Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 16:11 UK

Retracing classic murder's tracks

Greig Watson
BBC News, Nottingham

Bella Wright
Bella Wright is believed to have had a number of admirers

It has all the ingredients needed for a classic murder mystery, a victim struck down in the prime of life, a shadowy stranger, a web of clues and a headline-grabbing trial.

But most of all, it has a huge, hotly-debated question mark over the guilt of the prime suspect.

Now, 90 years after the original crime, as a cycling group retrace the route and actors take on key roles, it is claimed new evidence will reveal the truth once and for all.

The Green Bicycle Case began on 5 July 1919, when 21-year-old Bella Wright was found dead in a country lane near Stoughton, Leicestershire.

Bella was from humble origins but had rejected the traditional route of going into domestic service and instead took a factory job, something which gave her a measure of independence.

Policeman's hunch

On the fatal day she had decided to cycle to her uncle's house in nearby Gaulby. At some point, witnesses said, she was joined by a mysterious man on a green bicycle.

The stranger hung back as Bella chatted to her uncle but followed when she left at about 8.50pm. Half-an-hour later her bloodied body was found sprawled by a gate.

Scene of the crime
Bella was found by the gate but the scene was not properly examined (Photo: Leicester Chronicler)

Arguments about what happened in those 30 minutes have raged ever since.

"If you bring the pieces together, it is still possible to see through the years and get a real idea of what happened that summer evening," said legal expert Professor David Hughes, emeritus professor at Leicester's De Montfort University, who has spent years researching the case.

"It is first thought to be a traffic accident, and the body is moved, destroying evidence.

"Only when local bobby Alfred Hall, feeling something is not right, goes back to look at her again is the bullet wound found in her face. A shell casing from a .45 calibre bullet was also found nearby."

Posters were put up calling for information about the man on the green bicycle but the investigation stalled.

"The breakthrough comes by sheer chance," says Professor Hughes. "Five months later, a coal barge rudder drags up the frame of a green bicycle from the River Soar.

New mystery

"Most of the serial numbers have been filed off but one could be read. Detectives traced it back to one Ronald Light. Also recovered was a holster and a number of .45 bullets.

"Light is a strange character. He served in the army in the First World War and tries to pass himself off as an officer and a gentleman. But he was cashiered from the army and had a history of being in trouble with the authorities, often over sexual matters."

Despite fierce denials, Light was charged with murder.

Defended at his trial by the famous barrister Sir Edward Marshall-Hall, Light admitted being the mystery man but insisted he had left Bella in good health that evening.

Ronald Light
Light had been in trouble with the law but had no obvious motive for murder

Professor Hughes said the strategy was a clever one.

"It hinged on the fact no-one had seen Bella in those crucial 30 minutes, so no-one could put Light at the scene of the crime.

"Marshall-Hall also made much of the fact a .45 revolver, a type used by the army, if fired from close range, would have caused far more damage to Bella's face.

"He suggested an unidentified third party, perhaps in a nearby field, had killed Bella."

Light was acquitted and a mystery was born.

Professor Hughes believes the truth slipped through the fingers of the police of the time.

"In 1919 crime scene investigation did not exist, so clues were lost at the scene and also vital witnesses did not come forward until too late.

"And the police did not make the most of the evidence they had. Reading between the lines, there was tension between Pc Hall and his senior officer, Superintendent Levi Bowley. That lack of co-operation might well have helped the killer get away."

Potential solution

Now Professor Hughes believes he has found the key.

"Not only is there a crucial witness, who was at the right place at the right time, but there is even a confession, written down by the police.

"The 90-year-old Green Bicycle Case has finally got its ending."

But there is a catch for those wishing to find out more about the case - they need to take part in the bike outing on Sunday.

Christine Keen, from the Leicester Spokes cycling club, said: "We will be going to Stoughton and literally recreating Bella's route.

"We will be stopping at strategic points and talking about events that happened at that location and of course revealing the new evidence."

The ride on 23 August is part of a national event organised by British Cycling.

Print Sponsor

Police murder of 1909 remembered
18 Aug 09 |  Norfolk
Appeal over 250-year-old murder
14 Nov 08 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific