A BBC True Crime Podcast Is Asking Museums for Help Locating a Murder Victim’s Remains to Solve a Cold Case

If the skeleton is recovered it may reveal the woman's origins or even her surviving relatives.

The journalists behind a BBC Sounds true crime podcast are appealing to museums in the U.K. for help locating a murder victim’s remains.

“The Body in the Tree” delves into the cold case of an unidentified woman whose skeleton was found in a hollow wych elm tree in Hagley Wood, Worcestershire, England, on April 14, 1943. It is believed that the murder occurred around 1941.

There are many theories about the murder, including that it was a ritualistic killing based on how the bones were arranged. It has also been speculated that the victim, dubbed “Bella,” may have been a Nazi spy. Forensics determined that she was likely between 35 and 40 years old, and a professor of craniofacial identification at Dundee University reconstructed her face based on photographs of her skull in 2018.

The West Mercia Police closed the case in 2014 after they lost hope of catching the killer, and it entered the public archive.

The skull of a woman recovered from a wych elm tree in Worcestershire, England in 1943. Photo: Public Domain.

For some time, the woman’s skeletal remains, as well as her clothes and some other items of clothing were kept by the local pathologist, James Webster. He had retained the evidence from this and several similar crimes to help train recruits at the Tally Ho police training centre in Birmingham.

The items disappeared, however, some time around the 1960s or 1970s and their whereabouts are now unknown. The podcast’s host, Nicolas Goodwin, is now appealing to museums across the country to report if they have the skeleton in storage.

The hope is that, with today’s sophisticated DNA testing methods, scientists may finally be able to make some headway on identifying the woman.

“We’re hoping to be able to trace the woman’s remains and, using 2023 science, test them to see if we can find her country and place of origin and maybe, find some of her relatives,” said Goodwin. “We’d love to be able to give her a name and give her the dignity of being laid to rest.”

Anyone with information can contact Goodwin at 07711 348849 or by email.


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