April 18, 1943 – Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?

Four boys were hunting for birds’ eggs on April 18, 1943, in Hagley Woods in Worcestershire, England, when they found something much more disturbing. As one of the boys scaled a large wych elm tree, he glanced down and saw a skull. Upon further investigation, he discovered it was a human skull. As the boys trespassed on the property, they quickly fled without telling anyone what they’d seen. However, later that night, one group member told his parents, who notified the police.

It was not just a skull inside the tree. It was an entire skeleton, save one hand, which was later found nearby. In addition to the skeleton, there was a gold wedding ring and pieces of clothing in the tree. Pieces of hair still clung to the skeleton and the teeth were mostly intact. A forensic examination found that the skeleton was a woman, and she had been dead for at least 18 months. There was a piece of taffeta fabric in her mouth, which led to the theory she died from suffocation. The examiner also concluded the woman had been put in the tree before or shortly after she died, as rigor mortis would have made it impossible for her to fit inside.

This was as far as the investigation got. In 1944, someone wrote the words “Who put Bella down the Wych Elm – Hagley Wood” on a wall on Upper Dean Street in Birmingham. A similar message, “Who put Bella in the Wych Elm” began appearing on the Hagley Obelisk in the 1970s. However, none of the graffiti led investigators to discover the woman’s identity.

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