19 April 2017

A Blog, a Podcast and a YouTube Video explore Bella in the Wych Elm

Clara Bauerle
Clara Bauerle
My goodness... how people love an unsolved mystery. I guess there is a fair bit of fun in speculating on solutions. Bella in the Wych Elm generates a fair bit of blog posts, articles, podcasts and videos out there. I've come across a couple more recently...

Oh How Peculiar 
A blog post on Tumblr notes the usual possibilities - prostitute, Dutch member of a spy ring, victim of a witch's coven and... of course... that she was Clara Bauerle:
[one theory...] She was a part of a Nazi spy ring operating in the area. In declassified documents, a Nazi spy named Josef Jacobs was reportedly carrying a photograph of a woman he identified as Clara Bauerle. A music hall performer who had toured the Midlands before, he claimed that Bauerle was recruited and going to parachute into the area in 1941. Jacobs was captured before she was to have arrived and he was later executed by firing squad at the Tower of London. Investigators have been unable to eliminate Clara Bauerle as a match for “Bella.” [There is no evidence whatsoever that Clara Bauerle toured the Midlands. The Home Office records that tracked entry and exit records noted a different Klara Sophie Bauerle who had been in England in the 1930s.]
Thinking Sideways
Thinking Sideways Podcast - cover image
Thinking Sideways Podcast - cover image
This is a bit different... a podcast on Bella in the Wych Elm. The podcast runs to about 45 minute and is, interestingly, hosted by a trio from Portland, OR - Joe, Steve, Devin. The main host (Joe) introduces the history of the story with the other two hosts (Steve and Devin) interjecting comments at various points In many ways it sounds like a morning radio show in North America where the hosts chat quite a bit with themselves. The co-hosts ask various clarifying questions, for example, how would the investigators know that the mystery woman had given birth? Answer - the hip bones change during pregnancy/child birth. Those questions and answers are generally helpful although sometimes they tend to go off onto tangents.

Apparently, the forensic examiner originally concluded that the body had been in the tree for four years (so, since 1939) and then revised his estimate to 18 months. That's a pretty big spread... 18 months to 48 months. Clearly, determining time of death with little more than a skeleton is a tricky business. Many of the theories that Bella in the Wych Elm was Clara Bauerle would require the 18 month estimate to be fairly firm. It doesn't sound like the forensic examiner would have been that certain of his estimate.

The podcast hosts cover the usual possibilities for Bella in the Wych Elm - victim of a witch coven, thief who had her hand cut off, a music hall singer of a West Midlands spy ring, and, of course, the Clara Bauerle theory. The hosts actually get the details of what Josef Jakobs said about Clara correct. Josef didn't actually think Clara would be sent over since the Germans hadn't heard from him. The hosts did make a tenuous connection with the music hall singer and Clara Bauerle - but it is a tenuous connection indeed. The hosts even mentioned my blog - which is nice. They do engage in a fair bit of discussion as to whether Clara could have been the singer who spent two years in the West Midlands, whether Clara spoke English, etc. According to one of the hosts, the Tower of London has all of Josef's parachute gear (painted white). Actually, the parachute gear at the Tower are just generic props. The location of his parachute gear is unknown.

The hosts do mention the height difference between Bella and Clara and reference my website and conclude that the spy theory is far-fetched. The podcast was produced in 2014 so there is no mention of my tracking down Clara's December 16, 1942, death certificate from Germany. The hosts then touch on a variety of other interesting parts of the story. Why was the body stuffed in a tree? Was she a local woman? Was she a refugee from London?

I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast. It was interesting and well researched, as well as entertaining.

Cayleigh Elise - Nameless #3
This video, just over 15 minutes, goes into a fair bit of detail about about the West Midlands spy ring and the possibility that Bella in the Wych Elm was Clara Bella Dronkers, a Dutch woman and a member of the spy ring.

The video later notes that another spy, Johannes Marinus Dronkers was captured near the same area and might have a connection with Clara Bella Dronkers. This is not accurate. Johannes Marinus Dronkers was captured from a boat off the southeastern coast of England, nowhere near the West Midlands.

The video also spends a fair bit of time on the Clara Bauerle theory and does reference my blog and website. Again, there is no evidence that Clara Bauerle spent two years in the music hall scene of the West Midlands.Produced in November 2016, the video does reference my discovery of Clara Bauerle's death registration in Berlin.

This was an interesting video and generally well-researched. It touches on many of the theories about Bella and presents the information well.

14 April 2017

Bella in the Wych Elm - Carnie Films

Carnie Films - Bella in the Wych Elm
Carnie Films - Bella in the Wych Elm
I know that there is an HD Paranormal film in the works about Bella in the Wych Elm but... in searching the net, I came across a link to another film, this one with Tom Lee Rutter as Writer/Director/Producer. The film, Bella in the Wych Elm, is billed as A Folk Mystery Phantasmagoria.

A review of the film was done by Midlands Movies on April 12, 2017. I'm kind of keen to see this film as the reviewer notes: "In real-life the victim, whose murder was estimated to have occurred in 1941, remains unidentified but Rutter takes a very interesting premise and turns it into much more than the tale itself." Wonder what the interesting premise is...

It looks like the film was just completed a week ago sooo... have to be satisfied with the Teaser/Trailer on Vimeo.

10 April 2017

Arbitrary Times... and Facts?

Arbitrary Times logo
Arbitrary Times logo
Came across another little site called Arbitrary Times that has a short post on the Last Execution in the Tower. I'm not sure of the information source for this article but there are some inaccuracies.

The last execution in the Tower of London took place during World War II when Josef Jakobs, a German soldier, was captured while parachuting into England.

After a quick trial in Brixton
[trial actually held at Duke of York's Headquarters], he was convicted of espionage, brought to the Tower, held overnight [brought to the Tower on the morning of his execution], and executed by firing squad on August 14, 1941 [Nope, August 15, 1941].

The chair in which he sat during his execution is still on display.

Jakobs was one of hundreds who were executed at the Tower of London during its 900 year history
, and as a result it has gained a reputation as one of the most haunted locations in Britain. [I don't know about hundreds - according to the Capital Punishment UK site - confirmed executions from 1388 to 1780 were 122 with another 11 in the 20th Century. Not sure if 133 counts as hundreds. As well, those actually executed within the confines of the Tower (and not Tower Green) are much fewer - only 10 from 1388 to 1780 and then the 11 spies from WWI and WWII.]
  Even a quick glance at the Wikipedia entry for Josef Jakobs would have corrected the inaccuracies.

05 April 2017

Another article about Bella in the Wych Elm

Murder and Mystery at the Witch Elm (Any-NewsBD site)
Came across this site the other day - it has a rehash of the Bella in the Wych Elm story.
Any-NewsBD - Murder and Mystery at the Witch Elm

While containing many of the same inaccuracies as the original Allison Vale piece (Josef Jakob was a Czech Gestapo agent who was supposed to meet Clara Bauerle in the Midlands), this article does acknowledge the 1942 death date of Clara. In that way, it is an improvement over some of the other sites.
Other theories as to the mysterious murder also hinge on the spy idea. In 1941, a Czech [German, not Czech - Karel Richter was the Czech agent] agent of the Gestapo [Abwehr - not Gestapo. The Abwehr was the Military Intelligence arm of the Germany Armed Forces. The Gestapo was the Nazi State Secret Police. Two very different organizations.] named Josef Jakobs was arrested after covertly parachuting into Cambridgeshire, England. Authorities found on his person a photograph of a German cabaret singer and movie star named Clara Bauerle. Under questioning, Jakobs would point to Bauerle as being a Gestapo [Abwehr] secret agent as well, mostly recruited for her ability to speak with a Birmingham accent [Josef said not such thing.] and blend into the crowd [didn't say this either], and who was meant to parachute in and meet up with him later in the Midlands [Josef made no mention of the Midlands]. Although she was fairly well-known, Clara Bauerle sort of dropped from the radar at about that time, leading to speculation that it was her who had ended up in the Wych Elm. Yet, if this was the case, it has never been satisfactorily explained how she would have ended up out in that tree in the private woodland of Hagley Wood or who could have been the one to kill her or why. Bauerle is also thought to have been too tall to have been Bella, and she is often listed as having dying in 1942, which does not fit in with the Wych Elm murder. We will probably never know for sure and Jakobs was put to death by firing squad on August 15, 1941, holding the distinction of being the last person ever put to death in the Tower of London. His secrets would go to the grave with him.
 The article on this site was moderately accurate and gives a nice summary of the entire Bella in the Wych Elm saga.

31 March 2017

Media Review - Spy! - Episode 2: Camp 020 - 1980

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
BBC - Spy! Episode 2: Camp 020 (1980)

Original Air Date - 20 January 1980
TV Series - Spy!

Duration - 47:00 minutes

Director - John Bird

A few years ago, I read snippets from Christopher Andrew's authorized history of MI5 (The Defence of the Realm). At the time, I was digging into background information on Lt. Colonel Robin William George Stephens.  Andrews noted that:

Screenshot from Spy! Episodee 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 The Major receives a call from the Commandant in the Officer's Mess.
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
The Major receives a call from the Commandant in
the Officer's Mess.
"In 1980, ten former members of the secretarial staff at Camp 020 (some of whom had worked there from its opening in July 1940 to its closure at the end of the war) made a "vigorous' public protest at the BBC's portrayal of Tin-Eye Stephens of MI5 as a violent bully:

 'In fact the Commandant, though of terrifying aspect, was a skilled interrogator who obtained results without recourse to assault and battery. Indeed, the very basis of Camp 020 procedure was that nobody raised a hand against a prisoner. ... In sum, the Commandant's behaviour towards his officers, secretarial staff, guard troops and prisoners was, in our experience, always scrupulously correct.' "

Screenshot from Spy! Episodee 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 Hans Hansen (Wulf Schmidt) undergoes his first interrogation at Camp 020 by Lt. Duthie.
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Wulf Schmidt undergoes his first interrogation
at Camp 020 by Lt. Duthie.
I was rather intrigued to hear of this BBC show and some digging revealed it was most likely a TV Series entitled Spy! which broadcast in 1980. Episode 2 of the series dealt with Camp 020 but, given that the series aired over 37 years ago, trying to track down a copy seemed like a wild goose chase.

However, recently I was able to lay my hands on a copy of the episode in question and watched all 47 minutes with interest. In brief, the episode tells the story of Wulf Schmidt, a Danish national who landed in England via parachute in September 1940. He had been recruited by the German Abwehr but was captured rather quickly and brought to Camp 020 for interrogation.

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 Wulf Schmidt tries the patience of The Commandant
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Wulf Schmidt tries the patience of The Commandant
Eventually, Wulf Schmidt was turned and became a double-agent, one who would broadcast mostly false information to the Germans right up until the end of the war. He was Britain's famous agent TATE.

Given that the show aired in 1980, before any of the MI5 records had been declassified, I was intrigued to see that Nigel West was credited with the research. West knew both Agent TATE and Major Thomas Argyll Robertson who ran the double-cross system. It would seem that much of the episode's material is based on the personal recollections of these two men.

There are, naturally, some inaccuracies, as with many personal recollections. The most glaring, and the one which the Camp 020 secretaries took such offense to, was the portrayal of Lt. Col. Stephens.

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980 Wulf Schmidt being roughed up by the Commandant.
Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Wulf Schmidt being roughed up by the Commandant.
In the episode, Stephens barges in during Lt. Duthie's interrogation of Schmidt. Stephens ejects Duthie and the female secretary and then manhandles the stubborn Schmidt, punching him in the mouth. Based on what we know about Camp 020 and what took place there, this was more likely an altercation that took place between Schmidt and Colonel Scotland, Commandant of the infamous London Cage. Scotland was subsequently banned from Camp 020 interrogations for roughing up Schmidt.

Unfortunately, in the Spy! episode, the Commandant of Camp 020 seems to be a blend of Scotland and Stephens.

While Stephens did like to use the "blow hot, blow cold" method (essentially, good cop-bad cop), he was very much again physical beatings. At least at Camp 020.

Screenshot from Spy! Episode 2 - Camp 020 - BBC - 1980
Dr. Harold Dearden - mastermind behind Camp 020's
interrogation techniques.
I also found it interesting that while several different Abwehr officers were mentioned by their correct names, only one of the Camp 020 staff were identified by their correct names: Dr. Harold Dearden. The Commandant has no name. The Major is likely meant to be T.A. Robertson. Lt. Duthie and Lt. Pringle are pseudonyms for other Camp 020 officers, identities unknown. Although, if we dug in the TATE files from the National Archives, we could probably identify the officers involved in Schmidt's initial interrogations.

While the episode does have some historical inaccuracies, it is fascinating to watch as it is one of the few pieces of film media that deal with Camp 020 and the double-cross system. I thoroughly enjoyed it and... if anyone else wants to see it, let me know via email.

IMDb - entry for Spy! Camp 020.
BBC Genome - entry for Spy! Camp 020.
Christopher Andrew - Defend the Realm - The Authorized History of MI5, 2009.

26 March 2017

BS Historian Blog and Blank Rounds

Tower of London - East Walk - display commemorating wartime spy executions
Tower of London - East Walk - display
commemorating wartime spy executions
I came across a WordPress blog yesterday entitled the BS Historian - Sceptical Commentary on Pseudohistory and the Paranormal. I'll leave it to everyone's imagination as to what "BS" stands for. The anonymous author of the blog wrote a post on: Conscience Bullets – Firing Squads and the use of blank cartridges.

The blog author mentions Josef's execution and states that "There is no evidence to suggest that a blank cartridge was used in Jakobs’ case."

I don't agree with that statement as I do think there is a fair bit of commentary that indicates that was indeed the case. One of my blog posts looked at the British Procedure for Military Executions by Firing Squad, a document which states that two blank rounds were to be used.

The reasoning behind some rounds being blank was thought to be that it afforded each member of the firing squad a bit of doubt - "did I really fire the lethal round?". This worked well in the days of muskets when the wad that was placed in the muzzle along with the ball of shot also generated recoil. It was hard to tell the difference between a musket loaded with wad and ball and one just loaded with the wad. With modern rifles and bullets, any skilled marksman would notice the difference between the recoil of a live round versus that of a blank round (recoil was less due to absence of a bullet). But apparently, over time, the mind could convince itself that the recoil was softer. Another possible explanation was that should the firing squad ever be brought before a tribunal (e.g. by the enemy), each could plausibly deny that they had fired the lethal round. While the reason behind the modern-day usage of blank rounds might be a mystery, it was clear from the Military Police Manual, that blank rounds were issued.

22 March 2017

Pervitin in Josef Jakobs' Pocket

A book came out last year, written by a German author, that outlines the widespread use of drugs in the Third Reich. One of the main drugs was Pervitin, whose active ingredient is methamphetamine - today known as crystal meth.

Pervitin vial
I had come across suggestions of this before, that the German troops favoured methamphetamine while the American troops favoured benzedrine. Both drugs helped soldiers to stay awake, focused their attention and just helped them to perform at a higher level.

Norman Ohler, author of Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany goes even farther though and notes that Pervitin was seen as something of a wonder drug and was taken by housewives, truck drivers, train conductors and even Adolf Hitler.

"While Adolf Hitler allowed the world to believe he was a teetotaller who didn’t even touch coffee, a man who had thrown his last cigarettes into the Danube, the reality was that he was a super-junkie, addicted to cocaine, the heroin-like eukodal, and a toxic cocktail of narcotics supplied by Theodor Morell, a doctor described as ‘the Reich injection master’."

That would certainly explain a lot about Hitler - his manic energy, his crazyness. The thing with sustained use of methamphetamine is that it can lead to psychosis. No wonder then that the German war machine stuttered and died in the latter years of the war.

When German spy Josef Jakobs, was captured at Dove House Farm in Ramsey, Huntingdonshire, he had several packets of pills in his pockets. One of the packets was an aluminum screw-top container that contained white pills which Josef claimed "helped one to stay awake". British tests showed it to be methedrine or benzedrine - essentially methamphetamine. Most likely it was a capsule of Pervitin. Perhaps the Luftwaffe crew gave him a vial... or maybe the German Abwehr officers. Or maybe it was just normal to carry around a vial of crystal meth in Nazi Germany.

I haven't read Ohler's book yet, but it sounds very interesting. The story about Pervitin use by the troops of the Third Reich is not a new one. A 45 minute YouTube video outlines the history of the drug as well, for those who are interested. Alas, the video is in German and used Google Translate to generate English subtitles which, apparently, are not all that accurate.

Daily Mail - Blitzed Krieg: How Nazis rampaging across Europe were fuelled not just by blind fanaticism but CRYSTAL METH - supplied by a cocaine-addicted Fuhrer fed daily drug cocktails by the Reich ‘injection master’ - published online 2016 09 03.

Spiegel - The Nazi Death Machine - Hitler's Drugged Soldiers - published online 2005 05 06.