The Green Bicycle Mystery – The Curious Death Of Bella Wright
by Antony M Brown
A true crime mystery, a case unsolved for almost 90 years.
In the Summer of 1919, on a lonely lane in rural Leicestershire, a solitary bicycle lies on its side, its metal frame catching the glow of the fading evening light. Next to the bicycle, lying at an angle across the road, is the dead body of a young woman, her right hand almost touching the mudguard of the rear wheel. She was last seen with a man on a green bicycle, who seemingly vanishes into thin air.
Now dramatic new evidence is revealed for the first time, but does it solve the case or deepen the mystery? You decide.
The Green Bicycle Mystery is the first book in the Cold Case Jury Collection. Each one tells the story of an unsolved crime in an evocative and compelling way, it presents fresh evidence, exposes the strengths and weaknesses of past theories and then asks the reader to decide what happened.
Q) For the readers, can you talk us through the synopsis of your new book?
A) Actually, I’m writing a series of books about true crime mysteries. I’m interested in cold cases – historical, unsolved true crime – from the first half of the 20th century or earlier. My goal is to combine history with a real-life whodunit and take a different approach to writing true crime. First, I want to engage the reader directly. Rather than passively describing events I show the reader what happened – and what might have happened – through dramatic reconstruction, giving it a feel of novel. Second, I present some of the original evidence for the reader, like exhibits in a court. Thirdly, I invite the reader to deliver their verdict online on what they think might have happened, so the reader becomes part of the case, helping to bring it some closure. This is what the Cold Case Jury Collection is all about. The first in the collection is The Green Bicycle Mystery, about the unsolved shooting of Bella Wright in 1919.
It is a case that could have been taken from the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. A young woman is found dead by her bicycle in a lonely country lane. The only clue is that she was last seen with a man on a green bicycle, who seemingly vanishes into thin air… The case remains unsolved to this day. Now, dramatic evidence that has been hidden in a police safe for decades and the forgotten testimony of a key witness is being put before the Cold Case Jury.
Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?
A) It began inside a classroom on the campus of Southampton University. This is where I attended ‘Telling True Stories’, a non-fiction workshop for writers run by author Iain Gately. One of Iain’s golden rules for writing is “2 and 2 not 4” – don’t spoon-feed the reader, let them work things out for themselves. At its most simplistic, if two people are joined by another couple, you don’t need to tell the reader that there are four people in the scene. This idea sank slowly into the depths of my sub-conscious: let the reader work it out for themselves. Why not write a series of books where readers are invited to deliver their verdicts on what happened in a cold case? But apply it to true crime, specifically unsolved murders from the past. This was important. We never totally suspend disbelief with a novel, reality often leaving a deeper impression than fiction.
I self-published four e-books, including The Green Bicycle Mystery, testing the concept of whether readers would deliver their verdicts online after reading an unsolved murder case in a book. It worked. I then approached some publishers and secured a publishing deal. In fact, I was offered contracts by two publishers but decided on Mirror Books. It’s easy to write in a few sentences but the whole process took over two years.
Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
A) My favourite author remains George Orwell. I discovered his books when I was at secondary school. I fell in love with his style of writing. For me good writing is like running water – clear and flows effortlessly.
Q) What were your childhood favourite reads?
A) The wildlife adventure novels by Willard Price. I was totally absorbed by the adventures of Hal and Roger as they collected wildlife for their father’s zoo. There were 13 books in total with titles including Amazon Adventure, South Sea Adventure and Whale Adventure. I still have them all.
Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
A) Receiving e-mails from readers. If actors love the sound of applause, writers cherish reading the words “a great read” – it makes everything worthwhile. For me, the purpose of publishing a book is to have your words and thoughts widely read, within the limits of the genre, and liked by readers. Your worst fear is that, despite the long journey from concept to publication, your book falls stillborn from the printing press, to quote the philosopher David Hume.
Q) Who has been your source of support throughout the writing process?
A) Undoubtedly, close family and friends. I would imagine it’s the same for most authors. In that respect, writing is no different from any aspect of life. Similarly, I learned a long time ago that success unshared is no success at all. It’s empty, unfulfilling. As the overwhelming majority of published books are not massive bestsellers, success is often getting published in the first place. Those close family and friends often take greater pride in seeing your book in the bookstore than you do. Experiencing that is the best reward – uplifting and enduring.
Visit www.coldcasejury.com for more information on The Green Bicycle Mystery and forthcoming books in the Cold Case Jury Collection. From this site, you can click on Antony’s blog, where you will find more of his thoughts on writing and publishing.
*Thank you for taking part in the Q&A on my blog, I wish you every success with your writing career.
Antony M Brown
*The novel is interactive and upon finishing the novel, readers are invited to deliver their own verdicts and share their own theories on the web site above. Which I personally think is super cool!
11pm. The disused chapel at Stretton Parva was a small, rectangular red-brick building with a pitched roof. Looking more like a mundane outhouse than a place of worship, the only clue to its former role was a stone plaque engraved with the words “Free Chapel” embedded in a gable wall. It was a suitable place to keep the young woman’s body overnight.
As Dr Williams approached, he saw the gentle glow of candlelight issuing from its two sash windows. PC Hall was wheeling in the girl’s bicycle through the entrance to the right. He followed, closing the door behind him. In the centre of the room the men assembled around a table illuminated by four flickering candles. On it was sprawled the fully clothed body of the young woman. Cowell repeated to the doctor how he discovered the body. Hall informed him that he had inspected briefly both the body and the bicycle and had found nothing suspicious. Williams moved the woman’s head from side to side, feeling her skull and face, as if he was giving a macabre massage. “Extensive blood on the hair and the left side of her face,” Dr Williams announced, stating the obvious. “There’s also bruising on the left cheek just below the eye.” He motioned for a candle to be brought nearer to take a closer look. “Yes, it’s quite a vivid bruise, too.” “It seems to have an indentation in the skin,” Hall commented. “I can see that, Constable. She would sustain that by falling.” The cursory examination soon concluded. “I don’t think we can do any more for the poor girl,” Williams said. “What’s the cause of death, Doctor?” “Oh, I would say sudden haemorrhage and collapse, Constable.” “Can I report that to my superintendent?” “You certainly can. I really must be getting back,” he said, placing his hat on his head. “Goodnight, all.” Alfred Hall nodded as the doctor walked to the door. One by one, he bid the others goodnight until he was left alone. He straightened the body on the table and placed her arms on her chest. He wanted the young woman to have dignity in death.
Hall looked at the still body on the table. The skin of the right check had a waxy, yellow appearance with a tint of a bluish-grey, the same cold hue as her lips. The left cheek was covered in dried blood. He dampened the cloth and began to gently wash the dried blood from Bella’s face. Even in death, he thought, cleansing the face was an intimate and tender act, like a mother washing a child. Slowly moving the cloth down her cheek, he lifted the veil of blood that had partially covered Bella’s face since her death. And there, below her left eye, was a bullet wound…
On Friday 12 March, a rear wheel was recovered and matched to the green bicycle. It was not proof in itself but demonstrated that Light had dismantled the bicycle and dumped various parts over a wide section of the canal. Expectations were raised. They were met a week later when a brown leather army revolver holster was fished out. It contained treasure: wrapped inside were nearly two dozen .455 cartridges – the same calibre as the bullet found by PC Hall. When Light heard about the recovery he was reported to have cursed in his cell: “Damn and blast that canal!” If this is true, it was the only time he ever lost his composure.
“So what happened? I swear whatever you say will not leave this room.” “Come on, Superintendent, you know better than that.” “I know you didn’t murder her, so what happened? If you don’t tell the truth, everyone who ever hears about this case will think you’re guilty. You know that don’t you?” “But I was acquitted by a jury of my peers.” “They will still think you did it, all the same. They will say, ‘That Ronald Light, he got away with murder!’ Friends of mine said that very thing at the weekend.” Bowley waited for his words to sink in before playing his psychological ace. “Why not get this off your chest? Then you can forget all about it, knowing you’ve done the right thing by telling someone the truth. And you’ll feel better for doing it. After what you’ve been through, surely you owe yourself that?” Light leaned forward and tapped his cigarette over the ashtray. “If I tell you, can I depend on you to keep it to yourself?” Bowley tried hard not to show his delight at reeling in his catch. “I’ve already told you that.” “Whatever I say is strictly confidential. No one else must know. And I’m not signing anything. If you divulge what I tell you, I will just deny it.” “Of course, I understand. It’s just between the two of us.” Light leaned back in his chair and took a long draw from his cigarette as he played pensively with the box of matches. Bowley said nothing, hoping his ploy would work. When Light finally spoke there was no preamble, he simply dropped his bombshell…
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