Old Peking Murder Mystery
It was a freezing January morning in 1937, only months before Japan occupied the Forbidden City of Peking, when Pamela Werner's savagely, mutilated body was found near the Fox Tower just outside the city's Legation Quarter.
1937, PEKING, CHINA, two teenage girls made plans to go skating at the new French ice rink later in the evening. There was nothing different about the winter day outside the Legation Quarter where foreign embassies were located.
They were ignorant of the occupation of the city by Japan which loomed on the horizon, and also that one of them named Pamela Werner would soon be found dead.
Her father Edward, an Englishman, was born in New Zealand in 1864. During his early years he traveled, and became knowledgeable of several languages. He earned a scholarship as an interpreter in Peking, and during the 1890s and 1900s he was appointed to several posts. He served 30 years in several consular posts in China, developing a varied reputation where he served. He transferred often, many times demoting his standing, mostly because he was unpopular due to his stubborn personality. He retired in 1914 at the age of fifty.
He married his wife Gladys Ravenshaw in 1911; she was 22, he was 45. Instead of returning to England they moved to Peking where he rented a courtyard house. Situated near the British Legation Quarter, the spacious house on Armour Factory Alley, was a quiet street outside the perimeter protected by the British.
Eight years passed and the couple remained childless. They adopted a two-year-old girl born to a European mother, which was left at a Portuguese orphanage in Peking. Possibly her parents were Russian refugees escaping bloodshed and turmoil in their country.
Little Pamela was destined to remain an orphan when Gladys died in 1922 at the age of 35 from meningitis. Edward decided to stay in pre-war Peking to pursue his plans of studying China. He enrolled his daughter in a local Catholic school, and used servants to help care for her.
Imperial China ended in 1912, and for westerners living in 1930s Peking there were two avenues of existence. Either you were a wealthy consulate member or expatriate living in luxury, or you existed on the edges of society, renting a room at shoddy lodging houses which lined the alleyways. "They found work as doormen, barmen, croupiers, prostitute and pimps." They were referred to as "semi-destitute" foreigners by the French.
Peking's Legation Quarter was reserved for diplomatic personnel who were not subject to Chinese law. Within a square mile shops, hotels, cinemas and clubs, all westernized of course filled every space.; ordinary Chinese were excluded. However, the lines blurred at parties held there. Privacy could be obtained by renting a place in the Western Hills, away from prying eyes. This would figure later in the investigation of Pamela's murder.
The story of Pamela's life and death played out against the backdrop of the Sino-Japanese War that started in the summer of 1937, then the Pacific War in 1941, and ultimately the takeover of China by the communist in 1949.
Increasing numbers of women who originally had been White Russian fugitives from the Bolsheviks or Jewish refugees from Germany and Central Europe were feeding on the opportunities in China as the rest of the world grew grimmer.
Early in the morning of January 7, Pamela's body, covered in frost, was found lying in a ditch. She was only a few hundred yards from her home at No. 1 Kuei-chia-chang, a courtyard home in Peking hutong. (Hutongs are walled lanes with entrance gates that give access to a private home behind it).
Two rickshaw drivers noticed a pack of wild dogs sniffing around a bundle on the ground near the Fox Tower which was a remnant of the walls that once encircled the city. The Chinese considered it a haunted place and avoided it at all costs, especially at night when packs of wild dogs scavenged the grounds, and bats flew around the ruins. An old man came to inspect it, and when he saw it was a murdered woman, summoned the police.
Initially the Peking police believed it was a Russian White which committed suicide since it was the Orthodox Christmas Eve the night before, but the savagery of the wounds to her face and body ended that theory. They called the Legation Quarter's police to the scene.
Pamela's 72-year-old father had been out searching for her, when he came across the police scene, and collapsed when he recognized her clothing and expensive wrist watch. She was one month shy of her twentieth birthday.
The autopsy found she died from a brain hemorrhage. Several blows to her skull had fractured it, and the examiners concluded that the proximity of the wounds indicated she was killed by someone she knew. There was very little blood released from the stab wounds suggesting they were made after she was dead.
It appeared she had been slashed with a two-edged blade knife. Her blood had been drained as well a removal of her internal organs through two slits in the abdomen. The skill necessary to do this indicated someone very familiar with human anatomy. The ribs around her heart were broken from the inside, and her heart was removed. This required a great deal of strength. Her vagina was slashed by a knife multiple times, making it impossible to determine if she had been sexually assaulted before or after her death. Her throat was slashed (perhaps to sever her head) and her right arm was almost cut off.
An examination of her stomach contents indicated she was killed between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Her underwear was missing, the stockings were torn, and her skit was loose, however overcoat, scarf and shoes were still with the body. Some argued she'd been killed elsewhere and the body dressed and dumped at the place it was discovered, since there was only some blood on her clothing. The fact that her expensive jewelry had not been removed indicated robbery was not the motive. Her bicycle and skates were never found.
The doctors who examined the body believed it was sexually motivated, however it "was not the work of an ordinary sexual sadist." They believed the original intent was to completely dismember the body, but for an unknown reason her body was left in the ditch. Years later there was debate if perhaps the body had been desecrated later by other parties trying to use the body parts for Chinese occult practices.
Police interviewed the friends that Pamela was last seen with and their stories corroborated. Edward Warner told of searching for his daughter since the day before. He described to them that he confronted a young Chinese man who he believed was too interested in Pamela. He broke the man's nose with his cane, but this happened years ago, but confirmed Werner's reputation for having a bad temper.
The police knew they only had a certain amount of days to solve the murder since each day several bodies would be found in the streets of Peking. Life was cheap, and most were suicides or naturally occurring deaths. Homicides were due to criminal activity or political assassinations. However, the brutal murder of a European woman sent shudders of fear through the Western population living in the city.
Even though the murder fell under the authority of Peking police, it was decided to let the British police handle it in order to question those who lived inside the Legation.
Two days passed and the police had no solid leads. The Fox Tower where the corpse was found had a reputation for being haunted by evil spirits, and the superstitious wondered if that explained who committed the crime.
Some ex-pats looked at Edward Werner with suspicious eyes, wondering if he'd killed Pamela in a jealous rage. His reputation for having fits of temper were known among their circle. The police dismissed this theory. They canvassed an area known as the Badlands, outside the Legation Quarter. In this area bars and brothels employed many refugees. They inspected vehicles, believing one was used to transport the body. A Russian landlady to authorities about finding a bloodied cloth and dagger belonging to one of her tenants.
The man named Frederick Samuel Pinfold, an Englishman, was picked up by police, but he refused to talk. Canadian diplomats confirmed he was a deserter from the Canadian Army, who came to China, after fleeing to the United States, where he acquired criminal record while living in Chicago. Later he became a bodyguard to a Chinese warlord for several years, then eventually came to Peking were he worked in low-paying jobs. He was 63 years old at the time of the murder.
During questioning, it became obvious he was withdrawing from opium, an addiction widespread by the denizens of the Badlands. In his personal effects they found a business card for a brothel and bar at 27 Chuanban Hutong. It was run by a Russian emigre. Canadian officials told police he was often seen at 28 Chuanban Hutong, next door to the saloon. Pamela would have normally avoided this dangerous neighborhood, but police wondered if she had taken a shortcut through it in order to arrive home for dinner.
Patrons at both addresses said they had never seen Pamela when police showed them her picture.
Fred Knauf, the manager at 27 Chuanban was a former U.S. marine, and told police that Pinfold worked as a bouncer at the bar next door. He was also present at nudist gatherings in cottages in the Western Hills. When confronted with this information, Pinfold admitted he provided security at the parties, and found women who would dance naked for the attendees. He told them he didn't know Pamela, but could not explain how blood got on the dagger and clothes. Later it was determined the blood belonged to an animal, and he was released.
The investigation found that Pamela told school officials that Sydney Yeates, the headmaster at Tientsin Grammar School had made sexual overtures to her. He had a reputation for being brutal with physical punishment which included caning against both male and female students. In order to avoid a scandal he agreed to return to England at the end of the school year. but due to the murder they moved the date up. He had an alibi for the time of the murder, but British authorities were worried about any disclosure that would injure their standing in China. It was Edward Werner's intention to send Pamela to England after the Christmas holidays to complete her studies. She was not happy about this.
The security at the Legation Quarter came about after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, where thousands of missionaries and Chinese Christians were slaughtered. Peking's foreign community had to fight against thousands of Boxers until a multi-national army came to their rescue. Many alive in 1937 remembered this incident.
The safety offered to Westerners inside the Legation did not extend beyond its perimeter. Violence swirled in the streets of various Chinese cities, and foreigners were not immune to it.
Only a week before Pamela Werner was viciously killed, Sergeant Eric Slater, 23, with Shanghai Municpal Police died when he was shot in the forehead. He attempted to prevent the escape of armed robbers from a business on Shanghai's Peking Road.
A reward for a thousand Chinese dollars was offered for any tips to resolve the crime. Edward Werner complained the flyers should be printed in Chinese also, and that the money should be allowed to be claimed anonymously, making it easier for an informer to volunteer information.
The police then looked to the nudist weekends for new leads. They were organized by Wentworth Prentice, a Harvard-trained, American dentists who provided services to wealthy diplomats and expats. He'd settled in China with his wife and children in 1918, but Mrs. Prentice along with her children returned to the United States in 1932. The U.S. Consulate's file on Dr. Prentice indicated that at least one person had concerns for the safety of one of his children, but details were omitted.
Dr, Prentice's flat was located next to the French ice rink where Pamela was last seen. When police arrived they found the walls being painted, despite the winter weather the windows were flung open. He denied treating Pamela, and said he was a the movies the night she disappeared.
The next day George Gorman, an Irish reporter, who was pro-Japanese criticized the authorities for questioning Prentice. He suggested the killer was Chinese and not Western. Later it was discovered that Gorman also attended the nudist weekends. Gorman's wife said the night of January 6, Pamela had visited and taken tea with their daughter.
In the meantime Edward Werner, unhappy with the lack of progress in the case held a press conference on the steps of the British Legation. He said there was no Chinese tradition that required the removal of internal organs, and he thought his daughter's killer was Western and not Chinese as rumors indicated. He added 5,000 gold Chinese dollars, his life savings to the reward already offered.
The British authorities were angered by Werner's actions, and told the police detectives to exclude him from any further conversations about the investigation. They believed the murder had been committed by one of many sexually frustrated Chinese men who lived in Peking at that time.
The days passed, and the police sought to find the place where Pamela was killed, believing it would lead to the person who murdered her.
On January 29, an inquest was held and a verdict was rendered that it was an unlawful killing but left it open to determine who committed the crime to a later hearing.
The autopsy report which had been kept secret were leaked to the newspapers the following day, and the foreign population were scandalized and grew even more fearful.
The Chinese New Year of 1937 was overshadowed by the bold provocations of the Japanese. At the end of June the investigation was concluded, with little notice of it since the newspapers had stopped carrying any stories concerning the murder mystery.
By the end of July, the Japanese had taken over Peking. Edward Werner stayed despite the occupation, and pressed the Foreign Office to reopen the case. Other foreigners stayed inside the Legation Quarter with the exception of the Russia Whites, who were officially "stateless" persons since they did not hold an official passport. This denied them the privilege accorded to other foreigners to be exempt from Chinese laws. They were identified as "White Russians" to set them apart from "Red Communists" which had overthrown their government.
Edward Werner obtained information using his financial resources, and spoke to former Peking police officers. His search lead him to the brothel at 28 Chuanban. The day after the murder, the owners closed shop and left for Tientsin or Shanghai. He found out that Pinfold claimed he had a receipt from Dr. Pentice for performing orthodontic work on Pamela about five weeks before her death. This refuted the dentist's claim he didn't know his daughter.
.Eventually Werner questioned the rickshaw puller who 'd been questioned by police since he had blood on seat of his vehicle. He told a different story then the one provided by the police, which was the blood was spilled due to a fight.
He'd visited the bar at 28 Chuanban late on the night of the murder, where he picked up two men and a young Western woman wrapped in a white sheet, who appeared to have trouble walking on her own. It had been her blood on the cushion.
After many requests to reopen the case, authorities returned Pamela's clothing and personal effects to her father. He found that most of them had not been checked for fingerprints.
Werner read in Pamela's diary that during the summer of 1936 she visited the Western Hills with the Gorman family. Mr. Gorman made sexual advances, but she turned him down. Was this another connection to Prentice, and a motive for murder?
For the next two years, Edward Werner continued investigating his daughter's murder. This strained his relationship with British officials to that point they banned him from the Legation Quarter, however he was able to work with others such as the American consulate. They provided him with the criminal past of one of the operators of 28 Chuanban.
At the end of gathering information from different parties, Warner believed his daughter was lured to 28 Chuanban with a false invitation to a Christmas party by Prentice, Knauf and other nudists. When she refused to have sex with them, she was killed in the struggle, and her body was dumped at the Fox Tower since the road was dark and unpatrolled by police. There they mutilated the corpse with hunting knives they were known to carry.
In December 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Werner was forced to move into the Legation Quarter. There he continued in his efforts to reopen the case.
In March 1943, the Japanese expulsed the remaining Europeans from the Legation, which included Werner and Prentice. They were placed on a train to Weihsien Internment Camp in Shandong, which had been a former missionary school, for the remainder of the war. Survivors from the camp described where Werner frequently accosted Prentice about the murder, but the old man accused others as well.
One of those at the camp was US Marine Fred Knauf, the one time manager of the saloon at 28 Chuanban Hutong, and an associate of Dr. Prentice.
In 1945, the war ended and Werner returned to his home in Peking. He continued to press the officials about reopening the case. His appeals were unsuccessful.
He left China in 1951, and returned to England. He died in 1954, at the age of 89. Pamela and her mother Gladys, remained buried in the English Cemetery until 1952, when the Chinese government disinterred the graves, bagged the bones and buried them anonymously on the northeast outskirts of the city in what became known as the Beijing Expatriate Cemetery. Originally 1,400 foreigners were buried there but present day only 30 graves remain. The original English Cemetery is under the pavement of what is now Beijing's Second Ring Road.
In 2018, British retired police officer, Graeme Sheppard authored A Death in Peking: Who Really Killed Pamela Werner? He concluded that Han Shou-ch'ing a Chinese student friend of Pamela was her lone killer. Possibly she rebuffed his advances
Among Werner's notes he found reference to Han Shou-Ch'ing, considered a suspect by the police.
I have discovered that Han Shou-ch-ing, the former student at the Kao Teng Shih Fan College, in the south city, whose nose I broke for him... was hanging around the Legation Quarter during the first week in January 1937.
As to the mystery of the attempt to remove Pamela's heart, the author noted that in the 1930s, Edna Booker an American journalist wrote of Chinese soldiers cutting out the hearts of their enemies and eating them. Those executed for a crime would have their hearts removed in revenge.
Professor Key Ray Chong, a modern historian describes where different body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine and there are cases of ritual cannibalism. Perhaps it was other parties who removed the organs for this use after the murderer dumped the corpse next to the Fox Tower.
The author found files where the Japanese were suspected, and that they killed the girl for political revenge, however ultimately he believes Han Shou-ch'ing, the student who was known to have waited for Pamela at the school gate, and had been accosted by Edward Werner was the culprit. This incident occurred several years before her murder and was the reason Werner sent his daughter to Tienstin for schooling.
Sheppard also believes the rumor that Han Shou-ch'ing died at the hands of the Japanese was false, allowing him to change his name and escape into anonymity, since the British authorities were still interested in him as late as 1941.
Perhaps he was infatuated with Pamela, who saw the college student only as a friend. A relationship between foreigners and Chinese were frowned upon. She might have trusted him, a friend she knew since adolescence, never suspecting he would turn on her savagely when she rebuffed his sexual advances. Perhaps there were years of resentment, and she might have mentioned to him her father was shipping her off to England. This would truly be the end of their relationship. In a few seconds, he envisioned her becoming the wife of another man, in a land far away, never to belong to him in any form. Did he kill her to insure she would never leave China?
The case was never solved, despite the brutality of the crime and the coverage it received worldwide. The blonde, gray-eyed Pamela was fluent in Mandarin and knew her way well along the byways of Peking. She was known to be articulate and adventurous, and one wonders if this trait made her overconfident, and too trusting of the wrong person.
Source - BBC
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer