On April 8, 1943, 4 young men named Tommy Willits, Fred Payne, Robert Hart, and Bob Farmer were out looking for bird nests on private property in Hagley Woods. The oldest boy, 15 year old Bob, climbed up on the old tree, hoping to find the bird nest he was searching for; instead he discovered a human skull with brown hair and teeth. The young man told his buddies what he’d found and they all climbed up to have a peek.
Since the boys had been trespassing, they were afraid they’d be in trouble if anyone found out they’d been there; the four made a pact not to tell anyone about their morbid discovery and parted ways. The youngest boy, Tommy, had been really upset about what he had seen; he told his dad, and dad went to the police.
Professor James Webster, a forensic scientist working at the University of Birmingham, examined the body. He concluded that the woman had lived to see approximately 35 years; she’d been a brunette, stood about 5 foot tall, had given birth at least once, and her corpse had probably been inside that old tree trunk for maybe a year and a half. Jane Doe had crooked teeth with filings – you’d have thought that surely there would’ve been a dentist with her records on file but nothing ever came of this search. She’d been discovered with a large piece of taffeta in her mouth, which lead to the belief that she’d probably been asphyxiated. Her left hand had donned a ring, so it’s possible she was married or engaged, but it’s with the right hand that things get real interesting! Jane Doe had been found all in one piece, except for her right hand; this hand had been sawed off prior to death, and buried near the tree! Why would anyone do that, saw off and bury just the one hand?
Investigators were perplexed, they followed all their leads but never did anything pan out. There had been so much going on in the country at the time that soon people began to forget about this mystery, until half a year later when someone began to leave graffiti all over Hagley and Birmingham. The messages, all variations of the same line, had been written where they’d definitely be noticed; one message referred to the victim as Lubella. It was decided that one person had written these messages, and that the creepy author had very possibly known something about this case; maybe they had known the victim, they’d definitely called her by a name. The public had been a bit freaked out by all of this.
There are quite a few theories as to what had happened and who our Jane Doe was. There’s rumors of witchcraft in this particular area, and that the victim may have been killed during a Hand Of Glory occult ceremony; this is very unlikely as the hand was buried and the victim had not been a recently hanged thief.
There are more plausible reasons why the witchcraft connection remains. The hand had been buried about 13 paces away from it’s corpse which is said to have been a custom when witches were commonly executed. The name “Bella” could’ve been significant, it may stand for belladonna which is a member of the deadly nightshade family often associated with witchcraft. People even believe the choice of tree to be symbolic and pointing to the dark arts, as is the area in which Bella was found.
There was another case from this area which occurred not long after Bella was discovered. On February 14th of 1945 a 74 year old man named Charles Walton had been murdered. He’d been beaten over the head with his own walking stick, his jugular cut with a slash hook, and Charles had been pinned to the ground by the throat with the tines of his very own pitchfork. He’d suffered several broken ribs, had plenty of defensive wounds, and it was rumored that a cross had been carved into his chest. Of course it was believed that the occult had been to blame here as well; the victim was thought to have ties to the occult and knew how to cast the evil eye. Though police had believed that a man named Alfred Potter had killed Charles, there was never sufficient evidence to prove it; it’s thought by many that Charles’s death may be linked to Bella.
Speculation ran wild about Bella’s identity, these are a few of the most popular beliefs. Some say that she had been a Nazi spy, or even a spy who was involved with a man named Josef Jakobs – Josef was the last man to have been executed at the Tower of London. Or possibly Bella had been a transient or a sex worker, which may explain why no one ever reported her missing; she could’ve been a gypsy murdered by her own people.
Now, with this mysterious murder drawing as much speculation as it has, you’d think they’d have kept track of Bella’s corpse, right? I mean, who loses a murder victim’s body? Bella had been passed around a lot, different tests done on her by different people, and eventually she came up missing from a police museum. This seems outrageous; is it possible that someone did not want this mystery solved?
More than 75 years after Bella was found people are still intrigued by the mystery, and many are still working to solve the case. Recently a Dr. Caroline Wilkinson worked out a facial reconstruction using photographs of Bella. Today we believe we know what the victim looked like, yet we still can’t solve this mystery. Who put Bella in the wych elm?