Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?
The Victim of a Brutal Murder Mystery Lives On in Graffiti Messages
Something about England seems to attract the strange and mysterious– from Sherlock Holmes to Jack the Ripper, it always seems like something spooky is going on– but few cases can top the legend of the Wychbury skull. It’s like something ripped from the pages of an Agatha Christie book… except for one little problem: there’s no ending. The case has remained unsolved for many years, but someone (or something) won’t let the town forget.
On 18th April 1943 four Stourbridge teenagers, Fred Payne, Tommy Willetts, Robert Hart and Bob Farmer discovered the remains of a woman inside a hollow Wych Elm (also known as Scots (Scotch) Elm or Ulmus glabra) in Hagley Wood. It has been suggested that ritualistic magic or even wartime espionage may have been behind this murder mystery that after seventy-three years is still a focus of interest.
Black magic was blamed when four teenagers found a woman’s skeleton in a tree in wartime Worcestershire. Many years on, her story still haunts that corner of the Midlands. But who did put Bella in the Witch Elm? And why can’t they let her rest?
In 1999, a crowd of eclipse–seekers watched the wonder from the top of Wychbury Hill in northern Worcestershire were frustrated – like many Britons – by a haze of cloud that passed over the sun at the crucial moment. A mixture of passing New Agers, local youth and a few more sedate residents of the prosperous village of Hagley, they were too excited to let this set–back ruin their morning. But there was also another shadow hanging over the occasion, whose chill was, for many, harder to ignore.
Behind them, fenced off with barbed wire, the crumbling stone obelisk of the Hagley Hall estate teetered heavenwards, as it has done for 200 years. On it, a sinister piece of fresh graffito gleamed in the half–light: “Who put Bella in the Witch Elm?”
For Hagley–dwellers – and especially for those who remember the village before the post–war expansion of Birmingham forcibly connected it to the modern world – those words have a dark significance. They refer to a story which retains an unsettling force in those parts.