME”—stand out boldly against this confusing landscape as patent guideposts for those who may wander too far astray.

Elyssa East

I was first drawn to East’s book because I grew up in New Boston, New Hampshire, which was the town that Babson declared as “The Gravity Center of the World” for a slew of reasons. Often quoted due to the proximity of distance, yet close enough to survive a German/Japanese atomic attack in WWII, based on the atomic destructive technology of the era, New Boston became a focus point on anti-gravity research and cultural thought. In fact, Babson bought up properties in town for the the creation of the Gravity Research Foundation. And for those that have grown up in New Boston, the town history itself is somewhat akin to a David Lynchesque Twin Peaks theme.

Here, the Babson’s boulders and monuments best described: https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/60603

From http://www.newbostonhistoricalsociety.com/gravity.html

Like Lovecraft, East certainly reveals mystery from occult traditions (e.g., witches, supernatural). But what’s most interesting is her Apollonian/Dionysian references, which are most certainly extremes; the latter taking the more shadowy expression of the feminine, of course. Yet, in East’s book structure, between her own participation as a character learning more about the Natti murder and region through interactions with the community, and giving backstory to the case itself, East also sequences the supernatural mystery of the region. It was no secret that Lovecraft took artistic license connecting the occult and witchcraft to his macabre cosmic characters and stories—more or less taking an Apollonian role—but East takes a more nurturing approach at understanding all possible angles which may have led Hodgkins to commit murder—especially the supernatural. Instead of a good vs. evil duality about describing the mysteries, we see more a Dionysian theme.

This from her meeting with Hodgkins in prison:

Though seemingly docile, Peter struck me as a person with the kind of vulnerability that could turn extremely dangerous. The thought that I was sitting across a table from a convicted first-degree murderer was never far from my mind.

A few days later, I received a letter from Peter in which he elaborated on his feelings about the area. ‘Something calls to me,’ he wrote. ‘The trees are calling me near, I have to find out why. The gentle Voices I hear…Draw me to going into the woods…I would hear the Elders of the trees speaking to me Strange but that is how I connect myself with the woods. One has to beleave [sic] in the Forces.’ Perhaps the region did in fact wield a peculiar psychic influence over him, as Peter Anastas had suggested.

Elyssa East

East includes her conversation with local Gloucester writer, Peter Anastas:

‘Everybody who goes to Dogtown says there’s something magnetic about the place,’ Anastas told me one day as we were sitting at Carolyn’s Wonson House, ‘there is something magical about it. People would go up to Dogtown to get away, but the darkness, the darkness is—I mean, don’t people really need to be in touch with the subconscious? I think that’s what Dogtown is for people: the subconscious…It’s sort of like everybody has to have a place to go, not just to escape, but to get to the other side of yourself…people went to Dogtown with great delight, particularly in the summer time…but that still doesn’t mean they weren’t aware of the darkness…for most of my life, Dogtown was in my bloodstream, but then something changed…Dogtown is the wild part of Gloucester, the uninhibited part, and I think that, in a Jungian sense, Dogtown gave Peter Hodgkins permission to kill Anne Natti.”

Elyssa East

East describes local healer and mystic Linda Crane, born the same year as Anne Natti:

Dogtown was often her classroom. Whenever Crane went there with friends she would ask, ‘Do you feel it?’ meaning the spirits in the place, which she felt were especially palpable in Dogtown because of its rich biodiversity and ancient boulders. Crane taught that nature was constantly broadcasting across a frequency that only a few knew how to tune in to; Dogtown happened to be one of the places where the signal was strongest. And when people listened to the earth, it listened back. Dogtown, in particular, was all whispers and ears.

Elyssa East

But, I’ve come to learn that there is a pattern between places and stories like Dogtown, Natti and Hodgkins, Babson’s New Boston, even fictional narratives like Twin Peaks: they all seem to share themes of Eleusinian Mysteries, namely with the archetypes of the characters/forces involved, like Demeter, Persephone, Hades, and Dionysus. Actually, the origins of the subjective and irrational feminine come from the predated creation myths of Cybele, quite interesting how Colin Wilson caught onto that, where often what we are attracted to is what we resist. The main one I tend to see is nature’s need for a Hades/Pluto-like character (Hodgkins) to confront a Persephone (Natti)—could this be a subtle energy from this region, perhaps at certain astrological times for the region, along with individuals that may also make up these character archetypes? In fact, nearly succumbing to the same fate as Natti, Crane described an encounter with Hodgkins:

This particular April day [Crane’s dog] went bounding off while Crane was filling some jugs with springwater. It was quiet but for the sound of water gurgling peacefully. Bottles filled, Crane turned away from the spring to find an exceedingly tall, naked man standing in front of her, holding his erect penis, and pointing it at her ‘as though it were a weapon.’

‘If you scream, I’ll kill you!’ he said, and pushed her to the ground.

As Crane fell backward, screaming, she noticed a large stick ‘that glowed yellow.’ She thrashed at the man with the stick and continued to yell.

[Crane’s dog], who heard her cries, came running. He leapt at the naked man and tore into his flesh. The assailant ran away, clutching his crotch and screaming, with [Crane’s dog] giving chase.

When police asked Crane if she could pick a suspect out of a mug shot book, she worried that she would not remember the man’s face; the attack happened so quickly. But police claimed she said she would have no problem recognizing his member, which, she told them, was huge. In the end, Crane was able to pick out a face. When the suspect, a local man named Peter C. Hodgkins Jr., was brought into the police station for questioning, he confessed to the crime and was charged with assault with intent to rape and open and gross lewdness.

When it came time to try Hodgkins, a repeated petty sex offender, the assault with intent to rape charge was dismissed. Hodgkins was found guilty of assault and battery and served a six-month prison term at the Essex House of Corrections in Lawrence.

Four years later, when police lines began ringing with the many calls from people offering tips on Anne Natti’s murder, Peter Hodgkins name was spoken more than any other.

Elyssa East

It seems to me that given Hodgkin’s past encounter with a dog, his past deviant behavior, and the fact that his dirt bike was not only prohibited in those woods, which would have irritated a nature lover like Natti, whom must have heard the bike, it’s more probable that Natti did see Hodgkins and wasn’t susceptible to his alleged ambush. The likelihood that Hodgkins was provoked by the dog, perhaps even by Natti in response to the provocation, based on his previous history with dogs, may have been the catalyst that could have instigated this negative encounter. Speculative, yes, as is East’s.

Like the premise of Twin Peaks, it’s the body of Persephone-like Laura Palmer that’s found, and after two seasons, it is revealed that her father, Leland Palmer, had murdered her in his Hades-like chthonic-possessed state by an underworld-like character, Bob.

In a similar vein, a girl on my school bus went missing on July 25, 1989; her remains found by another kid from my bus on July 18, 1991. From the recollections of witnesses, the theory that her disappearance and discovery had similarities to the Connecticut River Valley serial killer from that time period is still a cold case: https://www.doj.nh.gov/criminal/cold-case/victim-list/carrie-moss.htm

I’ve had an email discussion in the past with a well-accomplished true-crime writer, James Renner, and when he was a child a girl went missing in his neighborhood in Ohio; he stated that when he first saw her missing poster outside—a girl he had never met prior—he became obsessed with her his entire life. It’s compelling how the astrology of a perpetrator of a crime and a victim tend also to be entangled with the true-crime writer, which I’ve been able to witness.

Perhaps patterns of eons in cyclic changes in time can one day be revealed by events like this that impact cultures and communities? Could this be why Jung and Campbell were so drawn to them? Could this by why East was drawn to the paintings of Marsden and spent years writing this book, almost haunted the subtle weight the region seems to bear on the creative types?

It also seems that from the ruins of former Greek settlements in Europe and the Levant there have been much evidence found, namely artifacts showing rituals of the Eleusinian Mysteries occurred outside Eleusis. It is not too far-fetched to fathom these mysteries were part of the witchcraft practiced in the New England in the 17th-19th centuries, especially Dogtown. One would not be surprised if a kukeon or effigy of Demeter, Persephone, Triptolemus, etc. was found in any former foundation of an occupant of this area with the reputation of practicing in Dionysian death/regeneration-like themes.

What changed the Commons Settlement to Dogtown was the people: women who dressed like men, men who did housework, alleged witches, and former slaves, who lived according to what Roger W. Babson called ‘gypsy ways,’ as if these people were wanderers, when in fact Dogtown’s population was so deeply tied to this place that its name and reputation would forever be associated with them above all others.

What set Gloucester’s Dogtowners apart, and added to the strangeness of their reputations, was their choice to live outside of society. Having a place in society was a literal, not metaphorical, construct in early America and was reflected in laws such as the 1662 Settlement Law, which gave local jurisdictions the power to ‘warn out’ or send their nonnative charity-dependent residents back to their town of origin and thus be ‘put in their place,’ as the practice was called. Destitute native residents were sent to live with town-approved families who received a local government stipend to cover their charges’ costs. Though some children ended up in the poorhouse, many often were sent away as indentured servants. By 1796, Gloucester constructed a poorhouse to better manage its destitute native inhabitants, while those originating elsewhere continued to be ‘warned out.’

Life in the poorhouse was filled with mandatory and lengthy sermons meant to rehabilitate its inhabitants (or inmates, as they were sometimes called) from their spiritual and moral failings. These lessons were reinforced with destitution’s worldly remedy: work, which kept poorhouse expenses, paid for by the town, to a minimum.

Opting out of this system to take up residence in abandoned highland homes, early-nineteenth-century denizens of Dogtown lived off the land, made butter, wet-nursed for women in town, brewed ‘dire drink’ (which alluded to both herbal remedies and home brew), rented pastureland, told fortunes, traded in vice, or earned income as laborers, slaughterers, and healers. All had colorful reputations inadvertently (or purposefully) cultivated by themselves or, most likely, others, including their fellow Dogtowners.

Elyssa East

Along with comparisons made between “dire drink” and the kukeon, the fact that reversal of gender roles were notable, as well other patterns, outside of the clearly Apollonian New World British colony, it seems Dogtown retained a concentration of Dionysian flavor—could this be from conditioning over time, likened to theories of negative events leaving supernatural footprints/holograms onto the scene (e.g., poltergeist occurrences) or perhaps this area has always had a unique subtle energy outside of order? And perhaps those of similar form were drawn to it? Could the former Commons be likened to an American version of what Marcus Aurelius rebuilt?

In the second century AD, the emperor Marcus Aurelius studied in Athens and was later initiated in Eleusis. He is reportedly the only lay person ever allowed inside the anaktoron, the holy of holies housed within the main temple, or telesterion. He earned the privilege. The Philosopher, as he was called, oversaw an extensive construction project to restore the site after it was nearly destroyed by the barbarian Kostovoks in AD 170. What the invaders sent up in flames, Marcus Aurelius methodically rebuilt to Roman standards, ensuring the Mysteries would never again suffer another desecration.

To keep profane eyes off the sacred affair, the Philosopher also built a monumental gateway of Pentelic marble and a vast courtyard at the entrance to the site, now known as the Greater Propylaea. An imposing, larger-than-life bust of Marcus Aurelius has survived all this time, with the defaced image of a serpent-headed Gorgon emblazoned on the Philosopher’s chest. The decapitated monster was a common way of warding off evil in those days. A stern warning to any future looters: this is sacred land.

Brian Muraresku
From The Immortality Key

It makes you wonder if truly was the image meant to “ward off evil” or learn to identify with shadowy aspects of the self? Seems this is the true message of the Mysteries, that the psychedelic drink was to allow one to encounter Persephone and Hades, and that perhaps the child of the two (Dionysius)—the creation of what could be perceived as this duality in an Apollonian sense—was about union between masculine and feminine and was key to navigating the afterlife/underworld? Why then would attempt to “ward of evil” if truly evil did not exist but only through an Apollonian lens? Brian C. Muraresku’s The Immortality Key—the source of the two quotes and picture above, is a good place to start learning about the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Going full circle, it’s important to bring up the chart of the moment Anne Natti was killed. To me, after considering the time frame noted earlier, I feel 10:45AM was probably the closest to it:

Chart Moment of Anne Natti’s Death

I don’t have Anne Natti’s or Peter Hodgkin’s birth charts, so we cannot see from the natal and profected charts, or how themes from both could demonstrate the symbolism of this moment’s events. However, it would not be surprising if their rising signs were Virgo and Pisces, respectively.

Simplified, in this traditional chart, we see Virgo as the Ascendant or rising sign. That would make Mercury the ruler of the Ascendant, since Mercury ruler Virgo. Often in forensic charts, which are effective given missing diagnoses, the sign of the Ascendant symbolizes the subject (or victim) in question. Mercury is in the sign of Cancer in the 11th house, which is the area of friends, hopes, and goals, so a symbol like this for someone on the way to a friend’s house makes sense. This would automatically make me look to the 3rd house, often the house of local trips, and we can see that the 3rd has placements that are harmonic (via trine, 120 degrees) to the 11th. However, it is both the lesser and greater malefics, Mars and Saturn, respectively, that are in the 3rd, which is a bad omen. And the ruler of the 11th, the Moon, is exalted in Taurus, so considered honored guest in this sign. However, not only is the Moon opposed the 3rd by degree, but the Moon is aslo conjunct the Gorgon Medusa fixed star, Algol, which we’ve seen variations of the influence of this fixed star. Also, Jupiter is in fall (or exiled) since it’s in Capricorn. We also see that Jupiter is opposed Mercury, as well as trine the Moon and malefics.

It’s important to know that since Mercury for Virgo in this chart represents the subject/victim, the other/antagonist is represented by Virgo’s opposite where the Descendant is: Pisces. Jupiter rules Pisces, so we already have an idea of how both planets represent both individuals—Natti and Hodgkins—from this moment:

  • Anne Natti was a teacher, a very mercurial role, possibly a symbol of her actual identity
  • The Sun has no aspect to its domicile, Leo, when only onesign away, and this tends to mean an aversion; however, Leo is the 12th house (house of bad spirit), which represents suffering, enmities, sickness, dangers. Mercury is conjunct Venus in the first decan of Cancer here along with the Sun; however, due to the proximity of the Sun, both are “combust,” thus “corrupted” in their own right. Symbolically, the Sun is shining on this attractive (Venus) mercurial victim from a gross position.
  • Considering how the 7th house of partners is basically the 1st house of the Other, what we have here is a mirrored moment of two individuals that perhaps were fated to encounter each other?
  • Natti encountered violence and death (Mars in domicile in Scorpio conjunct retrograde Saturn) on her trip (3rd house), as well as a 6’8” sex offender (Jupiter in fall in Capricorn) possibly during a moment she was enjoying her walk (5th house). A big reason why I feel Hodgkins and Natti had an argument is because the 3rd house is also the house of communication, and with the placements here, it looks as though there was a hair trigger.
  • Hodgkins seemed to be enjoying himself in natureduring his ride (Moon exalted in Taurus, also in traditional astrology Moon is in joy in “Hodgkins’ 3rd house), either became extremely attracted to Natti when he saw her (Moon in Venus’ sign Taurus, Venus in Moon’s sign Cancer—mutual reception, also in traditional astrology Venus is in joy in “Hodgkins’ 5th house) and/or became extremely vulnerable to her response to him/his response to the dog, like Hodgkins’ own dignity itself was challenged (Moon opposed Mars/Saturn).

Let’s glance at the decanic regions/tarot minor arcana associated with the planetary placements (we’ll exclude the angles since the exact time is unknown):

  • Sun/Mercury/Venus: 2 of Cups (Love)
  • Saturn (as it just went back into 1st face of Scorpio, even though close enough to 2nd face of Scorpio): 5 of Cups (Disappointment)
  • Mars: 6 of Cups (Pleasure)
  • Jupiter: 2 of Disks (Change)
  • Moon: 7 of Disks (Failure)

I speculated this moment in time due to the fact the Mean North Node of the Moon (Rahu) was conjunct the MC/midheaven, which of course would mean the South Node (Ketu) was conjunct the IC/nadir. Note that the planets that rule the signs symbolizing Natti and Hodgkins—Mercury and Jupiter, respectively—are also the rulers of the midheaven (Gemini: Mercury) and nadir (Sagittarius: Jupiter). And their tarot minor arcana are also compelling:

  • MC: 8 of Swords (Interference)
  • IC: 8 of Wands (Swiftness)

Given what can be gleaned by consulting a forensic chart in this particular case, these decans—the MC’s Jupiter in Gemini 1st face and the IC’s Mercury in Sagittarius 1st face—it seems these two may be archetypally accurate, as Rahu is known as an area of increase in a malefic sense, and Ketu as a decrease in the same, often known by the adages the head and tail of the dragon, respectively.

Lastly, as Plutonian/Dionysian themes are strong in this post, it would be neglectful to not consider Pluto’s placement:

According to the ephemeris for 1984, Pluto had already been in early Scorpio; however, Pluto went retrograde on February 4, crossed back into Libra on May 19, went direct on July 9, entered back into Scorpio on August 29. Pluto went retrograde on February 6, 1985, but went back direct at 1 degree, 55 minutes of Scorpio on July 12, 1985.

Considering Pluto on the time of this posting today on December 30, 2021 is at 25 degrees, 54 minutes of Capricorn, since Anne Natti’s murder, Pluto has moved almost 90 degrees. So, in those few months in 1984, when Pluto was in domicile in Scorpio (a feature of modern astrological interpretation; yet, also the equivalent symbolism of the lord of the underworld being home), Pluto’s last visit into the sign of its detriment, Libra, occurred in this era, not to occur again for a long time, considering that Pluto takes 248 years to orbit the Sun.

Retrograde Pluto in Venus’ sign was from 1971-1984.

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