Saturday, October 30, 2010

Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?

WHO PUT BELLA IN THE WITCH ELM is a graffiti message that started appearing soon after a 1941 unsolved murder. The graffiti was last sprayed onto the side of a 200 year-old obelisk on 18 August 1999, in white paint. On 18 April, 1943, four boys were poaching in Hagley Woods near to Wychbury Hill when they came across a large Wych Hazel, a tree often confused by local residents with a Wych Elm. Believing this a good place to hunt birds' nests, one boy attempted to climb the tree to investigate. As he was climbing, he glanced down into the hollow trunk and discovered a skull, believing it to be that of an animal. However, after seeing human hair and teeth, he realized that he was holding a human skull.

As they were on the land illegally, the boy put the skull back and all four boys returned home without mentioning their discovery to anybody. On returning home the youngest of the boys felt uneasy about what he had witnessed and decided to report the find to his parents. When police checked the trunk of the tree they found an almost complete human skeleton, a shoe, a gold wedding ring, and some fragments of clothing. After further investigation, a severed hand was found buried in the ground near to the tree. The body was sent for forensic examination and it was quickly established that the skeleton was female and had been dead for at least 18 months. He found taffeta in her mouth, suggesting that she had died from asphyxiation. From the measurement of the trunk he also deduced that she must have been placed there "still warm" after the killing as she could not have fit once rigor mortis had taken hold. Since the woman's killing was so soon after the start of World War II, identification was seriously hampered. Police could tell from items found with the body what the woman had looked like but with so many people being reported missing from the war, and people regularly moving, the records were too vast for a proper identification to take place. The current location of the body is unknown. In 1944 the first graffiti message related to the mystery appeared on a wall in Upper Dean Street, Birmingham, reading Who put Bella down the Wych Elm - Hagley Wood.

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