The Bizarre Mystery of Who Put Bella down the Wych Elm and Why
As mysterious as the Somerton Man, who was the mysterious woman left inside a tree. Was Bella a spy, prostitute or human sacrifice?
Many unsolved murders could keep you up at night; I'm not talking about the famous ones such as Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac killer, but unheard of ones. Mysteries that are in the realm of strange and creepy. I have been fascinated with the Somerton Man for many years, so imagine how I felt when I discovered one of these mysteries originates in England.
Who put Bella down the Wych Elm is one of those cases. A case so bizarre police may never solve it, one shrouded in mystery. Who was Bella? What was her real name and who murdered her? All of these questions remain unanswered from this 1940s wartime mystery.
Near Birmingham along Hagley Road is a track that looks forbidden. The trail leads to Hagley Wood which is the location of our mystery. On the 18th of April 1943, four boys were hunting for birds' nests in the wood. Trying to substitute their meagre rations with poaching, they were trespassing in the wood. One of the boys, Bob Farmer, found a large Wych Elm and climbed it to see if there were any nests. At the top, he looked down and what he saw made him freeze. There, in the hollow of the wide trunk, was a skull. At first, the boys thought it was an animal skull; closer examination revealed human hair and teeth.
The four boys ran home, making a pact not to speak about the incident as they did not want to be in trouble for trespassing. However, it wasn't long before the youngest, Thomas Willets, broke down and told his father what he had seen. His father phoned the police, who found the body as described by the boys. The body in the tree was a complete skeleton, except for a missing hand. On the other hand, was a cheap imitation wedding ring; stuffed in her mouth was a crumpled piece of taffeta. Her body also contained scraps of inexpensive clothing and a shoe.
Forensics concluded the victim had been suffocated and placed in the tree almost immediately before rigour mortis had started. She had been murdered eighteen months before discovery. The woman had a strange lower jaw and crooked teeth. Police discovered the missing hand buried close to the tree. As she later became known, Bella was approximately thirty-five years old, had brown hair, and was five feet in height. She had also been a mother to at least one child. Unfortunately, the case was cold almost as soon as it started; no dental records could identify the woman; no one in the local area ever came forward to say they had seen her, let alone knew her.
The police followed every lead, including locating the manufacturer of her shoes and tracing all the owners except for one pair; none provided any identification. The war took over; the case was forgotten until a message appeared.
The message said, 'Who put Bella down the Wych Elm.' The writing was found in many different locations; all seemed to have been penned by the same hand. Was someone trying to hint at what had happened, or were they trying to stir the police into finding the perpetrator?
Theories and Conspiracies.
Even with the lack of evidence, several theories exist about what happened to Bella. The first came from Professor Margaret Murray; she stated that the murder scene resembled a witch's black magic ritual known as the Hand of Glory. The hand was severed and placed near the body to encourage magic for all purposes. Although respected, most people thought the Professors explanation was not realistic.
Ten years after this was suggested, writer Byford Jones started writing several articles about the mystery. He received a mysterious letter signed by Anna Cleverly claiming she had information about the murders. She claimed that Bella was a foreign spy who was part of a team sent to Britain to discover the location of munitions factories. They were then reporting this information to Germany. She claimed Bella was Dutch and had become drunk with some men. To teach her a lesson, when she passed out, the men had placed her in the tree, hoping she would wake up and realise how dangerous her behaviour was. They had not meant to kill her but had by accident. Although this did not explain the taffeta in her mouth, the named officer had died forty-two months after the death in a mental hospital. He had been placed there claiming the sight of a skull haunted him.
Another popular theory that emerged was that she was the wife of Dutch spy Johannes Dronkers. Dronkers had been executed by the British in 1942, but his wife was described as having unusual teeth. Moreover, she had disappeared at the time of his arrest; her name was Clarabella. Some of these details MI5 would verify when asked.
Czech Gestapo Agent Josef Jakobs stated that she was his spy lover, German actress Clara Bauerle. Evidence supports this as Bauerle had no billboards after the Spring of 1941; she disappeared. However, Bauerle was considered tall; Bella was only five feet. Later, authorities would discover that the actress had passed away in a German hospital.
Another theory that has been spoken about was that Bella was a prostitute who a client killed. That she was a refugee fleeing the Blitz, only to be killed. Or was she a gypsy girl who her tribe had murdered? The mystery, however, deepened when her skeleton disappeared from Birmingham University Medical School. This further led people to speculate that she may have been a spy and removing the body was part of a cover-up by the British government.
Another interesting factor was that the graffiti kept coming, the last known sighting of any being in 1999.
The Bella Mystery
It seems unlikely that we will ever know Bella's story or the circumstances that surrounded her death. As a result, her identity will remain forever a mystery. As it stands, there is no body and no tree. The tree was removed after it was struck by lightning and died. DNA advancements may have yielded an identity, but this is impossible without a body.
It is possible she was a spy who parachuted into the area only to be met with a violent end. It is also possible she was a homeless woman who met a murderer. Unfortunately, the lack of evidence and information seems that it is improbable that any one will solve the mystery of who she was and who put Bella down the Wych Elm. What do you think?
Join our discussion thread and let me know your views about who Bella was and how she died?