‘Bella in the Wych Elm’? Grisly dis­cov­ery that left po­lice force stumped

Birmingham Post - - FEATURE -

PO­LICE have in the past dis­missed any talk of Satanism, and pub­licly stated the po­si­tion of scat­tered bones sug­gested they had been dis­placed by wild an­i­mals.

They con­cen­trated on claims that Bella was a pros­ti­tute, slaugh­tered by a twisted punter.

There is one thing be­yond ar­gu­ment. De­tec­tives at­tempt­ing to solve the crime hit a wall of si­lence.

The mur­der was un­cov­ered by Fred Payne, Tommy Wil­letts, Robert Hart and Bob Farmer, young boys who ven­tured into the cop­pice in search of bird eggs.

The vi­sion of what they found would stay with them for a life­time.

Bob scram­bled up an old wych elm tree and let out a pierc­ing scream. There, wedged in a hol­low, was a skull.

He would later re­call: “There was a small patch of rot­ting flesh on the fore­head, with lank hair at­tached to it. The two front teeth were crooked.”

It would be some time be­fore the boys, fear­ing they would land in hot wa­ter for tres­pass­ing, raised the alarm.

Af­ter all, they were un­sure the re­mains were even hu­man.

In the end, it was the youngest of the egg col­lec­tors, Tommy Wil­letts, who in­formed his fa­ther about what lurked in the woods.

Po­lice im­me­di­ately swooped on the dark, eerie par­cel of land. What they dis­cov­ered sent a chill down the spine of hard­ened de­tec­tives.

Pathol­o­gist Pro­fes­sor James Web­ster left no stone un­turned in his bid to iden­tify the body.

He de­duced the corpse was warm when placed in the tree. Bella had died from as­phyx­i­a­tion, caused by the plug of taffeta.

De­tec­tives scoured na­tional dental records and ev­ery miss­ing per­son file, but drew a blank.

Now, at last, they have some­thing to work on.

Peter Dou­glas Os­born be­lieves the im­age on this page will fi­nally pro­vide the an­swers that have eluded po­lice for decades.


A de­pic­tion of what ‘Bella’ could have looked like – com­plete with crooked front teeth – re­con­structed from pic­tures of her skull


Tommy Wil­lets was one of the boys who found the body

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