13 November 2017

The Disappointing West Mercia Police Files on Bella in the Wych Elm

Worcestershire Constabulary
Last month, I ordered the West Mercia Police files on the Bella in the Wych Elm case. The price was a bit steep but... the idea of actually being able to access historical documents on the case was too tempting. The archivist at the Worcestershire County Archives admitted that the files contained quite a bit of duplication. That is a bit of an understatement!

So, here's what you get for £250...

ITV Crimestalkers VHS recording - 1994 - 10 minutes
"Uses a mix of acted reconstructions, interviews with witnesses, still images, World War II film and commentary by Mr John Stalker to tell the story of the discovery of the remains of a woman's body in a wych elm in Hagley Woods and speculate on possible course of events which led to the woman's death. Reconstruction of the events surrounding the discovery of the body with interviews with Bob Farmer and Bob Hart, two of the boys who discovered the body. Exploration of the witchcraft ritual angle including interview with Terry Wardle author of "Bygone Birmingham". Commentary on the writing which appeared on walls in the West Midlands about "Bella". Express and Star Newspaper Office records room with presentation of the "Anna" letter including interview with Jonathan Leake of the Express and Star. Exploration of the spy ring angle including film clips of parachutists and bombing of Coventry during World War II. Reconstruction of possible murder scenario." (from the Worcestershire County Archives catalogue of the West Mercia Police files on Bella in the Wych Elm)
The most interesting piece of the video is the statements from two of the boys (now elderly men) who found the skull in the Wych Elm. The rest of the video has some obvious inaccuracies and I'll do up a transcript of the video in a later post.

Original Documents
This is the mother load of documents but it has a few problems. Folders 2 and 3 are missing and were not included with the batch of documents sent to the Worcestershire Archives from the West Mercia Police. What did they include? Why were they not released? Questions with no answers.

There are many duplicates within the original documents as some reports and memos were produced in triplicate (or quadruplicate) in typical police fashion.

Whoever scanned the documents also tended to scan the reverse if it contained any writing. The documents written during the war often used recycled paper so the reverse side of the Bella documents might include various documents from the 1910s or 1920s which have no bearing on the Bella case.

Folder 1 - This folder contains the forensic examiners report and a variety of other police documents dealing with the shoes and the chalk writing. There is nothing in here related to the finding of body and/or the interviewing of the four boys or any other witnesses.

Folders 4 to 11 - These folders primarily deal with tracking down possible victims including some gypsies.

Folder 4 contains interviews with Una Hainsworth and statements from individuals who knew Jack Mossop. Folder 5 traces a woman by the name of Van Raalte. Folder 6 traces the contacts of Mary Lavin and Dinah Curley who were considered possible victims. Folder 7 deals tracks some gypsies in the area and chalk writing on walls. Folder 8 is focused on Mary Lee/Lea/Wenman/Beavers, a traveler reported missing by a couple of soldiers. Folder 9 has a bunch of press clippings about the case. Folder 10 traces various missing persons named Bella or Isabella. Folder 11 has information on Julian Mossop.

Loose - three loose pieces of paper that appear to come from the newspaper clippings folder.

Plastic Wallets -  There are a series of wallets that contain photographs of the wych elm, the skull, the lower jaw the reconstructed skeleton, the shoes, the ring and chalk writing on various walls and fences. Another series of wallets contain letters dealing with the case including the Anna to Quaestor letters as well as several with "tips" and information on possible victims/suspects of the case. Some letter writers claiming paranormal powers.

Ring Binder 1 - Murder at Hagley Wood - Bella file
The files from this binder contain an introduction and 10 sections. It appears to contain photocopies of the original documents although I have not gone through it in any great detail other than to rotate document images.

Ring Binder 2 - Photos and Press Cuttings
These all seem to be photocopies of the original photographs and newspaper clippings.

Conclusion
There are no files that document the finding of the body or interviews of the four boys. This is most disappointing as primary documentation is the holy grail of any investigation. The forensic examiner's report is included which is nice.

The Worcestershire County Archives noted that the police files included over 1400 scanned images. Given that the two binders are essentially duplicates of the Original Documents... and taking into account the "in-triplicate" tendency of the police and the presence of "recycled paper" scans.... we're probably looking at something more like 500-600 unique document scans.

One noticeable omission is the lack of any MI5 references within this set of files. Given Anna's claims of a spy ring, one would think that copies of reports, etc. would have been sent to MI5. If such was the case, there is no lingering reference within these files.

Over the next few weeks/months, I plan to examine the files in more detail and see what facts can be extracted from the documents and the press clippings.

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