Despite taking place over a century ago the murder of Bella Wright is still theorized over today. Also known as the Green Bicycle Mystery the biggest debate that surrounds the case is whether or not the guilty party was actually found, placed on trial yet still got away with murder.
On the evening of July 5, 1919, at around 6:45 pm twenty-one-year-old factory worker Bella Wright was riding on her bike. Bella was going to visit her uncle, George Measure, in Gaulby, a small village in the city of Leicester, England.
Bella Wright was an attractive young woman who was engaged to a stoker in the Royal Navy named Archie Ward and also attracted the attention of several other men. She had previously spent time working as a domestic servant after leaving school at twelve-years-old but by 1919 she was working the late shift at a rubber factory. She would ride the five-mile journey on her bike for each shift and even when not riding to work she was often seen around the many adjourning picturesque small villages running errands on her bike.
The Mystery Samaritan On The Green Bicycle
On route to her uncle’s that particular evening the front wheel on her bike become loose. She stopped to take a look at it and as she did so a kindly stranger came over to the young woman to offer his assistance. The man didn’t have any tools on him which could help to tighten the wheel but he offered to travel beside her until she reached her destination. Bella took the man up on the offer and the two made the journey to her uncle’s home.
Upon arriving at her uncle’s the mystery man with the distinctive green bicycle fixed Bella’s bike. He did so as Bella went to talk to her uncle and his son-in-law who also happened to be visiting.
George Measure later stated he didn’t like the look of the man, who was described as been in his mid to late thirties with dark hair, but he said nothing to Bella. Bella had obviously felt comfortable in the man’s company and according to her uncle she had called him a “perfect stranger”. At some time between 8:30 and 9 pm, she said goodbye to her uncle and happily set off beside the stranger who had seemingly waited over an hour for her.
A Tragic Accident
Joseph Cowell, a local farmer driving cattle spotted a bicycle at the side of Via Devanna (also known as Gartree Road) at about 9:20 pm. As Cowell got closer to the bike he noticed a young woman covered in blood on the roadside. He quickly made contact with a nearby police constable who then contacted a doctor. The three men made there way back to the scene but it was too late, the young woman was already dead on upon their arrival.
The doctor was of the belief that the young woman had died as the result of a tragic accident, that she had simply fallen from her bike. The PC, a man named Alfred Hall, wasn’t as convinced. By this time it was dark on the roadside so a thorough examination of the body and the scene was not possible so the body was moved to a nearby cottage.
Although there were no signs of a struggle or violence were the body was found PC Hall had spotted traces of blood on a nearby gate. In the blood was the imprint of a bird’s claw, a further look around saw the discovery of the bird (a black bird of which type has never been made totally clear) which had seemingly managed to choke itself to death whilst gorging on the body of Bella Wright. It wasn’t until the following morning when the PC’s worries of a more sinister event having occurred were proven to be correct.
The Hunt For A Killer
The next day it was confirmed that the victim was Bella Wright. It was also confirmed her death was no accident, she had been murdered. A search of the crime scene in daylight early the next morning by PC Alfred Hall saw the discovery of a .45 caliber bullet less than twenty-feet from were Bella Wright’s body was discovered dug into the ground. An examination of her body once cleaned up also located an entry wound for a bullet just under the young woman’s left eye, a larger exit wound was found in the back of her skull underneath her hair.
As soon as George Measure told police that the last time he had seen Bella she was in the company of a mysterious stranger he became the obvious prime suspect. Posters were sent out in the hope of identifying the unnamed suspect but no one was able to come forward and put a name to the suspect.
Owners of green Bicycles in the region regretted ever buying them as each came under suspicion, from both police and the whispers of locals. However, each was always cleared, at least in the eyes of the police.
Despite the best efforts of the local constabulary, and even the help of Scotland Yard, the investigation into the murder of Bella Wright went nowhere fast until, on February 23rd the following year, a stroke of luck gave them renewed hope and a name.
A Discovery In The River
On that cold February day a worker named Enoch Whitehouse was guiding a canal boat filled with coal along the bank of the River Soar, ironically to the rubber factory were Bella Wright had been employed. All of a sudden its tow rope became snagged on something in the water. On pulling the item to the surface it was soon revealed that the item was a green bicycle frame.
Enoch Whitehouse immediately recollected the murder of Bella Wright from the previous summer and the hunt for an owner of a green bicycle. He thus contacted the police about his discovery. The rest of the river was searched and further parts belonging to the same bike were found. A later search in a nearby canal also saw the discovery of an army-issued pistol holder and several cartridges.
On investigating the bike frame it seemed the owner had attempted to scratch off and remove both the brand name of the bike and its serial number. They hadn’t done a good enough job, unbeknown to the owner the bike builders included a secret identification mark on its bikes. The ID number of 103648 that was revealed could now be traced back to its owner. The police finally had a name for their suspect.
The Mystery Suspect Revealed
Ronald Light, a former civil engineer, was working as a mathematics teacher in Cheltenham, a job he had taken up fairly recently, when he was arrested on March 4, 1920, just over a week after the discovery of the bike in the River Soar. Asked to explain how his bike came to be in the river he exclaimed he had no idea, at first denying he had ever owned such a bike before changing his story and stating he had sold the bike.
Unfortunately for Ronald Light, a witness had come forward saying he had seen a man dumping the bike in the river, the description of the man was a match for Light. Another witness was Harry Cox. Cox had repaired a distinctive green bicycle the day of Bella Wrights murder, Light was placed in an identity parade and picked out by Cox as the customer he dealt with. Finally, George Measure and his son-in-law both also identified Ronald Light as the man who had accompanied Bella to his home the night she was murdered.
Furthermore, two young girls, twelve-year-old Valeria Caven and fourteen-year-old Muriel Nunney had reported that earlier on the day of the murder they had been pestered and frightened by a man on a green bicycle. Just as others had done they too picked out Ronald Light.
Evidence against Ronald Light seemed to be growing thick and fast as next came the news that the pistol holder had been issued to him. Despite the overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence Ronald Light still denied everything – the pistol holder wasn’t his, the bike wasn’t his, he had never been anywhere near Gaulby and he certainly didn’t commit the murder of Bella Wright.
The Trial Of Ronald Light
Three months after his arrest the trial of Ronald Light for the murder of Bella Wright began on June 8, 1920. Light was to be defended by the famous defence attorney Sir Edward Marshall Hall.
As the Attorney General set about proving the case against Ronald Light and his constant lies Sir Edward Marshall Hall told the Attorney General his attempts were not needed. His client was now admitting he was indeed the owner of the bike and the pistol holder and he was indeed the man who had journeyed with Bella Wright the night of her death.
The two young girls who had claimed Ronald Light had frightened them on the day of Bella Wright’s murder were dealt with expertly by Sir Edward Marshall Hall. Murial and Valeria went from been perceived as two little innocent angels to two trouble makers who only came forward after months of newspaper stories for a bit of mischief. The judge himself even told the jury to ignore the testimonies in their final verdict.
The Attorney General’s witnesses now dealt with it was time for Sir Edward Marshall Hall to play his trump card and call the accused himself to the stand. Ronald Light gave the impression of a calm and dignified man who had simply had a moment of madness at the thought of been wrongly accused.
Light testified that he had indeed met Bella Wright in the village of Little Stretton that early evening on July 5, 1919, and ridden with Bella after finding her having difficulties with her own bike to her uncle’s in Gaulby. He stated it was the first time he had met the young woman. He denied any encounter at all with any other young girls that day.
Light claimed he hadn’t planned to ride back with Bella. He had instead gone off whilst she was in her uncle’s home to head back to Leicester, however, his tyre got a puncture. By the time he fixed it he decided to see if the young woman was ready to ride back, claiming she just happened to appear from inside her uncle’s at the exact moment he arrived back.
In his testimony Ronald Light next stated that he only rode with the victim for a further ten minutes. At this point, he was still having problems with his tyre and so the young woman and himself parted ways at a crossroads close to King’s Norton. He then had to walk home with a flat tyre thus he was late home (his mother’s maid had previously mentioned him arriving home late).
When questioned about the green bicycle Light said he had read about the murder in the newspaper a couple of days later and knew immediately he was the man suspected of her murder. Rather than come forward he was terrified that his version of events wouldn’t be believed and so instead he decided to stay quiet, which he admitted was a stupid mistake on his part. He also claimed his mother was unwell and not putting stress on her was another reason he didn’t come forward. He claimed he never went out on the bike again and some months later he broke it up and dispatched it in the river along with the pistol holder, denying he ever had the pistol that went with it after coming back from the war on a stretcher. Light never faltered from his story during hours of cross-examination from the prosecution.
The case for the defence moved onto the firearms experts evidence. The prosecution stated their belief that Bella Wright was shot from a distance of around seven feet. Sir Edward Marshall Hall argued this couldn’t be the case and that a shot from that sort of distance would have left a far larger entry wound. He also stated the distance at which the bullet would travel from the exit wound would have also been far greater.
Sir Edward Marshall Hall also pointed out that although the bullets found in the river with the holster were the same caliber this was trivial. The bullets had been made in their millions so it meant nothing, in fact, he argued the bullet found may not have even been the bullet which killed Bella Wright. A theory he gave himself was that Bella Wright was the victim of a tragic accident and that a stray bullet shot by someone in a neighbouring field had killed her.
Finally, Sir Edward Marshall Hall asked what was the motive, what reason did Ronald Light have to murder Bella Wright? Of course, nowadays we know people do murder for no real reason but back in 1920, they believed a motive was needed and people didn’t just kill for the pleasure of it or other meaningless reasons. From all known evidence the two were complete strangers. No sexual assault had taken place. Nor was there a robbery. The defence attorney had made his case expertly.
The jury took three hours and seven minutes to reach a final decision. Ronald Light was declared not guilty. A verdict which was roundly cheered in the courtroom gallery.
Experts throughout the 100 years since the murder of Bella Wright still to this day argue over whether Ronald Light got away with murder. Those who claim he did state the evidence was overwhelming and that social class was what actually determined the outcome of the case.
It is also possible Ronald Light was responsible but that it was all a terrible accident. A note allegedly written by Levi Bowley, a superintendent at Leicester police station, states that Ronald Light admitted in his cell he had accidentally shot Bella Wright when his gun inadvertently discharged whilst he was showing off his service revolver to the victim. The problem with this theory is that the letter in question has never been confirmed as authentic.
Others believe that Sir Edward Marshall Hall may have been on to something with his stray bullet theory. Another theory of a similar ilk surrounds the bird found at the scene where Bella’s body was discovered. The hypothesis is that the bird didn’t choke on Bella’s blood but was actually shot by a hunter. The bullet then passed through the bird and struck a passing by Bella in a horrific accident. The shooter, realising Bella was dead, fled the scene in fear of his story not been believed and never came forward.
I guess after 100 years we will never know for certain and the murder of Bella Wright and the Green Bicycle Mystery will remain unsolved.