It was the summer of 1919, in a leafy rural region of Leicestershire that we turn our focus towards today and a woman named Bella Wright, who was found lying dead by the roadside one quiet, Saturday evening. At first, police assumed her death to have been an accident, but things escalated quickly, when a gunshot wound was later discovered and the last man seen with Bella alive appeared to have disappeared completely.
Antony Browns site on the case – The author of “The Green Bicycle Mystery” has a website here with a nice summary of the evidence and such along with links to his book.
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Green Bicycle Mystery
As the curtain fell on the great War, Britain slowly returned to a sense of peacetime normality. The land was a vastly different place than before the war had started however, social unrest, high unemployment, drastic social change and of course, the shocking number of casualties in the trenches of France had altered the landscape forever. It was the summer of 1919, in a leafy rural region of Leicestershire that we turn our focus towards today and a woman named Bella Wright, who was found lying dead by the roadside one quiet, Saturday evening. At first, police assumed her death to have been an accident, but things escalated quickly, when a gunshot wound was later discovered and the last man seen with Bella alive appeared to have disappeared completely. This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
As the curtain fell on the nightmare of the first world war, men returned home across the UK to a country that had changed rapidly in their absence. Many suffered from the stained horrors of trench warfare, with high rates of PTSD, at the time dubbed “Shellshock” and seen as a weakness by many and dismissed, rather ashamedly, as cowardice or a sign of a lack of character by some. For men promised a triumphant heroes homecoming, coupled with the demobilisation scheme, that worked to stagger the release of servicemen from the military over an extended period, this was a tough pill to swallow. When they did make it home, they found a country that functioned in ways they weren’t previously accustomed to. If the long running suffragette movement had made dents in the rampant gender inequality of the time, the upheaval caused by the first world war had kicked the doors down. Social change had been swift, women who were once relegated to short piece meal factory work or service positions prior to the war had found a new freedom as they stepped up and took positions traditionally worked by the men, many of which were dangerous and critical to the war effort. Alongside this, Britain’s global trade had taken a hit during the war as foreign industry stepped in to replace the contracts Britain was now unable to fulfil, whilst automation, so critical during the war, further shrunk the demand for new employment. With the wars hunger for manpower, it’s huge death toll and it’s demand on the workforce at home, the makeup of the workplace had changed dramatically and unemployment rates among returning soldiers was high. Whilst demobilisation in the UK is seen as largely successful in the long term, it took off to a rocky start and the outcome led to many men scattering themselves throughout the country, either looking for new work or a new life and as such, small towns and villages whose inhabitants would have previously known everyone in the village hall were now met with faces they didn’t recognise. Amongst this evolving landscape, social tensions ran high.
In St Marys Mills, Leicester, England, the Bates Rubber Works was one of the British factories who had employed thousands of women during the war years. Now in 1919, they were largely exempt from the shrinking industry. Concerned with the manufacture of tyres for bicycles and cars, of which ownership of both was only escalating, their own output was perfectly healthy. Whilst motorcars were still largely owned by only the richest in society, bicycles were a method of transport and a personal freedom ubiquitous within the working population. The sight of Bella Wright, cycling to work the evening shift in the Bates Rubber Works daily for the previous five months was not anything out of the ordinary. Within this normality, however, the scene is set for an event that would be anything but.
Annie “Bella” Wright was a 21 year old factory worker, living in Stoughton, a small rural village in Leicestershire, England. She was born nearby in Melton Mowbray in 1897 to parents Kenus Wright, a farm laborer and Mother Mary-Ann, the eldest of their seven children with 4 brothers and 2 sisters. At 7 years old, Bella attended school in the village of Somerby, 5 miles South of Melton Mowbray. She’d started her education at a slightly older age as she’d been kept at home to help her mother with general housework and chores, she graduated in 1910, aged 13 years old and took the position of a parlor maid in the care of a wealthy local family. She 16 when the bells of war broke out across Britain in 1914, opening up a new track for working age women to move out of the service positions they were often herded to. By 1917, over a million women had joined the factory workforce and now, at the age of 19, Bella herself decided it was time for a change too. After 7 years in the service industry, she took a job as a shoe machinist in a shoe, glove and hosiery factory. Before the war she had been casually seeing a young man named Archie Ward and many, including some members of her own family, assumed there was some kind of arrangement, although unofficial, that the pair were engaged to be married after the war was over, though Bella and Archie themselves spoke little of it and though they exchanged communications whilst he worked as a stoker on the Navy ship HMS Diadem, it appears that they were perhaps little more than childhood friends in the eyes of Bella at least.
During the early months of 1919, Bella took a new job, this time working the evening shift, from 2pm til 10pm, as a factory hand in a tire manufacturing plant named Bates Rubber Works in St Marys Mill. The factory was three miles from her family cottage, situated next to the village school in Stoughton and Bella cycled to and from work through the rural, tree and hedge-lined lanes that cut through the fields, three miles to and back, daily.
Saturday the 5th July was Bella’s day off and she woke late and spent the late morning and early afternoon writing letters to her friends in the kitchen of her home. That evening she planned to visit her Uncles home to see her cousin, his wife and their new baby who was staying with the family in the nearby village of Gaulby. At 6pm, she wheeled her bicycle out into the street, hopped on and began her ride to Evington Post Office to post her letters on the way to her uncles. Through sheer good fortune, she met with Mrs Powers who worked at the Evington post office, riding in the opposite direction. The two ladies stopped to talk and Mrs Powers offered to take Bellas letters to the post office herself. Bella thankfully obliged and handed over her post along with the money needed to cover postage and the two parted. Noticing the sky turning dark grey, Bella decided perhaps it may be a wiser decision to return home for a raincoat rather than to ride straight on to Gaulby and so after doubling back to her house and grabbing a coat, she set back out to visit her family and arrived in the village, five miles from Stoughton at 7:25pm. Her Uncle was a gruff looking man named George Measures. Aside from his greying, bushy beard, his other defining characteristic was a solid wood prosthetic that buckled up around his thigh to replace his right leg that he had lost from the knee down. Bella’s cousin Margaret was staying with family in Gaulby with her husband, James Evans and their two children, 18 month old Marjorie and newborn son James.
Whilst there, George took delivery of groceries and whilst out by the front door, he noticed a young man, perched on a green cycle, wearing a grey flat cap with a raincoat tossed over his handlebars. Not recognising him, he asked the grocers if they knew who he was, and they explained that they had seen him rising into Gaulby earlier that evening with Bella and assumed the two were together. Somewhat unamused that his niece appeared to be keeping company with young men whilst her fiancee was in the Navy, he asked Bella about the man upon his return to the lounge. Bella assured her Uncle that she didn’t know him at all, though she had met him cycling on the road to Gaulby and after he had asked directions to a village she didn’t know, the pair had exchanged polite conversation whilst riding together for a time. He had told her he was from Great Glen, a town 3.5 miles Southwest of Gaulby. Not feeling overly assured, he begrudgingly accepted the story. The man continued to hang around in the street outside and though Bella had planned to leave slightly earlier, when told that he was still outside, she replied that she’d stay a little longer. It was around 8:30 pm when Jim went out the front of the house in an exercise to relax his father-in-law and saw no sight of the man who had apparently got bored of hanging around that Bella made to leave to return home before the night set in. She asked JIm to take a look at her bike first however, as she had had some trouble on the ride over with her rear wheel. As the two were outside looking over the bike, Bellas other cousin, Agnes arrived. Now the Evans family stood at the front door to see Bella off and as Jim finished tightening her rear wheel with a spanner and she began to push the bicycle into the street, the stranger on the green bike freewheeled down the hill from the church towards Bella, greeting her.
“You’ve been a long time, I thought you’d gone the other way”.
The man was around 5’6” tall with short brown hair flecked with grey. He was dressed in a shabby grey suit, shirt, tie, black boots and carried his raincoat slung over his shoulder. He spoke in a high pitched, squeaky voice with a slight cockney accent. Perhaps through concern that his father-in-law might make a scene, or perhaps just to satisfy his own curiosities, Jim stepped out into the street to speak with him. He asked the man about his bike, a BSA, Jim had a BSA too, he said, though he’d never seen one with such an unusual colour. The bike was a special order, he told Jim, it had been painted Pea-Green. As the two spoke, Agnes took bella aside and asked her earnestly if she was quite sure she didn’t know the man. They seemed to speak with a degree of familiarity, she felt, but Bella assured her she was telling the truth and had only known him by riding with him along the road for a short time to Gaulby.
At 8:45pm, Bella finally waved goodbye to her family and began pushing her bike up the street back towards the church. As she walked away from the house, the stranger joined her in pushing his bike back up the hill in the same direction. They appeared to chat as they both mounted their bicycles and rode out of sight and out of the village.
A grim discovery
Around 9:20pm, 35 minutes after Bella was last seen cycling away from her Uncles house, Joseph Cowell, a local farmer was returning home to nearby Stretton prava and herding a group of cattle along the Via Devana road, an old Roman stretch that cut through the breadth of England connecting Colchester in the South East to Chester in the North West. The leicester section connected the town to nearby markets throughout leicestershire and was lined by fields, trees and hedgerows for miles.
As Joseph approached the turn off to Little Stretton, 100 yards before the fork in the road, he noticed what he thought was a Horse Rug that had fallen from a goods cart. As he drew closer however, he saw a bicycle laying on it’s side, of to one side of the roadway, the rider lying face down beside it, in a pool of blood. Stopping the cows in their tracks, he ran to the young girl and picked her up, intending to take her across the field to his home and find first aid for the injured rider, however, as he lifted her from the ground, her head fell backwards, lifeless and limp. Joseph recognised their was little he could do for the young lady. He placed her body on the grass bank by the side of the road, picked the bike up to remove it from blocking any traffic and leant it on a nearby tree, installed his cows into the adjoining field and paced home through the long grass as quickly as he could to collect his horse and cart before setting out to inform the police of the grim discovery.
At 10:30pm, 31 year old Police Constable Alfred Hall arrived on the scene. PC Hall worked at the station in nearby Great Glen. He’d been a policeman for 9 years and he’d only recently returned to his position after leaving to join the English forces, where he’d spent his time as a soldier in France. Upon his return, he’d slipped seamlessly back into his old job as a bobby, a situation that twenty one of his colleagues within the leicestershire district were not so lucky to experience, as they had never returned home at all.
When Hall approached the scene, he met with two local men named Mr Naylor and Mr Deacon, who Joseph Cowell had alerted and asked to stand guard until the police arrived. Now he met with the three men riding his horse and cart and together, they lifted the body of Bella into the back of the cart where Hall inspected her as best he could. Upon her body he found very little clues as to what might have happened. She was wearing a hat and her clothing didn’t appear dishevelled or torn. She had a box of matches and a purse in he pockets, but little else could be ascertained. As the men carried on with their inspection, headlights lit the roadway and a car pulled up, driven by Dr Edward Williams. He too gave Bellas body a cursory inspection and taking note of the blood around her nose and mouth, suggested that she had had either a seizure or haemorrhage and fallen from her bike, though cause of death could not be ascertained. Realising that in such poor lighting, little else could be found in their current position, Joseph Cowell rode the horse and cart to a disused chapel in the village of Stretton where they placed the body and bicycle. As the candle light flickered in the dim building, Dr Williams further inspected Bellas face, noticing that she had bruising around her left cheek, though there was a large amount of blood that concealed the true extent of the damage. After Joseph Cowell ran both PC Hall and Dr Williams through his discovery, the group gave up for the evening, locking up the chapel as they left. Hall asked Williams if he could report the incident as a Haemorrhage and as the doctor confirmed his position, the men parted.
As PC Hall rode home, however, he found doubt creeping into his mind. He doubted the young girl had fallen from a haemorrhage, but had found no evidence of a crash or any violence on the roadway. Things didn’t sit well with him that night and as he arrived home and stepped down from his bike, he decided that he’d return to the scene in the morning with the light of day on his side.
More grim discoveries
The next day, Sunday the 6th July, PC Hall woke up bright and early, it was 6am and the weather was cool for the time of year. He hopped on his bike and rode out to the Via Devana road once again to scour the scene in the light of day. He was sure he was missing something important, but what it was, he only hoped he could pin down with a thorough investigation of the scene. At the same time, Bella Wrights mother, Mary-Ann woke up to find that her daughter had not returned home from her ride the night before and made her way to the Post Office in Evington to report her missing. The police were, as yet to identify Bella as the girl lying lifeless in the village chapel.
When PC Hall arrived at the scene, he paced backwards and forwards, up and down the road, eyes peeled for any clue that might help him to piece together what may heave led to Bella falling from her bike. The road had a soft incline, though it seemed a push to consider that as any sort of hazard. The herd of cows that Joseph had been moving had done a fair job of trampling over the scene, though at the time, this hadn’t caused any alarm to Hall or given him cause for any concern. The only new piece of intrigue he spotted was a track of bloody bird prints that led from the accident spot in the road to a loosely tied wooden gate, but otherwise there was little else to be found. He returned home for lunch at 3pm, checking in with the County Constabulary in Leicester to confirm that he’d been back to the scene and that no new evidence had been found.
Still unsatisfied however, he returned once again at 6:00pm. Once again he paced the trackway, head down, scouring the rough ground for anything. His persistance paid off and a mere 6 yards from the bloodstain where Bellas body had been found, he discovered a spent bullet, half wedged into a cows hoofmark in the road. He dug it out with his fingers and inspected it and using his experience in the armed forces, felt pretty sure it was a .455 bullet, a fairly large caliber round that could’ve been shot by a pistol or revolver. In particular, that of a Webley revolver, common issue in the armed forces during the first world war. Following the first world war, there had been an influx of firearms into the country as soldiers returned home from the fighting carrying their weapons, a situation that was so common, it would have no small to part to play in the enforcement of the Firearms Act of 1920 that would bring in strict requirements for obtaining a firearms license. For now however, an ex-serviceman possessing a revolver or rifle was not altogether uncommon.
Hall wasted no time in communicating the discovery to Dr Williams before returning to the scene yet again at 7:30pm, this time taking Joseph Cowell along with him, who walked Hall through his discovery step by step. The pair found little new on the road, though they did find a track that ran from the tied wooden gate, through the high grass of the field below. They followed it to a turnstyle but after, the track was lost. Within the field, a second curious discovery was made by the pair however. They found the remains of a dead crow, though Hall was unsure how it may have been connected.
Halls next stop was to catch up with Dr Williams and to return to the disused chapel to re-inspect the body of Bella Wright. He met him on the road between Gaulby and Billesdon and after the Doctors final housecall, the pair arranged to meet in the chapel in Great Glen. Upon their arrival, PC Hall began washing the blood from Bella’s face, he carefully lifted off the hat, still perched on her head and upon doing so, made a further grim discovery. Bella had not died from a fall or any sort of haemorrhage or seizure at all. On her left cheek, the pair found a bullet entry wound and on the back of the right side of her hear, behind her ear, a larger exit wound. Bella had been murdered.
The hunt for the man with the Pea-Green bike
By Monday the 7th July, the press had gotten hold of the story, though the discovery of the bullet wound was too late to affect many of the stories they had run with. The small headline on the front page of the Leicester Daily Post read simply “Women Cyclists Death” and included scant detail.
“Unidentified female found dead by farmer on Highway by Stretton parva.”
“To all appearances, the deceased had fallen from her machine, onto her face, which was bleeding profusely… According to both medical and police opinion deceased must have had a seizure whilst riding, but whether death was directly due to the seizure or the fall is at present uncertain”
The police were long past this theory however and a full blown murder investigation was underway. Superintendent Herbert Taylor visited the scene, though he found little else new that PC Hall had not already reported. He did however go one step further with the strange dead crow and matched the birds feet with the prints on the top of the wooden gate. The bird was sent for analysis, but otherwise, it was still as mysterious as it had been on the night they had found the body, if not more so with the introduction of the bullet wound.
One of the first public documents that mentioned the shooting was a police handbill, printed on the 7th that was handed out amongst local residents appealing for information. It contained by far the most detailed information about the case that the public was able to see thus fa, including a description given by James Evans, Bella’s cousin who spoke with him on Saturday night before the pair left, that was fortunately for police, most thorough.
“At 9:20pm, 5th instant, the body of a woman, since identified as Annie Bella Wright, was found lying on the Burton Overy Road (Via Devana), Stretton parva, with a bullet wound through her head, and her bicycle lying close by.
Shortly before the finding of the body, the deceased left an adjacent village in the company fo a man matching the following description:
Age 35-40 years, height 5’7” to 5’9”; apparently usually clean shaven, but had not shaved rfo a few days, hair turning grey, broad full face, broad build, said to have a squeaking voice and to speak in a low tone.
Dressed in light rainproof coat with green plaid lining, grey mixture jacket suit, grey cap, collar and tie, black boots and wearing cycling clips.”
There was also contained, a long description of the mans green BSA bicycle and the request that if the man were to be met with, he should be detained and police contacted. A reward for £5 was also offered along with a specific appeal to owners of all bicycle repair shops for any information of the ownership of the bike.
The next day, Tuesday 8th July, the inquest began and the stories in the press changed dramatically from the previous day. The Liverpool Echo ran the headline, in large block capitals “Girl found shot. Tragedy of a country lane at Leicester. Man on Bicycle. Mysterious cyclist who spoke to her.” None of the press reports made any bones about who might be the prime suspect.
“She stated that a man, also riding a bicycle, had spoken to her and accompanied her to the farm, and the girl was not seen again alive, though a local farmer remembers seeing two cyclists pass down the lane late in the evening. It is surmised Miss Wright was shot whilst riding the bicycle.”
Coupled with the circulating leaflet published by the police, it was clear that the police’s main suspect was the mysterious man with the green bicycle.
The inquest, which was held at Joseph Cowells cottage in Stretton Prava, was attended by Coroner Edmund Bouskell, Superintendent Levi Bowley and Chief Constable Edward Holmes. Only two witnesses were present, Mary-Ann Wright, Bella’s mother and Joseph Cowell. The proceedings were short and included confirmation of identification from Mary-Ann and confirmation of how the body was found by Joseph Cowell. The proceedings were then promptly adjourned until Friday 25th July and the body of Bella released to prepare for burial.
Things were moving at a steady clip and information was reasonably forthcoming in the early days of the investigation. Harry Cox, a bicycle repair shop owner came forward to police with information, stating that he’d repaired the bicycle described in the papers only one week prior. Unfortunately, the owner had never given his name, though the owner confirmed that he certainly matched the description on the handbill. He told the police that through short conversations, he knew only that the man was from London and visiting friends in Leicester and had very recently been demobilised. The fact that the suspect was from London had both positive and negative effects on the investigation. Firstly, it made looking for the mans name somewhat similar to finding a needle in a haystack. If the man wasn’t local, he could very easily have slipped away quietly. On the plus side, the London connection meant that the case now fell under the duty of the Metropolitan police and that meant the efforts could be bolstered by everything the Met had to offer. The local police contacted Scotland Yard and Detective Chief Inspector Albert Hawkins was dispatched to Leicestershire to lend his expertise to the case. Albert Hawkins would later be better known as one of the “big four”, four superintendents that would head up the Criminal Investigations Department of Scotland Yard later that year. All of Bella’s friends, family and colleagues were meticulously questioned, alongside her unofficial “fiance”, Archie Ward, who travelled from portsmouth to aid in the investigation. Archie had briefly been a suspect but was equally as quickly ruled out following his questioning. One note concerning Archie, was that at the inquest, Bella’s mother laid it out straight to the coroner that bella and Archie were not engaged to be married, but the pair were “stepping out” together, perhaps laying to rest a long running rumour in the village at the same time.
On the afternoon of Friday 11th July, Bellas funeral was held at St Mary’s and All Saints Church in Stoughton. As was the norm for the times, people crowded the streets to attend, apparently numbering in the “hundreds”, the hymn “Brief life is here our portion” was sung and what was likely a good portion of the population of the local villages streamed past the coffin. Naturally the police followed suit, but no sign of the man on the Green Bicycle was reported. It was looking more and more likely as the days ticked by, with no one knowing who he was, where he’d come from or where he was staying, that he’d simply vanished.
As the week passed, no new leads were forthcoming and the investigation into the Bella Wright case began grinding to a slow halt. No weapon had still been found, despite hedgerows being trampled for miles, whilst police searched the fields and roadsides for a firearm. On the 17th July, the local paper published a comment from DCI Hawkins appealing for the man with the green bike to come forward to police and aid in the investigation. Along with this, a second handbill was published, this time the reward was upped to £20 and the tone of the leaflet, like the press coverage had changed drastically and it now bore the headline “Murder at Stretton Prava. Whilst it may have reflected the public opinion of what had happened on the night of Bella’s death, the inquiry was yet to formally state it as a case of murder. Once again, the leaflet focused on the man with the green bicycle and this time included the repair information.
On the 25th July, the second day of the inquiry took place, upgraded this time, to the village hall of Great Glen. Joseph Cowell was recalled, alongside Doctor Edward Williams and Doctor Edgar Phillips. Primarily, the questioning was in regards to the medical evidence and after clearing up that the initial examinations undertaken by the doctor were done in poor lighting and simply cursory, they moved on to the bullet wound. Doctor Evans explained how he had cleaned and dissected the wound, finding pieces of gravel from the road inside along with some small shards of metal. This, he believed, showed signs that the gunshot cannot have been fired from more than 4 or 5 feet away. No bruising or marks or any evidence of struggle or “violation” had been found and the scratches that he had discovered on the face and hands were compatible, in his opinion, of the theory that Bella had either been shot whilst riding her bicycle, or whilst standing. The inquest was then adjourned for a further two weeks to allow for more evidence to come forth, though it appeared more and more likely that that was wishful thinking on the part of the coroner.
In the two weeks that separated the second and third days of the inquest, the case of Bella Wright appeared to turn rather cold. Despite upping the reward to a significant sum and appealing to the public for information in the press on numerous occasions, nothing new materialised since the discovery that the man had had his bicycle fixed in a local repair shop.
The third day of the inquest took place again in Great Glens village Hall on Friday the 8th August. First to give evidence was Harry Cox, the bicycle repairman who had worked on the green cycle and spoken with mystery owner.
“I had half an hours talk with him, and he said he was staying with friends in Leicester. He told me he was a demobilised officer and working for a firm in London. The firm, he said, had told him he could have another two or three weeks holiday on full pay as they were not very busy.”
“From the way he spoke, I should say he was a Londoner. He spoke with a cockney accent fairly quickly. He had a squeaky voice.”
“Just before he left my shop he told me he was fed up messing about the town and he was going to have a run out in the country. He rode off in the direction of Old Evington.”
This was followed by James and Margaret Evans, Bella’s cousins and George Measures, her uncle all of whom she had visited on the night of her death. They spoke of meeting with the man in the street outside the house and how he had hung about and then left with Bella, as the last they saw of her alive.
The final witnesses on the third day of the inquest was Henry Clarke, a gunsmith from leicester who told the coroner that the bullet found by PC Hall was indeed .455 caliber and could have been fired from either a rifle or a revolver, though if it was a revolver, it would have certainly been a service gun. He also mentioned that if fired from a distance of five feet, he would have expected to find scorching from the black powder on the face of the victim. Something which the doctors confirmed was absent from Bellas wounds. Pc Hall gave a brief recount of how he had found the bullet in the road and the inquest was once again adjourned until the 25th of August, though the fourth days proceedings were swift and the only order of business was to pass out the verdict that the case was certainly wilful murder against some person or or persons unknown.
During the days between the inquest, the police had still made no strong moves on the investigation. No new leads had come through the stations doors and things appeared to be stalling quicktime. Even the press was losing interest. The final day of the inquest occupied just six lines of print in the local paper that told of the inquests verdict and wrapped up by stating simply:
“There is still no clue to the man with the green bicycle.”
As the summer sun set over the fields of Leicestershire, the leaves of the trees fell on the roads they lined and winter frosted the grounds of the same fields to concrete hardness. The Scotland Yard commissioner received a letter from the office of the director of public relations that summed up the mood around the case quite efficiently.
“I have read the papers in this case with considerable interest and am now returning them to you as I have little hope that the murder will ever be caught.”
As the curtain fell on 1919 and the sun laid its first beams of light into 1920, the case of Bella was as stone cold as the air of a rural deep winter.
Green bicycles and Schoolmasters
On Monday the 23rd February, 1920, Enoch Whitehouse, a canal haulier was gliding along the canal delivering goods to various factories. As he approached the factory at St Marys Mills that Bella Wright had worked at until her death seven months previously, his tworope snagged on something along the riverbed. As he pulled it up out of the water, he saw that the rope had tangled around what appeared to be a bicycle. He heaved it up to the side of the barge when he recalled a story he’d read in the paper months ago. They were looking for a green bicycle, looking down at the twisted metal frame wrapped around his rope, he could scarcely believe his luck. Tangled in the ropes was a pea-green bicycle just as he recalled it to have been described and their was a hefty reward tagged onto information if he could supply it to the police. This was a remarkable feat of chance, but stranger still was that it was right alongside the very factory where Bella had previously spent so much of her life. Enoch let the bike slide back into the murky canal depths, taking note of the position and continued the days deliveries. The next day however, he returned and hauled it back up, this time, bringing it aboard and taking it directly to the police station at Long Eaton. Their were parts missing, certainly. For one, the back wheel was entirely absent. Still, he was quite sure that if this was the bicycle the police were looking for, they would pay out all the same.
As it turned out, the bike that Enoch Whitehouse had pulled up, was exactly the one that the police had been searching for for months. They immediately called in a local BSA agent named William Saunders to inspect what was left of the machine. Unfortunately, their hopes of reigniting the investigation into the murder of Bella Wright was premature, as Saunders quickly found that the bikes serial number, usually stamped into the frame beneath the seat, had been filed off. Just as the investigators hopes began to die, however, Saunders mentioned that if the bike was a special order, they often had multiple serial numbers. It had already been noted that the Pea-Green colour was unusual and so they set Saunders to work, stripping the remaining parts from the frame in search of a serial number. They were in luck. Stamped onto the inside of the handlebar post was a second serial number. Tucked up where no one would even consider looking without any knowledge of the stamping practice was a six digit number: 103648.
The BSA offices in Redditch unearthed the files for the bike and found that it was manufactured in 1910 to fulfil an order placed on the 3rd May, where it was dispatched to a dealer in Derby named Orton Brothers. It was a precarious chain, but provided the Orton Brothers kept good records of their sales, the police were inching closer to finally uncovering their mystery man. The police visited the dealership in Derby and spoke to Joseph Orton, who flicked through his store records to find that the bicycle had been bought for £13,13s, paid for in cash by a man named Ronald Light. When he’d bought the bike, he’d even given two addresses as his contact information. They hit a snag when they found that Ronald no longer lived at either, but they at least had a paper chain to follow and jumping from rental agreement to rental agreement, they followed the trail straight to a current address in Cheltenham, around 75 miles Southwest of Leicester, where he was teaching as an assistant schoolmaster in a well to do private school. On Thursday 4th March, Superintendent Taylor from leicester police alongside Sergeant Illes of Cheltenham police visited Dean Close school and after a brief conversation and protestations on the part of Ronald Light, where he first stated that he’d never owned a green BSA bicycle in the first place, and then amended the story, saying that perhaps he did, though only for around a year and had sold it on shortly after. He told the detectives that he’d never heard of Bella Wright and certainly never visited Gaulby.Unsatisfied with his answers to their questions, he was asked to accompany the two policeman back to Cheltenham station. Henry Cox, the bicycle repairman was called for to attend a lineup in Cheltenham and he promptly made the long journey down and stepped into the cramped interview room, containing a line of 10 men. He fingered Light, immediately recognising him as the man who had come to his shop to collect the green bike on the day of the murder of Bella Wright, a young woman Light now found himself arrested for on charge of murder. Whilst he held a Bsc degree and had been teaching in a respectable school position, it soon became apparent that the life of Ronald Light had not quite been all that he’d presented it as and the lies he had been telling the police were not entirely out of character.
At 34 years old, Ronald Vivian Light was born in 1885 to parents George and Catherine. His mother Catherine had been from a particularly wealthy family and his earliest years were comfortable. He’d attended prep and private school, however at the age of 17, he had been expelled for inappropriate behaviour with a younger pupil, though the official reason, that he’d lifted a girls skirt over her head, seems a little like the incident may have been downplayed. He finished his schooling at City & Guilds in london and accepted an engineering apprenticeship with Midland Railway in Derby. In 1910, aged 25, he completed his training and became an Engineer Assistant. He worked there for four more years and was well liked by his colleagues, though he was eventually fired for setting a store room on fire and drawing graffiti on the bathroom walls. His dismissal fell right on time for the outbreak of war and so, like so many men, he enlisted to fight. He was drafted into the position of second Lieutenant of the Royal Engineers and was sent to France in 1915, where he constructed trenches to prepare for the Somme offensive. His war experience would not last for long however, when 10 weeks later he was sent home, the official reason given being that he “Lacked initiative as an officer”, though rumours spread that he had assaulted a French postmistress. Soon after, his abrupt return, his father “fell” from a second story window and died, though it was never proven, it was certainly whispered about in the town that he had committed suicide.
Ronald Light spent the Summer of 1916 working as a farm laborer before er-enlisting as a gunner in the reserves. Perhaps never expecting to get called up, he whiled away his time. His regiment was called up however, twice in fact, but both times they had received orders on the eve of their departure that they were to stand down and await further orders at home. The fighting was destroying so many lives in France however, and the demand for manpower was so large that when the powers that be looked into the orders that kept Lights regiment on home soil and a handwriting test was undertaken on the entire corps, it came as little surprise that there had been some monkey business keeping them from leaving. As it turned out, Ronald Light had himself sent the orders to the regiment leader that cancelled their call up on both occasions. Light was sentenced to 1 year imprisonment, but with the demand for men as it was, he was released after only 4 months and was finally sent on his way back across the channel in 1917. This time he served 10 months as a gunner, eventually he was sent home with deafness and ringing in his ears. He spent three months in a military hospital at which point, the war was ended. In february 1919, he was officially demobilised and he returned to leicester to live with his mother, where he stayed until taking the position as assistant schoolmaster in Cheltenham on 20th January 1920. He’d only been at the school for three months before the police came seeking Ronald Light, the man who owned the green bicycle.
Building a case
The next day Ronald Light was transported back to Leicester station where he would answer, extensive questioning and await his trial whilst the police attempted to build a case against him. Meanwhile, an exhaustive dragging of the canal was underway near to where the bicycle was pulled up. The rear wheel and various other parts were still missing and the murder weapon had still remained a mystery and the hope was that all could soon be dredged up. In the press, the case was back in a big way. After falling to the back pages and then entirely forgotten for so many months, the saturday after the arrest of Ronald Light saw the entire front page of the Leicester Post dominated by the full story of the murder investigation thus far, including pictures of the original crime scene and of the green bicycle, proudly held for the cameras like a prize catch.
Among the lines of inquiry in building the a case against Light was a conversation that had apparently gone on between two young girls and a man on the evening of the murder. Muriel Nunney, aged 14 and Valeria Cavin, aged 12 gave a statement to the police that a man on a green bike had approached them whilst they were out riding. The man, they said, had tried to seperate them, asking to ride with one of them alone. The girls rather wisely declined the request. In a lineup, both fingered light immediately. ROnald Light was rather unhappy however, as was becoming normal in a slew of lineups in which he found himself fingered every time, he complained that he was not allowed to shave beforehand and that the statements from witnesses all claimed specifically that the man they had met with on July 5th was unshaven. Further to this, he stated that the statements from the girls were not taken until after his arrest, when his photograph had already been printed in the local papers. This he said, was intentional on the polices part in order to bias the lineups against him.
The trial against Light was pushed back twice whilst police continued to dredge the canal and Light was placed on remand on both occasions. When he appeared in court, he was said to be cool and calm, despite the long queues that filed up to the courtroom to view the proceedings. On his first visit to sit in front of the judge, the crowds were said to be so full, that they had to be parted by police before Lights arrival at the court to allow him to enter.
On the 12th March, the rear wheel was found, along with a rear braking mechanism with matching serial number to the green frame and a week later a brown leather army revolver holster, full of .455 cartridges was pulled up, though still the weapon itself remained ever elusive.
On the 23rd March, Light was once again bought before a judge to undergo magisterial proceedings. Once again it caused a great interest in the public and it was reported that a queue of over a thousand members of the public came to view the affair, far more than the capacity of the court would permit. The case was laid out before the court and in particular, new evidence came to public light, when the prosecution claimed that they had evidence which could show that although no firearms were found in Lights possession, he had owned a service revolver as late as 1915. It was also given as evidence by the Light families servant, a Mrs Webb, that Ronald Light would regularly go out cycling up until the time of the murder, after which the bike was stored away in the kitchen of the house up until December, after which she never saw it again. Light apparently told her that he had sold it.
The case seemed to be building strongly against Light, at least until the question of motive was brought up. Whilst there are no transcripts existing, the press did a stellar job of reporting the scene.
“As to a motive, he could only tell them that in a case of murder the prosecution was not required to either prove or suggest one. If it was necessary, then in the absence of proof possibly some guilty person might escape. The girl was not outraged. She was killed and left lying on the roadside, and it was not a question of manslaughter, accidental death, or suicide, but murder and nothing but murder. The matter as to whether the prisoner was acquainted or not with the girl or whether they were chance acquaintances, was not the question, but the considering of evidence. He maintained that the prisoner must have known that the police desired certain information, and added that the prisoner did not come forward. He was last seen in company with the girl half an hour before she was found dead, and he would suggest that there was ample and sufficient evidence to justify him being sent for trial.”
At the end of the proceedings that lasted for two full days, Ronald Light was committed to stand trial for the murder of Bella Wright. His only statement throughout was to say,
“I am innocent and by the advice of my legal advisors, I reserve my defence.”
The trial of Ronald Light
In the run up to the trial, things fell relatively quiet on the case of Bella Wright. The only press report was a small paragraph on the retrieval of a bike chain from the canal. Meanwhile, Ronald Light was busy arranging his defence and with the aid of his mother and a wealthy family friend, secured the services of Sir Edward Marshall Hall to stand as his defence lawyer. Hall was no ordinary defense. Schooled at Rugby and Cambridge, he was well known for his impassioned defences and after a string of successful, high profile cases, became known as “The Great Defender”, indeed, many considered him to be the greatest orator and legal figure of the day.
The trial opened on Wednesday, June 9th. The case had fallen quiet in the press in the run up to the trial, proceedings, nevertheless though, the curtain raised to a packed house. Ronald Light arrived at 10am by police van amidst what was described as a “thronging” of people who had arrived since the early hours in the morning hoping to get a seat at the proceedings and Light himself was described as “one of the least perturbed men in the crowded court.” Dressed in a dark blue suit, he stood confidently before the judge to plead not guilty. The prosecution was carried out primarily by Attorney General Sir Gordon Hewart whose opening statement once again mentioned the question of motive, alluding to the idea that the attack could have been one of revenge, whereby Light had made an advance towards bella only to be rebuffed. He also commented on the quality of evidence and stated that although much may be circumstantial in nature, if it all pointed in the same direction, it was not necessarily open to criticism on quality. In summary, he stated to the jury,
“If, when you have heard the evidence you have any reasonable doubt, but reasonable doubt – as to whether this was the man whose hand fired the shot, why, of course you will not hesitate to act upon it. If, as reasonable men discharging your duty to your country and fulfilling the oaths you have taken, you are satisfied that this was the man, equally in that case you will not flinch, but will do that which you have undertaken – bring a true verdict in accordance with the evidence.”
The remainder fo the day was given to witness examination after briefly pointing out the key locations to the case. It did not take long for the Great Defender to strike. During cross examination of the young girls Muriel Nunney and Valeria Cavin, Muriel was asked if she saw the man from their roadside meeting in court. Murial replied in the positive and pointed to Ronald Light. Hall then addressed her.
“Hall: Did you hear about what was called “The green bicycle case”?
“Witness: Yes sir.”
“Hall: And I think you saw the photographs?”
“Witness: Yes, sir.”
“Hall: You knew about this poor girl being found dead in the road?”
“Witness: Yes , sir”
“Hall: You read it in the papers, I suppose?”
“Witness: Yes, sir.”
“Hall: You were asked whether you had seen this particular man on the 5th July?”
“Hall: The police gave you the date?”
“Witness: Yes, sir.”
With minimal effort on his part, the defence had shown that the girls statements were not only taken after the arrest of Ronald Light, but after the case and the arrest had been made public in the press and after the girls had read about it. Further, he suggested that police had led the girls by supplying the date given in their statements. The girls evidence was thrown out entirely by the judge. When Bellas relatives were called to the stand, Hall was equally as swift. All along, Light had told police that he was not acquainted with Bella, though the prosecution were pushing for an angle that proved he at the very least knew her name. Hall cross-examined George Measures, Bellas uncle and asked him,
“Did you ask your niece if she knew the man, and did she say I do not know the man, he’s a perfect stranger to me?”
The only answer Measures could give, was a simple “Yes, sir”. Once again, Halls cutting down of the prosecution was swift and efficient. This continued when Doctor Williams, who at the inquest had already commented that he was not an expert in firearms, was asked by Hall if that was the case. Naturally, the Doctor had to concede that no, we no ballistics expert.
The second day of the trial was as hectic and crowded as the first. It would be the day that the Jury would finally hear from Ronald Light himself on his movements on the day of the murder and subsequently, the public too were now finally to hear what Light had to say in his defence. Whilst there is again, no court transcript that survives, the press report of the statement sums up Lights speech, who at first explained that he had not owned a revolver since returning from France. He had taken a service revolver with him to France, but upon entering the hospital on his return to England to be treated for deafness, the revolver had been taken and left behind in the clearing station. Have you seen that revolver since? Asked Hall, “No sir, never” replied light. The press report goes on, went on,
“Ronald Vivian Light went into the witness box and described his movements on the fateful 5th of July. His composed demeanour did not desert him under this ordeal and he handled the plan of the scene of the tragedy with great deliberation. He quite frankly admitted that he was in the company of Bella Wright on the afternoon of the day in question and that he threw the green bicycle and the revolver holster into the canal, but maintained that he knew nothing of the shooting of the girl.”
Light also admitted to owning ammunition for a service revolver and that the ammunition fished out of the canal had belonged to him, as far as he knew. Light maintained that he had not met either of the young girls, Murial Nunney or Valeria Cavin and that he had first met bella whilst out riding that evening, He found her not riding her bike, but leaning over it by the roadside.
“As I got up to the young lady she was stooping over her bicycle and she looked up at my approach and asked me if I could lend her a spanner. I had no spanners with me, and I just looked at her bicycle. As far as I could see from what she pointed out to me there was a certain amount of play in the free wheel. I could not do anything to it as I had no spanner. After that we rode on together. We rode down a steep hill together, and up another, and when we came to the bottom of the one to go up, we dismounted and walked up the hill together. At The top we got on our machines and rode on together.”
“We came to a village. I asked her the name of the village, as we came to it, and she said it was Gaulby.”
“As we got there, she told me that she was going to see some friends there. She said “I shall only be ten minutes or a quarter of an hour”, so we rode on into the village together and I went with her as far as the house where she was going.”
“When she said she was going to see some friends and should only be ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, I took that as a sort of suggestion that I should wait and we should ride together.”
After waiting for the 15 minutes, Light then said he went to leave the village, assuming Bella was not coming back, however as he approached the church, he noticed his rear tyre was flat and had a puncture. Mending the puncture took him around an hour and so, after the repairs, he coasted back down on his bike to see where Bella had got to, only to meet her as she was leaving her uncles. Upon his approach to the house he said “Hello, you’ve been a long time.” This went against the statements from Bella’s uncle and cousin, who said that the man had approached and said “Bella, you’ve been a long time.” But Light insisted to Hall that he never knew her name until he read the reports of her murder in the paper. He then continues his tory as the pair left Bellas uncles house.
“When we got to the top of the hill, near the church we got on our bicycles. I found my tyre had gone down again, so I had to pump it up.” During which Bella rode ahead, very slowly. He pumped his tyre up and caught up with her only a hundred yards down the road.
“I told her that whilst she had been in her Uncle’s house I had been repairing my tyre, and I said it had got in a very porous and bad state through having been laid by so long. She then told me the only thing I knew about her, and that was this: She said she never let her yres get in such a state, as she was employed at a tyre factory, and could get them at cost price.”
“It was the first thing thing I knew about her, but not the only thing. I learnt more the last moment I ever saw her. As we came to the junction of the upper and lower roads, I turned along the upper road. She got off her bicycle. I also got off my bicycle. She said: “I must say goodbye to you here. I am going that way.” And she pointed to the road on the left of the gate. I said “But isn’t this the shortest way to Leicester?” meaning the road I was on. She said “I don’t live there.” I said “Well I must go this way, because I am late already, and with this puncture I may have to walk part of the ay home.”
After this, Light said he never saw Bella again and that it took him some time to reach home, as he kept having to stop to inflate his damaged tyre. At least this part of Lights story had already been confirmed in a previous statement to the court by his mother’s servant, who told the jury that Light had gotten home late and when she had asked him what happened, he had told her “that his bicycle had broken down again, and he had had to walk”.
As for his reasoning to discard his bicycle, holster and ammunition, Light told the court,
“Well, for the first day I ever saw the accounts, every paper was saying the man who had ridden the green bicycle had murdered this girl” In retrospect, he could of course see that his actions were not sensible and that he could have helped police to switch their line of inquiry to other suspects if he had simply come forward, however, he went on “I did not make up my mind deliberately not to go forward. I was astounded and frightened at this unexpected thing. I kept on hesitating and in the end I drifted into doing nothing at all.”
One of his chief reasons for staying silent, he said was that he did not want to worry his mother who was suffering from a poor heart and that anyhow, aside from explaining to the police that he was not guilty and not a suspect, he thought he could not help police in any way to ascertain who the real murderer was. He tossed away his belongings into the canal to avoid suspicion and to ensure they couldn’t be traced to him.
The third and last day of the trial saw the defence make its final statement to the Jury. In summary, they pointed to light as having acted like a guilty man, who was working on deception. That he had lied to police at first about having ever owned the green bicycle and that if all his actions were taken for the wrong motie, then it was strong evidence he was the guilty man.
Sir Edward Hall’s response for the defence, was to firstly solemnly point out that however they swung it, it was regrettable that the jury would soon have to make a decision that held the life of a man in it’s outcome. He then went on to summarise Lights situation as such,
“The prosecution must, for the purpose of the theory they were putting forward, ask the jury to believe that the girl did know the man, and had known him – in other words, that the dead girl had lied about it. What foundation was there for such a belief? The only little evidence to support the belief that the man knew her was a casual conversation overheard. One witness had said Light exclaimed “Bella, you have been a long time” and another witness said it was, “You have been a long time, Bella” Upon that flimsy statement the jury were asked to find that the two people were known to one another. Why? Because the prosecution realised – the attorney general might say what he liked about the innumerable coincidences of truth – that the overwhelming difficulty in the case was the entire absence of motive, as between the prisoner and the woman.”
“The description of the man and his bicycle was accurate to the smallest detail. In a short jacket a revolver could not be very well concealed. If it is said it might have been in the pocket of his raincoat, surely people who observed with cuch nicety would have seen their was weight in the raincoat. It was a curious and significant fact that none of the witnesses said one single word about the revolver.”
“Could he not have said that the thing was an accident – that they were playing with the revolver when it went off in error. There is not a man, woman or child who would not have accepted that story. There was the man’s perfect defence if he wanted to invent a defence. If the prisoner wanted a story to invent, that was a story that was practically examination proof. It was not the prisoners story. His story probably showed moral cowardice of the worst possible order, but it must be remembered that shellshock destroyed nerve vitality. IF the prisoner had told lies in certain parts of his story which could be tested, no doubt rebutting evidence would have been called. It was quite understandable that the man, not wanting to alarm his mother, should drift into a policy of concealment. It was a vital factor of the case that the prisoner kept his bicycle down in the kitchen for ten days, as shown by the evidence of witnesses for the crown. Was that consistent with the prisoner having deliberately and premeditatively murdered this girl? Prisoner was driven from a negative to a positive policy of active concealment, and he maintained this attitude to police until the time when he was identified by Cox. From that point there was no doubt of his identity.”
“I have to remind you gentleman that this is a matter of life and death. Unless the evidence leaves you with no doubt, you will remember that in the one scale, held by the finger of justice, is what is called the ‘presumption of innocence’, which is the British judicial system’s most valued feature. You will not hesitate to make use of that if there is any reasonable doubt in your mind.”
Halls speech lasted for a full two hours and in it, alongside the testimony of Light, the Jury were faced with a troubling predicament. Lights testimony may have sounded cowardly to some, but it also sounded plausible and in fairness, to some, entirely understandable.
The Jury stepped out to make their decision and after three hours, they returned. Ronald Light was found not guilty.
Theories and conclusions
Ronald Light had escaped a guilty verdict and as such, the case of Bella Wright fell to a new mystery. If not Light, then who was the murderer? There are three main theories which have persisted over the past 100 years, the first two of which are fairly straight forward. Either you accept the position of the prosecution, that Light had in some way made an advance upon Bella and shot her in revenge of a rebuttal, or that perhaps he was just a cold psychopath shooting her with no motive at all. The second, that you accept the position of the defense, that Light was innocent and merely concealed his tracks through fear of being prematurely painted as the criminal.
The third theory is a little different however. In the vacuum of the trials aftermath, the public responded quickly and after only two days, the Leicester Post printed a story coming from the Daily Mail concerning the dead crow that was found in the field by the murder scene. What if, it was suggested, the girl was not murdered at all?
“Two correspondents write advancing fresh possible solutions of the mystery. The first comes from a barrister, who says he does not believe the girl was murdered at all. He suggests that the key to the mystery is the dead Raven found “gorged with blood” in a field near to the body, and which had left traces of blood on the top of a gate adjoining the road. “I doubt very much whether this creature was in reality gorged with human blood”, says the barrister. “On the contrary, it seems to me not improbable that it was shot by a boy or some other irresponsible person, and that the bullet went on and killed Mrs Wright.” “I should like to know whether it is a scientific fact that a raven may so gorge itself with human blood as to die.” The other correspondent, a naturalist, asks by whom the raven was examined, and also expresses doubt whether it would gorge itself until it died. “It is far more likely”, he said, “that the bird was shot and bled internally.”
This theory was not overlooked and in 1922, writer Truman Humphries published the “Shooting crows” theory in an article he wrote for “The Strand” magazine, in a peculiar fact based, fictional mashup of events. In it, Humphries accepts Lights version of events, that he didn’t come forward due to shellshock and not wanting to concern his mother due to her poor health, but expands on the entire concept of the dead crow. Here he vers into fiction, suggesting that a young boy hunting rabbits could have been lying on the floor with a rifle perched on the edge of a cattle trough. Indeed, there was such a trough on the field adjacent to the scene. The shot was fired towards the crow, hitting both the crow and Bella at once.
The reality is however, that the bird was examined and if it had been shot with a .455 caliber bullet, it likely would have been blown to pieces. This does not necessarily make the story any less true, what if the bird was shot at, but either missed or only clipped by the bullet shooting Bella instead? The bird could still have gorged on the blood of the victim before dying just as the original evidence heard. Would it have gorged itself on blood in the first place? There is considerable ornithological evidence against the idea. Or what if the bird had been shot by a much smaller bullet than the .455 bullet found in the road? Could it have been that the .455 bullet was a red herring all along? They were commonplace at the time and though it would have been a remarkable coincidence that a spent bullet could have been found in the road by a shooting victim and be entirely unrelated, there is evidence to suggest it was just that. The medical evidence shows a wound that would have been relatively small for a bullet the size of the .455 bullet, hall himself mentioned in the trial that “the effect of such a bullet on the skull of a human being is almost to blow the side of the head off.” And in a letter dated after the trial, he said himself that he believed the bullet to be nothing but a coincidence.
There is one last twist to the tale and that is of a letter discovered only recently. For a long time, there existed rumours that there was some sort of signed confession by Light that had been floating around a leicester police station, however it was often thought to be a something of an urban legend as no one could ever produce a letter upon inquiry. In more recent years however, author Anthony Brown managed to unearth and attempt to authenticate a document which he believes was the seed for the legend of the signed statement. The document in question was found by Bill Donahue in 2007, when he found it amongst a stack of old documents in a leicester police station. He wrote about it in an article for “Bicycling magazine” on the case. The document had been stored in Leicestershire County Records Office for the past 8 to ten years, before that, it had remained a secret. Known as the Bowley Statement, it is a typewritten statement made by Superintendent Levi Bowley. It tells of how when in custody, Light had gotten along well with Bowley on account of his fair treatment towards him and of how, three days after his acquittal, Light came to collect his possesions from the police station. Upon doing so, Bowley reached out to Light,
“I told him that I did not believe he had wilfully shot herand that I never had believed that of him.”
“Well, you are a good sport,” Light apparently replied, “If I tell you something, can I depend upon your keeping it to yourself?”
At such a juicy piece of bait, Bowley could of course not help but reply in the affirmative. Light hen went on tot tell Bowley of an alternative story to the facts around the murder of Bella Wright.
“I did shoot the girlbut it was completely accidental, we were riding quietly along, I was telling her about the War and my experiences in France, I had my revolver in my Raincoat pocket and we dismounted for her to look at it. I had fired off some shots in the afternoon for practice and I had no idea there was a loaded cartridge in it, we were both standing by the sides of our bicycles, I think she had dismounted on the right of her mcahine and that the two bicycles were between us. I took the revolver from my coat pocket and was in the act of handing it to her, I am not sure whether she actually took hold of it or not, but her hand was out to take it when it went off. She fell and never stirred, I was horror struck, I did not know what to do, I knew she was dead, I did not touch her.”
“I did not know the girl, I had never met her before that evening. What I said about her asking me for a spanner was quite true, I first saw her at the top of the hill, I screwed her bicycle up and we went down the hill then started to go up the next hill where Atkins saw us. I did not make any improper suggestion to her either on the way to Gaulby or after leaving there. I did not mention this at all, that might – and probably would, have happened later. If I had intended shooting her I should never have done it close up to the village, it was much more lonely along the road we had passed. I do not remember the two little girls, they must have mistaken me for someone else.”
“I said – Where is the revolver? He replied – It is in the canal but not there, I threw that and another in near Belgrave Gate.”
“I said – Does your mother know? He said My god no, I would not let my mother know it for the world. Noone on this earth knows it but us two, and if you tell I shall say I never said anything of the kind.”
The document is then signed, but only by Superintendent Bowley and it only raises as many questions as it supposedly answers. In an attempt to authenticate it, Antony Brown took it to Rob Radley, the Director of Forensic Documents laboratory who found a watermark in the paper from Leeds Council, though this was explained by Brown that after the first world war, it was customary for police to write on any paper they had lying around. The paper itself was dated to have been manufactured before 1950, and the signature was said to match Bowleys real signature within an acceptable margin for error. It’s difficult from this to ascertain if the document was authentic or not, instead, we can look at another document, a communication between Chief Constable Holmes and the Director of Public Prosecutions, from nine days later pertaining to an attempt the police were considering, to send Light to trial on guilt of Perjury. It reads,
Referring to your call yesterday, and to the document you left with me, I beg to say that we have been in consultation with the Attorney General as to what use, if any, should be made of the information contained in the document, and that he has decided that a prosecution for perjury should be instituted if the necessary evidence is forthcoming.”
It’s becomes very easy to believe that “the document” was the statement apparently made by Light to Bowley, in which case, the authenticity of its origin is at least answered. As for the authenticity of the statement itself. That is altogether another matter. Why would Light suddenly open up to Bowley? Or did he open up at all? Was it a complete work of fiction, or an effort for the police to have a second chance at getting the man they believed to be guilty? This, just like the murder of Bella Wright as a whole, are mysteries which continue to roll onwards, for over a hundred years. Was light guilty or innocent of either murder or manslaughter? Or perhaps neither. Known as the Green bicycle Mystery in 1919, the facts are no clearer today than they ever were and the mystery of how Bella Wright died steadily rolls onwards.