DMU exhibition marks centenary of Leicester's most famous cold case

Documents from Leicester’s most famous cold case that have never been on public display will be part of a new exhibition that opens this week.

The Green Bicycle Mystery tells the story of 21-year-old Bella Wright, who was killed while cycling home on July 5, 1919. Former soldier Ronald Light was put on trial for murder but acquitted.

Bella

Bella Wright, who was shot and killed on July 5, 1919


A ‘confession’ said to have been made by Light days after he was cleared – together with witness testimony that he was spotted near the scene, something he had denied throughout his trial – is included in the exhibition which opens at the Heritage Centre at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

Curator Elizabeth Wheelband said the exhibition aimed to shift the emphasis from the accused to the victim, Bella Wright, so people could find out more about her story.

She said: “We have tried to make this exhibition more about Bella, about who she was and tell her story because it’s kind of been overshadowed by the trial. She was actually a very modern woman for her day so there’s lots about her life, about what she did and who she was. The exhibition also shows how the case affected the first officer on the scene Pc Alfred Hall. 

“We have been very lucky to have been given access to these incredible documents which help to fill in a couple of the gaps about what happened after the trial and which shed a new light on what could have happened.”

GB arriving at Castle

Today (Friday July 5) will mark 100 years to the day since Bella’s body was discovered in a country lane in Little Stretton, Leicestershire. She had been shot.

Bella, who worked at a rubber factory in the city, had been cycling home from visiting her uncle in Gaulby. She was last seen in the company of a man riding a green bicycle, so the case came to be known as the Green Bicycle Mystery.

Police discovered a rusted metal bike frame in a canal and traced it to Light, who was arrested and charged with murder. He hired Edward Marshall Hall, one of the most famous barristers of the day, who raised doubts about much of the evidence. One popular theory was that Bella had been shot by accident by boys shooting crows nearby.

DMU Heritage Centre has worked with heritage organisations including Leicestershire Police archivist Neil Bell, Leicester City Council, Ride Leicester, cycle historian Roger Lovell, and Miss Wright’s relatives in putting together the exhibition, which opens today (FRIDAY 5 JULY).

Chief Constable of Leicestershire, Simon Cole, officially opened the exhibition. he said: "To be here with members of Bella's family is pretty humbling. As a policeman I can't help but think what Pc Hall would make of it all, to think that 100 years ago he was a lonely beat officer standing in a country lane trying to sort out what had happened."

Members of Bella's family were able to come along to see the exhibition. Janet Wright, who was married to Bella's nephew, said: "I think the exhibition is amazing. It's one of the unsolved crimes of Leicester. It's lovely to see that she is not forgotten after 100 years."

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Police historian Neil Bell has been crucial to putting together the exhibition. He said: “The exhibition focuses on the life of Bella and puts the case into a historical context – what was life like for a woman aged 21 in the 1920’s?

“There is a closer look at the case’s timeline of events, the trial and what happened after the trial. There will be a number of key artefacts and pieces of history for members of the public to view, including: the bike itself, PC Hall’s cape and trial documents for the public to peruse.

“Finally, there will be the opportunity for the first time ever, to have a look at the notes written by PC Hall – these have previously never been seen by the public.”

The exhibition is part of a series of events taking place across the county to mark the centenary. The church of St Mary and All Saints in Stoughton, where Bella is buried, will be open for visitors on Saturday.

Leicester City Council’s Schools’ Ride today – a mass bike ride that sees hundreds of children converge on the city – will feature the story, while at the end of August, the city’s Ride Leicester cycling festival will include a re-enactment ride to the scene of the crime on 17 August and a city centre case ride on 18 August.

Other events planned include a re-enactment of the trial, held at Leicester Castle, and a series of talks by crime historians and forensics experts.  

Posted on Friday 5th July 2019

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