I recently read a really interesting UK true crime book review about Injured Parties: Solving the Murder of Dr Helen Davidson by the consistently excellent True Crime Enthusiast which you can read here. After reading the review, I bought the book – which I loved – and contacted the author, Monica Weller, who kindly agreed to answer some of my questions. I hope you enjoy.
1. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me Monica, Why did you write the book?
I’m often asked that question.
Quite simply a woman contacted me in 2009 after a talk I’d given in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK about whom I co-authored (Ruth Ellis: My Sister’s Secret Life by Muriel Jakubait, Monica Weller (2005) Paperback). The woman was impressed by my research and asked if I’d heard about Dr Helen Davidson’s murder in woodland near Amersham in 1966, told me of her family’s close connection to the GP, and would I consider investigating the unsolved case. And that’s how INJURED PARTIES began back in 2009.
2. Why should any fan of UK True Crime read this book?
I am being described as a ‘Miss Marple’ in the way I go about my detective work. In that respect I suppose I’m a bit unique. INJURED PARTIES is about an unsolved crime, a cold case, and I was not entitled to see any official police documentation on the murder. A cold case as most readers will know is a crime that’s remained unsolved for a long period of time, has no new evidence, and has been deemed a low priority by its original investigating agency. Some may say in their reviews of INJURED PARTIES that the book is more interesting for people who live close to the crime scene in Buckinghamshire. I say, that’s not the point.
INJURED PARTIES could be described as a personal journey, my personal journey to find a killer before DNA testing had been discovered, and that should be fascinating for any true crime enthusiast. It describes my route to find a killer, starting from scratch and with nothing to go on other than a few newspaper clippings from the 1960s. In my opinion the book shows what can be done even without official documentation but with a huge amount of determination. That is a feat in itself and something for which I feel proud.
3. Tell me about the process of writing the book?
As I said earlier, with no official documents to work from, I had to start from scratch. On a very basic level I began my research at my desk with an A3 drawing pad and coloured felt tip pens. Going back to basics for me meant Mind maps! They help me to get into the creative process. Research to me is about being creative, searching in every nook and cranny for clues. And Mind maps (they look like huge pictures of words and symbols that together form a spider’s web on paper) are part of my creative process. Mind mapping is a bit like brainstorming, using any word or phrase that comes to mind that may, even remotely, be connected to the story, for example: woodland, GPs, lady doctors, Amersham, the 1960s, bottle of milk, Hodgemoor Wood. Then, using these words as a base, I brainstorm for more words connected to them until I have a giant spider’s web of words that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of in the first place. These words gradually progressed to questions….hundreds of simple questions. And one of the first questions I asked myself as a result of Mind mapping was ‘How can I make contact with Amersham people from the 1960s’. From knowing nothing about the case, or anybody in the story that had been published from The Times to the Bucks Free Press, germs of ideas blossomed.
And of course I had lucky breaks, too many to mention. You must read the book! But as a taster, the greatest lucky break was tracing the forensic pathologist who carried out the post mortem on Dr Davidson in 1966. When I interviewed him at his home he was 85 years old. He shared his knowledge and material with me, gave me new leads, and introduced me to the fascinating world of the forensic pathologist.
4. How did you get your book published?
I have a literary agent who has represented me since the idea and the publishing of my book RUTH ELLIS MY SISTER’S SECRET LIFE. He phoned me one evening in 2009, probably in connection with Ruth Ellis, and casually asked if I was working on anything. I told him about Dr Davidson’s murder in 1966. He thought it sounded interesting and suggested I carry on working on it. I did… for seven years! Part of his role as a literary agent is to try and get a publisher. It takes time.
5. Can you describe any difficulties you encountered while writing about a cold case?
Yes, it’s best that I quote from the Foreword in INJURED PARTIES.
“In the case of Dr Davidson’s murder, despite being 50 years ago, the problem of writing about this unsolved case has brought challenges. There were last minute hurdles to cross prior to publication……For legal reasons, some names have had to be changed, some characters must remain unidentifiable, information cannot be attributed to main sources, and sometimes these sources have to be deleted from the story. Identities have to be protected to avoid possible repercussions. However the story remains true…Some people who have helped with my investigation have passed away and the case of Dr Davidson’s murder has slipped further into insignificance. But I want to keep this story alive. I want readers to feel what I was up against in my search for the truth.”
It’s very important that readers read the Foreword in order to get properly into the story, and are made aware of the challenges involved in writing about a cold case. Occasionally I read reviews about my book, and from a few of them it would appear that some readers aren’t aware of the challenges (particularly legal) in writing about cold cases. One lady reviewer understood and pointed out the situation stating that I would have got myself in troubled waters if I’d gone any further. Some reviewers clearly would have liked me to guess at certain scenarios; that I was not prepared to do. My aim, during the seven years of research, was to tell the truth.
6. What is next for you?
Behind the scenes there are some fascinating/exciting developments about INJURED PARTIES. Watch this space.
7. Where can people find out more about you?
This interview is exclusively for UK True Crime
Copyright Monica Weller 2017
This may not be reproduced elsewhere without the permission of Monica Weller