A Whisper In Hagley Woods | 2020 – 2023
30 pages
Silver ink on black paper
Printed by Raddraaier SSP in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A Whisper In Hagley Woods is centred on a mysterious unsolved murder case that was committed during World War II. In 1943, four boys found the complete skeleton of a woman in a hollow tree in Hagley Wood, UK. Despite a thorough investigation, the victim was never identified and no suspects were ever arrested. The photo book juxtaposes exclusive forensic photographs from the crime and 35mm landscape photographs Jelle Havermans shot in the forest in which the aforementioned crime occured, so many years ago. A Whisper In Hagley Woods contains never before published crime scene photos from the Hagley Wood murder. Furthermore, it functions as an investigative object in itself; contemplating on the haunting aesthetics of forensic imagery and ”placeness”. The photos are printed in silver ink on matte black paper, as to evoke associations with Daguerreotypes and old photographic techniques. A Whisper In Hagley Woods is a work about the ways ghosts can inhabit places and objects but simultaneously about the eerie power of photography itself.

On 18 April 1943, four boys (Robert Hart, Thomas Willetts, Bob Farmer and Fred Payne) were poaching in Hagley Woods when they came across a large wych elm. Thinking the location to be a particularly good place to search for birds’ nests, Bob Farmer climbed the tree. As he glanced down into the hollow trunk he discovered a human skull. Farmer put it back and the boys returned home without mentioning their gruesome discovery to anybody. However, on returning home, the youngest of the boys, Thomas Willetts, felt uneasy about what he had witnessed and decided to report the find to his parents, who then notified the police.

When the police checked the tree, they found an almost complete skeleton of a woman around 30 years of age. Despite various leads, the police struggled to make progress with the case. After a largely fruitless year of investigation, mysterious chalk messages started appearing in and around Birmingham. Texts like ‘Who Put Bella In the Whych Elm?’ fueled speculation about witchcraft and the black arts and gave the victim a nickname: Bella.

When I heard about Bella’s case from a British friend I was immediately intrigued. During my Master’s course, I spent two years researching it and visited the forest in which her remains were found so many years ago. What captivates me the most are the few things that remain and prove that this case actually happened: original forensic photographs and newspaper clippings, of which a selection is published in this book. Aside from these images the book contains a selection of 35mm pictures shot in 2020, when I roamed Hagley Woods.

Want to buy A Whisper In Hagley Woods? Send an e-mail to jellehavermans@hotmail.com.

A Whisper In Hagley Woods, experimental short film (2021)

Premiered at Refracted Reality, V2_Lab, Rotterdam, NL on 30/09/2021

In this atmospheric short film, a man returns to a gloomy forest in Birmingham, where long ago a mysterious crime was committed. Party photo-roman, partly digital travel report, this short film juxtaposes old forensic photographs with videos shot with a phone of the crime scene as it stands in the current day. A whisper in Hagley Woods reflects on placeness, the apparatus of cinema and the way ghosts inhabit photographs. It further ambiguously explores the role of the male creator indulging his obsession. He retraces the steps of the murderer and the victim… while reminiscing on a past that is shaped through the lens of fictional narratives.