Bella In The Wych Elm

On 18 April 1943, four boys (Thomas Willetts, Bob Farmer, Robert Hart, and Fred Payne) found a human skeleton in the hollow trunk of an elm tree while they were poaching in Hagley Woods, UK. One of them reported this discovery to the police. Upon investigation, it was revealed that the corpse's mouth was stuffed with taffeta, and hidden along with her body, a gold wedding ring and a shoe. No arrest have been made to this day.

Pathologist Professor James Webster concluded that the remains belonged to a woman aged 35-40, who had been placed “while still warm” into the tree where she had remained hidden for at least 18 months. Cause of death was attributed to asphyxiation, on account of a portion of taffeta found deep inside her mouth.

Since the woman's murder was during the midst 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 reported missing during the war, records were too vast for a proper identification to take place. The current location of her skeleton is unknown, as is the autopsy report.

After six months, with police no closer to identifying the victim or her killer, the appearance of graffiti across the region, asking “Who put Bella down the wych elm?” suggested that someone knew more than they were letting on.

Police honed their search to identify the graffiti artist and followed the trail of anyone from the area known as “Bella”. Neither line of enquiry was successful. The search of national dental records also proved fruitless; the woman in the wych elm had apparently come from nowhere and was missed by no one.


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