The probably not at all comprehensive story of Cyril and Betty Belshaw
[Features Editor’s Note: “UoA’s Most Notable Alumni” was run in Craccum’s Issue 17, published on the 16th August, where I investigated some of UoA’s most interesting and bizarre graduates. One of my profiles focused on Cyril S. Belshaw, who stood trial for the murder of his wife Betty (also a UoA alumnus) in 1980. Belinda Hopman, a UoA student, kindly emailed me a week later with this fascinating summary of Cyril and Betty’s story. We figured we would publish this for all the true crime nerds out there such as myself—enjoy!]
Cyril Shirley Bradshaw was born on the 3rd of December 1921 in Waddington (a village about 50km west of Christchurch, for us JAFAs). He attended the University of Auckland (then known as Auckland University College) in the early 1940s, becoming the prestigious and not at all completely boring Secretary of Publications and Public Relations in the Students’ Association in 1942. He was described in our very own Craccum as: “Youthful and enthusiastic. Dislikes mismanagement. One of the few people [‘]round the place who does his work thoroughly and without fuss.” (Is this where I subtly mention his wife’s body wasn’t identified for 9 months?)
Speaking of his wife, one Betty Sweetman (later known for being Cyril Belshaw’s wife and then dying suspiciously), was the Chairman of the Social Committee on that very same Students’ Association in 1942 where she was described as: “Effervescent and voluble. Always gets there in the end. Likes acting and has thoughts on food values.” Lovely. They married that year.
Cyril did his M.A. at Victoria (then called Victoria College), and earned his Ph.D. in Social Anthropology abroad at the London School of Economics in 1949, where his thesis was on the society built in three Melanesian territories—he sounds like a blast at parties…and I’m an anthropology student. This later became his first book, published in 1954, at which point he had already been under the employ of the University of British Columbia (UBC) for a year, making him an established anthropologist.
Apparently, Betty was very integral in Belshaw’s work and research. On a year-long stay doing research for another book in Hanuabada, Papua New Guinea, Betty was instrumental in getting viewpoints from the women in the city as she befriended them and participated in everyday activities. (Warning: I’m about to roast a dead guy for, honestly, the rest of this article.) Belshaw, however, didn’t even learn the language and had to rely on any English speakers and his wife, who did learn the language, in order to gather research data (which only breaks the surface of why social anthropologists of this time are the absolute bane of my existence). He continued to write about Melanesian countries until he wrote about the U.S. instead, and that’s really about it. Wait, I lied: he also has a three-part autobiography (that I’m sure doesn’t embellish or cover up anything about his life).
Okay, now to the juicy stuff. There’s an article in Canadian magazine Macleans that was published a month after Betty’s body was identified that I’m just gonna end up quoting so I’ll link it. Betty, a well-respected English instructor in her own right, was going to France and Switzerland to study the works of Katherine Mansfield. From December 1978 to May 1979, they were renting an apartment in Switzerland; Betty wanted to study there and Cyril was on sabbatical. In January 1979, Cyril reports Betty missing in Paris, with no real information about them being in Paris in the first place, saying he last saw her boarding a subway to a library. She goes through the missing persons system and Cyril goes back to Canada after a few months (you know, how you do when your spouse is missing in a foreign country).
In late March, Swiss officials found a decomposing naked body wrapped in plastic by the side of a road. This road led out of the village the Belshaws were renting in. Dental records were relied on for identification, and Cyril, obviously not in the mood for helping (sharing is caring, Cyril), intentionally doctored Betty’s dental records when asked for them. Swiss police eventually identified her—after six months—by getting her dental records directly from Vancouver. Swiss police visited Vancouver to investigate Cyril further, and eventually asked him to accompany them back to Switzerland. He was not terribly cooperative. An international warrant was put out for his arrest and he was arrested in November 1979 while attending a UNESCO conference in Paris (I love irony sometimes).
Cyril was kept in a Lausanne prison cell for a year until the trial started in December of 1980. The trial itself lasted three days, with a verdict on the fourth (Hello Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney). There was, according to another Macleans article published just after the trial ended, no real means or opportunity discussed because the remains couldn’t offer any cause or time of death. The motives, however, were aplenty. Revelations of an affair with a UBC student and other not explicitly stated evidence showed a strained and unhappy marriage. Cyril’s defence included character witnesses, not limited to UBC faculty and his own children (interesting bonus: Cyril’s daughter Diana is an actress and director and has a theatre award named after her at Humber College in Toronto). Cyril was acquitted of the crime due to a “very slight doubt,” and had to pay $21,000 in court costs due to the police action required from falsifying the dental records.
Side note: I did look up the mistress, Elida Harris. She was a nursing student at UBC, graduating in 1962 (so ages before Betty’s death, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have other affairs more recently) and wasn’t married at the time when she was a student, contrary to most media reports. She married the year after she graduated from UBC and moved to Montreal. She was also almost 18 years younger than Cyril (which feels pretty on par for grossness with this guy).
After the trial, Cyril went back to his job as a professor at UBC (after a vacation), and worked there until his retirement in 1987. The murder of Betty Joy Belshaw (née Sweetman) wasn’t even a footnote in her husband’s plentiful obituaries, and finding any information about any continued investigation after the trial was basically impossible, so I would like to leave you with her picture in the 1943 University Magazine, which she edited, and her graduation quotes from the same publication: