The Festive Season is a time for spooky stories, this one has it all; murder, folklore and spies, it also happens to be true.
Wych-elm in Hagley Woods
It is set in the West Midlands during WWII. One April morning in 1943 four lads found human remains inside a wych-elm in Hagley Woods. Inside the tree was an almost complete human skeleton (one hand was missing), the body had some cloth stuffed in its throat, nearby was a wedding ring, a shoe and the bones from the missing hand. The pathologist reported the victim was female, around 35 years old with brown hair, uneven teeth and that she was roughly 5 foot tall. Her remains had been placed in the tree soon after her death.
Bella, The Hand of Glory
Despite this excellent description, no-one came forward to name her, so she was nicknamed Bella after some graffiti which had appeared asking “Who has put Bella inside the wych-elm?” One popular theory was put forward by Prof Margret Murray; she believed the removal of the woman’s hand suggested a connection to Black Magic. She claimed the hand of a dead person was said to have magical powers. True, it was thought that the left hand of a criminal (often a hanged man) was supposed to be a powerful talisman, Indeed, such gruesome objects are known as The Hand of Glory, but Bella wasn’t hung and there was no evidence she was a convicted criminal. In fact, research suggested she may have been either a Dutch woman called Clarabella Dronkers or a German cabaret singer named Clara Bauerle, both of whom seem to have been spies. As to who the murderer was, that remains a mystery.