02 October 2017

Media Review - Mysteries at the Museum - Woman in the Wych Elm (2016)

Mysteries at the Museum - logo
(www.travelchannel.com)
Travel Channel - Mysteries at the Museum - Woman in the Wych Elm - Season 12, Episode 8 (2016)

Original Air Date - 11 November 2016
TV Series - Mysteries at the Museum
Time Stamp - 25:32 to 31:29 and 3 minutes at the end
Optomen Productions

Last summer (2016), I was contacted by the archivist for the Mysteries at the Museum TV show that airs on the Travel Channel. The archivist said that they were doing an episode on the Woman in the Wych Elm (Bella in the Wych Elm) and wanted to know if I could send them a high-resolution photograph of Josef to use on the show. I sent them a photo and asked for a copy of the episode in return.

In November 2016, I received a DVD from Optomen that contained Episode 8 of Season 12 of the series. The episode was entitled Blowing up the House, Beast of Bray Road and the Discovery of Penicillin. This was a little confusing as these were only the first three stories of that episode. The story of Bella was fourth.

Summary
The premise of the TV series centres on various artifacts, found in museums around the world, and the stories behind them. The producers of the show use actors to recreate historic events as well as archival footage and images to help bolster the stories. Sounds rather intriguing.

The Woman in the Wych Elm story starts at the True Crime Museum in Hastings, England. The museum is relatively new (open two years) and is touted as a "chilling but fascinating insight into the world of Serial Killers, Forensics, Gangsters, Prisoners, Poisoners and more!" It houses the largest collection of crime memorabilia in the UK in a series of seafront caves which lend it an eerie atmosphere. You can apparently see a "GENUINE lethal injection deathbed" and the "ACTUAL acid containers used by John George Haigh to dissolve his victims." Gruesome!

Tempo Recording 5050 - Matritzennummer 1662  Ich bin heute ja so verliebt - Claire Bauerle. Housed a the True Crime Museum, Hastings, UK (Screenshot - Mysteries at the Museum)
Tempo Recording 5050 - Matritzennummer 1662
 Ich bin heute ja so verliebt - Claire Bauerle.
Housed a the True Crime Museum, Hastings, UK
(Screenshot - Mysteries at the Museum)
Which makes the artifact that introduces the segment seem even more innocuous than usual - a 10" gramophone record. The curator of the museum, Joel Griggs, describes the record and then states that it "might hold the key to unraveling one of the most compelling murder mysteries of war-time Britain". Fascinating!

We are then taken on a quick tour of the background story - in 1943, some boys find the skeletal remains of an adult human being in a hollow tree. The victim is found to be a woman, 35 years old, who died 18 months previously. She had a piece of taffeta wedged in her throat and the coroner concluded that she had been murdered. The police combed through missing persons cases with no luck. They commissioned a forensic artist to create a sketch of the woman but no one came forward to identify her. Seventy years later however, an incredible discovery "sheds new light on the story".

Recreation of scene showing police sharing forensic sketch with bystander. (Screenshot - Mysteries at the Museum)
Recreation of scene showing police sharing forensic
sketch with bystander.
(Screenshot - Mysteries at the Museum)
The incredible discovery turns out to be British newspaper reporter, Allison Vale, combing through declassified wartime files and coming upon some startling information. Apparently, Worcestershire was home to a Nazi spy ring. According to the show, this was quite understandable given that it contained "some very serious Nazi targets" such as munitions factories.

In late 1941, British Intelligence received a tip that a female Nazi agent was due to parachute into the area to join the spy ring. The female spy never arrived and many assumed that the mission was aborted and that she never left Germany.

According to the files that Allison Vale found, the female spy was thought to be famous German cabaret singer Clara Bauerle. She had apparently been associated with some very senior Nazi officials and was recruited as a Nazi agent.

Recreation of Allison Vale combing through declassified
wartime files.
(Screenshot - Mysteries at the Museum)
According to Vale, Bauerle mysteriously disappeared from public life in the early 1940s and was never heard from again. Her last stage performance and recordings were in 1941, "around the same time that a woman's remains were found in an elm tree in Worcestershire". Vale suspected that they were one and the same.

So, the theory is that in 1941, Bauerle "parachuted into England to join the spy ring but, for some unknown reasons, ran afoul of them and they killed her and dumped her body in the tree." "In the absence of any other definitive theories, many believe her [Vale's] scenario to be true".

There is another short piece at the very end of the episode which notes the graffiti found on the public monuments around Worcestershire, "Who put Bella in the Wych Elm". Was Bella a prostitute killed by an angry client, a witch or Clara Bauerle? "Without any solid evidence, the case remains unsolved and a mystery to this very day."

Review
Trying to tell the story of Bella in the Wych Elm in five to seven minutes is a bit of a daunting task, no doubt about it. It would be hoped that the producers would have at least attempted to convey factual information but perhaps TV shows are not so much about accuracy as they are about entertainment. Some of the inaccuracies stem from Vale's original article which stretched the facts until they squeaked. Other inaccuracies in the show are just sloppy mistakes.
  • Worcestershire was home to a Nazi spy ring - there is no evidence of this that I have come across in my years of research. MI5 was quite confident that they had captured all of the spies who attempted to infiltrate the United Kingdom. Very unlikely that there was an actual spy ring operating undetected in Worcestershire and Josef Jakobs made no such reference. This particular rumour can be laid at the door of Donald McCormick, a "history" writer who often strayed far from the facts and wandered into fantasy. It is unfortunate that his theories are constantly being reintroduced into the conversation around Bella in the Wych Elm.
  • In late 1941, British Intelligence received a tip that a female Nazi agent was due to parachute into the area to join the spy ring. - I suppose July 1941 technically qualifies as "late 1941". This was when Josef let slip that Clara Bauerle was also being considered by the Abwehr for a mission to England. There is no evidence that she was destined to join a spy ring of any sort. Josef also indicated that since the Abwehr had had no contact with him, it was highly unlikely that she would be dispatched to England.
  • She had apparently been associated with some very senior Nazi officials and was recruited as a Nazi agent. - She had been associated with mid-level Abwehr officials who were most likely ardent anti-Nazis. She was being considered as an Abwehr agent, not as a Nazi agent. "Nazi" refers to supporters of the Nazi political party. Not all Germans were Nazis. Nor were all Nazis Germans.
  • Bauerle mysteriously disappeared from public life in the early 1940s and was never heard from again. - This is because she died of Veronal poisoning in Berlin on 16 December, 1942, not because she parachuted into England and was stuffed into a tree.
  • Her last stage performance and recordings were in 1941, "around the same time that a woman's remains were found in an elm tree in Worcestershire". No, the woman's remains were found in an elm tree in Worcestershire in 1943, not in 1941.
Man (Josef Jakobs?) being questioned by other man (MI5 officer?) (Screenshot - Mysteries at the Museum)
Seated man (Josef Jakobs?) being questioned by standing man (MI5 officer?)
(Screenshot - Mysteries at the Museum)
It is true that the case remains unsolved to this very day, but Clara Bauerle is no longer one of the options. She passed away in Berlin on 16 December 1942.

The story, as told on this segment, is a mish-mash of different rumours and speculations, many of which have no basis in fact.

There is also no direct reference to Josef Jakobs in this segment, nor a copy of the photograph that I sent Optomen.  However... during the part where the narrator notes that "she never arrived and many assumed that the mission was aborted and that she never left Germany", there is a short vignette of a man apparently being interrogated. Presumably this is Josef being interrogated by an MI5 officer about Clara Bauerle.

On the whole, the segment consists of amateurish recreations and the pieces with "Allison Vale" are particularly comical as she conducts "archival research" with random bits of paper in front of a desktop computer.

For those interested in my research on Clara Bauerle, check out this blog post. At the bottom of the post, I have listed all of the blogs (up to that point), that dealt with Clara and her connection to Josef and the poor woman in the Wych Elm.

Review Score
2/5 - The inaccuracies and amateurishness of the recreations don't warrant more than this.

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