The brutal murder of Pamela Werner sent shockwaves through the streets of pre-communist Peking in 1937. Outraging the population inside the walled capital, the killing baffled the local police, becoming one of the most mysterious unsolved crimes in the history of modern China. But while investigations have returned to the cold case over the years in an attempt to provide new insight into the perplexing killing, none have come close to joining the pieces of the infamous crime, until now.
Life & Death in Old Peking; the Murder of Pamela Werner
By G D Sheppard
As a police officer it can be difficult to switch off from work. You can’t stop seeing the world through police eyes. And that was very much the case when I was lent a book to read a few years ago. The subject was the brutal unsolved murder of Pamela Werner, a young British woman in Peking in the winter of 1937.
Pamela had been cycling home in the dark from a skating rink. She never made it home. Her body was found the next morning in a shallow ditch under the shadow of the city-wall. She had been mutilated beyond recognition and, most mysteriously, her heart stolen.
The crime terrified the large community of Western foreigners living in Peking. But the case frustrated the police and remained unsolved. The recent account I read now pointed to the guilt of several local residents - as revealed by the preserved investigative letters of the victim’s elderly father.
But I wasn’t convinced. Not at all. From a policing perspective, the evidence didn’t add up. Something, I realised, was very wrong.
So I visited the UK National Archives in Kew and examined the father’s letters myself - some 150 typed pages addressed to the Foreign Office in the late 1930s. And I found that my instinct had been correct. But in addition to that I saw immediately that there was far more to the case than had been revealed.
I delved further, spending two years studying the evidence provided by documents and archives from across the world - from the USA to Australia, from China to Italy: letters about the murder between diplomats; articles in the local press; military propaganda; secret reports of espionage and political assassination. There was so much more to the crime than had ever been made public. I also found the list of suspects growing: doctors, journalists, diplomats, soldiers. And there throughout, bringing his influence to the case, was the enigmatic and controversial figure of Sir Edmund Backhouse - one of the greatest fraudsters of the 20th century.
Having gathered a wealth of evidence I then felt compelled to write of the affair, explaining not only the facts behind the crime itself, but also the extraordinary lives of those involved, and of a way of life in a China that was soon to disappear with the advent of war and the triumph of Mao’s communism.
Leaving the Metropolitan police after thirty years I was finally free of restraints to twin that professional experience with a fervent interest in modern history: Life and Death in Old Peking; the Murder of Pamela Werner is the result. Eighty years after the murder, the book explores every evidential avenue, examines all the suspects, and brings the reader to the door of the guilty. Peking in 1937 was a fascinating time and place, one worth the study, and it provides a tale very much worth the telling.
Top Customer Reviews
Detailed and intriguing account of a gruesome murder and its investigation in 1930s China. Unputdownable.By emmachisett2 on 27 May 2017
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the best account of this terrible crime that I have read.
Pamela Werner was a young woman living in China at a very turbulent time in local (and world) politics. She was riding back to her father's house along a dark quiet road next to one of Peking's walls. She never made it home and was found dead the next morning, brutally killed, and with organs missing. The case was investigated by the Chinese and British police. Pamela's father also began a private investigation. This book explores all the theories and those involved. The author manages to weave the different strands together in a narrative that holds your attention and which you want to keep reading to find out "who dunnit". It also gives a great précis of what was going on at the time, in China, without getting into heavy detail that could have detracted from the story.
What I particularly liked was reading about all the people involved, and what happened to them afterwards. You get a really good sense of them as people. Their lives are extraordinary in many respects. Cowan and Howe the diplomats, in particular, although Edmund Backhouse and Mr Werner are also highly colourful and fascinating in their own right. Pamela is recreated through words of her friends, and details of her life in Tiensin and Peking. In a way it reinstates her life- she is no longer just regarded as a corpse by the side of a road.
The photos reproduce well. The map was useful to give a sense of where the crime scene lay. The font is easy to read and it is well laid out. The references are easy to find so you can see that a claim or a comment is not invented.
This is a great read. I couldn't put it down. A "keeper".
ms p h keen on 22 Jun. 2017
Review by Peter Bazire:
I was very interested to read this book about the murder of a teenage girl in Peking in 1937. The author covered detailed sides to a number of people relevant to the main theme, people who had been possible suspects in the murder, and others who played a part in life mainly in Peking during the early and mid-years of the last century. I myself spent my first 15 years in China, and was so glad to learn more about life there of which I was unaware at the time.
I learnt much about the setting in which all these people in the book lived, both in their immediate surroundings, and also of the broad picture of the social and political scenes in China over those years. I was kept guessing about the degree of guilt, if at all, of the various people right to the end.
Towards the end of the book the story moves to Weihsien Internment Camp where I spent two years, so I was intrigued to read how the story continued in the camp.
I strongly recommend the book.