ADULTS often remember nursery rhymes and fairy stories from their childhood.
But for teacher Anna Best there was only ever one story which held her imagination as a child.
It was the gripping tale her Huddersfield grandmother Phyllis Depledge used to tell her again and again – the brutal and unsolved murder of a distant ancestor.
The body of young Elizabeth Rayner was discovered by her brothers in Clifton Woods, near Brighouse, on the afternoon of New Year’s Day, 1833.
The pregnant and unmarried 20-year-old had been on her way to a party the night before at the Alms Houses in Clifton when her throat had been cut.
The murderer of the cheerful redhead was never discovered.
For decades Anna, who teaches at Calderdale College and lives at Warley, Halifax, continued to be intrigued by the family legend.
In 2002 she began her research into the affair, but reached a dead end.
Seven years later she took up the quest again and this time struck gold. She found the witness reports from the coroner’s court and other historical documents.
Anna’s detective work has just resulted in the publication of her first book, Borrowers of the Night, the Clifton Wood Murder.
It is a murder mystery which relates the story of Elizabeth’s murder and draws its own conclusions as to who might be responsible.
Anna said: “The fascinating story was handed down through my family. Elizabeth was my grandma’s great aunt.
“I started to research the story because of a sense of justice not being done. Whoever was responsible got away with it, which was surprising for such a small community.”
In 1833 the body was laid out in a mortuary attached to The Black Horse until the burial took place five days later at Hartshead Church.
The investigation into the murder of the cheerful young woman was carried out by presiding magistrate Sir George Armytage of Kirklees Hall.
He made strenuous efforts to discover the identity of her attacker, including offering a reward of £200 – a small fortune by today’s standards.
Anna believes that somebody must have known who the murderer was.
In the book she dramatically reconstructs scenes with the characters involved at the time in an effort to shed some light on the mystery.
Although fictional, the characters are based on factual historical records and personal statements from witnesses.
Anna said: “There was a second enquiry into the murder. And it is very interesting as the statements from the witnesses varied significantly from the statements to the coroner.
“It was a fascinating puzzle trying to work out who might have done it. I followed a particular line and came to my own conclusion.”
She added: “The story has whetted my appetite. I have a couple of other ideas in mind and I would definitely like to write another book.”
The 136-page Borrowers of the Night is published by Banks House. Priced at £9.99 it is available online from Amazon or from Just Books in Brighouse.