The untimely death of a loved one can leave family and friends heartbroken for decades. Karl Smith certainly fits into that category, as he died aged just 12 back in 1947. His sister Ann Kear continues to visit his grave, but for decades a stranger has also been leaving flowers and messages at the site, eventually inspiring Kear to unearth the reason why.
A member of the Boy Scouts, Smith tragically drowned on a scouting trip in Gower, South Wales, on August 1, 1947. The 12-year-old was one of several boys to sneak off for a swim in the sea when the scout leader left the group to buy some food. Sadly, he was later discovered face down in the shallows.
His death sparked an outpouring of grief from those who lived in Prestbury, a small village in Gloucestershire, England. The 12-year-old’s mother received more than 100 letters from her neighbors, all heartbroken by what had happened. However, she also faced the challenge of helping her young daughter through this terrible period.
“I was only seven when he died,” Kear explained in a BBC documentary titled The Stranger at My Brother’s Grave. “I haven’t got that many memories of him, unfortunately. Mom told me afterwards, she said I just sat and one tear ran down my cheek. And I just said, ‘Never mind mommy, we’ll see him again one day.’”
“Of course, I never went to the funeral or anything like that,” Kear continued. “My mom used to say that he was a boy who was loved because he always had time for the elderly and that. And he just was.” Despite the fading memory of her brother, though, the 77-year-old still tends to his grave at Prestbury’s St. Mary’s Church.
However, 20 years ago Kear noticed that she wasn’t the only person visiting her brother’s gravesite. Flowers, poems and all sorts of gifts were being laid there by a stranger, piquing the septuagenarian’s curiosity. With each visit, she would discover something new, deepening the mystery.
“When I come here, I think, ‘I wonder what’s going to be on there today?’” Kear said. “And someone walks past and perhaps they’ll greet me, and I’ll think, ‘Oh, is it you? Is it you?’ There are three hydrangea heads there and there is also a rose, which I swear wasn’t there on Sunday.”
Noting that someone else must have put it there, Kear then recalled some of the other items that the stranger had left at Smith’s grave. “One year, there was a massive sheaf of corn, a pheasant’s feather – a big tail feather it was,” she continued. “It’s something I really, dearly would love to solve.”
In fact, this particular mystery had intrigued the residents of Prestbury for many years, with Kear trying everything in her power to discover the stranger’s identity. However, despite leaving notes on Smith’s grave and writing articles about her search, she’d still had no luck. That was about to change, though.
Camila Ruz was an investigative journalist working for the BBC. Upon reading about the Prestbury mystery, she decided to contact Kear and offer her assistance. And after Kear had accepted that offer, the aforementioned documentary The Stranger at My Brother’s Grave was filmed during their ensuing search.
The main reason that Kear wanted to find the stranger was to learn more about her brother. “If they take all this trouble to do all these things, they will be able to tell me about him,” the 77-year-old said. “I would love it, and I think that I would have closure, if you like.”
With Ruz by her side, the pair traveled to the Gloucestershire Archives, where Kear saw what might have been the last photograph taken of her brother. After noting down a list of names of people connected to Kear’s brother, the journalist then started to contact the individuals in question. Unfortunately, though, none of them knew where Smith was buried, or whom the stranger might be.
Undeterred, Ruz set up a meeting with Lynda Hodges, the warden of St. Mary’s Church, who in turn invited some local friends who wanted to offer their help. At that point, Kear appeared to make a breakthrough. After looking through her brother’s old school work, she picked up on the name Dennis Parker, which she then shared with the group.
As it turned out, Parker did indeed visit St. Mary’s Church, raising Kear’s hopes. Sadly, though, this proved to be another dead-end, as he contacted the 77-year-old soon after to tell her that he wasn’t the mystery man. This spurred Ruz on to go back to her list of Boy Scouts, though, hoping to find a clue of some sort.
And after looking again, the journalist found the name of a boy who had shared a tent with Smith the night before his death. His name was Ronald Seymour-Westborough, and following some research Ruz managed to contact with him. Convinced that he was the mysterious stranger, she relayed her findings to Kear, while also revealing that he wanted to meet her.
Kear and Ruz then met with Seymour-Westborough the following day, when all was revealed. “Well, we obviously met at the scouts,” he began. “We sort of palled up there, and then we all went on this holiday. We got a tent put up and we said, ‘Oh, we might as well go together.’”
From there, Seymour-Westborough recounted the day of Smith’s death, confirming that he and another boy had found his body. Seymour-Westborough then discovered the gravesite some time later, leaving flowers on the headstone for his old friend over the next few decades. Unsurprisingly, Kear was full of gratitude for his actions.
“We’ve been very, very touched by it,” Kear said. “At the thought that there was someone still there that I could talk to. It’s lovely to meet you Ron.” During her encounter with Seymour-Westborough, though, she discovered that he hadn’t left the poems at the grave, leaving one part of the mystery unsolved.
“It’s been really, really lovely,” Kear reflected. “Quite a journey, really. I would never have done it on my own.” While Ruz continued her investigation into who wrote the poems, Kear stayed in contact with Seymour-Westborough, bringing the mystery of the kind stranger to a heartwarming end.
On August 1, 1947, young Karl Smith tragically died on a Boy Scout’s trip to South Wales. Decades later, a mysterious stranger continued to visit his grave. Determined to uncover their identity, his sister Ann Kear embarked upon a remarkable investigation alongside a BBC journalist, eventually becoming friends with the mystery man.