I’d given a talk in Amersham about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK. The next day a lady who’d come to the talk contacted me by email. She asked if I’d heard about the unsolved murder of Dr Davidson in 1966. She told me about her mother whose first baby was born with spina bifida in 1966 and died a day later, and how her mother’s GP was murdered a fortnight later. She asked if I would consider investigating the unsolved murder and posted me a pile of newspaper cuttings. I looked on the internet for information but couldn’t find much and decided at that point it would be worth looking deeper into the story. And that was how Injured Parties began seven years ago.
The biggest challenge was probably the fact that the murder of Dr Davidson is part of a Cold Case review and the police aren’t able to disclose information about the case. I should explain here what a Cold Case is: It’s a crime that’s remained unsolved for a long period of time. There is no new evidence. The case is deemed as low priority by the original investigating agency. So I had no access to official police documentation.
With no official documents to work from, I had to start from scratch with my research. That meant I had to go back to basics...and that meant mindmaps! 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 mindmaps (they look like huge pictures of words and symbols that together form a spider’s web) are part of my creative process. Mindmapping 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, Hodgemoor Wood. Using these words as a base, I add 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 progressed to questions….hundreds. One of the first questions I asked myself as a result of mindmapping was ‘How can I make contact with Amersham people from the 1960s?’. On a very basic level I began my research in my office, at my desk, with an A3 drawing pad and coloured felt tip pens. Then by diligent sleuthing over the next seven years, without preconceived ideas, asking endless questions that had not been asked before, it was like putting pieces together in a jigsaw.
I’d say I had several big breakthroughs. I’ll mention two: shortly after starting work on the story I traced, by chance, Professor David Bowen then in his 80s, who carried out the post mortem on Helen Davidson in 1966. That was a major coup, bearing in mind I had no official documentation to work from. Then I traced the police photographer who photographed the crime scene following Dr Davidson’s murder. He was also able to give me first-hand information.
Oh… they did warm to me. I received willing co-operation from many people in Amersham and surrounding villages. Each person I was introduced to knew a small part of the story. And if one person didn’t know an answer to a question, they’d find someone who did. One gentleman, who was in hospital having suffered a recent stroke, heard about my request for help in connection with the unsolved murder case and asked to see me. That was so kind. Through my contacts in the town not only did I get to speak to some of Dr Davidson’s patients from the 1960s, I was also put in touch with suspects who’d been pulled in by the police and interrogated during their investigation, and was able to get first hand evidence from surviving family members. Finding new people and new evidence was like doing a dot to dot puzzle and I was there putting the clues together. I don’t think my Amersham team realise quite how valuable they have been. They were brilliant.
Upsetting or disturbing? Not really. It was hard work. I just got on with it.
To be honest, it’s doing the research I enjoy most.
I wouldn’t say any books have influenced me. During the seven years leading up to publication of Injured Parties I was engrossed in heavy duty research at libraries, archives, anywhere I could get first-hand information. I did read novels to lighten the occasional frustrations resulting from going down a lot of dead ends!
There are two authors: firstly Graham Greene because he was such an expert at writing about the human condition. Secondly Tony Buzan, the inventor of Mind Maps, because mindmapping transformed my thinking process.