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Showing posts from May, 2017

Digitized Police Files - Bella in the Wych Elm

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I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago about the release of the police files from the Bella in the Wych Elm case. The files now reside in the custody of the Worcester Archives. I emailed them asking about digitization of the files, access, etc.

The files have been digitized (yay!) and include about 1400 TIF files. The items include paper files, photographs, photocopies and one VHS recording of a Crimestalker TV programme. Many of the documents are duplicates. The TIF files plus an MP4 of the VHS program come out to about 35GB (a fairly significant amount of data!) And... the whole package "only" costs £275. That includes the USB drive that would hold all that data. When I think that the National Archives only charges £3.50 for some of the WW2 spy files... the Bella amount seems a little steep.


One naturally wonders what is included in the files... beyond "paper files, photographs and photocopies". I did manage to get a copy of the catalogue of the files. This i…

Book Review - Spion Tegen Churchill (Spy Against Churchill) - 2017

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The Book
Spion Tegen Churchill - Leven en dood van Jan Willem ter Braak (Spy Against Churchill - Life and Death of Jan Willem ter Braak); Jan Willem van den Braak; WalburgPers; 2017 (in Dutch)

Summary

You only have to read the title of this book and the author's name to do a bit of a double take! The story of spy Jan Willem ter Braak... as told by author Jan Willem van den Braak. Despite the similarity in their names, the author says there is no relation between the two. Although the similarity in names intrigued the author as far back as the 1970s.

The author has researched the life of Engelbertus Fukken (alias Jan Willem ter Braak), a Dutchman who was caught up in the web of the German Abwehr's spy machine. Little is known about Fukken as he is one of the very, very few German spies who managed to evade the Home Guard and MI5 during the war. Fukken arrived in England via parachute in early November 1940, landing near Bletchley Park, Britain's top secret code-breaking faci…

Bella in the Wych Elm - An Unexplained Podcast

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I came across a podcast site last week that is rather interesting. The Unexplained Podcast is produced by Richard Maclean Smith and has garnered some great reviews.

Smith tackles the Bella in the Wych Elm saga in two podcasts. The first aired on January 26, 2017 and the second aired on February 11, 2017. Various sources are listed and it would appear that much of the podcast is based on Andrew Sparke's book, Bella in the Wych Elm (more on that below). A transcript of both podcasts is also provided.

The podcast is quite well done and definitely worth a listen. Unfortunately, the same misinformation around McCormick's speculations are included here as well. The most glaring errors are the following:
In 1968, McCormick is alleged to have conducted a series of interviews with a former Nazi called Franz Rathgeb. It turned out that a number of German spies had been active around the Midlands after all at precisely the time that the unknown woman would have gone missing. One of those…

Murder by Witchcraft - Donald McCormick - A Font of Inaccuracies

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In April 1943, four boys searching for bird's nests while trespassing on Lord Cobham's estate near Hagley, England, found rather more than they expected. Within the hollow bole of an old Wych Elm were skeletal remains. The police were called and a massive investigation ensued. But, to date, no one knows who the female victim was... or how she died.

We humans do not like unsolved mysteries and over the decades, many theories have been put forward. A recent spate of activity on the internet has reactivated interest in the case. Some of the theories, however, while quite fanciful, are not firmly rooted in the facts of the case.

Murder by Witchcraft - Donald McCormick
I have come across innumerable references to Donald McCormick's book, Murder by Witchcraft. Published in 1968, the book put forward an espionage connection. Alas, only fragments of McCormick's theories exist on the internet and so I decided to seize the bull by the horns and buy a copy of the book. It wasn…

The Police Files - Bella in the Wych Elm

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The upcoming HD Paranormal film on Bella in the Wych Elm claims to have access to the police files surrounding the case, as well as declassified MI5 documents. After a bit of searching, I came across a couple of blog posts from the Explore the Past blog of the Worcestershire Archives.

The first post (September 2, 2016) introduces the story of Bella in the Wych Elm and reveals that the Worcestershire Archives have received the police case files from the West Mercia Police. This is excellent news! The files are currently being catalogued by the archivists but are due to be available for public viewing at some time in the near future (we hope).

The blog post notes:
The spy-ring theory gained more weight when MI5 published some of its wartime files.  Particular interest centred around Josef Jakobs, an enemy agent who was arrested after parachuting into Cambridgeshire in 1941.  Jakobs had on him a photograph of the German singer and actress Clara Bauerle.  He said that Clara was a secret a…

Bella in the Wych Elm - Carnie Films (2017)

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Bella in the Wych Elm: A Folk Mystery Phantasmagoria
Carnie Films
Tom Lee Rutter
2017
35 minutes

A few weeks ago, I had the chance for an advance screening of this film produced by Tom Lee Rutter. The sound hadn't quite been finalized but I got a good impression of the film.

It's done in an old-fashioned black and white style with a narrator. The cinematography is rather interesting and it definitely kept my attention. Overal, the film had a spooky, ghostly flavour - very other-worldly, which is rather appropriate given the topic.

The narration of the story touches on the usual theories about Bella in the Wych Elm: witchcraft, gypsies, Dutch spy ring, etc. There is some speculation that Bella could be Clara Bauerle and some of the information presented is inaccurate: Josef Jakobs was not Czech-born. He never told MI5 that Clara Bauerle had been in England, nor that she spoke with a Birmingham accent. There are a number of sources that seem to have created a "hybrid" sto…