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...

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