Transcript 74. The Murder of Pamela Werner | China

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Built in the 16th century, Fox Tower in Beijing rises above the ancient Tartar City wall, that encompasses the inner city. The Fox Tower is a rectangular tower of grey brick with upturned eaves and a watch tower at the very top. For centuries, locals have avoided the tower, especially at night, as they believe it is inhabited by deadly fox spirits. In Chinese mythology, a fox spirit can transform itself into the shape of a beautiful, but dangerous woman. These beings intuitively know things about people who can be as far as a thousand miles away. They can possess men, poison them by sorcery, causing them to lose all memory and knowledge.

On a frosty morning in January 1937, the Fox Tower stood vigil over the badly mutilated body of a 19-year-old woman. She was covered with a sheet of ice and laid in a ditch along the Tartar Wall with grey eyes staring into space. Her body showed signs of unimaginable violence: she was sexually assaulted, beaten to a pulp and her heart had been ripped from her chest.

An old man walking his songbird along the wall discovered the grisly scene and called for help. The girl was identified as Pamela Werner, daughter of a former British diplomat living in the city. An investigation commenced, involving Chinese and British authorities in an unprecedented joint effort. 

Dark secrets were uncovered and reputations were tarnished, but the murder remained unsolved. Before the killer could be brought to justice, Japanese forces invaded China and solving the case, would have to become a matter of lesser importance. Despite dogged efforts by the victim’s father to re-open the case and even investigating her murder himself, no one has ever been charged with the heartless and heinous murder of Pamela Werner. 

>>Intro Music

In the early 20th century, Beijing was referred to as Peking by most Western cultures. It was China’s ancient capital, the Imperial city, but by 1937, that was no longer the case. Taiyan was given the title of capital in 1930. And after nine more changes, Beijing was reinstated as the capital in 1949.

In 1937, Peking was home to about 1.5 million residents, of which two to three thousand were foreigners. The biggest fear of the time was imminent Japanese invasion. There was a doomsday atmosphere, as Chinese residents felt that China’s leader, General Chiang, would abandon them, should the Japanese conquer the city.

Among the foreigners living in Peking, one could find a mixed bag of refugees, military deserters, businesspeople, artists and scholars studying Chinese culture. There were anti Bolsheviks (also known as ‘White Russians’), who fled to China from Communist Russia. A large group of European Jews also made their way to China, fleeing Nazi persecution. 

Most of the foreigners lived in the Legation Quarter – a closed-off area, no larger than one square mile. Chinese people were only permitted to pass through the gates of the Quarter if they worked as housekeepers, cleaners or cooks. 

The exchange rate meant that people coming from England or America could afford a life of leisure with very little money. The Legation Quarter had European-style buildings with paved streets, parks, restaurants and social clubs. There were regular parties with a lot of drinking, debauchery and gossip. Some people referred to life in the Quarter as ‘living inside a fishbowl’.

Just outside of the Quarter, was an area called the Badlands. As the name suggests, it was a rough area with bars, gambling dens and brothels. It was a dangerous and seedy place that wealthy people from the Legation Quarter preferred to avoid. Desolate foreigners on their last hope tried to survive there, making a living from drug dealing, sex work or gambling in the Badlands. 

There was an obvious class distinction between the Legation Quarter and the Badlands. Well-to-do expats would not typically live outside the Quarter, but there were some intellectuals and artists who lived just outside of its walls. One of these traditional Chinese style homes on a narrow lane or hutong, was home to E.T.C. Werner. 

Werner was a New Zealand born English citizen, the son of a wealthy Prussian heir. Werner grew up all over the world, as his father had the desire and means to travel constantly. His father passed away when he was a teenager and he was encouraged to make something of himself. He completed his schooling in Tonbridge, but did not want to live in England. Werner knew his life would include travel and adventure and after high school, he took the Foreign Office’s cadet exam, after which he was sent to Peking to learn Chinese. 

He worked in the Diplomatic Service and became passionate about Chinese language, culture and history. He rose through the ranks and eventually served as Consul of England to China, a much coveted position. 

However, Werner was a somewhat odd character who never shied away from confrontation and controversy. He was forced to retire from Diplomatic service after striking a customs official with a whip at the British Consul in Fuzhou. He denied that this incident ever took place, but the damage was done.

After his premature retirement, Werner stayed in China where he continued his academic studies in Sinology (that is, Chinese Studies). He met Gladys Ravenshaw, a woman of good social standing, and many people were somewhat surprised that Werner was able to convince the amiable Gladys to marry him. 

The Werners lived on Armor Factory Alley, which was in the shadow of the Fox Tower. Most residents in the narrow lane were foreign, as locals did not want to live close to the haunted tower. And because of Werner’s affinity for the local culture, their home was an authentic mix of a traditional Chinese interior, with modern conveniences similar to what other expat homes boasted.

Unable to conceive, the couple adopted a two-year-old girl from a Portuguese orphanage in Peking in 1919. They named her Pamela. She was left at the home when she was a newborn baby and the nuns did not know anything about her biological parents. Pamela had a fair complexion and strikingly grey eyes and the general assumption was that at least one of her parents must have been Russian. Pamela was believed to have been born on the 7th of February 1917.

The family of three was happy for a while, but Gladys Werner always seemed to be struggling with her health. In 1922 she was diagnosed with meningitis and her health deteriorated rapidly. Gladys Werner eventually passed away due to an overdose of medication she was taking for her illness. Because her devoted husband was by her side all of the time, there was a lot of speculation amongst the foreign community that he had perhaps caused her death, but it could not be proved. 

Pamela was only five when she lost her adoptive mother. Werner stepped up as a single father and made sure that – if nothing else – Pamela received a solid education. From a young age, she was fluent in English and Chinese, like her father. She was comfortable outside of the confounds of the Legation Quarter, and Werner encouraged an appreciation of Chinese culture and tradition.

Werner wrote many articles and academic papers about China and took a keen interest in the language and various dialects. He often travelled for research purposes. Once, he even left for an undetermined amount of time on a quest to find the burial site of Genghis Khan. He was an academic through and through and gave lectures at Peking University from time to time.

When Werner travelled, Pamela was left in the care of household staff at Werner’s residence on Armor Factory Alley. She had access to the best education, but once she entered her teenage years, she became somewhat harder to manage. Like her adoptive father, she was headstrong and rebellious and was asked to leave a couple of schools, which made it difficult and sometimes impossible to enrol elsewhere.

There was no shortage of male attention either and Werner grew increasingly concerned about Pamela’s virtue. On one occasion, a young Chinese man came to the Werner home to ask Pamela out. Werner exploded and attacked the man with a cane in front of their house. 

Werner eventually sent her to board at Tientsin Grammar School in Tianjin, about 80 miles (130 kilometres) from Peking. At first, it looked like Pamela was settling in well. She was quieter than usual and did what was expected from her. She had many friends and boys also took notice of young Pamela. She had a boyfriend, some said that he was the most popular boy at the school. His name was, Michael ‘Misha’ Adjelski, a good looking Polish-Jewish boy who was a keen athlete and a champion swimmer.

But it was only a matter of time until things turned sour for Pamela in Tientsin. She accused the school’s headmaster, Sydney Yeates, of making sexual advances on her. Werner was furious and threatened to expose Yeates. Because of this incident, Werner decided to send Pamela to England to finish her education. 

He was also concerned that Pamela was too social for her age and thought that the more rigid environment of a traditional English school would pull her back in line. And he was not wrong about her social life… She was always out and about, meeting friends and making new acquaintances. 

Because of her school being in Tientsin, it was almost like she had two lives: her school life and her private life in Peking. Her friends at school regarded her to be somewhat more conservative and innocent. But when Pamela visited Peking, she dressed up a bit and appeared to be older than she actually was. 

During a school holiday in 1937, Pamela went home to visit E.T.C. Werner in Peking. She was looking forward to seeing her boyfriend Misha, but it’s not clear if she ever told her dad about his planned visit to Peking. She filled her days by going for bicycle rides around the city, ice skating with friends and going out to dinner.  

In December 1936, she booked a session at the most reputable photo studio in the city to have some photos taken. In the photos the fair and beautiful Pamela is dressed in a long, tailored dress that compliments her slender figure. She looks graceful with a cheeky glint in her eyes. This is in stark contrast to previous photos of her as a somewhat frumpish schoolgirl. It’s almost like she wanted to redefine herself as a young woman, ready to take on the world. She was just shy of 20 years old and although her youth is evident in the photos, the way she carries herself made her appear to have the confidence of a slightly older woman.

On the morning of the 7th of January 1937, Pamela went out for a while, cycling into town. When she arrived back home, she wrote a couple of letters to school friends in Tientsin. 

One of the Werners’ servants named Ho Ying, was heading out to buy some food around 3pm. He asked Pamela if she needed anything from the shops, perhaps her usual request for something sweet... On this day, Pamela said that Ho Ying didn’t have to get her anything, seeing as she was on her way out too. She said that she would be home for dinner at 7:30pm and asked if Ho Ying could make meatballs and rice. 

The gatekeeper at the Werner residence saw Pamela leave on her bicycle shortly after Ho Ying left for the shops, in the late afternoon.

Pamela met up with a good friend, Ethel Gurevich at the Wagon-Lits hotel. Ethel was the daughter of Russian immigrants and had known Pamela for about five years. The Grand Hôtel des Wagon-Lits was a popular meeting spot for expats. It was an imposing building with a welcoming palm court, plush chairs and only the best furnishings. Pamela said that she had been to the hotel earlier, then left for a while before going back to meet Ethel.

Information about Pamela’s movements that afternoon came out at a later stage. When she went to the Wagon-Lits earlier, she spoke to the concierge and enquired about renting a room. She took a brochure and said that she would be in touch. This was strange, because she lived only a short distance away. Did she perhaps enquire on behalf of her boyfriend Misha from Tientsin? Or was she hoping to meet someone else?

From the hotel, Ethel and Pamela went to Ethel’s family home. It was Russian Christmas on the Russian Orthodox Calendar and Ethel’s mother joined the two girls for tea and cakes. She noticed that Pamela ate very little. She asked her if everything was okay and Pamela said that she wasn’t hungry.

At 6pm Pamela and Ethel arrived at an ice rink run by a French company, not too far outside of the Legation Quarter. At that time, ice skating was popular in Peking and there was a number of ice rinks in the city. The French-run rink was new, and Pamela had visited it the previous day with some other friends from the Legation Quarter.

Pamela and Ethel met up with a mutual friend, another Russian girl called Lillian Marinovski and skated together for most of the evening. Pamela left her friends for only a brief while to talk to another female friend. They were having fun and time flew by. At 7:30pm Pamela realised she was running late for dinner and said that she had to go home.

Her friends were slightly concerned and asked if she was okay to cycle home at night. It was unusual for young, foreign girls to cycle around the city by themselves, but Pamela had been doing so for years and said that she never feared for her safety. Her last words as she was leaving the ice rink, were:

“Nothing can happen to me here in Peking.”

Then she flung her skates over her shoulder and cycled off, into the night. 

E.T.C. Werner waited till 8pm before he had his dinner. At first, he was agitated that Pamela was running late, but it wasn’t unusual for her. She habitually arrived in a rush, because she often lost a sense of time when she was with friends. As time went on, he became increasingly worried. At 10:30, he asked house servant, Ho Ying to go to the ice rink to see if Pamela was still there. By the time Ho Ying reached the rink, it had already closed for the night. A handful of cleaners and workers were around and could not give any information about Pamela. More than 200 people had visited the ice rink that night and it was impossible to keep tabs on every skater.

Ho Ying returned to tell Werner that there was no sign of Pamela. Werner told his servant to go home, after which he took to the streets of Peking himself, with a flashlight, to look for his daughter. He walked the dark hutongs in the cold of night, searching desperately, left to imagine the worst… Finding no trace of her, he returned home at 1am, hoping that he  would find her asleep in her bed. But she wasn’t there. Pamela would never come home again.  

Around 8am on the misty morning of the 8th of January 1937, two rickshaw drivers noticed some wild dogs near the Fox Tower along Peking’s old city walls. The dogs were sniffing around a bundle of sorts. An old man, who was out walking his songbird in its cage also noticed the dogs and went closer to have a look. That is when he saw the badly mutilated body of a young girl, lying face up in a ditch. He ran and called for help from a police box nearby.

Police officers secured the scene and Colonel Han Shih-chung of the Peking police was placed in charge of the investigation. The face of the girl was so severely injured, it was not possible to know if she was European or Chinese. However, her fair hair, strikingly grey eyes and clothing made investigators conclude that she was, in fact, European. The first assumption was that she was Russian. The girl had been disembowelled and first responders thought that wild dogs had mauled her remains.

Colonel Han called the Legation Quarter’s police commissioner, W.P. Thomas, to the scene and although the case fell under Chinese jurisdiction, it was to become a joint investigation – a first of its kind at the time.

E.T.C. Werner had resumed the search for his daughter in the morning and happened to walk past the scene at the Fox Tower, which was only about 250 yards from his home. A crowd had gathered and police officers held curious rubberneckers at bay. Werner approached and as soon as he saw the body, he recognized her clothing and shouted Pamela’s name in despair. He forced his way past the makeshift police barricade and collapsed next to his daughter’s mutilated body. Police escorted the grief-stricken Werner from the area and secured the scene. Later that day, Pamela’s body was taken to the Peking Union Medical College for a post mortem examination.

In January 1937, it was not uncommon to find dead bodies on the streets of Peking. There were many suicides: desperate and displaced foreign individuals who could not see a way out of their dire circumstances. With the threat of a Japanese invasion looming, political assassinations were also on the rise. Then there was also an underbelly of criminal activity that plagued the city of Peking: drug dealers, pimps and gangs often clashed in confrontations resulting in death. 

However, a death like Pamela’s was very unusual. It was obvious that her attack was violent and brutal. Colonel Han and Commissioner Thomas knew that the investigation would be tricky. Because Werner was a former Diplomat, the British Embassy would have wanted the case handled in a discreet and efficient manner. The investigators decided that they needed an envoy, someone who did not have to answer to the diplomatic authorities, but who would be able to question and investigate the expat community living in Peking’s Legation Quarter. 

Detective Chief Inspector Richard Dennis, a former Scotland Yard detective, was brought in from Tientsin. DCI Dennis, working closely with Colonel Han, took on the challenging investigation that would expose some of Peking’s darkest secrets.

When Pamela Werner’s body was found, her expensive watch was still on her wrist, which meant that the motive for her murder could not have been robbery. The platinum watch with diamonds had stopped shortly after midnight, around the estimated time of death.

There was a lot of blood on her body, but nothing on the ground around her. If she had been murdered at the spot where she was found, the scene would have been a lot messier.  Pamela was murdered somewhere else and her body was placed at the Fox Tower after she had bled out. There was no sign of her bicycle or ice skates anywhere near the scene, in fact, it was never found. 

The autopsy concluded that Pamela Werner’s death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head. The wounds were inflicted by someone standing in front of her, in close proximity to her. She faced her killer as he hit her over the head again and again. Because she was facing the perpetrator, Han and Dennis wondered if it was possible that she knew him…

In addition to receiving multiple blows to the head, Pamela was stabbed and slashed all over her body. But the knife wounds did not cause a lot of bleeding, meaning that they were inflicted after she had died. The knife used had two edges and it was at least 4 inches long, it was a type of multi-purpose knife.

During the autopsy, a grisly discovery was made by the pathologist, who realized that Pamela’s heart had been ripped out of her chest. The ribs around her heart were broken, so the killer could get to her heart. This would have taken considerable force. But there was more… All of Pamela’s organs had been removed with surgical precision, separated from the muscle. This was not the work of the wild dogs at the Fox Tower, but rather a deliberate procedure. The person who took out Pamela’s insides knew what he was doing. Could the killer have been a surgeon, a butcher or perhaps a hunter? In any event, the killer did not finish the disembowelment, which made investigators wonder if he had been interrupted. Why would he not finish the job?

One of the organs left behind was Pamela’s stomach. Its contents revealed that she had eaten Chinese food, some time before her death. After having only a couple of bites of cakes and tea at Ethel Gurevich’s home, her friends were with her until 7:30. She did not have anything to eat in that time. No one could assist police with information about when or where Pamela had eaten Chinese food in the time leading up to her death.

The autopsy also found that Pamela had been sexually assaulted before her death. Her stockings were torn, her skirt was not fastened and her underwear was missing. This supported the theory that she was murdered and mutilated somewhere else, before she was re-dressed and dumped at the Fox Tower. 

Because of the horrific nature of Pamela’s murder, Colonel Han decided to keep the autopsy results away from the press. He briefed all officers not to speak to journalists and kept the only copy of the report locked in a drawer of his own desk.

Between Colonel Han and DCI Dennis, they questioned a wide range of witnesses: from street dwellers to the most respectable members of the expat community. Some leads came, but were then dismissed quickly. There was a Russian woman who accused her husband and said that on the night of the murder he came home with blood on his clothes. However, he was ruled out as a suspect when police realised the couple had a volatile relationship and the wife implicated the man, simply to get back at him for visiting sex workers behind her back. 

More than one witness came forward and reported seeing a rickshaw wash blood from the cushion of the seat in his rickshaw in a river close to the spot where Pamela’s body was found. But it was later verified that the blood was from a fight between a Russian local and an American marine.

Some people from the Legation Quarter started whispering about Pamela’s father, E.T.C. Werner. They wondered if he could have been responsible for his daughter’s demise. He had clashed with so many people and everyone knew about his explosive, aggressive nature. The fact that Werner’s wife Gladys died with him by her side made people wonder if he was indeed capable of murder. Werner was aware of the rumours, but he ignored it and embarked on a mission to solve Pamela’s murder.

Police tried to retrace Pamela’s last movements. They concluded that she possibly cycled through the Badlands. She wouldn’t usually go there, as it wasn’t a very good area, but she was running late for dinner and it was the shortest route.

Investigators went around bars and hutongs and asked everyone for information. But with so much illegal activity in the area, most people were used to turning a blind eye, and it took a while before they got a break.

A Russian landlady told Colonel Han and DCI Dennis that she saw one of her tenants with a bloodied knife and a piece of blood soaked cloth. This information opened up a can of worms that would lead right back to the upper crust of the Legation Quarter. 

The tenant was taken in for questioning and refused to speak – he would not even reveal his identity. Investigators eventually figured out that the man in custody was a Canadian called Pinfold. Canadian authorities were looking for him, seeing as he was AWOL from his post in the Canadian Army. He spent some time in the US before leaving for China. Police were able to establish that when he arrived in the east, he worked as a bodyguard for a warlord. When the crime boss closed up shop, he found himself without a job. Pinfold was struggling to get by and took whatever job he could find, usually handling security for shady business deals.

An officer working with Han and Dennis said that he recognized Pinfold from Pamela’s crime scene. The officer had been on duty, making sure no one disturbed the scene when he noticed Pinfold who lingered near the spot, looking on. He stayed longer than other onlookers and the officer felt that he was a suspicious character.

When detectives questioned people in the Badlands, they found out that Pinfold worked as security at a local bar. The bar was located on one of the routes Pamela could have taken to get home from the ice rink the night she was killed. A barman was able to provide them with some information about Pinfold’s weekend activities. He had taken a security job at a nudist lodge at a discreet location in Peking’s Western Hills. People from the city would spend their Saturdays and Sundays out in nature, in the nude, swimming, having cocktails and hunting. Colonel Han and DCI Dennis confronted Pinfold with this information and realising they knew who he was, he agreed to talk. 

Pinfold was adamant that he did not know Pamela Werner. When he was asked about the bloody knife in his possession, he stopped talking. When pathologists tested the blade, they concluded that the blood was from an animal, not a human. 

When asked, Pinfold freely gave details about the nudist weekends. He said they were bohemian and unorthodox perhaps, but nothing sinister ever took place. Nudism wasn’t a crime after all. The get-togethers were organized by an American dentist called Wentworth Prentice; whose list of dental patients included über-wealthy jet-set type expats living in Peking. Sometimes there would be parties at Prentice’s home, with erotic dancing and alleged orgies.

Police had no grounds for holding Pinfold any longer and he was released. But his story about the nudist retreat piqued their interest. The fact that people went hunting was relevant, because it could have been a hunter who expertly slaughtered Pamela Werner. 

The starting point was an interview with the man who arranged the meet-ups, the dentist, Wentworth Prentice. After graduating from Harvard, Prentice moved to China with his family. However, his wife and children returned to the US in 1932 without him. He stayed behind in their home in the Legation Quarter. On record, Prentice expressed concern about the whereabouts of one of his children to the US Consulate, but his statement did not provide any more details. Prentice had never had any issues with the law and seemed to be an upstanding member of high society.

DCI Dennis questioned Prentice at his home and he said that he never met Pamela Werner. When asked about his movements on the night of Pamela’s murder, he said that he had spent most of the night at a local movie theatre.

Residents of the Legation Quarter were incensed that the popular dentist was even considered as a possible suspect and came to his defence. The general feeling was that Pamela was killed by a Chinese person, not a Westerner. 

Pamela’s father, E.T.C. Werner did not buy this. His intimate knowledge of Chinese culture and traditions told him that there was no reason, ritualistic or medicinal, for a Chinese person to have killed a random European girl. He believed that Pamela’s murder was personal, committed by someone who knew her. It could have been a person of any cultural background.

A neighbour of the Werners on Armor Factory Alley came forward and told police that she feared SHE may have been the intended target. Helen Foster Snow was married to Edgar Snow, an outspoken journalist with many enemies. 

Helen felt that the ultranationalist group, called the Blue Shirts Society could have sent an assassin to kill her as a warning to Edgar, but they ‘took out’ the wrong person. The Snow’s ran a journal called Democracy and the couple associated with radicals and communists. At the time of Pamela’s death, Edgar was writing a book called Red Star Over China containing an interview with Mao Tse Tung. The book was critical of the Chiang government and an organization like the Blue Shirts would have done anything to prevent publication.

It was a commonly known fact that the Blue Shirts eliminated troublemakers, whether they were Chinese or not. According to information given to the detectives by Helen Snow, the Blue Shirts believed in organ medicine and often cut hearts out when they committed murders. 

The theory of mistaken identity was not entirely impossible. Helen and Pamela looked alike, although Helen was about ten years older than Pamela. Because the murder was committed at night, someone could easily have mistaken the two. However, an assassination did not typically include the level of mutilation that occurred in Pamela’s death. Typically a target would be executed by an expert gunman, requiring only one shot. They could not find evidence of the Blue Shirts disembowelling their victims and the investigation needed to move on to consider other possibilities.

On the 29th of January, at an inquest, it was ruled that Pamela’s murder was an unlawful killing, but no suspects were named. After the inquest, details of the post mortem examination was leaked to the press and the full extent of Pamela’s injuries horrified the community.

Despite many efforts to find Pamela’s killer, the case ran cold and six months later, British Consul, Nicholas Fitzmaurice, who acted as Coroner, ruled that she was murdered by a person or persons unknown, possibly a Chinese local.

A month after this ruling, Japanese forces invaded Peking and Tientsin and soon the unsolved murder of Pamela Werner was long forgotten. E.T.C. Werner never gave up his own personal investigation and continually wrote letters to the Foreign Office, urging them to re-open the case. He paid private investigators and visited the Badlands, talking to countless possible witnesses.

Werner’s private investigation yielded an interesting clue. He had a receipt from Prentice, proving that Pamela had visited him five weeks before her murder. It was interesting, seeing as Prentice pointedly denied ever meeting Pamela when he was interviewed by DCI Dennis. Werner also re-interviewed the rickshaw driver who was spotted washing a blood soaked cushion the day after Pamela’s murder. The man changed his story and said he picked up two men and a European woman the night before. The woman was wrapped in a white sheet and seemed too weak to move by herself. The rickshaw driver thought that she was drunk, which was not unusual late at night in the Badlands. Werner relayed this information to the British Consul, but they felt the rickshaw driver’s altered account was not credible, as there were rumours that Werner had paid him to change his story.

Studying Pamela’s diary, Werner read his daughter’s recount of a visit to the Western Hills with the Gorman family, six or seven months before her death. George Gorman was an Irish journalist who was sympathetic to Japanese forces in China – and quite vocal about it. Incidentally, the day before her death, Pamela spent some time with the Gormans at their home before they all went ice skating together. It was the Gormans who introduced Pamela to the new French ice rink. When E.T.C. Werner studied his daughter’s diary, he was shocked to read that George Gorman had made a pass at Pamela during the visit to the Western Hills the previous summer. Could it be that Gorman was so mad that Pamela had rebuffed his advances, that he killed her?

Werner wasn’t sure if Gorman was the murderer. But the fact that he was a part of Prentice’s inner-circle was curious. Werner carried on interviewing multiple people in the Badlands and got a clearer picture of the debaucherous life of Wentworth Prentice. In the end, Werner constructed a theory of what might have happened to Pamela. 

He felt that, on the evening of the murder, Prentice and two of his associates (possibly Italian doctor Ugo Capizzo and US Marine Fred Knauf) were out in the Badlands celebrating Russian Christmas when they saw Pamela cycling home. They stopped her and lured her inside a bar at 28 Chuanban Hutong, hoping to persuade her to have sex with one – or all – of them. When she refused, a fight ensued, ending in her death and subsequent mutilation. They then took the rickshaw to Fox Tower to dump her body, because it was dark and deserted at night. 

Werner visited the bar and found a wooden chair in an upstairs room with a broken leg. It had been fixed, with a metal leg replacing the wooden one. In his opinion, Pamela’s head injuries occurred when someone hit her over the head, using the chair.

This is a plausible theory, which is also supported in Paul French’s book about the case, Midnight in Peking. However, there were a couple of holes in Werner’s theory. For starters, Pamela had not visited Prentice at his dental practice in the months leading up to her death, but six years before, when she was only 13 years old. There was also some evidence supporting Prentice’s alibi that he had been to see a film on the night of the murder, which means he was NOT at the bar in the Badlands. 

That said, Werner was determined to solve his daughter’s murder and he was not married to this theory. He also suspected a young Chinese man by the name of Han Shou-ch'ing of the murder. The same young man whom he had caned in front of his house for asking Pamela out. Werner admitted that he had broken Han’s nose. In Werner’s words, Han was one of many Chinese boys…

“…waiting at the school gate enticing the girls to go with them to tea, cinemas, or even to their rooms”. 

According to Werner, it was Han’s infatuation with Pamela that persuaded him to send her away to boarding school in Tientsin. 

This theory was pinned as the most likely conclusion, by ex-detective and author Graeme Sheppard in his book A Death in Peking: Who Really Killed Pamela Werner? Sheppard explores many avenues, but ultimately points out that Han Shou-ch’ing disappeared shortly after Pamela’s murder, never to be seen in Peking again. He also felt that the theory of Prentice’s sex ring was mainly based on unsubstantiated clues gathered by Werner.

In British Consular circles, there was a vastly different theory. It was widely accepted that Pamela’s murder was the work of Japanese soldiers. At the time, British Consul, Nicholas Fitzmaurice refused to prosecute two British legation guards for killing a Japanese officer – a case that became known as the ‘Sasaki incident’. The theory was that Pamela, as the daughter of an ex-diplomat was a good target for the Japanese to take their revenge. However, the sources of information regarding this case have been brought into question over the years and pretty much debunks this theory.

After Japanese invasion of Peking in 1937, the city’s landscape changed forever. In March 1943, all Europeans were forced out of the Legation Quarter and taken to an internment camp. Werner and Prentice lived in the same camp and it is said that Werner often confronted the man he accused of his daughter’s murder. But Prentice wasn’t the only one, Werner was always theorizing and looking for answers. 

After the war, Werner returned to Peking for a while, but his attempts to reopen Pamela’s case were unsuccessful. He spent the last years of his life in England, where he passed away in 1954. 

Today, Peking is known a Beijing and beneath the modern, bustling roads lie many stories and sordid secrets… Perhaps one of the biggest mysteries of all will always remain unsolved, the unanswered question: who killed Pamela Werner on that icy January night in 1937?

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