The Unsolved Murder of Bunny Eve, Part 1: a re-visit, by Sarah Miles
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The Unsolved Murder of Bunny Eve, Part 1: a re-visit, by Sarah Miles
 Bunny by War Memorial, John Miles. Image courtesy of Sarah Miles.

Bunny by War Memorial, John Miles. Image courtesy of Sarah Miles.

In her 1998 film, A Bunny Girl’s Tale, Sarah Miles explored the story of the British Playboy Bunny and how the ‘Bunny Girl’ persisted in the collective imagination. The film included references to the 1975 murder of Eve Stratford.  Ten years later, the cold case was reopened and Sarah got a call from a detective…

“You must remember A Bunny Girl’s tail is her most treasured possession,” The Bunny Manual.

“Her head was almost severed,” Detective J MacFadzean.

The film was originally inspired by Bunny Image, Loss of: The Case of Bitsy S by Donald Barthelme,  the master of fragments, in which a woman is fired for loss of bunny image.[1]

Channel 4 wanted a drama documentary. As I gathered material memories of my teenage years in the seventies of interrupted joy and feeling like a failed bunny (symbol of fertility and play) began to insinuate and the fragmentary form developed.[2]

Life and Death
Kathleen, a light in the film, invited us into her home and showed us all her memorabilia while her daughter watched and my son looked a bit bored. Poignant and funny, an independent mother with a glamorous past, fluffing her tail, she told me a lot of stuff off the record…

Kathleen and her tail, John Miles. Image courtesy of Sarah Miles.

Kathleen and her tail, John Miles. Image courtesy of Sarah Miles.

The further into the burrow I went the colder it became, until I was with another ex-bunny sharing the past experiences that haunted her, like waking up in hospital laughing with hysterical paralysis after the news of Bunny Eve’s murder. “She had long blonde hair,” she said.

My identification with this was a way of accessing buried parts of myself, and we discussed how extreme acts of violence lead to terrifying blanks and about finding a way to express grief never expressed at the time.

The lead detective on the now cold case agreed to an interview. He told me that since his retirement he had been haunted by this unsolved murder[3]. And then one day I received a hand delivered copy of the closing case report.

It was snowing on a Tuesday afternoon in March 1975. Bunny Eve was no longer an allegorical figure. She was born Eve Elizabeth Stratford on the 28 December 1953. How did someone get away with murder in broad daylight on a residential street? The jury at the inquest gave the verdict: murder by person (persons) unknown.

When what pursues you is internal there is no escape
Ten years later, I’m getting ready for the crime season, on the couch, remote in hand, when I’m contacted by a journalist who has seen A Bunny Girl’s Tale on the net: a degraded copy, wrong temperature, all content and no beauty, no truth, but enough to make me of interest. There has been a major breakthrough in the case.

Sarah Miles, A Bunny Girl’s Tale. Image courtesy of the artist.

Sarah Miles, A Bunny Girl’s Tale. Image courtesy of the artist.

DNA link in murders of schoolgirl and bunny girl,” reads the headline in the Evening Standard, 25 September 2007.

“Someone out there has kept a dark secret for thirty years.”

“You think the memories are buried.”

We meet, and against my instincts, I let him make a copy of the case report.

Mens Rea
And the next thing, I get a call from the lead detective on the reopened case.

As we sat in my kitchen, I had to resist confessing to all my ‘crimes’. He wanted to know why Detective J. McFadzean had given me this report… it went against all protocol. He thought it might have been self-aggrandisement, as he had also sent me his autobiography, Life of a Policeman.

Maybe. He has since died so we cannot ask him, his death bringing the new detective to my door. But I recognised that it was his gift to me as a woman and a filmmaker – he wanted me to look, to do justice to this girl, to these girls, and in the process, to myself.  To tell stories that examine patriarchy requires agency and cultural power.

Or, in the words of James Ellroy, writer of My Dark Places, “after a while it just has to be about consciousness.”
After three fascinating hours with the DI we parted. I had to promise the report would remain in my possession.

“I hope one day the bunny girl murder will be solved,” Detective J McFadzean.

Sarah Miles, A Bunny Girl's Tale. Image courtesy of the artist.

Sarah Miles, A Bunny Girl's Tale. Image courtesy of the artist.

As for the murders, they are under investigation. My treatments are… longing…. ghostly….

One film executive said to me, “I’d give you the money for a script, but the sadist in me says ‘no.’” I left Channel 4, returned home, and watched Cold Case.

[1] Loss of Bunny Image: the case of Bitsy S, Donald Barthelme, 1974 collected in Guilty Pleasures

[2] She goes to pieces; she does not know to whom her hand belongs, or her shoulder; she has lost her ‘I’. Fragmentation has a way of suggesting the repressed. The voice of an unseen presence is trying to put the pieces together and fails, but the failure is the point. See what a world we have been given, the voice says: in pieces, some of them missing, others from the wrong set, and no instructions. Barthelme’s last essay was called Unknowing and this is where I ended not knowing.

[3] Untold tales: As a traumatised teenager, when filling out the form to become a bunny girl, I got stuck when it requested a medical history and the secret of my abortion left me feeling that my tail was soiled.

‘The ghost is the fiction in our relationship to death made concrete,’ Helene Cixous.

Sarah Miles is an artist filmmaker and writer based in London.

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