By Walton Golightly
On the morning of January 8, 1937, the severely mutilated body of Pamela Werner, 20, was found just outside Peking’s Legation Quarter. Because the murder involved a foreigner, Detective Chief Inspector Richard Dennis was assigned to work with Col Han Shih-Chung of the Peking police.
The day after the killing, Han questioned a rickshaw puller seen washing out a bloodstained cushion cover near the crime scene. He later told Dennis the man said the blood came from a wounded US Marine.
Then a seedy Canadian named Pinfold was brought in after his landlady discovered a blood-stained handkerchief and dagger in his lodgings. Pinfold worked at a bar that doubled as a brothel in the middle of the Badlands, a crime-ridden neighbourhood. Pamela ordinarily avoided the area at night, but it was possible that, in her haste to get home for dinner, she chose a more direct route, which took her right past the bar.
Pinfold had to be released when it was found that the blood on his knife and clothing was animal, not human. But he did give Han and Dennis a new lead. He earned extra money working as a security guard at sex parties hosted by a seemingly respectable American dentist named Wentworth Prentice, he said.
Investigating further, Dennis and Han learnt Prentice’s wife and children had returned to the US in 1932, because someone at the US consulate had been concerned for the safety of his daughter! Prentice also lived right next to the ice rink where Pamela had last been seen. When interviewed, however, he said he’d never met Pamela and had been at the movies the evening she disappeared.
The police took him at his word. But if they’d checked with Pamela’s father, Edward Werner, they would have learnt Prentice had indeed met Pamela: he had straightened out one of her teeth in December 1936. But the detectives had been ordered by the British Legation to stay away from Werner. He was causing trouble, claiming Pamela’s killer was a European – someone rich enough not to steal her jewellery. This was not what the authorities wanted to hear: they insisted that the killer was a ‘sex-starved’ Chinese too poor to pay for a prostitute.
In June 1937, with the Japanese having arrived at the gates of Peking, the case was closed – but Werner mounted his own investigation, and later claimed a prostitute had seen Pamela with three men at the bar where Pinfold worked on the night of the murder. One of them was Prentice.
Werner also tracked down the rickshaw puller questioned by Han, who said he, too, had seen a golden-haired girl arrive at the brothel with three foreign men, including Prentice. Shortly after midnight, they emerged carrying the girl. Her clothing was torn and a cloth covered her face. He’d conveyed them all to the edge of town, where Pamela’s body was found. There, the men paid him – and threatened him with a knife, telling him to remain silent.
But when questioned – because he had been seen washing blood off a pillow cover – he’d told Colonel Han everything, he said. If this was true, why had Han lied to Dennis about the origin of the blood?
Prentice and his friends regularly invited girls to sex parties. Werner believed Prentice had had his eye on Pamela ever since he’d fixed her tooth. He also learnt there had been no films shown the night Prentice claimed to be at the cinema.
Instead, spotting her on her way home, Prentice invited Pamela to one of his parties in a private room in the bar/brothel. Sexually assaulted, she fought back and was killed. Or so Werner believed.
In March 1943, the Japanese removed all the remaining European residents from the Legation Quarter, including Prentice and Werner, and placed them in an internment camp. According to other survivors of the camp, Werner often confronted Prentice about the killing.
After the war ended, Werner again settled in Peking. He finally returned to England in 1951, where he died three years later. The murder of Pamela Werner remains unsolved and, it has to be said, later investigators have questioned the validity of her father’s ‘findings’.