Obscure Killers of the North

Author: Florenot Epinard
Released In:

In this book, we’ve discussed the Botgelvi Throat-Cutter, Lyngerd the Poisoner, and the Nameless Nord. Now we’ve come to the most mysterious killer of them all. Some of my fellow scholars question if this person actually existed despite the plethora of accounts. I will concede that while folklore and superstition are not the most accurate references, often shifting to account for new and greater beliefs, they usually contain at least some kernel of truth. Still, the very nexus of lore that discusses this killer leads me to believe that all the stories, rhymes, and ditties reveal events that happened.

Regardless of the actual historical basis for this killer, the effect he had on the cultural practices of northern Skyrim are clear. It is said that children hid under their beds on the darkest nights of the season in the hopes that they would be spared. And that all adults fell silent under the threat of offending the wrong person and facing the consequences. Allow me to introduce to you, dear reader, the Butcher of Morthal.

Little is known about this illusive character. He appears sporadically in tales dating back to 2E 248 and more frequently in children’s songs from the same period. Throughout history, butchers have served as a source of fear and folklore. Perhaps this fascination stems from the profession’s familiarity with the dead and anatomy. Whatever the cause, there are facts which cannot be ignored about the supposed Butcher of Morthal.

He’s a dastardly man, Butcher Haefal
Protective of his sweetrolls.
His steel is colder than old Morthal
To carve you up for frost trolls.

He’ll call you goat while he slits your throat
The dastardly butcher, Haefal.
When the river thaws then it’s down you’ll float
Never again seen in Morthal.

—Children’s skipping rhyme circa 2E 275

The disturbing details of the above excerpt point to the long winter of 2E 248. As many as a dozen families disappeared, which led to paranoia and worry among the survivors of Morthal. The missing Nords were never found, though their doors were left open almost as if someone came into their homes in the middle of the night and dragged them away.

Our records from the period bear no mention of the name Haefal, or this mystery would be solved before it began. It’s likely that name was attributed to the murders by the creator of the children’s rhyme.

Most scholars at the time, and my contemporaries today, assume that the missing villagers were the result of strategic Goblin attacks which were frequent during that winter. But, for a moment, let us consider that the Butcher of Morthal was real. Who was he?

Morthal is not a large village, so it is unlikely that there was a formal butcher. More realistically, every family had experience butchering game animals. If there was one specialized craftsman, then it would be far easier to ascertain who the killer was. Or indeed if the killer was a skilled butcher at all. Still, there is a distinct possibility that butcher referred to the gruesome fate of the victims and not a profession at all.

As for temperament, he would have to be highly reactive. The children’s rhymes suggest that the killer exacted revenge over a breach of the code of conduct: eating his sweetrolls. If this is the case, that something as small as a missing dessert would result in brutal murder, then the killer would have to be more than just protective of sweetrolls. The protection would be fanatical, almost religious. But a religious devotion to a delectable dessert is straying too far from the source material to be a feasible theory and so I will set it aside.

It may be worth noting that many sources about Butcher Haefal include references to goats. Perhaps this was a way of announcing his intent to his victims? There was a theory that multiple herds of goats also disappeared around this same year, though the records of herd sizes are more sparse than usual. I find that explanation difficult to believe, but for the sake of academic integrity, I resolved to include the information here.

With such a secretive and potentially fictionalized killer, it’s difficult to tell when the deaths stopped. In truth, it’s impossible to tell if the killer was ever actually caught. The other examples in this book have a more definitive resolution. Which is a boon for historians and the populace as a whole, but the Butcher of Morthal’s legend has never fully died.

If you travel to Morthal and ask a village elder, they’ll likely tell you who the Butcher was. They may even regale you with tales of how the Butcher haunted their nightmares as a child. Which just goes to show the hold that the Butcher has upon the people of Morthal. By existing in folklore and in popular memory, he never really died. The Butcher of Morthal can never truly be killed or defeated.

Scroll to Top