Friday, November 18, 2022

Unsolved wartime West Midland murders: Bella in the Wych Elm and Charles Walton

The West Midlands is haunted by two unsolved wartime murders.

In 1943 some boys up to no good in Hagley Wood, Worcestershire, found the remains of a woman in a hollow elm tree. Despite extensive inquiries, the police were unable to establish the identity of the victim or identify her killer.

Wikipedia takes up the story:

In 1944, a graffiti message, related to the mystery, appeared on a wall in Upper Dean Street, Birmingham, reading Who put Bella down the Wych Elm - Hagley Wood. This provided investigators with several new leads for tracing who the victim could have been. Other messages in the same hand appeared too. 
Since at least the 1970s, similar graffiti has sporadically appeared on the Hagley Obelisk near to where the woman's body was discovered, which asks the slightly modified Who put Bella in the Witch Elm?

The case has attracted much attention and speculation over the years, but the mystery has never been solved.

And in February 1945 the body of a farm Labour, Charles Walton, was found at Lower Quinton in Warwickshire:

The murderer had beaten Walton over the head with his own stick, had cut his neck open with the slash hook, and driven the prongs of the pitchfork into either side of his neck, pinning him to the ground. The handle of the pitchfork had then been wedged under a cross member of the hedge and the slash hook had been buried in his neck.

Or so Wikipedia says.

Walton's murder came to be surrounded with lurid tales about other locals believing he was a witch who had done them and his crops harm.

The spread of these tales was helped by Chief Inspector Robert Fabian - Fabian of the Yard - who wrote about the case extensively in his memoirs. Perhaps he wanted to talk up the dark forces arrayed against him because it was the only murder case he failed to crack in his police career.

I'm writing about these cases because yesterday I looked at my folder of electronic cuttings on the death of Dennis O'Neill and came across this from the Staffordshire Sentinel: the latest developments in the O'Neill case and the discovery of Charles Walton's body one above the other.

The Sentinel did not know it, but because feeling about the case was running so high in Shropshire the trial of the couple accused of killing Dennis O'Neill was to be transferred to Stafford. Which is why that paper's reports give the fullest accounts of the trial.


Anonymous said...

The BBC did a tolerable radio programme on Bella in the Wych Elm - here's the link, if you are interested.....

Jonathan Calder said...

Thank you for that.