A MAN who claims to be the artist behind a 50-year mystery that has baffled people across the Black Country has been sentenced for outraging public decency.

John Arthur Wheeler, who claims he is the elusive beer mat artist AJW - the Ghost Writer, admitted the offence last month and was sentenced at Wolverhampton Crown Court today (Friday May 10).

The 75-year-old from Standhills Road, Kingswinford, was charged after leaving a series of rude calling cards in Wordsley Community Centre and other pubs, libraries and public toilets.

Wheeler previously shrugged off accusations that he had left beermats scrawled with obscene drawings in a Dudley pub two years ago.

Dudley News: Josh and Conner Mills, and Steven Gill found some of the rude cards in the Shrewsbury Arms, Dudley, in 2016. Pic - Phil LoachJosh and Conner Mills, and Steven Gill found some of the rude cards in the Shrewsbury Arms, Dudley, in 2016. Pic - Phil Loach

He told the News at the time that they were fakes and said: "Pablo Picasso was doing rude stuff but he was crackers."

The artist, who says he grew up in Dudley, has been leaving beermats and postcards with hand drawn depictions of the late opera singer Mario Lanza with his trademark AJW signature for more than half a century.

But his true identity has remained a mystery to the public - until now.

While preferring to stay in the shadows - the secretive scribbler has every once in a while courted publicity and given various interviews to TV and news organisations over the years but often from behind a mask and on the condition that his true identity would remain confidential.

Dudley News: AJW chatting to news reporter Bev Holder in 2017AJW chatting to news reporter Bev Holder in 2017

His bizarre obsession even attracted the attention of renowned BBC producer Barney Snow who made a documentary about the mysterious Ghost Writer which was screened at a VIP event attended by the Mayor of Dudley.

It is thought AJW himself likely attended the event - pretending to be a fascinated audience member.

Becoming increasingly bold in his advancing years he later went a step further and invited the News to interview him - first on Halloween from behind a sinister looking fake-blood spattered fancy dress mask, and subsequently unmasked - sporting his trademark trilby hat.

Dudley News: AJW captured on camera during an interview with the News in 2016. Pic - Phil LoachAJW captured on camera during an interview with the News in 2016. Pic - Phil Loach

With age taking its toll Wheeler has in recent years taken to using a walking stick on his trips to drop off his widely collected calling cards.

Such has his appearance changed due to the slow march of time that centre users at Wordsley Community Centre could not initially be sure it was the same man who had been wandering in and leaving the x-rated scribblings for mums and children to find.

But he was tracked down by police who found hundreds of rude hand drawn images at his home.

Sophie Murray, prosecuting, said: “He had been leaving sexually lewd drawings showing male and female genitalia.”

She added that many of the drawings - depicting people urinating and undertaking sexual acts - looked like children and words alongside referred to children.

She said: “He was arrested and interviewed and made a full admission, saying he accepted what he was doing was wrong and he did have sexual thoughts about children but never acted on them.

“He subsequently referred to himself as a pervert.

“When police searched there were hundreds and hundreds of these pictures everywhere in his house.”

Judge James Burbidge said Mr Wheeler seemed “obsessed with Mario Lanza” and he added: “I don’t think Mario Lanza would have approved of what he was doing.”

He ruled that Mr Wheeler should be made the subject of a five-year Sexual Harm Prevention Order to protect the public and ordered that in future he must not leave his house with any pictorial representations depicting naked men or women, buttocks, genitalia or female breasts - unless they are to be officially exhibited in a public art exhibition.

Graham Russell, defending, said Mr Wheeler had led a blameless life and had “achieved some renown in the community” for his drawings.

Dudley News:

He said Mr Wheeler’s work had been publicly exhibited on previous occasions and added that the pensioner “calls himself the Banksy of the Black Country”.

Mr Russell said the rude drawings were inspired by Pablo Picasso “whose career also ended with sketches which art critics described as nothing more than pornographic fantasy”.

He said Mr Wheeler had been “a model of frankness” when interviewed by police and he described the case as one of “pity” and said the pensioner had never married and had no immediate surviving family - and he was therefore somewhat isolated and lonely.

The judge made him the subject of a two-year community order and told him: “It’s very odd to see a man like you at court.”

But he said outraging public decency was a “serious offence” and added: “You believe you have ability as an artist - that may be - but the way you have set about displaying your drawings is offensive. You regularly left lewd drawings in public houses, public stations and libraries for people to see who would not wish to see them.”

He told him if he wishes to draw such matters in future they must not be taken into public places.

He added: “It would not be right to describe yourself as the Banksy of the Black Country as Banksy makes drawings of public importance - attracting social comment. What you are doing is drawing matters that show a perverted mind.”

But he added: “I’m satisfied it’s not in the public interest to send you immediately to prison.”

He warned him, however, that if he breaches the orders meted out that he could find himself behind bars.