Chewing gum nabs killer

What you need to know:

  • Osmond Bell, then 24 years old television engineer and the father of Welsh’s two young sons was the prime suspect in her murder and was arrested in 1981 in connection to her death.
  • He was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Ms Nova Welsh, a 24-year old mother of two, was found dead in the utility electric storage cupboard in her apartment in Birmingham on August 18, 1981, three weeks after her family moved to Miami. 

It was the stench of decay from concerned neighbours that sparked a call to the police.

A postmortem examination revealed that she had died of pressure to the neck. She was thought to have been killed during the early hours of July 27, 1981.

Her family tried to contact her but in vain to confirm that they had arrived safely in Miami. Her family was to describe her as gentle, loving and full of life. 

Bubble gum 
A piece of bubble gum was used to secure and seal the lock on the storage cupboard in which Welsh’s body was found. 

In 2016, court was to observe that the killer had used some kind of gum to secure the lock but could not have anticipated that some 30 years later police would be able to link that chewing gum to him.

Prime suspect 
Osmond Bell, then 24 years old television engineer and the father of Welsh’s two young sons was the prime suspect in her murder and was arrested in 1981 in connection to her death.

He denied playing part in her death. He maintained that he last Ms Welsh on July 25. 

He claimed that he was subjected to a dark and terrible four-day police interrogation in the days after her body was found.

He also claimed that during the interrogation he was allowed to handle and read an anonymous letter that would prove crucial during the murder trial nearly 30 years later. 

Insufficient evidence  
He was then released due insufficient evidence. Welsh’s sister was not however convinced that Osmond was innocent as, to her, he was a possessive ex-boyfriend.

The handwritten letter was sent to a friend of Ms Welsh after she was reported missing and six days before her body was found. The letter, seemingly written by a woman, claimed that she had been attacked a man she had been seen with on a light out. 

Anonymous letter
The anonymous letter apparently blamed another man for Welsh’s death. Osmond denied that he had written the letter. 

To the prosecution the letter was written before the discovery of the body and therefore before anyone innocent knew that Ms Welsh had been attacked and killed.

Years later, British police re-opened the case and focused on the piece of chewing gum used to seal the storage cupboard and the anonymous letter.

A forensic examination of the envelope’s seal, carried out in 2014, found an incomplete DNA profile allegedly matching Osmond.

The DNA helped detectives connect the dots in Welsh’s murder.

Following advances in DNA science, the DNA extracted from the 35-year-old piece of chewing gum also matched the DNA profile of Osmond. These tests could not have been carried out in 1981.

Charged with murder 
Subsequently Osmond was charged with murder. During his trial, court was told that a one-in-a-billion DNA profile matching that of Osmond was found on the letter sent to try to deflect suspicion for the murder.

It is alleged that Ms Welsh split with Osmond after he tried to choke her in the kitchen. 

When Welsh got a new boyfriend, Osmond was unable to let go and attacked her in her Birmingham apartment.

Osmond maintained that his relationship with Welsh was not volatile and that he was not violent towards her. There was no evidence that Osmond broke into the apartment although it was clear Welsh did not want him there.

Convicted with manslaughter 
The jury at Birmingham Crown Court deliberated for more than a week and acquitted Osmond of murder but opted to convict him of manslaughter. 

He was found guilty of manslaughter by a majority verdict. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

He was told he would serve half his sentence behind bars and half out on license. At the time of the conviction and sentence Osmond was 60 years old and retired and a pensioner.

To Osmond’s lawyer, the crime had been almost certainly committed in panic by a man of 24 years of age who had since lived an unblemished life of good character.

To the judge Osmond was angry and upset that Welsh was having another relationship although there was no evidence that Osmond planned the crime in advance; it was apparent that the death had resulted from a quarrel in her home. 

To the judge there had also been a background of domestic violence in the relationship from which Welsh had broken free. 

When Welsh got a new boyfriend, making use of her freedom, her jealous boyfriend was unable to let go and attacked her in her flat. 

The evidence that Osmond felt jealous of the new relationship was clear. But as if to add insult to injury, after Osmond killed Welsh, he concealed her body. And he did nothing to assuage the pain and grief of his own children.

The police had this to say; “There will always be advances in technology, and we will always seek to use them and bring people to justice.” 

Family happy with judgement 
Welsh’s family members said they were happy their loved one’s killer had been brought to justice. 

They could now have closure knowing the person who had taken the life of Welsh had been brought to justice.

Lorna Welsh, the mother of Nova Welsh, said her daughter could now rest in peace. 

To her family the unfortunate and tragic death of Welsh would prevent her from seeing her children grow up as young adults.

To be continued   

Dr Sylvester Onzivua
Medicine,  Law & You