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In 1943, a group of young children discovered the skeleton of a young woman inside of a wych elm tree in the small English town of Hagley. These four boys, local to the area, were in Hagley wood poaching some of the wild game on the estate when they came across a large tree. They thought that the tree would be an ideal place to hunt and steal from birds nests. One of the boys, Bob Farmer, began to climb the tree to scout for any possible nests to thieve from.
While climbing he looked down through the hollow trunk of the tree and saw a skull, of which he first thought to be an animals that got stuck. But after further investigation, he realised it possessed human hair and teeth. Putting the skull back where it was found, the group of children left the tree and agreed not to mention their discovery to anyone; however, the youngest of the group, Thomas Willetts, felt disturbed by the discovery, and he told his parents of the skull who then informed the local police.
When the local law enforcement investigated the tree in question, they found a nearly complete human skeleton (missing only a hand which was later found close to the tree) along with a shoe, fragments of clothing, and a solid gold wedding ring. In the forensic investigation, limited though at that time, the skull proved itself an invaluable piece of evidence as it carried viable tufts of hair for DNA testing and a clear and near complete dental pattern. While under forensic examination, a Professor James Webster discovered that the body was that of a female that died a minimum of 18 months prior.
This examination also turned up the discovery of a piece of taffeta in the girls mouth, implying her cause of death to be suffocation. She also must have been placed in the tree soon after her death as she would not have fit inside the hollow trunk once rigor mortis set in. While trying to identify the woman who had sadly been placed in the tree, the police hit a stonewall. Yes, the items found with the corpse had helped clue them in on what the girl would have looked like, yet with so many people reported missing during the war, the records were too vast for a formal identification.
A year later, a piece of graffiti was spray painted on a wall in Birmingham that read: "Who put Bella in the wych elm." With this new message appearing, investigators were led to a few new leads to track down who exactly Bella was. Over the years since this first message, others have popped up with the same style, the most recent of which appearing on the Hagley Obelisk near the discovery point of the skeleton.
These pieces of graffiti are the most recent developments of the mystery, with no further leads or arrests made. But there are a few theories around. During a programme broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in 2014, two possible victims were suggested. One of these being a prostitute from Birmingham that reported her friend Bella, another prostitute, that went missing three years previously. The second possible victim that was put forward in the show originated in a statement given to the police in 1953 by Una Mossop who said her ex-husband, Jack Mossop, along with a Dutchman named van Ralt placed the woman in the tree trunk.
She says in the statement that the men had met at the Lyttelton Arms, a pub local to Hagley for a few drinks. With the Dutchman was a woman that is said to have gotten drunker as the night progressed, resulting in her becoming unconscious while the men drove around the town. The men reportedly put her unconscious body in the trunk with the hope of giving her a scare once she woke up, but in the night she passed away. This second theory holds a bit more weight as Miss Mossop's ex-husband, Jack Mossop, was institutionalised in Stafford Mental Hospital due to recurring dreams of a woman staring at him through a tree. The only part of this explanation that let's it down is why did Una Mossop would wait 10 years after her ex-husband's death to come forward with this information?
Other theories are abound, some including parachuting lessons gone wrong, spies, and even witchcraft. But until one of these theories are proven, or the truth comes forward, there is only one question you need to answer. Who do you think put Bella in the wych elm?