14 June 2019

Bella in the Wych Elm - The Case of the Missing Quaestor Article

Recently, I've been in a back and forth email exchange with Pete and Alex Merrill who are working on their second volume of the Bella in the Wych Elm series. At least, I hope it's a series, their first book was fascinating and volume 2 promises to be even more so. We have been bouncing around ideas/thoughts/puzzlements about the articles written by Quaestor (a.k.a. Wilford Byford-Jones) in late November 1953. Here's the dilemma... did Quaestor write just two articles? Or were there three?

The Worcestershire Police files have the following images of Quaestor articles (not arranged in chronological order in the file).

Quaestor Article - Thursday 19 November 1953
The image appears to be a consolidated copy of Quaestor's article written on 19 November 1953 (as noted in the newspaper heading). The article touches on the discovery of the body in the wych elm and then veers into the witchcraft elements before bringing in the case of Charles Walton. Quaestor's article is noticeable for having the black star as a divider between sections of text.
Express & Star - 19 November 1953 - Quaestor article
Express & Star - 19 November 1953 - Quaestor article
 Several items are of note in this image:
  • Firstly, other than the middle of the fourth column, where it says "continued on page five", there is no other "continued on", nor is there a final note to indicate when the next article in the series will be published. The text in this image just stops, likely because no more snippets from the article could be fitted onto the piece of paper on which these snippets were pasted.
  • Secondly, in the third last paragraph of the fourth column, Quaestor writes: "Now comes the astonishing fact with a terrifying bearing on the case, to which I referred in my first article". This would seem to indicate that there was a "first article" and that this image is not the first article. This paragraph, however, comes after the "continued on page five" note, which would suggest that it was on a separate page in the newspaper. I am doubtful, however, that Quaestor would refer to to the first part of an article as "first article". The very fact that there is a "continued on" would indicate, to me, that the article is one and the same.
We then have another image from the police file which would seem to be a continuation of the image above, and a continuation of the article from 19 November 1953, despite the fact that there is no header or date. The story of Charles Walton continues  with a few short snippets of text, as well as several photographs. How these snippets and photographs were arranged in the original newspaper is a mystery.
Express & Star - 19 November 1953 - Quaestor article
Express & Star - 19 November 1953 - Quaestor article
 Of note in this image are:
  • The title would seem to be a continuation as it is prefaced by a "---". This was likely the heading on page five
  • The snippet below the title reads: "The second article on two Midland murder mysteries, both of which have been linked with the cult of devil worship." This is a bit perplexing if this snippet was actually on page five in the newspaper, but given that it is a stand-alone snippet, it could well have appeared at the beginning of the article. The very fact that the title in the first image reads: "Writing on wall at dead of night baffles Midland murder hunt team" would suggest that the photograph of the writing on the wall was included on that first page of the article in the newspaper. And the "second article" snippet could also have been on the first page of the article.
  • The closing bit reads: "Tomorrow night: Vigil in Wych Elm Wood in the anniversary month of the murder." This would point to the next article in the series.
Although this image also has the traditional Quaestor stars between text sections, it would seem to be very short to be a stand-alone article. My suspicion is that whoever cut out the various snippets of the article, simply ran out of room on the first piece of paper upon which they were pasting the snippets, and continued on a second piece of paper.

Quaestor article - Friday 20 November 1953
The next day, 20 November, 1953, we find these two images apparently printed on facing pages in the newspaper. This article, presumably the third and concluding article (the subheading uses the word "conclusions"), seems fairly cohesive, until the end.
Express & Star - 20 November 1953 - Quaestor article
Express & Star - 20 November 1953 - Quaestor article
Express & Star - 20 November 1953 - Quaestor article
Express & Star - 20 November 1953 - Quaestor article

It might just be me, but the article seems to end rather abruptly:
"I shall welcome any clue--I can't have the grey hair of my old friend, Mr. Sidney Inight, go completely white worrying about the case of the wych elm murder or Superintendent Spooner setting out every St. Valentine's night on his patrol looking for witchcraft practitioners at Lower Quinton until the end of his days."
Seems a strange ending for an article that focused on Quaestor and the conclusions that he reached.

Three Articles?
Most of the newspaper clippings I have come across which reference Quaestor's articles call them a "series". I'm not sure that two articles qualifies as a series... but then, there is the 2014 article in the Express & Star, entitled "Punt PI investigates Midlands riddle". In that article there is a paragraph which reads:
"In the third of his three features, which was carried on November 20, 1953, Quaestor concluded: "As for the gipsy theory, whether the young woman is supposed to have been a gipsy who was ritualistically murdered with witchcraft or after a trial by her tribe, well, I do not accept it." [emphasis added]
This would seem to indicate that Quaestor wrote three articles on Bella in the Wych Elm and that, if he wrote them on consecutive days, we should have:
  1. First article - Wednesday 18 November 1953
  2. Second article - Thursday 19 November 1953
  3. Third and concluding article - Friday 20 November 1953
The only hiccup in this is... where is the article from 18 November? If we take it that the images from the 19 November article are a cohesive entity and one single article, Quaestor's second article, then we are left wondering... where is the first article?

Pete and his son have scoured the Express & Star from November 1-18 and come up empty-handed. There is no other Quaestor article on 18 November, 1953, nor on any other day in November. At least not in the Express & Star copies available to the Merrill's.

Is it possible that the newspaper ran a morning and afternoon/evening edition, one of which contained the article, and one which did not? Or perhaps, the article was included in an insert which was not preserved with the rest of the newspaper? The fact that the 2014 Express & Star article references three articles leaves it all a bit up in the air.

I've listened to the original Punt PI episode again... to see if there are any clues there... here's what we have around the 20:45 minute mark:
"[Punt PI].... someone sent an anonymous letter to the local paper! And I head off to the archives of the Express & Star... to meet Mark Andrews who takes me to the basement...
[Andrews] ...these are copies of our weekly paper going back to the 18...
[Punt PI] ...and unearth some cuttings from 1953, when the paper ran a series of articles on the case...
[Andrews] ...[reads Anna's letter out loud]
No mention of three Quaestor articles but... Punt PI would presumably have seen all three articles in the basement of the Express and Star... It would appear that Mark Andrews is a senior news writer for the Shropshire Star (part of the Express & Star network). According to the Express and Star website:
We do not have the facility for readers to view old editions online and the Express & Star does not run an archive library service.

Anyone looking to read an old edition of the newspaper should visit the archive library in Snow Hill, Wolverhampton, which holds all back issues of the Express & Star on microfilm.
Which leaves on wondering... does the missing Quaestor article reside in the inaccessible basement archives of the Express & Star?

Police reconstruction of Bella  (published in Murder by Witchcraft -  Donald McCormick (1968) - attributed  to Express & Star)
Police reconstruction of Bella
(published in Murder by Witchcraft -
Donald McCormick (1968) - attributed
to Express & Star)
Punt PI also has a chat with Joyce Coley who showed him a drawing of Bella... which leads us to...

Police Reconstruction image of Bella
Finally, we have this image, a drawing of Bella with the clothing she was wearing. The image appears in Donald McCormick's book, Murder by Witchcraft with the caption "The police reconstruction of the skeleton, 'Bella'." Which isn't all that helpful although the list if illustrations on page 7 notes:
Police reconstruction of 'Bella' (Express and Star, Wolverhampton)
 Now there are two odd things with this image:
  1. This drawing occurs nowhere in the Bella police files, which is odd if it was a police reconstruction and,
  2. This drawing has not been found in any Express and Star newspapers that I or Pete & Alex Merrill have seen.
So where did the image come from? Was it part of the Quaestor's elusive first article? Did McCormick comission the drawing himself and simply call it a police reconstruction and then ascribe it to the Express and Star?

Hard to say... perhaps someone out there has information... or has a copy of Quaestor's first article...

05 June 2019

On the Trail of Kenneth Clifford Howard

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about the notebooks belonging to Kenneth Clifford Howard - notebooks that now reside within one of Josef's files at the National Archives. There is no evidence that the notebooks belonged to Josef, nor that they should have been placed within his file. One of the notebooks mentions Karl Theodore Drücke and it is far more likely that they were originally placed within his file.  Indeed, file KV 2/1701 - one of Drücke's files - has a number of reports and letters that mention the notebooks and Kenneth Clifford Howard. That Security Service file is likely the one belonging to Lt. Col. William Edward Hinchley Cooke who often testified at the trials of would-be spies. My guess would be the notebooks slipped out of Drücke's file and were then erroneously placed within Josef's file - a simple clerical/filing error that is an annoyance and contributes to confusion!

Anyhow... I am always chipping away at some of these lingering mysteries. One of the police reports notes:
I have to report that on Sunday, 1st June 1941, a communication was received from the Chief Constable, City Police Headquarters, Leicester, enclosing a diary dated 1936 and an address book. These apparently belong to Kenneth C. Howard, sometime of 17, Evelyn Road, Sparkhill, and contain a number of German references, also two addresses in Birmingham.
Beyond that, there is no information on the "communication" - was it a letter? Or simply an envelope containing the diary and address book?

Another report by the Metropolitan Police notes that:
Enquiries have revealed that a family named Howard lived at 128 (not 120) Durham Road, Bromley, Kent, from 2.5.1931 until 17.6.1936. The rated occupier was Frank Howard, who lived there with his wife, Flora, nee Mitchell, and son Kenneth Clifford.

Frank Howard was a blouse merchant and had a business under the style of 'Flora Mitchell' at 21, East Street, Bromley, where his wife assisted in dressmaking. I was informed that towards the end of his stay at 128 Durham Road, Howard was in some financial difficulty and took employment as a salesman with "Hoovers". Enquiries of Messrs., Hoovers Ltd. Westway, Perivale, fail to show that Howard was ever so employed.

On leaving Bromley, Frank Howard gave as his intended address, 17, Evelyn Road, Spark Hill, Birmingham - the address which appears in the notebook mentioned above. No member of the family is known to have returned to London.
The police report also noted that Kenneth Clifford Howard was born on 4 June 1921 at 3, Leigham Court Road, Streatham. This is all very specific information - a birth date, the name of his parents, his mother's maiden name and their very specific occupation. They mystery is... why is this family so hard to track? Admittedly, Frank and Flora/Florence are quite common names but... it's a bit of a mystery.

So, I'm going to lay out some information and see where it leads us... starting with the 1939 National Registration. Some of the records remain closed for individuals born less than 100 years ago, unless one can provide proof of death. Kenneth was born in 1921, so his record should magically open in 2021... unless one can provide proof of death. I got a bit hopeful when I read this except... one needs to provide the actual death registration/certificate, which we don't have because Kenneth just died in 2014, and there is no registration number available. So this is a dead end at this point. But let's see if we can track Frank & Flora.

Flora Howard
I began with "Flora" Howard as "Flora" was the name used in the police report. There are 17 occurrences of that name in the 1939 National Registration, which is a siftable number!

Option F1 01 - Burnley, Lancashire
The first national registration is for a Frank (1898) and Flora Howard (1890) living in Burnley, Lancashire. They are cotton weavers which sounds like it might be a fit for their occupations as blouse merchants (see the above police report). They also have a young man living with them (presumably their son), Harry, born 15 June 1923. There is no mention of Kenneth Clifford Howard, nor is there a closed record. It is possible that Kenneth was working away from home - he was 18 years old after all - or that he joined the Armed Forces. This seems to be a most promising option.
1939 National Registration - Burnley, Lancashire - Flora Howard
1939 National Registration - Burnley, Lancashire - Flora Howard
Option F1 02 - Chepping Wycome, Buckinghamshire
We also have a George T. (1890) and Flora L. Howard (1894) living in Chepping Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. George is a veneer expert and Marqueterie Cutter. (I had to look that up - using wood veneer to create fancy patterns on tables and furniture.) Flora's occupation is unpaid domestic duties (housewife). They have no children living with them, and no closed records.

Option F1 03 - Hereford, Herefordshire
We have a Timothy (1876) and a Flora L. Howard (1874). They have a young man, Arthur T. Howard (1903) living with them. Timothy is a builder and contractor while Flora is unpaid domestic duties

Option F1 04 - Chactonbury, Sussex
A Flora Howard (1880) is widowed and living with a Reuben and Margaret Butcher.

Option F1 05 - Norwich, Norfolk
A Flora Howard (1881), single, who is a boarding housekeeper, living with individuals who seem unrelated. There are two closed records.
1939 National Registration - Norwich, Norfolk - Flora Howard
1939 National Registration - Norwich, Norfolk - Flora Howard
Option F1 06 - Liverpool, Lancashire
We have a George (1898) and Flora M (1898) Howard living in Liverpool. George is a dock labourer. There are two (presumed) children listed - William (1929) and Flora (1939), as well as three closed records.
1939 National Registration - Liverpool, Lancashire - Flora Howard
1939 National Registration - Liverpool, Lancashire - Flora Howard
Option F1 07 - Brighton, Sussex
One Flora Marketis-Howard (1884), single and living on her own. She is a florists manageress.

Option F1 08 - Bury, Lancashire.
A Flora Clayton (1911) is listed, but her name has been stroked out and replaced with Howard. She was living with her (presumed) parents. Her occupation is "Makes up (paper)". Odd occupation but the father sells wholesale meat, the mother is a charlady (office) and the younger sister works in "production. Process worker. Textile. Bleachers".

Option F1 09 - Bromley, Kent
Got a bit excited at seeing this since Kenneth and his family lived in Bromley in the mid 1930s. Ernest A. (1891) and Flora M. Howard (1890) living on their own (no children or closed records). Ernest is a gardener domestic servant and Flora is unpaid domestic duties. The street name is Ravensbourne Road.
1939 National Registration - Bromley, Kent - Flora Howard
1939 National Registration - Bromley, Kent - Flora Howard

Option F1 10 - Hove, Sussex
A Flora G. Howard (1889), married and living with a closed record. Her occupation is unpaid domestic duties. The record is at the bottom of the page and the top of the next one has a new household.

Option F1 11 - Woolwich, London
Stephen (1872) and Flora Howard (1877) living with one Mabel N. Howard (married) and a closed record. Stephen is a fitter and Flora is unpaid domestic duties.

Option F1 12 - Brownhills, Staffordshire
William (1866) and Flora/Florence Howdle (1894) living on their own. William is a retired farmer and Florence is unpaid domestic duties. The age difference is striking. The marital status of both is "M" - married. Of note is that Ancestry has indexed this record as "Howard" and it is quite clearly Howdle.

Option F1 13 - Liverpool, Lancashire
This is the same as Option 6 and simply indexed twice due to the two Flora's in the household.

Option F1 14 - Waltham Holy Cross, Essex
Sidney B. Howard (1899) and Flora P. Howard (1895), married and living with two closed records and three (presumed) children: twins Peggy (Howard) Bass (1920) and Joan (Howard) Tredett (1920) and Clifford S. Howard (1923). Sydney is a Nursery Hand (food production) and Flora is unpaid domestic duties. Clifford is a grocers assistant.
1939 National Registration - Waltham Holy Cross, Essex - Flora Howard
1939 National Registration - Waltham Holy Cross, Essex - Flora Howard
Option F1 15 - Downham Market, Norfolk
Florrie/Flora Howard (1889) married and living with one (presumed) child and two closed records. Flora is unpaid domestic duties. She is individual #2 in the household and at the top of the form. The bottom of the previous page has half a dozen closed records so it is impossible to tell who individual #1 would be.

Option F1 16 - Lambeth, London
Edward C. (1902) and Flora C. Howard (1902) married and living with two closed records and one Thomas S. Taylor. Edward is a Fruit and Greengrocers Porter (Heavy work).

Option F1 17 - Rochdale, Lancashire
Wright (1893) and Flora Howard (1893). Wright is a Departmental ?amel. Flora's occupation is unpaid domestic duties. No children and no closed records.
1939 National Registration - Rochdale, Lancashire - Flora Howard
1939 National Registration - Rochdale, Lancashire - Flora Howard

Florence & Frank Howard
I then searched for Florence Howard and... this is a bit of a beast... 730 occurrences of Florence Howard in the 1939 National Registration. If I filter for spouses named "Frank", that whittles it down to seven occurrences.

Option F2 01 - Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland
Frank (1898) Howard and Florence Howard (1902), married and living with two (presumed) children and three closed records. Frank is a meat packer and Florence is unpaid domestic duties. They have a Frank Jr and Florence Jr living with them.
1939 National Registration - Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland - Florence Howard
1939 National Registration - Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland - Florence Howard
Option F2 02 - Lees, Lancashire
Frank (1897) and Florence (1898) Howard, married and living with their son (Frank Jr) and two closed records. Frank Sr is a general labourer and Florence is unpaid domestic duties.
1939 National Registration - Lees, Lancashire - Florence Howard
1939 National Registration - Lees, Lancashire - Florence Howard
Option F2 03 - Bradford and Melksham, Wiltshire
Frank (1897) and Florence Howard (1897), married with no children or closed records. Frank is a Police Constable and Florence is unpaid domestic duties. They are living at 2 Police Quarters.
1939 National Registration - Bradford and Melksham, Wiltshire - Florence Howard
1939 National Registration - Bradford and Melksham, Wiltshire - Florence Howard

Option F2 04 - East Barnet, Hertfordshire
Frank C. (1905) and Florence M. Howard (1906), married and living with two (presumed) children and two closed records. Frank is a decorator (building) and Florence is unpaid domestic duties.
1939 National Registration - East Barnet, Hertfordshire - Florence Howard
1939 National Registration - East Barnet, Hertfordshire - Florence Howard
Option F2 05 - Worthing, Sussex
Frank (1870) and Florence E. Howard (1887), married with no children or closed records. Frank is a Member of Stock Exchange.
1939 National Register - Worthing, Sussex - Florence Howard
1939 National Register - Worthing, Sussex - Florence Howard

Option F2 06 - Leicester, Leicestershire
Frank (1870) and Florence Howard (1886), married and living with one closed record. Frank is an "area manager, medical appliance" and Flora is unpaid domestic duties. This one piqued my interest for two reasons: (1) Kenneth's notebooks were sent to the Leicestershire Police and (2) Frank may have stepped away from being a blouse merchant, and while his occupation has nothing to do with "Hoover" or vaccums... area manager for medical appliances is always a possibility. The closed record is also intriguing - it could be Kenneth Clifford Howard.
1939 National Register - Leicester, Leicestershire - Florence Howard
1939 National Register - Leicester, Leicestershire - Florence Howard
Option F2 07 - March, Cambridgeshire
Frank C. (1902) and Florence E. Howard (1900), married and living with one (presumed) son and three closed records. Frank is a grocer shopkeeper and Florence is unpaid domestic duties.
1939 National Registration - March, Cambridgeshire - Florence Howard
1939 National Registration - March, Cambridgeshire - Florence Howard
Caveats & Confusion
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It does not, for example, include individuals whose middle name might have been Florence and which might have been abbreviated in the registration. I came across one instance already... so our Frank and Flora might not be any of the above. I do, however, think Option F1 01 - Burnley, Lancashire is interesting... as is Option F2 06 - Leicester, Leicestershire.

Part of my renewed interest in Kenneth Clifford Howard and his notebooks was also sparked by finding a family tree on Ancestry which purports to be him and his wife. While it does not list his parents, and has him born in March 1924, it has the death registration from 2014. This is intriguing because the 2014 death index clearly states that Kenneth Clifford Howard was born in 1921. It is all a bit confusing. There is, however, a Kenneth C. Howard whose birth was registered in the first quarter of 1924 in Lambeth. Although the mother's maiden name was Milnes, while the police said Flora's maiden name was Mitchell. Sooo... this particular family tree needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

I also had a poke through the marriage registration indices... for a Frank Howard and Florence/Flora Mitchell... there is one for 1931 which seems odd, given that Kenneth Clifford Howard was born in 1921. Unless, of course, he was illegitimate...  Again, if Florence was the mother's middle name, it becomes a challenge to track them...

I also recently came a cross a RootsChat forum post from 2015 which was looking for information on the inhabitants of 17 Evelyn Road, Sparkhill, Birmingham (from 1932-1937) and 128 Durham Road, Bromley Kent (from 1936-1938). The writer noted: "I have a sneaking suspicion the family may be Howard, in which case the mother would be Mary E. Howard and the father would be Charles Howard." Just to add a bit more mud to the already muddy waters! A quick look at the 1939 National Register index shows a lot of Charles & Mary Howards...

Another part of my renewed interest in Kenneth arose from reading David Tremain's book - The Beautiful Spy - The Life and Crimes of Vera Eriksen. Tremain dedicated a whole chapter to a meticulous examination of Kenneth's address book and diary. Tremain all searched for Frank/Francis Howard living in Bromley in 1933 and 1937 and found no such person at Durham Road or anywhere in the Bromley area. This contradicts the police report above... Another few items of note: Vera Eriksen lived at 12 Durham Avenue, Bromley, Kent briefly in 1938... AND... Kenneth's diary had a note about Karl Theodore Drücke, Vera's fellow spy... Is there a the connection between Kenneth and these two German agents?? Good question...

I finally decided to bite the bullet and ordered the 2014 death registration for Kenneth Clifford Howard... hoping it actually has some accurate information and that the death informant knew the full names of the parents. With the death registration... I can also request the opening of Kenneth's closed 1939 National Registration entry... stay tuned...