Who Put Bella in The Wych Elm?
On 18 April 1943 in Hagley Woods in Worcestershire, England, four young boys were out bird watching. They came across the tree pictured above and one of them climbed it to look for any nests in the branches. The boy peered into the hallow trunk and discovered a human skull nestled in the wood. The boys were, understandably, shaken and made a pact to keep what they had discovered a secret, but one boy was so distraught that he informed his father of what had happened. The father, a Mr. Willetts, went right to the Worcestershire Police and they began their investigation.
In the trunk of the elm tree was the skeletal remains of a woman whom investigators believed to be 35-40 years old. Clothing scraps and finger bones were found around the tree. Pathologist Professor James Webster concluded that the body had been put into the tree while it was still “warm” and had remained there for about 18 months. A piece of taffeta was found in the skeleton’s mouth which lead the investigators to declare asphyxiation the cause of death. The police scoured through every dental record and missing person file in the county but found no possible matches to the skeleton.
About six months after Bella was discovered graffiti started to appear across the county. It read; “Who put Bella in the witch elm” or sometimes “Who put Bella down the wych elm”. This sentence lead police to believe that the person writing it had some
connection to the woman and at the very least knew her name; Bella. The graffiti artist or artists were never found despite police efforts to identify them.
About two years later Professor Margaret Murray presented the theory that Bella’s death was connected to a occult ritual known as the “Hand of Glory”. Murray’s theory created a media feeding frenzy which only escalated when in 1953 a woman known only as Anna admitted to police that she knew who Bella’s killers were. Anna claimed that Bella had been murdered by a German spy ring. This story was plausible at the time but no evidence of this was ever uncovered.
Anyone have a text of Murray’s theory? It seems ridiculously unlikely to me that it could be related to making a Hand of Glory, since all the folklore I know about that requires it be made from the hand of a hanged criminal, often a murderer. There’s a whole process to it, and you’d need to preserve the flesh in some way – simply cutting it off and burying it in the ground, or just scattering the fingers, wouldn’t cut it.