Inspirations: Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?

20141203_1

Graffiti on the Wychbury obelisk (mjeshenton [CC / Flickr])

Like all the best mysteries, it started when four boys went trespassing in a private forest one night. When they came across a pollarded wych elm, the dense branches looked like a good place for bird nests so up climbed Bob Farmer. Bob could make out something round in the dark so he groped for what looked like an egg. His hand closed around a human skull.

This isn’t the beginning of an airport novel. This actually happened in April 1943 in Hagley Wood in the English Midlands. The story twists and turns as much as any fictional mystery, but leaves all the loose ends untied. It’s not known whose skull it was, let alone how it got into the tree.

I first heard about this through a podcast as part of the Punt PI series, which takes a light-hearted look at a number of 20th century mysteries. My summary and speculations are mostly drawn from the half hour podcast  and an article in the Independent by Alison Vale, though the two sources contradict each other in places. There’s also a brief summary on Wikipedia.

The known facts

The little that is known about the case is bizarre enough to open the door to more speculation than conclusion. The skull belonged to a woman of about 35, who had been dead for around 18 months when she was found. The tree had a hollow trunk into which the woman had either climbed or been placed feet first. She could not have been placed once rigor mortis set in, so she was either alive or recently dead. Getting the body out of the tree proved sufficiently difficult that the tree was cut down, so her positioning could not have been accidental. Her hand was not with the rest of the body, but was found near the tree. Some descriptions say it was buried, others say the finger bones were scattered around the tree.

Then it gets really strange. A year and a half after she was found, graffiti started to appear in Birmingham asking ‘who put Bella in the wych elm?’, or sometimes the ‘witch elm’. The graffiti continued to appear in the Midlands until the 1990s, with a particular target being the Wychbury Obelisk, near Hagley Wood.

The skeleton was donated to Birmingham University while the pathology reports presumably went in the police file. In a final twist, both the skeleton and the pathology reports subsequently disappeared.

The possibilities

The facts throw up enough questions to leave Sherlock Holmes without a clue. Inevitably, I’m considering them with the fanciful mind of a fiction writer rather than the sober and unimaginative mind of a police detective.

20141203_2

The pollarded wych elm in which ‘Bella’ was found (Express and Star)

A straightforward murder seems unlikely because it’s such an over-complicated way to dispose of a body. It would be an eccentric murderer who drags a body through a forest on the off chance of finding the ideal tree to hide it in. It’s possible that ‘Bella’ was hidden by someone who already knew about the wych elm, and may even have hoped the tree would grow around her and fully conceal the body. Nothing in any of the material I’ve found gives a clue as to how well known the tree was.

Three other possibilities have been raised:

The Occult

Could Bella have been part of an occult ritual, which either involved her sacrifice or simply went wrong? Punt interviewed an expert who recognised no ritual significance, but there’s no reason to assume everyone who performs a ritual follows the text book. Occult groups were active in Britain at the time, many regarding themselves as participants in the war effort. The podcast refers to Operation Cone of Power, a naked ritual performed by the New Forest Coven to prevent a German invasion. It probably didn’t bother the Wehrmacht, but two members of the coven died of pneumonia.

One piece of evidence that supports the occult theory is her detached hand. The dead hand has significance in English folklore. In the days of public execution, people would bribe the hangman to be allowed to touch the hand of a dead criminal, believing it to cure everything from rheumatism to infertility. The podcast refers to the ‘hand of glory’, suggesting that a dead hand may still have had some significance to some occultists.

Other accounts suggest that rather than being buried, her finger bones were scattered around the tree, which has been described variously as suggestive of a ritual or that they were scattered by animals. The latter explanation still begs the question of how ‘Bella’s’ hand came to be detached in the first place.

The occult theory gained some momentum a few years after ‘Bella’ was found, when a local man by the name of Charles Walton was found murdered and pinned to the ground with a pitchfork. Two strange murders within a few years sparked a few imaginations, but there was never any evidence to connect the two and it was never even certain that ‘Bella’ was murdered.

Espionage

‘Bella’ died in the dark days of late 1941, when rumours abounded of German paratroopers disguised as nuns and dens of Gestapo saboteurs in disused London Underground stations. The police made extensive efforts to relate Bella to missing persons records but had no success, which suggests she was a foreigner. If she was a German spy, stuffing her inside a tree is an unlikely way to dispose of her. Spies were routinely handed over to MI5 and given the choice of turning double agent or execution. There was no reason to hide bodies. It might be possible to conceive a James Bond scenario in which a British agent operating undercover had to disappear a German agent in a hurry, but surely British intelligence operating on home ground could have come up with something more straightforward than a strangely pollarded tree.

That doesn’t rule out espionage completely. She may have stumbled on a German spy who needed somewhere to dispose of her, but then we return to the same objections that apply to anyone else who might have murdered her. We’d still have a  murderer who dragged a body through a private forest on the off chance of finding the right tree to put it in.

The possibility of a cloak and dagger explanation has received a boost recently, as declassified documents led to speculation that ‘Bella’ was in fact a German spy called Clara Bauerle. Tempting as it appears at first glance, there is more evidence against the possibility than for it.

20141203_4

Josef Jakobs (Giselle Jakobs)

In January 1941, a Gestapo agent called Josef Jakobs was arrested in Cambridgeshire. Before he earned the dubious distinction of being the last man executed in the Tower of London, he was questioned about a photograph of a woman he was carrying. He identified her as his lover, Clara Bauerle, who he said was to be parachuted into the Midlands once he made radio contact. Bauerle was a 35-year old cabaret artist who had performed in Britain for two years and spoke English with a Birmingham accent. She was the right age and was scheduled to arrive at about the time of ‘Bella’s’ death. Vale’s Independent article states there were no gramophone recordings from her after early 1941, implying that something happened to her around that time, and suggests that an English audience may have heard ‘Bauerle’ as ‘Bella’.

The timing is suggestive but hardly conclusive, and there are several pieces of evidence against Clara Bauerle being ‘Bella’. Much of the evidence against is assembled on the excellently researched blog of Giselle Jakobs, granddaughter of Joesf Jakobs. Ms Jakobs lists Bauerle’s recordings well into 1942, contradicting Vale. A site run by the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich states that she died in Berlin in December 1942, which would rule out any possibility that she was ‘Bella’. Under interrogation, Jakobs said that as he had been captured before making radio contact with his handlers, Bauerle’s mission was likely to be cancelled.

Even if we were to invent a convoluted enough conspiracy theory to dismiss the evidence that Bauerle was alive and in Germany through most of 1942, the story connecting Bauerle to ‘Bella’ still has more gaps than links. Whatever Jakobs told his interrogators, he would have to have been a spectacularly incompetent spy to carry a photograph of his accomplice, so it’s more likely that Bauerle’s mission was an invention of Jakobs’s. The conflation of ‘Bauerle’ with ‘Bella’ assumes she was in England under her real name, which hardly seems likely given that Clara Bauerle had been on stage under that name, and would not have wanted to catch the attention of anyone who might remember she was German.

Drunken escapade

In 1953, a local newspaper received a letter signed ‘Anna of Claverley’, stating that Bella was a Dutch woman and that the man responsible for her death had died in a mental hospital. Anna of Claverley has been identified Una Mossop, wife of an apparent black marketeer called Jack Mossop. Mossop was commonly well dressed and occasionally wore a Royal Air Force uniform, although he was a civilian. Una told the police that her husband had confessed to getting drunk with a Dutchman by the name of van Ralt and a ‘Dutch piece’ who was not named. The woman passed out and Jack and van Ralt put her in the tree to sleep it off. The woman’s death drove Mossop into the breakdown that led to his being institutionalised.

Supporting the story is the account of a Home Guardsman who stopped a car near Hagley Wood that night. The driver produced an RAF identification card. The passenger was covered by a coat but otherwise undressed, so the guardsmen were too embarrassed to question her. Was the driver Jack Mossop and the passenger ‘Bella’?

Applying Ockham’s razor, alcohol-fuelled stupidity makes for a much simpler explanation than anything involving covens of witches or Gestapo spies, which makes it attractive. However, a lot of gaps in the narrative remain unfilled. People do strange things on boozy binges, but dragging an unconscious woman through a forest and putting her up a tree is very strange indeed. I don’t know how far it was from the pub where Mossop started his session to the wych elm where ‘Bella’ ended up, but the implication is that she must have been very drunk indeed to have stayed unconscious through what must have been a lengthy and not particularly gentle process. That said, the more drunk she was, the more likely she is to have succumbed to hypothermia. Nor is it clear how well Mossop knew Hagley Wood, and whether it was a coincidence that he happened on the ideal tree to put her in.

I can find no explanation of how Mossop found out ‘Bella’ was dead. The obvious explanation is that he went back to check on her the following day, found her dead and then panicked. The pathologist said she couldn’t have been put into the tree with rigor mortis, so either she climbed in herself or possibly Mossop found her when she had only just died, panicked and hid the body.

A more chilling possibility arises from the fact that people with advanced hypothermia may have such a weak pulse and shallow breathing as to be undetectable, at least by a man with no medical training and a blazing hangover. Mossop may have assumed ‘Bella’ was dead when she was actually still alive, and hidden her body when he could have saved her life.

The final doubt over the theory is the question of why Una Mossop waited ten years before writing her anonymous letter, given that Jack was dead before the body was even found? We can suggest plausible reasons, but it casts some doubt on her veracity.

Who was ‘Bella’?

Whatever the circumstances of her death, ‘Bella’s’ identity remains a mystery. The evidence suggesting she was Clara Bauerle is less than conclusive.

Another candidate is a Dutch woman called Bella who worked as a prostitute in Birmingham, and disappeared at about the right time. If Bella from Birmingham was the body in the Wych Elm, it would be consistent with Mossop’s description of a ‘Dutch piece’. Whoever started the ‘who put Bella in the Wych Elm?’ graffiti apparently believed it.

With the country awash with refugees and in the middle of the Blitz, people often disappeared either because bombs left no identifiable remains or simply left people homeless. It would be a leap beyond the evidence to assume the woman who vanished in Birmingham was the same woman who appeared in the Wych Elm. She could have been someone nobody even missed.

Where is the evidence?

20141203_4

Wychbury Hill, part of Hagley Wood (Keith Bloomfield [CC / Flickr])

If Bella from Birmingham was Jack Mossop’s ‘Dutch piece’ who ended up in the Wych Elm, it would provide a neat explanation but still leaves a number of loose ends. Why was her hand detached? What happened to the skeleton and the pathology records? One or the other might have been simply mislaid, but the disappearance of both suggests someone was trying to cover something up. Did the pathologists miss something that someone was afraid a follow up investigation might notice?

A suggestion that occurs to my tortuous mind is that someone took the corpse’s identity. When the corpse turned out not to have been disposed of as thoroughly as they thought, someone may have wanted to remove any evidence connecting ‘Bella’ to someone who was apparently alive and well. If so, someone got at a police file which suggests either a heavy bribe or that we’re back in the realm of espionage.

The answer to every question ‘Bella’ poses begs another question, and a definitive answer is unlikely to be forthcoming more than 70 years after her death.

Speculation is irresistible.

With thanks to Giselle Jakobs and Brian Haughton, who have answered some of my silly questions relating to this post.

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification
18 comments on “Inspirations: Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?
  1. gkjakobs says:

    Very nice article DJ! You have done an admirable job in summarizing the various theories. I particularly liked your piece on the Mossop connection – hadn’t come across that before. Thanks also for the back-link to my blog.

  2. DJ Cockburn says:

    Thanks, Giselle. I could have written several posts of this lengths describing all the wild suggestions and what’s wrong with them, but I tried to stick to the main ones as they provide plenty of scope for bemusement and possibly storylines in themselves. Thanks again with your help chasing a couple of things down.

  3. APVale says:

    Yes, I hold up my hand: Clara Bauerle clearly could not have been Bella. Evidently she had the good fortune to die in the comparative comfort of her own homeland, rather than in a hollow tree in the British Midlands. At the time of publishing the article, I had been unable to trace any evidence which referenced Bauerle after the spring of 1941 – now, suddenly, the internet is widely referencing December 16, 1942 as her date of death. This was not the case at the time of publication.

    I will just pick up on one of your points: I was never suggesting that Agent Clara, had she ever made it to England, would have used her full name in 1941. I was speculating only that if Bauerle had been a locally familiar personality in the Music Halls of the West Midlands prior to the war, it wasn’t too big a stretch to assume locals might have mispronounced her name as ‘Clarabella’.

    I had come across a few musical recordings on which she was named which had been released after 1941 but on closer inspection, the recordings I’d seen had infact been made prior to the spring of 1941 and released later. The later 1942 recordings, cited by Giselle Jakobs’ immaculately researched blog, I had not come across.

    Naturally, I am fascinated by Giselle’s impeccably researched work on Clara Bauerle. I am very keen to establish precisely where the date of death as cited by the Bayerisches Musiker Lexicon, originated. Specifically, has anyone traced her death certificate? Is her death in Berlin in 1942 irrefutable?

    This is an extraordinarily complex story, muddied by so many dead ends, urban myths and false leads over the decades. But its pull is irrefutable. I remain convinced that there were forces at work to keep this case from solution – political, perhaps. Powerful local connections, possibly.

    I have had the great fortune to have been able to work very closely with one of the forensic team who worked the case, who remained hounded by Bella’s true identity and by the exact details of her fate. Back in the day, he was highly dismissive of any talk of espionage or cover-up. His stance has since shifted, however, and, led by this, the focus of my stance on the case has also moved on in the 2 years since my feature was published.

    The truth will probably remain elusive but my work will continue!

    Allison Vale

    • gkjakobs says:

      Elusive is definitely the right word! I’ll keep burrowing away at the Bauerle end of things. If ever I track down an actual death certificate, I will definitely let you know.

      • APVale says:

        Thank you! I will take a closer look at the 1942 recordings you list on your blog – just to see when they were originally laid down.

        I will read more thoroughly through your blog, Giselle.

        As correspondence in Jakob’s interrogation file at the NA makes clear, there was a great deal of speculation by MI5 as to whether the Clara story was a deflection or was genuinely part of Jakobs’ mission. Naturally, if he was keen to be ‘turned’ he would need to prove himself useful enough to work in counterintelligence.

        I can certainly see an argument for his attempting to throw his captors of her scent by telling them she would be unlikely to have been dropped into England now that he was out of radio contact. No?

        Fascinating. Do you think they were genuinely having an affair?

        • gkjakobs says:

          It would be interesting to know if the 1942 recordings were actually recorded that year.

          The other thing is that both Richter and Josef said that Clara was a tall woman, whereas Bella barely scratched 5 feet.

          I do tend to think Josef and Clara were having an affair – just based on his general character!

  4. APVale says:

    Yes – the height. Obviously, I was aware of that conflict. Have had long discussions with the asstnt pathologist as to the accuracy of wartime height calculations vs modern day techniques!

    But the more I learned of Clara, the more I wanted to trace her life story after the capture of Josef, almost regardless of whether her trail led to Hagley Woods or not.

  5. APVale says:

    In addition to which, I couldn’t be sure that Josef & Karl Richter weren’t exaggerating her height as a further means of throwing British intelligence off her scent…

    • gkjakobs says:

      Ah yes – that is always the issue with these interrogation files. How much is truth? How much is embellishment? How much is out-and-out lies? It would be interesting to learn what MI5 extracted from the Abwehr handlers after the war – people like Nikolaus Ritter and Julius Boeckel. So far, I have had no luck in tracking down those files, other than a few interrogation extracts in various spy folders. One would think they would have asked them about Klara Bauerle.

      • APVale says:

        Quite – I find it really hard to believe that MI5 satisfied themselves with the few cursory efforts they appeared to have made following their interrogations of Josef. They prided themselves — have done to this day — on knowing about the presence of EVERY spy in the UK (although there have since been proven exceptions to this – they didn’t get it right every time). But I was so surprised not to see more meticulous British efforts to trace Clara in 1941. Hmm.

        Great to know you’re on the case too though.

  6. DJ Cockburn says:

    Allison, thank you for taking my contradiction gracefully and I apologise for misrepresenting you. The point I was clumsily trying to make is that in the unlikely event that Klara Bauerle was ‘Bella’, the author of ‘who put Bella in the wych elm’ must have known her real name, which would be unlikely as she would have been using a cover name.
    You’ve obviously done a lot more research into this than me. I’m just an armchair historian who took advantage of Giselle’s research, which I don’t think was available when you wrote that article.
    I suspect the connection between ‘Bella’ and Josef Jakobs came about through two high profile but mysterious events being conflated as a conspiracy theory. I presume Josef Jakobs’s execution was publicised as part of the smoke and mirrors MI5 used to conceal Double Cross.
    As Giselle’s shown, Josef Jakobs’s story probably has nothing to do with ‘Bella’ but it’s fascinating in its own right.

    >>>As correspondence in Jakob’s interrogation file at the NA makes clear, there was a great deal of speculation by MI5 as to whether the Clara story was a deflection or was genuinely part of Jakobs’ mission. Naturally, if he was keen to be ‘turned’ he would need to prove himself useful enough to work in counterintelligence.

    An alternative suggestion: Josef Jakobs must have expected to be executed. He wouldn’t have known about Double Cross and his interrogators wouldn’t tell him as they didn’t see him as a candidate. He may well have been tempted to fantasise about a beautiful celebrity girlfriend, and he had nothing to lose by sharing the fantasy with his interrogators.
    It doesn’t rule out a relationship between them but with no evidence either way, it looks distinctly possible to me. Or perhaps I just like the idea of MI5 distracting themselves by trying to analyse a sexual fantasy!

  7. […] in a tree in nearby Hagley Wood. About six months before Walton’s murder, graffiti asking ‘who put Bella in the wych elm?‘ started to appear in the area. The possibility of an arcane rite, possibly by the ubiquitous […]

  8. ivygeni says:

    Hi. More questions for you. Has anyone looked at it thru Genealogy? Asked any living relatives of all parties. Ex: Clara’s relatives, police relatives. Was any DNA samples to be found? Scotland Yard,police from other towns/countries. Chain of command for the files, corpse, clothing?
    Mostly I’m curious has Clara’s BMD info been found, where is she buried? Off to see what else is on the Wonderful World Wide Web.

    • gkjakobs says:

      Hey there,
      I’ve been digging away at the Clara angle. Her death is mentioned on the Bavarian Music Lexicon Online website as being Dec 16, 1942 in Berlin. I had a genealogy researcher dig around in Berlin but have drawn a blank – records are sketchy from the war. Graves in Germany are “reused” after 20 years, so doubtful there is a headstone. As far as I know, she was single. I’ve done some digging on genealogy websites but nothing so far. Still have a few angles I’m pursuing.
      Giselle

      • ivygeni says:

        Interesting case. Like with other cases, I wish there was a time-line sleuthing war-board. An online version would be so helpful. In the world of Genealogy things move very slowly with little leaps n bounds. Most info is offline but there seems to be a lot of scanning and Indexing going on, this year. Here’s hoping, something pops up, and she can be either ruled out or someone from the great beyond drops a clue or two.

        • DJ Cockburn says:

          Thanks for dropping by. Before I answer, I’ll just say I’ve updated the link to the Punt PI podcast. The BBC have been messing around with their podcast website and I’m catching up.

          On your questions, I defer to Giselle on anything concerning Clara Bauerle. I agree that DNA and genealogy would be the way to identify Bella, but that’s not an option unless her remains are found. Even some of the missing forensic samples might yield some DNA.

          You asked about relatives, and the Punt PI podcast does mention accounts by a couple of them. The story of the home guardsman who stopped a car with an undressed woman came from the guardsman’s daughter, described at 14min50s.

          There was another account that I didn’t quote as it sounded so unlikely, but it’s at 16min27s if you’re interested. Briefly, Peter Douglas Osborne is the son of a serviceman who was home on leave, and volunteered to spend a night guarding the wych elm while the police got organised to recover the body. Some years later, the Osborne’s father told him he bumped into a couple of Royal Air Force intelligence officers on the way home from Italy. They said that Bella was a German agent who had been educated in Britain, and had been identified by a very distinctive bite mark. When Osborne asked about it several years later, his father ‘clammed up’.

          The whole thing sounded more than a little dubious, as it’s hard to imagine intelligence officers talking so freely to someone they happened to bump into. It also seemed odd that the spy in question was apparently educated at ‘Cambridge of Oxford’, which sounds a bit vague given that they were able to be so specific about her bite mark.

          It had the ring of a tall story a father might tell his young son, which he became embarrassed about when the son brought it up as an adult. Then I found a different account at http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/hereford-and-worcestershire/other-mysteries/who-put-bella-in-the-wych-elm.html, in which Osborne’s father apparently found the woman’s file himself while stationed in Germany after the war. Neither account throws any light on how a German agent might end up shoved into a tree.

          Put all that together and it adds up to nothing at all, so I left it out of an article that had enough implications and unanswered questions. It’s a conversation I’d love to have with Peter Osborne over a pint some time, to hear what he has to say rather than what someone else has to say about what he has to say about what his father said to him.

          As things stand, I can’t see Bella ever being identified unless her remains turn up.

  9. Addie says:

    A fascinating round up of all the theories concerning Bella.

    Personally I think she was a Dutch prostitute murdered by Glossop, who was dabbling in the black market.

    Familiarity with the area could simply be explained that he often picked women up and took them to the area to have sex. On one occasion an argument ensues during such a tryst and t(he doesn’t have the money to pay her, she threatens him with blackmail etc) he panics, strangles her and stuffs her in the tree. He then comes up with a ridiculous explanation in an attempt to avoid a murder charge when confessing to a family member(the account in Glossop’s wife’s statement) and dies later.

    If what the Glossop family witness says on the Punt PI podcast on radio 4 is true (that Glossop had obtained nice clothes using unexplained money and had a surplus RAF uniform to pick women up in) it’s easy to see how the garbled rumours sent to Qaestor in the 1950s in the local newspaper could be true. In those it was claimed Bella was a Dutch spy, murdered by an RAF officer and a Dutch gentleman – they were both involved in espionage. Its easy to see how the reality, a Dutch refugee, working as a sex worker to make ends meet is picked up by regular posing as an RAF officer might mutate in to the above rumour, particularly when he is muddying the waters with claims that “Bella” was unconscious after a night of hard drinking with Glossop and his Dutch friend, a man allegedly named Van Ralte, and they then stuffed her in a tree to sober up and left her. The police in 1953, after receiving Mrs Glossop’s statement, never managed to trace a Van Ralte.

    Refugee status might also explain why Bella was never traced; it was hard to track who was already in the country and if her family all died in the war, or presumed she had, no one would ever look for her. At this point a chunk of Europe is in ruins and millions of people are on the move.

    As to the hand, the interview with the forensic scientist who examined the hair and clothing remnants found with Bella (a Dr Lund, who died last year aged over 100) on the Punt PI podcast seems to suggest that the bones had suffered heavy predation from animals. It’s not hard to believe a scavenger had attempted to drag away the hand and either buried it when startled or left it as it was too big to move at the base of the tree.

    The files I could buy being lost. Birmingham University is a massive institution and the campus is constantly being built on and upgraded. It is easy to see how some files got lost in the move. The police files are still available.

    I was in contact with a family historian and distant relative who was close friends with the daughter of one the local detectives who worked on the case. It seemed that he, and other local officers, believed the killer was someone local to the area and had a suspect in mind. Furthermore he did retain his own notes on the case and his daughter eventually inherited them.

    • DJ Cockburn says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, and I must say you ended on an intriguing note. I presume there’s a reason why you haven’t given more detail, but I’m now fascinated to know whether the suspect you mentioned was Mossop (I presume that’s who you meant, not Glossop?) and what the suspicions were based on.

      Regarding the other points, I found it hard to work out what to make of the hand being buried and scattered. Some of the accounts made it sound as though it had been a ritual, while others blamed foxes. Like a lot of the stuff around the case, I think I’d need the original files to separate the evidence from the sensationalism that was added later.

      Regarding the missing files, I’ve worked for a few universities and none of them had any difficulty losing paperwork, so I wouldn’t be particularly suspicious if it was just the files that were missing. Losing the skeleton is a different matter. The fact that we’re still discussing the case nearly 70 years on shows how notorious it it, so I’d expect the staff would know who the skeleton was. If it was moved around or they disposed of it, someone would remember it even if the paperwork got lost. It’s all speculation of course, but it strikes me as unlikely enough to add another question mark to the shedload of the things that surround Bella.

      Another question is whether the body in the tree had anything to do with the Dutch prostitute called Bella who disappeared at about the time of the death, or if it was just a coincidence of timing. It’s only the graffiti that suggests any link between the two, and I doubt Dutch Bella was the only undocumented refugee of about the right age to drop out of her neighbours’ sight at about the right time.

      YFor all we know, Dutch Bella got behind on her rent and did a ‘moonlight flit’, leaving behind a friend, neighbour or possibly a client who was slightly obsessed. When that person heard about a body turning up, they simply assumed it was the missing Bella.

      The nearest thing we have to a firm identification of the body with Dutch Bella is the graffiti, which doesn’t look like the product of a well-ordered mind to me. I’m leery of putting too much credence in it.

      Your variant on the drunken escapade theory, that Mossop killed whoever she was in an argument that got out of hand, sounds as plausible as any scenario I’ve heard. It still begs the question of how he picked that tree as a hiding place. It can’t have been easy to get her into it, but then I haven’t seen any explanation of how she got there that looks even remotely likely so we have to accept that something very unlikely must have happened.

      Now you’ve got me thinking about it, it does strike me that a hollowed out tree wouldn’t be the worst place to stash black market contraband, so Mossop might have known about it.

      Anyway, please don’t keep me – or anyone else watching this discussion – in suspense. Do you have anything from that detective that you can share?

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