Fowl play in an English village

Townspeople are stumped by a chicken-style whodunit.

Published March 2, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Finchingfield, England, located northeast of London in Essex County, has been called "the most photographed village in England" for its pretty-as-a-postcard cottages, gardens and tea rooms. But a shadow has fallen over this once pastoral town -- the shadow of murder.

Violet, a plucky Rhode Island Red chicken owned by Finchingfield resident Paula Flight, was found dead outside her pen Dec. 4.

Her death has been labeled "suspicious" by the BBC, which reported that Violet had received death threats "for allegedly defacing a war memorial," prompting her owner to take out a $1.5 million life insurance policy on the chicken from the London firm Grip.

Simon Burgess, who arranged the policy for Flight, told the Associated Press that it would pay out only if Flight could prove that Violet was killed and eaten by Finchingfield Parish councilors -- or abducted by aliens.

What did the parish councilors have against the crimson-headed fowl? It turns out Violet was quite a hell-raiser. In addition to messing up the town's war memorial on a regular basis, she also strutted around and relieved herself in Fox Pub, which was formerly run by Flight and her husband.

Flight maintains her chicken's innocence, and claims Violet actually helped Finchingfield by attracting visitors to the village.

So who did it? Accusations are flying. Finchingfield Parish Council Chairman Edwin Collar has admitted to threatening to wring Violet's neck, but he denies any wrongdoing. Fox Pub landlord Mike Paviour told the Associated Press that he is happy Violet will no longer perch on his shelves, but he added, "I'm sorry the chicken has passed away."

The mystery may never be solved, but at least it's good for business. Journalists are covering the story from as far away as Israel, Brazil and Australia, and busloads of tourists arrive in Finchingfield every week.

By J.A. Getzlaff

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