The Murder Of Pamela Werner
By Walton Golightly
By the end of 1936, the political situation was worsening in China. Peking (now Beijing) was teeming with war refugees and Japanese troops were on the verge of occupying the city. Europeans tended to stick to the Legation Quarter on the outskirts of Peking – and sinologist and retired British diplomat Edward Werner was considering sending his adopted daughter Pamela, 20, to England.
On the afternoon of January 7, 1937, she met Ethel Gurevitch at the Wagons-Lits Hotel, a popular gathering place for expats. The two then went to an ice skating rink. Around 19h30 Pamela said she had to go home for dinner. Thanks to her father, she could speak many Chinese dialects fluently and had no problem riding alone through the city streets on her bicycle.
At 20h00 Werner sent a servant to go look for Pamela at the skating rink. When he heard she’d been there, but had left, he went out with a torch to look for his daughter himself. He returned home at 01h00. At 09h00 Pamela’s body was discovered near the city’s old wall. Because she was a foreigner, Col. Han Shih-chung of the Peking police immediately contacted the Legation Quarter’s police commissioner. Detective Chief Inspector Richard Dennis, a Scotland Yard veteran who was chief of police in the British concession in Tientsin, was chosen to liaise with Han.
Pamela’s expensive jewellery had not been removed, suggesting robbery wasn’t the motive. Her wristwatch had stopped shortly after midnight, giving investigators a possible a time of death. She’d likely been killed elsewhere and dumped there, because there was no blood at the scene other than that on her clothes.
The post mortem revealed Pamela had died from a brain haemorrhage caused by several blows to the head. The proximity necessary to inflict the blows implied she was killed by someone she knew. The stab wounds (made with a blade at least 10cm long) were inflicted after death. Most of Pamela’s internal organs had been removed. Her ribs were broken from the inside to get at her heart – a task requiring a considerable amount of force. A knife had also been used to repeatedly penetrate her vagina.
With the killing clearly sexually motivated, Han believed the intent had been to dismember Pamela after her death, but the killer was unable to complete the task and hastily dumped the body.
In retracing Pamela’s steps the afternoon and night of January 7, detectives learnt that, at about 16h00, Pamela had asked the concierge at the Wagons Lits about renting a room. She wasn’t seeing anyone at the time – did she have a mystery lover who lured her to her death? Certainly, many of Pamela’s friends considered her ‘promiscuous’. As did her father – it was another reason Werner was sending Pamela to England.
Then other rumours surfaced. Werner was known to have a violent temper. He disliked the company his daughter kept – had he killed Pamela in a fit of rage? He was an odd, abrasive character, who had been forced to leave the Foreign Office after attacking people with a horsewhip on several occasions. He’d even broken the nose of one of Pamela’s admirers.
Yet Werner was clearly distraught. Besides, there was no blood at the house or on his clothing. And the police soon had another suspect in their sights…