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Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?

Mysteries are generally named after some element of the case. The Somerton Man case refers to the fact that an unknown man was found on Somerton Beach. There's the Man from Taured, again we see the gender plus location motif. Exactly the same applies for the Green Children of Woolpit.

This rule does not apply to the mystery of who put Bella in the Wych elm. No, here, the entirety of the mystery is encapsulated in the name. So who was Bella, what is a Wych elm, and of course, who put her there?

Making Childhood Memories - There's a Lady in That Tree

It's April 1943 in the English countryside. Four little boys are trespassing in Hagley Woods near Stourbridge in the West Midlands. They seek birds' nests to poach some eggs for poaching. What they find instead are the mortal remains of a woman, jammed into a tree.

One boy saw what he assumed to be an animal skull in a hollow of the tree. He reached inside and wrapped his fingers around the skull. Stubborn patches of skin and hair scratched at his fingers as he removed the grinning bones. Once the morbid reality of his find sank in, he placed the skull back inside the tree.

The boys held a conference amongst themselves. Clearly, finding a human skull wasn't a good thing. Unfortunately for the skull, the boys were also actively trespassing. They came to the conclusion that they should never speak of it again. Whoever was stuffed in the tree probably wanted to be there anyway. It's for the best.

Well, if you've ever asked a group of friends to keep a secret as a child, then you know how this ends. One child was overcome by either guilt or civic duty, and he told his parents. They called the police. Luckily for the boys, their crime would soon be overshadowed.

Murder by Tree

Police rushed out to the Wych elm in Hagley Woods. They found the skull where the boy had previously replaced it. After rummaging around inside the tree's hollow, they found most of the skeleton. Only one hand was missing.

That missing hand led people to the never-wrong assumption that the murder was ritualistic in nature. Of course it was. No other explanation could suffice. The skeleton was even stuffed into a Wych elm, wake up sheeple!

Occultists can do many wondrous things with human body parts. One practice stood out as the obvious motive to the townsfolk. "Hands of Glory" are severed human hands, usually taken from the body of executed murderers.

This grisly talisman can help burglars by rendering their victims speechless and motionless. You can't snitch if you're frozen.

While people rushed to blame devilry, the police found the missing hand. It had been buried in mulch at the base of the tree. Animals had likely carried the hand from its initial resting place before abandoning it at the base of the tree. The case would never shake the occult connection.

Police took the case to a professor. It was determined that the skeleton belonged to a 35-year-old woman. Her death was around 18 months before the boys found her in the tree. Due to the placement of her remains, she was likely forced into the hollow of the tree before or right after her death.

They found a piece of cloth in her mouth. This led investigators to the conclusion that she had asphyxiated to death. Police also found a single shoe and a wedding ring in the tree's hollow.

The Question on Everyone's Minds

1943 saw England at the height of World War 2. Suspicion and paranoia ran rampant. Not only did people have to constantly think about and fear witches in the woods, but now they could fear the spy as well.

War is never great for the common people. There is a lot of evidence for the rate of people going missing to sharply increase during wartime. England in 1943 was no exception. Women and children go missing at a much higher rate than men. Police were swamped with reports of missing women, and were unlikely to ever discover who the lady in the tree was.

Naturally, people assumed that the body in the tree was either that of a spy or a local who had stumbled on enemy spies. Either way, she was almost certainly killed by a witch of some kind, because of the tree and temporarily missing hand.

Several months after the mystery skeleton was found, graffiti appeared. Several spots bore the same question, "Who put Luebella in the Wych Elm?"

That intrigued investigators. The name Luebella wasn't common. Could the one who penned the question know something about the identity of the woman in the elm? Eventually, the name was simplified to Bella.

Police searched through the ocean of reports of missing women for mention of a Luebella. They found nothing. Eventually the graffiti stopped as the case went cold. No leads were ever found, and the mystery of who put Bella in the Wych Elm has faded into murky legend.