Hagley Woods Mystery

It was April 1943 in the middle of WWII. Four boys were poaching when they came across a large wych elm on an estate belonging to a lord. They tried to climb into the tree to search for birds nests and found a skull. They thought it was an animal’s, but saw that human hair and teeth were still attached to the skull. They didn’t tell anyone at first because they were afraid of getting in trouble for trespassing. The youngest boy ended up tell his mom. The police found an almost complete human skeleton, a shoe, a gold wedding ring, and some fragments of clothing. Upon further investigation a severed hand was found buried in the ground near the tree. The body was examined by Professor James Webster and he established that the skeleton was female and had been dead for at least 18 months. Time of death around October 1941. He also discovered a section of taffeta lodged her in her mouth, suggesting that she had died from asphyxiation. Measurement of the trunk suggested that she was placed in the truck of the tree while she was still warm as she could not have fit in once rigor mortis has taken hold of her body. They did a nationwide search of dental records but came up with nothing. People forgot about the body until graffiti started happening around town. Someone wrote “Who put Loula Belle in the wych elm?” and then another wrote “The Hagley Wood Bella,” and another said “Who put Bella in the wych elm?” The graffiti appeared to be by the same hand.

Couple theories:

  • Hand that was buried close by could have been a “hand of glory.” A dry and pickled hand of a man who had been hanged, often specified as being the left hand. Or if the man was hanged for murder, that hand that did the deed.
  • In 1953, journalist Wilfred Jones started to write about the old case. He received the first sold lead in almost a decade when he started getting letters from someone signing “Anna.” According to the letter Bella had been murdered because of her involvement with a Nazi spy ring operating in the midlands in the early 1940s. Hundreds of German spies captured during the war and the midlands would have been a prevalent source of spies because of its munition factories. Part of the letter read “Finish your articles on the wych elm crime by all means, they are interesting to your readers, but you will never solve the mystery. The one person who could give the answer is now beyond the jurisdiction of the earthly courts. The affair is closed and involved no witches, black magic, or moonlight rights.”
    • She eventually revealed herself to be a woman named Una Massup and told the full story. Her husband, Jack, worked on a local munitions factory in the early 1940s and came into some money after meeting a mysterious dutchman. He later admitted to Una that the dutchman was a Nazi agent and Jack had been passing him information about the local industrial sites. Which was in turn passed on to another agent who was posing as a cabaret performer at a local cabaret theater, midlands had been invaded by the Luftwaffe in the early 40s and such information would have been invaluable to the Nazis to target the raids where they would have done the most damage to Britain’s war effort. One day Jack met his contact at a pub close to Hagley Wood, he was arguing with a dutch woman. Who ordered Jack to drive them both out to the  Clent Hills, but the argument became extremely violent and the dutch agent strangled the woman in the car. Fearing for his own life Jack helped carry the body into the Hagley woods where the pair buried the body in the hollow of an old tree elm. Una’s husband was so traumatized by the murder, that he kept having visions of a woman’s skull because he had a nervous breakdown. He was institutionalized in 1941 and died later that year.
  • She parachuted in and somehow ended up in the tree.
  • Karen and Georgia: Maybe she parachuted in and someone found her and killed her and put her in the tree.

hagley woods


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