11 October 2017

Media Review - 13 O'Clock Podcast - Murder by Witchcraft (2017)

13 O'clock podcast
13 O'clock Podcast - Murder by Witchcraft? Bella in the Wych Elm and the Warwickshire Pitchfork Murder (2017)

Original Air Date - 25 July 2017
13 o'clock podcast - Episode 49 on YouTube
Duration - 56:06 minutes (Segment on Bella from 11:30 to 28:10
Hosts - Tom Ross & Jenny Ashford

I came across this podcast/YouTube video the other day and thought I'd do a review of it. The spiel for the podcast (which is also a video - the hosts give an explanation of this at the start) is as follows:
In the English Midlands in the 1940s, there were two very creepy unsolved murders: in one, a woman's skeleton was found stuffed inside a wych-elm tree, and in the other, an old farmer was murdered in broad daylight by having his throat slashed and his body pinned to the ground by a pitchfork. Neither of the killers was ever caught, and in fact, the identity of the woman found in the wych-elm is still unknown. Eerily, both cases had details that suggested that they could possibly have been occult related. Were these killings part of some weird black magic rite? On this episode, Tom and Jenny discuss two infamous unsolved murders: the case known as Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm, and the Charles Walton Pitchfork Murder. Along the way, we also discuss legends about witchcraft in rural England, as well as the possible Nazi spy connection of the mysterious Bella skeleton. Put on your goat's head and light a few black candles, because episode 49 of the 13 O'Clock Podcast has just been summoned from the underworld.
Summary
I started listening and the first four minutes were a discussion between the hosts in which they shared how they split their 13 O'Clock channel from Project Entertainment Network and were going out on their own. Then there was an intro to the Murder by Witchcraft piece followed by another discussion from the hosts about supporting their podcast channel on Patreon.

I get it... posting stuff for free is draining on time and the pocketbook (impatient drumming of fingers on desk whilst waiting for actual content).

They then made a plug for Spooky Empire... where you can meet the two hosts and see them on panels (this is around Halloween 2017 in the Orlando, Florida area). There was a plug for Unseen Hand... another something called Faceless Villain (a book by Jenny Ashford)... and a final plug for 13 O'Clock in Minutes, their other channel. They know the audience is impatient... but this is just stuff they have to do. Alright then...

We finally get to some substantial content at 11:30 minutes into the show (in case you want to skip the promotional plugs).

The topic of the show is two murders in the 1940s that happened within 50 kilometres of each other and were both linked to witchcraft. Jenny researched the Bella in the Wych Elm case for her book (Faceless Villain). While the show is on YouTube, it is primarily an audio podcast but they do include some still photographs, both generic images which have nothing to do with either case and some from the actual Bella and Walton cases. Like most double-host podcasts, there is a fair bit of interplay between the two hosts where Jenny tells the story and Tom interrupts with questions.

The telling of the story follows the usual path, four boys poaching for bird's eggs in Hagley Wood. They found a skeleton in a hollow Wych Elm tree. The police were called and discovered that the tree contained an entire skeleton, except for a hand, which was found outside the tree in some underbrush.

The hosts note that the skeleton was clearly that of a woman and a small woman at that (5 feet). [I'm not sure this would have been clearly obvious to the police investigators, but likely emerged during the autopsy.] At this point, the hosts make a fantastical statement that "presumably this woman was not English. They (the police?) could apparently tell this from her clothing." [I'm not sure where they got this information from but I have never come across this statement before. Her clothing had no labels and her shoes were English. There was no evidence that she was a foreigner or "not English".]

After telling the rest of the tale, the hosts indicate that the police identified three possibilities:
  • A Birmingham prostitute came forward and said that there was a prostitute named Bella who worked near Hagley Wood and had disappeared sometime around 1941;
  • Folklorist Margaret Murray focused on the separate hand which might imply witchcraft - Hand of Glory, etc.
  • In 1953, Una Mossop wrote a letter saying her husband, Jack Mossop had worked in a munitions factory during the war. Jack had known a Dutch man who was a Nazi spy. Jack said that after a night at the pub, he saw the the Dutch man strangle a Dutch woman and that they then stuffed the woman  into a tree in Hagley Wood. Jack later died in an insane asylum haunted by images of a woman in a tree.
The hosts suggest that the Nazi spy angle is quite plausible. According to them, several Nazi spies had been captured in this particular area (English Midlands) after landing by parachute.  [This is not entirely accurate. Gosta Caroli landed southeast of Northampton, which is apparently on the very southeastern edge of the Midlands. The rest of them landed in Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire.]

According to the hosts, there were a couple of other possibilities. There was a woman who was a Dutch Nazi spy who had parachuted into the area in 1941 and her code name was Clarabella. There was also a possibility she was could have been a Dutch woman named Clarabella Dronkers who was a known Nazi spy. In fact, another spy, a male spy, who also had the name of Dronkers was executed in 1942. [Both of these statements are based on imaginative speculations from "history" author Donald McCormick.] "There was also... a few years later, they captured a Gestapo agent, he was a Czech, his name was Josef Jakobs." [Josef was captured on February 1, 1941, not a "few years later". He was not a member of the Gestapo. He was not a Czech.] When he was captured, they found a picture on his person of his girlfriend who was a German actress and cabaret singer named Clara Bauerle. Which could be seen as Clarabelle or Clarabella. She was apparently a Nazi spy and she was his connection there. [Nope. She was not his connection in England as he arrived in February 1941.] According to the hosts, it could have been her because she had some screwed up teeth as well. [Based on what information? I have come across no sources that describe Clara Bauerle's teeth.] The hosts note that, after 1941, no one in Germany saw her again. [Given that my blog about Clara Bauerle's death certificate was posted in September 2016, it is unfortunate that the hosts hadn't come across that blog during their research for this story.] Apparently "they" (police?) don't know if it was really her, but it does seem like a possibility. The hosts admit that the "only thing against that is that the skeleton found in the tree was 5 feet tall and Clara Bauerle was quite a bit taller than that." [And don't forget that she died in Berlin on 16 December 1942.]

While the hosts admit that the Nazi spy angle doesn't have a lot of evidence to support it, to them, it seems like the more likely scenario (as opposed to witchcraft).

The hosts then tell the story of Charles Walton (a.k.a. The Pitchfork Murder). Much of their information is based on Donald McCormick's book which, as noted above, is more imaginative historical fiction than anything based in fact.

Review
Not the most well-researched account of Bella in the Wych Elm. I've noted some of the issues above. If you want to listen to a well-researched and entertaining podcast, I highly recommend the Thinking Sideways podcast. I wrote a review of that podcast in April 2017 and you can read that blog here.

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