Who put Bella in the Witch Elm? The world may never know…
In 1943, four young men went out poaching in the Hagley Wood in Worcestershire, England. Little did they know that their felonious trek would uncover one of the greatest mysteries of the last century.
When 15 year old Bob Farmer climbed up a tree to see if it would make a good vantage point for their hunting, he noticed that it was hollow. He also noticed that something was inside the tree. Reaching down, Farmer removed what he would soon discover was a human skull. He showed it to his fellows and they quickly decided to put the skull back where they’d found it and return home. They also agreed to keep their discovery a secret to avoid being in trouble.
What’s that saying about the best way to keep a secret?
Sure enough, one of the other boys, Thomas Willetts, couldn’t live with the knowledge of a human skull in a tree on his conscience. He told his parents and they took him to give his report to the local police.
Upon investigation, they discovered, not only a skull, but a full skeleton minus one hand with a piece of taffeta shoved into its mouth. Additionally, they discovered a simple gold ring, a shoe, and a few fragments of clothing.
The police collected the evidence and sent the remains to a local professor who concluded that they were that of a woman who could only have been placed in the tree freshly after being killed as rigor mortis would not have allowed for it.
Identification was nearly impossible as the country was involved in World World II and resources were stretched to their thinnest. They did determine that the woman had probably been dead since October 1941, almost 18 months prior to her discovery.
In 1944, a prostitute came forward claiming that a friend and fellow prostitute named Bella had disappeared around that same time and whether or not it really was her the Jane Doe became Bella.
It was later that year that “Who put Luebella down the Wych Elm–Hagley Wood” was first found scrawled on a wall and the mystery really took hold of the imaginations of the local gentry. Luebella became Bella in future graffiti and the story slowly became legend.
So, who did put Bella down the Witch Elm? And why?
Well, many theories abound, as one can imagine.
A writer at TheUnredacted.com presents evidence that seems to point to the possibility that Bella was actually a young woman who became involved with a Nazi spy ring during the war to provide intelligence to the British. Upon discovery of her true allegiances, the spies killed her and stuffed her body where they thought she would never be found.
Others zero in on the missing hand and insist that there was black magic involved in Bella’s mysterious death. It’s the stuff of campfire stories that captures the imagination on a dark and stormy night. A woman sacrificed in some arcane ritual and the witch hazel tree chosen as her grave?
I mean, come on…tell me you aren’t writing the story in your head right now.
Whatever the case, Bella’s story and the mystery surrounding her death lives on in the minds of locals to this day. Why else would “Who put Bella in the Witch Elm?” still turn up as grafitti from time to time on the Hagley Obelisk?
Outside of the local lore, Bella’s “story” has been told in a musical by Simon Holt, a play by David Morris, and numerous songs in various genres including the haunting tune below by Owen Tromans.