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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
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    Where the rainbow ends
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    UK - Worcestershire, Fem Skeletal 'Bella in the Wych Elm', Hagley Hall, Apr'43

    An intriguing and probably unsolvable case...my specialty!

    On 18 April, 1943, four boys (Robert Hart, Thomas Willetts, Bob Farmer and Fred Payne) from Stourbridge were poaching in Hagley Woods on the nearby Wychbury Hill when they came across a large Wych Hazel, a tree often confused by local residents with a Wych Elm. Hagley Wood is part of the Hagley Hall estate belonging to Lord Cobham.
    Believing this a good place to hunt birds' nests, Farmer 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 animal. However, he quickly realised, after seeing human hair and teeth, that he was holding a human skull. As they were on the land illegally, Farmer put the skull back and all four boys returned home without mentioning their discovery to anybody.
    On returning home the youngest of the boys, Tommy Willetts, 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 by Prof. James Webster. He quickly established that the skeleton was female and had been dead for at least 18 months, placing her time of death around October 1941. 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 fitted in 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 house, the records were too vast for a proper identification to take place.

    Source: Wikipedia
    Once you take away the "supernatural" elements emphasized on so many websites, what we have here could be a case involving illegal immigration, espionage, or organized crime. "Bella" seems never to have officially existed in the UK, but during wartime that wasn't so unusual.

    The most complete treatment (albeit a little bit occultish) is at http://www.mysteriouspeople.com/Bell...he_wychelm.htm. I wonder what DNA would tell us...if "Bella's" location is even known today?
    Last edited by CarlK90245; 04-08-2013 at 01:16 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    1,955
    Wow,Seriously creepy,but interesting.
    What in the world could have happened in this womans life to lead to this?
    Goes to show our present times have no monopoly on bizzare events.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Posts
    1,306
    This was during the war, people died in many many ways.
    You would have to look at the owners of the property first and those who work for them...no way to know these things now.

    Very interesting !

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Posts
    842

    Wych Hazel or Wych Elm

    It appears that someone would have had to have known that this tree was hollow in the center. Do we even know if the tree was a Wych Hazel or a Wych Elm for sure? According to Wikipedia and other such websites neither Wych Hazel or Wych Elm are known to hollow out as they age. Therefore someone locally would have had to have known that this particular tree was hollow in order to have disposed of the body there.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wych_Hazel

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wych_Elm

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
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    Queensland, Australia
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    Is there any way of finding out if there ever was a Clarabella Dronkers born in the Netherlands?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
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    371
    Don't know where my post went. Anyway, I read an article years ago about this fascinating story. It stated that her shoes were traced to a Dutch manufacturer because of the pattern of her crepe soles. Also the labels in her clothing had been removed. Lends credence to the Dutch spy theory. There was speculation that she had landed in the tree hollow as a result of a misguided parachute jump and either the fall had killed her or she suffocated in the parachute material. Can't figure out why authorities won't open the case files to the public unless it would tend to embarass someone "important".

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Posts
    842
    Quote Originally Posted by Stella View Post
    There was speculation that she had landed in the tree hollow as a result of a misguided parachute jump and either the fall had killed her or she suffocated in the parachute material.
    Not likely, I wouldn't think. WWII era parachutes were usually made of silk cloth (see the recent articles on D.B.Cooper and the silk parachute that was originally thought to have been his). She would not have suffocated under a silk parachute held up by the branches of the Wych-Elm or Wych-Hazel, whichever it was.

    And where was the parachute and it's rigging when the boys discovered her remains just 18 months later? The rigging would most certainly have been inside the tree trunk along with the bones.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Northern Virginia
    Posts
    171
    Agreed, Hurricane. Plus, it would have been noted had she been wearing pants, and no one parachutes in a skirt.

    The few accounts that mention a missing barmaid seem unlikely to me, simply because I think that LE would have latched on to that if you had a missing woman and a woman's body from roughly the same time frame. Unfortunately, due to the Blitz, there were many many people who got out of London and went to work out in the countryside (especially children), and there seems to be little accounting for them. Some were definitely placed through programs, but others were "friend of a friend" or distant relative arrangements. Also, remember that there was a thriving black market economy - if she was part of it, no one would 'fess up to knowing her, as being caught would certainly mean jail, and possibly whipping or even the death penalty. All for participating in black market activities.

  9. #9
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    Apr 2007
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    842
    Who knows what has been printed in articles in the past but the articles available today all seem to indicate that what was found with the remains were a gold wedding ring, one crepe soled shoe, and some fragments of clothing. Apparently there was no inscription inside the wedding ring.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Upstate NY
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    UK - "Who put Bella in the witch elm?" Skeleton in tree, Hagley Woods, Midlands, 1943

    Romance! Mystery! Er...witchcraft?

    Shaking the Hand of Glory: Who Put Bella Down The Wych-Elm? (whofortedblog.com)
    During WWII in the Midlands of Great Britain in an area called Hagley Woods, some teenage boys were looking for bird’s eggs and rabbits to poach when one found a skull stuck down inside a Witch Hazel tree, along with a green bottle and some blue women’s shoes.
    ---
    Only one parent phoned the police to report the corpse stuffed in a tree in the back forty of Lord Cobham’s country estate.

    The nearly full skeleton was exhumed from the tight space, all but a hand (or part of a hand), and through forensics it was found to be a middle aged woman wearing a worn gold colored wedding band, who had given birth at some point, and had been dead for at least 18 months.

    Her missing hand was subsequently found buried near the tree.
    ---
    In the many years since, locals have not let the case go. Ever since 1943, messages in white chalk, often times written in the same distinctive hand, have been appearing around Hagley Woods, first saying “Who put Luebella down the wych–elm”, then evolving into “Who put Bella in the witch elm – Hagley Woods”.
    ---
    The missing hand has led some to believe that she was a victim of a “black magic execution”.
    ---
    Many past cultures have cut the hand from executed people, sometimes making a candle using the fat from the same corpse, and used the dried or pickled hand and candle as a charm for finding lost treasure or putting a sleeping spell on people.
    ---
    Locals from Black Country seem to agree that, if she was murdered at all, “Bella” was likely put in the tree by someone with an extensive knowledge of the woods, likely a local person.
    ---
    much, much more at link above

    Who put Bella in the Wych Elm? (Wiki)

    The Body In The Tree – Hagley Wood (truecrimelibrary.com)

    Bella in the Wych Elm: A Midlands Murder Mystery (brian-haughton.com)
    Marx: "Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen."


  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
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    371
    I haven't read about this in years but I seem to recall that it was believed that "Bella" was a Dutch spy. She was either executed quietly or died when her parachute failed to open. Very interesting case with some contradictory info out there.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
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    6,481
    Poor 'Bella.. I have wanted to write a short story based on this case for years, and already have some notes in place for it. The green bottle, the blue shoes, the buried hand.. it all speaks to a great mystery, doesn't it?

    Thank you for posting this!

  13. #13
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    Oct 2009
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    Crazy. was anyone questioned at the estate?

  14. #14
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    Jun 2011
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    McWopetaz Metroplex, Illinois U. S. of A.
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    The best account I have of this case (3 pages) is in a 1995 book entitled Forces From Beyond by Brian Lane.

    I haven't seen, so I wonder what they thought the woman's weight was. They should have been able to make a pretty good estimate from her height and the size of her clothing.
    This my opinion and to the best of my knowledge, that is, if I'm not joking.


    Stan Reid

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Posts
    1,341
    Here's another link to the story, the interesting part is the comment at the bottom of the page.

    http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/e...-wych-elm.html

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