THE unsolved mystery of Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm has baffled and fascinated locals for 75 years but now for the first time an image depicting how the tragic damsel in the tree may have looked when alive has been revealed.

Authors, film-makers and journalists have over the years been drawn to investigate the puzzling case which dates back to 1943 - hoping to finally discover the truth about how a woman's body wound up in a Wych Elm in Hagley Woods and who painted the famous cryptic message 'Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm' on the Wychbury Hill obelisk.

But the true identity of tragic 'Bella' has never been proven.

Now, however, thanks to new technology - those gripped by the unsolved murder case can finally see what the woman, believed to be in her mid 30s, may have looked like.

A team from Liverpool John Moore's University, headed up by Professor Caroline Wilkinson - a specialist in the craniofacial depiction of people from the past, has put together an impression of how the mysterious 'Bella' - thought by some to have been a Nazi spy - might have looked when she was alive.

The image, revealed in a new book published by Stourbridge based publisher Andrew Sparke and written by Halesowen author Pete Merrill and his 15-year-old son Alex, was digitally created using photographs of the dead woman's skull.

Stourbridge News:

(The cover of Who Put Bella In The Wych Elm?: Volume 1: The Crime Scene Revisited. Image courtesy of APS Books)

The Merrills hired Prof Wilkinson and her prestigious team, who depicted Richard III from bones discovered underneath a Leicestershire car park, as part of their research for the book 'Who Put Bella In The Wych Elm?: Volume 1: The Crime Scene Revisited' - which started life initially as a school project for teenager Alex.

Publisher Mr Sparke, who runs APS Books and who has also written about the Bella mystery, said the Merrills enlisted Face Lab director Prof Wilkinson and research assistant Sarah Shrimpton to computer model an image of 'Bella' from photographs taken of the skull and bones found in the hollowed out Wych Elm, which over the midst of time since the police investigation, have mysteriously vanished; and he said: "It's the first time we've seen what she looks like since she was put in the tree." 

Artist Rik Rawlings has also drawn up an artist's impression of Bella for the front cover of the father and son team's book which also contains an explosive new theory about Bella's fate and casts doubt on the original parameters of the forensic examination and therefore subsequent police enquiries since 1943.

Stourbridge News:

(Artist's impression of Bella by Rik Rawlings. Image courtesy of Pete Merrill/APS Books)

Mr Sparke said: "This Black Country mystery keeps growing new intriguing layers.

"The police at the time and others since have considered a range of possibilities including witchcraft, espionage, prostitution as well as the possibility of a gypsy clan murder.

"The book explores all these and other thoughts and now contains copies of recently released documents such as the original forensic and police case closure reports and also contemporary photographs."

He said the book looks back at the original crime scene investigation and questions "what would have been done differently by today's standards of crime scene management".

The body of Bella is believed to have been placed in the tree in 1941 but the book hypothesises she could have lain there from as early as 1936-7.

Stourbridge News:

(Drawing by Rik Rawlings. Image courtsy of Pete Merrill/APS Books)

It also questions whether size five-and-a-half shoes found by the corpse and assumed to be Bella's even belonged to the dead woman, who was estimated to be only five feet tall.

Mr Sparke said: "If that assessment that Bella must've been no more than five feet was wrong police eliminated a number of women reported missing between 1938 and 1942, and therefore people who had family members go missing - it could actually be one of them."

"It could have been a domestic murder," he added.

And he said now that an image of Bella had been drawn-up "people could go back through their family archives to see if the face was anything like the member of the family that was reported missing".

Alex, who juggling writing the book with studying for his GCSEs, said delving into the mystery had been a "rewarding process, but not without challenges" and he added: "I wanted to add a new perspective and to shed new light on other possibilities and I sincerely hope I have achieved that."

The book is available to buy from Amazon, priced £7.99.