WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HARRY?
great many World-revolutionising events occurred in the early years of the 50’s. 1950 saw the start of McCarthyism in <st1:country-region w:st="on">America</st1:country-region>, the Danes found living organisms 10,000 feet down on the floor of the Atlantic and <st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region> invaded <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Tibet</st1:place></st1:country-region>.
In 1951, <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Japan</st1:place></st1:country-region> finally signed the peace treaty with most of her Second World War adversaries. The Royal Festival Hall was opened during the Festival of Britain and, for the first time, atomic energy was used for peaceful purposes.
In 1952, Nasser kicked out King Farouk of <st1:country-region w:st="on">Egypt</st1:country-region>, which led up to the <st1:place w:st="on">Suez Canal</st1:place> crisis. <st1:country-region w:st="on">Morocco</st1:country-region> went into revolt against <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">France</st1:place></st1:country-region>. The occupation of <st1:country-region w:st="on">West Germany</st1:country-region> by <st1:country-region w:st="on">Britain</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">France</st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">America</st1:place></st1:country-region> ended. <st1:country-region w:st="on">Britain</st1:country-region> exploded its first atomic bomb, <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">America</st1:place></st1:country-region> its first hydrogen bomb, and the contraceptive pill was ‘born’.
In 1953, the year that interests us in this story, Stalin died. The French occupied Dien Bien Phu in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Vietnam</st1:place></st1:country-region>. The Korean War ended. DNA was found to be made up of a double helix. Hilary and Tensing scaled Everest. The Piltdown Man was found to be a fraud. <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Russia</st1:place></st1:country-region> exploded its first hydrogen bomb, and, late on Saturday afternoon of the 10th of January of that year, the sleepy peace of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Timeless, mild beguiling island” of Laugharne in Carmarthenshire was disturbed by the screams of a woman being murdered.
The brutal, mindless slaying of 78 year old Miss Elizabeth Thomas in the hall of her home at No. 3 Clifton Street Laugharne began a police investigation which could have almost been, had it not been for the real life tragedy involved, the plot for one of Dylan Thomas’ bitter comedies.
Almost, but not quite, because had it not been for a compassionate judge, Mr. Justice Devlin, who still believed in the rights and freedoms of the individual, the blind obsession with finding a culprit at any price, could have meant a second tragedy compounding the first.
The small coastal town of <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Laugharne</st1:place></st1:city> was also the home and birthplace of one George Thomas. In January 1953, George was 46 years old, unmarried and living with three of his uncles in Ferry House. George was a well known sight in and around Laugharne where he worked as a labourer, unskilled motor mechanic and handyman.
He asked little from life or his fellow man beyond enough money to buy his cigarettes and comics, and a kind smile or wave; because George Thomas had lived since birth within the silent uncommunicative world of the deaf and dumb. As someone whom the law defined as ‘mute by the visitation of God’, George had grown to manhood without the benefit of any form of schooling, or training in the use of the deaf and dumb sign language.
Those people who he had either worked or done little jobs for over the years, managed to communicate with George on a very rudimentary level and even then, more often than not, understanding on both sides was little more than minimal.
For the inhabitants of Laugharne, in out of whose houses he popped at will, and to everyone else who knew him, George Thomas, or ‘Booda’, the nickname by which he was generally known, was no more than a large, friendly good tempered simple child in a man’s body. A who, due to his affliction existed mainly in a world of his own.
On the afternoon of that dismal Saturday in January, Booda's movements are not hard to follow. Dressed, as he often was in a light coloured raincoat and <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Wellington</st1:place></st1:city> boots, he spent most of that afternoon walking about the town.
At one point during the afternoon he wandered into the home of 75 year old retired Headmistress, Miss Elizabeth Lewis, who lived in <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Clifton Street</st1:address></st1:street> and who was a neighbour of Miss Elizabeth Thomas. Miss Lewis was not in the least surprised to see him, her front door, like most in of them in Laugharne, was always open and anyway, Booda used to occasionally chop up sticks for her fire.
At approximately 4p.m. he was in the street again because he waved to a Mrs Davies, and a few moment later after bumping into Thomas Langdon, showed him his torch in which the batteries were dead. A little later he called at Schoolmeisters Garage where he replaced his torch batteries.
Between 5.45 and 5.50 p.m., Gomer Perkins, one of Elizabeth Thomas’ nephews, called at his aunt’s cottage, which to his surprise he found locked. Every evening Elizabeth Thomas went to Perkins home in <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Horsepool Road</st1:address></st1:street> where she cooked a meal for her nephew and his two brothers.
On leaving his aunt's Perkins noticed, and waved, to Booda who was standing outside the Ceinon Stores which stood opposite <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">No. 3 Clifton Street</st1:address></st1:street>. For Perkins, the sight of Booda standing opposite his aunt's house was not unusual, as Booda often shopped at the Ceinon Stores for a Miss Vaughn.
At 6.15, Benjamin Edwards of <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">East Hill Farm Clifton Street</st1:address></st1:street> saw Booda outside his front door, and at 6.30 he was seen by Gwyneth Lewis as he passed in front of her house.
By 6.40 Booda had left <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Clifton Street</st1:address></st1:street> and was on his way home, because as he passed the Bakery in <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Victoria Street</st1:address></st1:street> he gave a wave to Thomas Rawles of Jubilee Bungalow.
To the suspicious mind of a policeman, George Thomas’ presence in a street between the times of 4 p.m. and 6.15 p.m. of an afternoon and evening when a murder was committed might well take on a sinister significance. To all the people who saw him there, at the time, it was the most ordinary and natural thing in the world.
Its highly possible that the murder victim, Elisabeth Thomas, was among the people who saw Booda that evening. She was certainly still alive when at 5 p.m., just as the foggy January night closed in on Laugharne, Elizabeth popped across the road from No. 3 to the Ceinon Stores, which had been owned by her brother up to his death 2 years earlier.
From the shop, she bought a quarter of her favourite mints and, on seeing the shopkeeper's wife, Mrs. Phillip boiling an egg, was heard to comment that she would have an egg for her own tea once she got home.
Elizabeth Thomas was considered by everyone that knew her as a kindly, cheerful old lady. She had for many years been the caretaker and cleaner of St. Martins Church and for fifty years of her life she had been in service at The Glen, a local manor house. Although officially having retired a year earlier due to ill health, every Sunday she still went to The Glen to clean.
The morning of the last day of her life she had spent watching a very ‘smart’ wedding in the company of her friend, the retired schoolmistress, Elizabeth Davies.
In the short space of time between leaving the shop at just after 5 p.m., and her nephew, Gomer Perkins calling and finding the door locked shortly before 6 p.m., Elizabeth Thomas had a visitor, her killer.
A few minutes after 6 p.m,, a local man, Ronald Thomas Jones was walking down Clifton Street towards the Clifton Garage passed No. 3 and noticed a light burning in the front room window, an almost sure sign that the elderly occupant was entertaining a visitor. He had taken no more than another couple of steps before he heard the sound of a woman screaming, the screams appearing to come from the hallway directly behind the front door of No. 3.
The nineteen fifties still being a time when one citizen was not afraid to, or considered a criminal for going to the aid of another, Jones tried the door but found it locked.
He then heard Elizabeth Thomas cry out for help and in return he shouted through the locked door to “Leave her alone”. He then heard Mrs Thomas cry out a name which Jones claims he couldn’t quite make out, although later, when asked by the police if the name could possibly have been Booda, Jones replied “I’m not going to say that is wasn’t Booda, but it was something like Harry”.
However, leaving the question of the name for a moment, Jones unable to break open the locked door, ran on to the garage to try and get help, which , by coincidence he found in the person of St Clears Police Sergeant T.J. Morgan, who was having a conversation with the garage owner.
Breathlessly Jones blurted out what he had heard.
All three men quickly ran back to No.3, where by this time silence reigned although the light was still burning behind the curtain in the front room. Sergeant Morgan tried the front door, then shouted to open up. Getting no reply, Morgan then knelt down and looked through the keyhole and, in the dim over spill of light from the living room saw the figure of someone bending over.
At the time Morgan got the impression that the person was wearing a light coloured cap although he said later ‘’I cannot say whether the person was a man, woman or child.’ Straightening up, Morgan banged hard on the door; the only response being the sudden extinguishing of the lamp in the front room.
Giving up on trying to break open the front door, it took about 2 minutes for Sergeant Morgan to force the living room window and climb inside, where by the light of his torch, he found crumpled body of Elizabeth Thomas lying in a pool of her own blood in the hall.
At this point Elisabeth Thomas was still alive, although only just. This unfortunate elderly lady had been beaten savagely around the head with a broom handle she usually kept in the hall to use as a draft excluder in windy weather. She had also been stabbed in the chest and back with a knife which was never recovered and had suffered a fractured skull and arm.
She succumbed to her injuries one day later at the <st1:placename w:st="on">West</st1:placename> <st1:placename w:st="on">Wales</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Hospital</st1:placetype> in <st1:place w:st="on">Carmarthen</st1:place> without ever regaining consciousness.
At approximately 6.15, about the time Sergeant Morgan was kneeling beside the unconscious Elizabeth Thomas, Arthur Jenkins was in the garage attached to his home, Upton House, <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Clifton Street</st1:address></st1:street>, when he heard his dog begin to bark, then growl.
Opening his garage door he saw the figure of a man crossing an area of wasteland to the rear of Elizabeth Thomas’ cottage. Jenkins called out good evening, but the man, who Jenkins was unable to identify, turned away, pulling up the collar of what Jenkins took to be a grey coloured raincoat.
As far as Jenkins could tell in the dark, the man was bareheaded.
Now, accepting that it was dark making recognition difficult, it is possible that this hurrying figure could have been Elizabeth Thomas’ friend and murderer, George Roberts known as Booda, furtively trying to escape from the black deed he had just committed.
However, Arthur Jenkins was a motor mechanic and he and George Roberts had worked together in the Clifton Street Garage for the best part of 16 years, so is it really credible, remembering that although night, it was light enough for Jenkins to see the man turn up his collar, he wouldn’t have recognised his work mate, Booda.
In addition, if the times stated by the various witnesses are correct, when Arthur Jenkins was calling out to this unknown figure crossing the wasteland behind <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Clifton Street</st1:address></st1:street>, Booda was seen passing in front of <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Clifton Street</st1:address></st1:street> going past East Hill Farm by its owner, Benjamin Edwards.
While the unconscious Mrs Thomas was lying in her hall waiting for the ambulance to take her to hospital, her two nephews, Gordon Thomas Perkins and Gomer Jones Perkins arrived at the cottage. Both men had been summoned by the police; and Gordon, at the request of the police, went into his aunt’s bedroom, looked under the mattress and found £200 tucked away in a paper bag.
This money, not an inconsiderable sum in the 50’s, at least provided the police with a motive, one which left them with the theory that the robber had been beating up the old lady to make her reveal her hiding place, and had stabbed her and fled when disturbed.
Why police suspicion for the attempted robbery and murder of Elizabeth Thomas should have fallen Booda, the deaf mute is somewhat of a mystery in itself. Certainly he was in the area at the time, but then so were a lot of people and anyway he was often in the area, working at garage, doing odd jobs or just plain visiting, as he had Elizabeth Lewis’ cottage earlier in the afternoon. On top of which, everyone in Laugharne knew Booda, and nobody could be found to claim that he had ever shown signs of violent or aggressive behaviour.
However, fall it did, possibly because there was no other immediately available suspicious character, on George Roberts and around 12 p.m. on Sunday he was picked up by the police and taken in for questioning. Although he was not either formally arrested or charged on this occasion, he wasn’t allowed to leave until the following Wednesday. This incarceration alone was flagrant infringement of his civil liberties. Booda, of course, wouldn’t have known that and even if he had, how could he have complained, he could neither speak nor write.
The initial investigation into the murder of Elizabeth Thomas was begun by Police Superintendent David John Jones who, on the Sunday, with the help of Booda’s uncle, ‘invited’ him to go to <st1:place w:st="on">Carmarthen</st1:place> police station for questioning in the presence of an interpreter.
According to Jones, Booda, “a suspected violent murderer” was kept in a rest room where he was very contented and happy and reluctant to leave, most of which being probably true.
Then, its highly doubtful that Booda understood that the nice policeman was trying to pin a murder rap on him.
On Monday, January 11th, the celebrated Detective Superintendent Spooner and a detective sergeant Miller arrived from Scotland Yard to take charge of the case. The subsequent investigation appears to have been thorough; a flagstone was removed from the cottage floor for forensic tests and an alien Wellington boot footprint that appeared on it.
Hundreds of people in the town were interviewed and those found to be owners of <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Wellington</st1:place></st1:city> boots had their boots ‘boot printed” for comparison. Samples of plaster and distemper were taken from the hall and walls of Elizabeth Thomas’ cottage and tested against traces found on Booda’s coat. The distemper matched, the plaster didn’t. The distemper, green in colour was not conclusive proof however, as it was a standard commercial brand, bought for use in thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of homes.
Booda’s <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Wellington</st1:place></st1:city> boots were also found to be innocent, although had all three items been a perfect match all it would have proved was at that some time or another Booda had visited the murdered woman, something everyone knew he had been doing for years anyway.
Booda was officially questioned by Spooner and Miller on the Monday. There were two interpreters present, Mr Beddoe Davies, who was the Honorary Superintendent for the deaf and dumb in <st1:place w:st="on">South Wales</st1:place>, and deaf and partially dumb himself, and his wife Ceirwen who was the official deaf and dumb translator for the <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Llanelli Court</st1:address></st1:street>.
Despite the vast experience they shared between them, both translators had difficulty in communicating with Booda and were of the opinion that only someone who had known him for a long time would have a chance of understanding his gestures and signs. In effect, out of four days of “questioning” the only thing anybody could be reasonably certain off was that Booda had known Elizabeth Thomas and liked her, which again, would have come as no surprise to most people in Laugharne.
According to Spooner, Booda made three sketches of Elisabeth Thomas’ cottage, though what that proved was anybody’s guess.
The first person Booda went to see following his release on Wednesday was Mrs Ethel Mary Watkins, who was the housekeeper at Cliff Cottage Laugharne. After shaking hands with Ethel, Booda sat down at the table and burying his head in his hands, began to cry. Told to cheer up by Ethel Watkins, Booda indicated by means of the simple sign language they had developed over the 14 years they had known each other, that he was crying for Elisabeth Thomas and that he would never do anything to hurt an old lady.
He also showed her the marks on his arm where the police had taken a blood test and the stains on his fingers where they had fingerprinted him. In Ethel Watkins’ opinion, a woman who obviously wasn’t afraid of being in the company of this ‘suspected’ murderer, Booda, rather than being reluctant as Superintendent Jones suggested, appeared overwhelmed with relief at being allowed to leave the police station.
He wasn’t relieved for long because by the 18th, he was once again in police hands. One of the statements the police had taken in the interim came from a Mr. John Davies of Wood Cottage. Davies told the police that a short while before Christmas, he had seen Booda take a kitchen knife out of his inside pocket and give it to a friend so that he could sharpen a pencil for him.
Although in no other statement given to the police did anyone else recall seeing a knife in Booda’s possession, the suspicion was enough for the investigating officers to take Booda back into custody
Superintendents Spooner and Jones interviewed Booda at Laugharne police station around lunchtime. According to Spooner, Booda looked worried, not surprisingly as he was suspected of being a murderer, and indicated he wanted to say something. Spooner gestured the outline of a woman’s body and Booda is supposed to have nodded. Spooner then showed him two photographs of <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Clifton Street</st1:address></st1:street> and Booda pointed out Elizabeth Thomas’ cottage.
Spooner claims that then, Booda gestured that he wanted to write something and he (Spooner) gave him a pencil and some paper. Booda drew a sketch of a house which the police considered to be identifiable as Miss Thomas’(not forgetting we are talking about a terraced house), and gesturing g the shape of a woman’s body, bowed his head and touched his eyes with his handkerchief.
He then drew two houses to right of the first one, pointed to the end house and put two fingers to his teeth. Then he drew two houses to the left and made a gesture that Spooner, with no experience whatsoever of dealing with deaf and dumb people and having no skill whatsoever in the sign language used by them (he had also decided that no interpreters needed to be present on this occasion), took to mean that there were children living in this house.
Finally Booda drew a sketch of himself, once again gestured the shape of a woman and made thrusting motions with his hands. Spooner then claims to have then produced a knife and Booda nodded.
A short time later, in the company of Sergeant Miller, Spooner’s trusty assistant, Booda was taken along Cliff Walk just outside Laugharne. At certain point he is supposed to have stopped, made the action of cutting a piece of wood with a knife, then drew his arm back and made the action of throwing something out to sea.
This action, coupled with the sketches and gestures made earlier in the police station was considered by the two super sleuths of Scotland Yard to be a clear indication that Booda was confessing to the murder of Elizabeth Thomas.
They were of course other possible, but less convenient, interpretations. Booda could have been saying how sad he was that his friend Elizabeth Thomas was dead, maybe the so called thrusting motions were a question as to how she died, rather than a statement that he had stabbed her. Maybe they meant something else entirely, though what, only Booda knew.
In drawing the extra cottages on the right and by touching his teeth with his fingers he could have been saying he had eaten there at sometime, or even that there was someone there who knew about the crime.
Perhaps Spooner was right when he believed Booda was telling him that there were children in the second cottage on the left, though what relevance that had is hard to tell as Spooner made no effort to check. Who knows, maybe they had seen something, maybe Booda was talking to them at the time of the murder. Maybe there was another interpretation of the knife throwing episode, had Booda seen someone throwing a knife out to sea or had thrown his own knife away (if he had one) because he didn’t want anymore.
When dealing with someone with Booda’s disabilities, who can be sure, maybe someone who had known him all his life, and expert in communicating with deaf and dumb people, most certainly not the police.
There is of course another faint possibility concerning the identity of the killer.
Another witness, who had been with Miss Thomas in the morning, but had been out at the time of her murder was Miss Elizabeth Martha Davies. In her statement, Miss Davies who lived next door to Miss Thomas and like the murdered woman occasionally employed Booda to take care of her garden on do odd jobs, stated that as far as she was aware, there was a man called Harry, lodging a few doors away.
Still, Harry is not an uncommon name, and as mentioned earlier, it is possible that perhaps Ronald Jones, the person who heard Miss Elizabeth Thomas cry out a name that sounded like Harry may have mistaken it for Booda. Who knows, there is no mention in the available documents of the police ever taking Miss Davies’ statement, or Mr Jones’ recollection seriously.
Spooner convinced that he had found the culprit decided to charge Booda with the wilful murder of Miss Elizabeth Thomas. It was Spooner’s contention that George Roberts, known as Booda, was, despite his handicap, intelligent enough to be aware that he was making a confession and fully understood the charge against him.
Not espousing Booda’s severe handicap with a lack of intelligence appears to be the only sensible deduction Spooner made in the case.
Booda was formally charged in the presence of the court interpreter Mrs Ceirwen Beddoe Davies, and Mrs Davies stated that he nodded his head to confirm that he understood the charge.
George Roberts came before the St Clears Magistrates Court on Monday the 19th of January charged with the murder of Miss Elizabeth Thomas. Superintendent Jones, the officer who had actually charged Booda stood up and told the magistrates “I cautioned him and he replied ‘I understand’. That is all I have to say.”
Superintendent Jones had missed his vocation, George Roberts, after 46 years of being deaf and dumb had miraculously learnt to both hear and speak whilst in the custody of the wonder working policeman. At the end of the hearing, when the magistrates in their wisdom found there was a primae facie case to answer and committed Booda to trial at the next Carmethenshire Assizes, the interpreter, Mrs. Beddoe Davies told the court that Booda did not know enough sign language to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
Booda stood trial at <st1:place w:st="on">Carmarthen</st1:place> on March the 18th and luckily for him came before a judge, Mr Justice Devlin, who believed not only in the law, but also in justice, and perhaps more importantly, had some common sense.
Called on by the Clerk of the Court to plead, Booda, not unsurprisingly made no reply. The defence then submitted to the judge that as he was unable to plead, he should therefore be considered unfit to plead, thus rendering the main prosecution evidence, which was based on Booda’s supposed statements to the police, inadmissible. If the judge ruled in favour, they argued, there was no case to answer.
In reply, Mr Justice Devlin pointed out that, under the law, if there was no primae facie case against their client, and if he was deemed unfit to plead, the only order he could make was to have Booda detained indefinitely without having been found guilty, or insane.
The judge added, that in his opinion it would be totally unjust to make such a detention order if Booda was in fact innocent of any crime and, with this in mind, he was going to defer the case until the next Assizes to be held in Cardiff in order to give the defence more time to consider what course of action they should take.
The morning of the second trial, once again before Mr. Justice Devlin, was taken up by legal arguments and therefore the jury were not present. During this hearing, Booda was formally found to be a Deaf Mute by Visitation of God and not Mute of Malice and, once again, the judge pointed out that if Booda was found unfit to plead the court would have no alternative but to make an order committing him to an asylum for the criminally insane; an order that would preclude any inquiry into whether he was actually innocent or guilty.
He then reiterated his previous sentiment that it was horrifying that a person, in this case Booda, could be denied their right to trial, based on the merits of the case, due to an affliction of birth.
For this reason, the judge decided that a plea of “not guilty” be entered on Booda’s behalf, so that the general issue of guilt or innocence could be determined. To do otherwise he judged, would be to make the assumption that Booda was guilty without him ever having been tried; an action which was not only unjust but one which would, should Booda actually be innocent, effectively stop any further search for the real culprit.
This decided, the jury were then called and sworn in.
In his opening speech for the defence, Booda’s Counsel, Mr. H Edmund Davies, told the court that it was ridiculous that the prosecution were, on the one hand accepting that his client was incapable of following the proceedings, and were on the other, attempting to convict him based on the fact that he could understand the questions that had been put to him by the police. Moreover they were claiming that the main part of the prosecution’s case involved the contents of the depositions that had been drawn up as a result of those questions.
The judge, Mr. Justice Devlin asked the prosecution if their only additional evidence to these statements was the fact that Booda had been seen in the vicinity of <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Clifton Street</st1:address></st1:street> that night, and that three weeks before the murder he had been seen with a kitchen knife.
When the prosecution agreed that such was the case, he then asked if the prosecution meant to present as evidence statements supposedly made by a man with whom there could be no certain means of communication.
Again, the prosecution agreed that this was their intention.
The judge then asked, if these statements were set aside for the moment, did the prosecution have any evidence on which they believed they could ask jury to convict, Mr. Lloyd Jones, acting for the Crown replied “I don’t think I could on those circumstances.”
To which Mr. Justice Devin commented dryly “I should have though it would be utterly impossible!”
The police and both interpreters were called to give evidence as to the validity of the various statement attributed to Booda. When this was over, the judge told the jury that the ‘statements’ apart, the case for the prosecution was so slender it was hardly worth considering. He added ‘If the only material we can ask a jury to consider is a statement by a man we have spent the morning contending that there was no proper means of communication with, I think perhaps you might consider this case from that point of view?”
He concluded “If the prosecution can say that these witnesses (the police) obtained material from the accused that can be properly put before a jury, it shall be put before them, but for the moment I have a little difficulty in appreciating it from that point of view”.
Mr. Justice Devlin, expressing his concern over Booda’s detention said “that while the police had a difficult task investigating crimes, they had, at the same time, to be careful that the liberties we cherish are not infringed”.
George Roberts, Booda to his friends, was found “Not Guilty” of the murder of Miss Elizabeth Thomas, and released.
Who knows whether the police were right in their beliefs and wrong in their methods. Did Booda in fact batter and stab this elderly lady to death? Was the police attempt to convict Booda simply a way of going for the easiest solution, innocence or guilt being merely a side issue.
If this was the case, Booda could easily have become a latter day victimised Child of God. The law abolishing the death penalty for murder didn’t become law until 1965.
Was this unknown “Harry”, the culprit, or some other undisclosed person. Certainly no attempt was made to either interview him after Booda’s acquittal nor did anyone look for another suspect.
The truth, now as then, remains a mystery and with the exception of one murdered old lady, one of very little importance on a World scale.
 Ironically, in 1875, the year Elizabeth Thomas was born, France, Japan, Korea and the Suez Canal were also in the news. The French inaugurated the third republic, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Japan</st1:country-region> recognised <st1:country-region w:st="on">Korea</st1:country-region>’s independence, and <st1:country-region w:st="on">Britain</st1:country-region> purchase 42% of the shares in the <st1:place w:st="on">Suez canal</st1:place>.
 At this point she would have been 76 years old.
 Speculation of course; but Elizabeth Thomas may not have called out a name at all but hearing someone at the door, cried out something like ‘Hurry’, but then again, ‘Harry’ fits.
 Thus giving the lie to the old adage that you can never find one when you need one
 It had been, then a Detective Inspector who in 1946, had arrested the notorious sex murderer Neville Heath, thus earning himself the appellation Spooner of the Yard
 Distemper: Not used much today, it is a type of paint that did not contain oil and is used for painting directly onto plaster
 What is almost totally sure is that, despite their allegations, neither Detective Superintendent Spooner, Superintendent Jones or Detective Sergeant Miller were qualified to interpret Booda’s crude sign language, any more than Booda was capable of clearly telling them what he knew, if anything.
 One gets the impression that this is not always the case with their Lordships.
 Just in case you think the judge was being naive, he wasn’t, in his day, policemen wore uniforms with numbers on them and helmets on their heads, not unidentifiable black pyjamas and balaclava helmets.
CHILD OF GOD
n contrast to the region’s normally temperate, if wet climate, the month of January 1799 in <st1:place w:st="on">West Glamorgan</st1:place> was bitterly cold, and the morning of the 28th of January found the countryside locked in a white mantle of a severe frost.
Any person foolish enough to be abroad as the shadows of night gave way to the stark half light of a winter's dawn they would have seen a solitary horse, half obscured by the clouds of it own condensed breath as it turned its face into the raw, heartless wind that swept eastwards across the bleak sleeping dragon of Worms Head to batter itself angrily against the exposed headland of the Gower Peninsula;
Huddled together on the horse's broad, if resigned back as picked its way carefully between the churned rock hard cartwheel ruts rode two human beings.
One, the larger of the two, wore the rough worn clothes of a farm labourer, the other, dressed in little more than thin rags, was a boy of between eight and nine years old. Both man and boy were the servants of a Rhossili farmer.
Accustomed to being a beast of burden the horse slowly navigated the treacherous ridged and potholed unmade road that wound its torturous way from the fishing <st1:placetype w:st="on">village</st1:placetype> of <st1:placename w:st="on">Rhossilli</st1:placename>, to the seaport of <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Swansea</st1:place></st1:city> 18 miles distant.
Suffering himself from the bitter cold, the horseman, out of compassion tried to shelter the pitiful, poorly clad scrape of humanity that sat first behind and then, before him as best he could.
For the horse and man, their outward journey was to end at a place called "White Style" from whence, alone, they would retrace their steps the fifteen long miles back to Rhossilli.
From White Style the boy would have to walk a distance of over two miles to reach his destination, his father's cottage in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Swansea</st1:place></st1:city>.
By mid morning the lonely frozen tableau of the three travellers had reached that part of the road that is bordered by the stone age burrows and Celtic burial mounds that punctuate the countryside between Knelston and Penmaen. To their right, had the sightless eyes of the child stared bravely into the cruel wind, he would have looked down onto the horseshoe curve of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Oxwich</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Bay</st1:placetype></st1:place>.
For the boy, the foam flecked sea would never again, if it ever did, draw his simple thoughts to a world of freedom and adventure. Unknown to his companion the child no longer needed what little protection the man kindness could offer, his spirit had at least found freedom from this world.
The sad soul of this Child of God * had flown from its emaciated husk as silently and uncomplainingly as he had lived the hell of his short and unhappy life.
.* In classical times mentally retarded children were considered beloved of the Gods. Christianity adopted this belief for the one God, at least in the use of the words, if not always the practice
In itself, the death of this child was unremarkable as it was commonplace. In the eyes of society he was at best a simpleton, idiot offspring, sold into servitude by parents too destitute to even feed him.
It was a time in history when childhood mortality was high. When, through disease, starvation or mistreatment 57% of all children born died before reaching the age of five. Nor did society at large, or its protectors, have the same beliefs in the innocence and lack of culpability of youth that is popular today. "Jack Ketch" * and his ever ready rope were often employed to protect society from the heinous depredations of children driven by hunger to steal an apple or a piece of bread in an attempt to ensure their survival.
* A popular name for public executioners, after a notorious and inept 17th century <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">London</st1:place></st1:city> hangman.
In 1801, just two years after the frozen January of our story, two criminals, sisters aged eight and ten were legally strangled to death at the end of a rope so that the good and honest citizens of <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Chelmsford</st1:place></st1:city> could sleep safe in their beds knowing two thieves had met their just desserts.
What then, is remarkable about out story is that in
Cardiff Goal on March 29th 1799, exactly two months after that fateful journey, John Webborn, Rhossili farmer paid the ultimate penalty on the scaffold for the crime of the wilful murder of his servant, little William Thomas.
What is even more remarkable, for this time in history, was that John Webborn, whilst not of the gentry, was at least a master. He was a man of considerable property, not above the law, but in many ways enjoying its protection far more than the half-witted child of a penniless labourer.
The facts, such as they are, surrounding the murder of William Thomas are not dramatic in themselves, they serve only as yet another heartrending portrayal of a man's inhumanity towards others less fortunate than themselves.
Some time during the Autumn of 1798 William Thomas's father was approached by the farmer, John Webborn with the suggestion that he would like to take the child into his employ in the role of hired servant.
As can be imagined, this suggestion was greeted with relief by a poverty stricken father faced with the never ending worry of putting food in his family's mouths and caring for a child who up to that moment had little or no hope of ever finding employment. The terms of this verbal agreement between the two men were as simple as they were fatal.
The child would enter into Webborn's household to be trained as a domestic servant. The father was to pay a token sum towards the child's upkeep. The main responsibility for William Thomas's maintenance, his clothing, food and general well-being now fell to his new master John Webborn. In principle, Webborn was to assume the moral role of, as described by the judge at his trial, a "self adoptive parent", to the boy.
What William Thomas, or his father did not know was that when the boy left <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Swansea</st1:place></st1:city> for Rhossili he was to begin the last few months of his short life.
From the moment of taking the child into his care, Webborn's treatment of the boy was not even that of a hard master towards a servant, let alone that which is expected of a surrogate parent.
William Thomas was given no extra clothing to supplement the threadbare rags he wore, nor was he given either stockings or shoes. What little food he received was both lacking in quantity as well as nourishment. Fed only on scraps discarded as inedible during food preparation, this ragged barefoot child was so hungry that out of pity the other servants began saving portions of their own scant fare to give him.
Close to starving and without the means to keep himself warm in the increasingly severe winter, and more often than not lacking comprehension as to why he was being punished, this poor unfortunate was "corrected" three times a day by his master for the "vice of obstinacy". No doubt, considering his affliction, young William Thomas gave the impression of being slow to understand the ‘instruction’ he was given. An impression amplified, one would imagine, by his sheer terror of his ‘instructor’.
When questioned the other servants agreed that the boy could give the impression at times of being obstinate and truculent. They also said that if kindly treated he was alert and good natured.
Kindness however, was the one thing William didn't suffer at the hands of his master John Webborn. Webborn's favourite instrument for correcting his servants was long brass handled horsewhip.
As the weeks progressed, so it appears did the regularity and severity of the beatings that Webborn gave to the boy, to the point when he became so enraged he beat the child around the head with the heavy brass handle of the whip. Rather than improve the child's disposition, this act of cruelty so weakened and injured William Thomas that he was physically incapable of carrying out even the most simple of tasks.
Having reduced, by his own brutality, his victim to this pitiable state John Webborn then tried to rid himself of him. Webborn sent a message to William Thomas's father asking that the verbal contract between them be annulled because the child was of such a sullen disposition it was impossible to correct him.
Webborn also added " that he (William) was in good health and very able to work".
Not surprisingly this message came as a blow to
father. Poverty had caused him to send the boy away in the first place, to have him back after so brief a time was little short of a financial catastrophe.
The message he sent back was not one to please the farmer. Due to his extreme poverty, he told Webborn he could not possibly have the child back. He begged Webborn to honour the agreement they had between them and hoped that despite the boy's difficult nature, he would act with kindness towards him as his behaviour was an affliction placed on the boy by God.
Little or nothing is known about William Thomas's father other than his unenviable station in life, the reason he first placed and subsequently pleaded that his son remain in the care of the man who was slowly but surely putting him to death.
It's perhaps easy for us today to condemn this little known parent for his culpability towards the final outcome of this sordid, if tragic, little drama, but in his defence several things must be remembered. It was Webborn who approached the father for the child's services, not the other way around. We are also talking about an age where children of five and sometimes younger were put out to work by families who were otherwise too poor to maintain them. To his credit, William Thomas's father had kept his son with him, and in good health until he was almost nine years of age before receiving an offer, which must have appeared to be a golden opportunity, of employment for an otherwise unemployable son. Only if he was aware of Webborn's vicious nature can any of the blame be laid at the father's door and there is no evidence that this was the case.
Webborn, deaf to any entreaty to act with kindness towards the boy, and doubtless incensed by the father's refusal to take the child back, then banished the already seriously sick child from his house. Hurt and bemused, huddled on a pallet of straw in an unheated barn, without adequate clothing or covering of any kind to protect him from the bitter cold, little William Thomas existed, for it could be called nothing else, for the last two days of his miserable life.
During the evening of January the 27th 1799 John Webborn summoned one of his labourers to his house. Webborn instructed him that the following morning he was to take William Thomas by horse to Swansea and leave him at White Style so that the child could make his way as best he could the last two or three miles to his fathers cottage.
The reason for the labourers being told to set him down at White Style we can only assume was so that the child's father could not, as he perhaps would have done, if William had been taken to the door, refuse to accept him.
Early next morning, whilst still dark, on going to the barn the labourer found William Thomas too sick to either stand or walk without help. For two days the only way the child had been able to move about was by crawling next to a wall and using it for support. Leaving William Thomas where he was, the labourer went to Webborn, described the state of health of the boy and courageously ventured the opinion that should the child undertake such a journey in his condition and in such extreme weather he would surely die.
His master John Webborn's answer is on record and it is this answer that changed him from being just a brutal and inhumane master, to a murderer.
" Take him and set him down at White Style - Be he as he may."
Accustomed to fulfilling the servile role expected by a master such as Webborn, his protest rejected and in fear of the consequences of disobedience, the servant returned to the barn, saddled a horse, and placing the boy behind him set out on their journey. Within a short distance, unable due to his weakness to hold on, William Thomas fell from the horse's back onto the hard frozen ground. Dismounting the labourer picked up the boy's frail body and placing him once again behind him remounted.
A short time later the man, realising the boy was so weak he would only fall off again, stopped the horse and transferred the semi-conscious child to sit in front of him so that he could keep a hold on him.
Some indeterminate time later, supported by the arms of his companion and amid the harsh winter beauty of the Gower, John Webborn's servant, William Thomas was, in the apt words of a contemporary newspaper reporter:
"consigned to that asylum against the oppressed, in which the persecuted are sure to find safety and peace."
When eventually becoming aware that the child had died, the labourer later stated that this was no more than 6 or 7 miles from Rhossili, he did not, as might have been expected out of fear for himself, either return the shorter distance to Rhossili or leave the body, as instructed at White Style, but continued on to Swansea and the cottage of the boys father.
Once there he was taken into custody pending the inquest into the cause of the boy's death. He was immediately released following the inquest and a warrant in the name of John Webborn was issued on a charge of "Murder".
Although at Webborn's trial her evidence was dismissed as incompetent in terms of medical evidence, the woman who laid out William Thomas's body testified at the inquest that she had counted ninety nine wounds or contusions on the corpse. Describing many of them in great detail, the woman laid great emphasis on a serious head wound which, she believed was a contributing factor in the boy’s death and had been caused, in her opinion, by the head being struck with a heavy blunt instrument.
The trial of Rhossili farmer, John Webborn for the wilful and malicious murder of his eight year old servant William Thomas, was held at the Great Sessions for the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placetype w:st="on">County</st1:placetype> of <st1:placename w:st="on">Glamorgan</st1:placename></st1:place> before the Kings Justice the Honourable George Hardinge.
For the prosecution the case was a difficult one; even if the evidence given at the inquest had not been ruled out, no single act of violence could be immediately attributed to being the cause of death. The prosecution had therefore to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that William Thomas's death had been the direct result of John Webborn's mistreatment.
To do this they had the even more difficult task of proving, at a time when protection for an employee was unheard of, and even the young trade union movement was soon to be legislated against under the General Combination Acts, that the physical punishments administered by John Webborn had far exceeded that which he, just as any other master, had a legal right to exercise over his servants.
What is more, if they managed to prove Webborn had exceeded what was morally acceptable as his rights as a master, they still had to prove that not only had he wilfully caused the child's physical deterioration, but had then exposed him to extreme weather conditions with the malicious intention of causing death.
The prosecution also made it clear that there could be no possibility of a conviction on the lesser charge of manslaughter. As far as the law was concerned John Webborn was either guilty or innocent of the murder of William Thomas.
In the words the Attorney General used to address to the jury:
" It was murder on this indictment, or, as it bore upon the charge before them, it was no offence at all."
On the face of it, to prove "murder on this indictment" was an uphill task.
As far as witnesses were concerned the prosecution only had two non-expert witnesses of any importance. The labourer who had borne first the living and then the dead boy from Rhossili to Swansea, and a maid from Webborn's house who would testify to the general mistreatment of the child and more importantly had witnessed the beating around the head that Webborn had administered to William Thomas with the brass handled horsewhip
The defence, as expected, tried hard to discredit the testimony of these two witnesses, and failed. The labourers actions, in first telling his master that to send the boy home in his condition and in such weather would surely kill him, and subsequently in doing all he could to protect the child, and when failing, in carrying his dead body home to his family convinced the jury that they were dealing with an honest man.
This was the same in the case of the maidservant whose, as the Judge pointed out to the jury, obvious impartiality and reverence for the truth gave her a faultless credibility. At no point in her testimony did she deny that the child was often sullen and difficult in the presence of her master, and in such circumstances possibly required more than the normal amount of chastisement. What she did tell the Court was that punishment was administered too frequently and was far too brutal.
The medical evidence for the prosecution was given by a <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Swansea</st1:place></st1:city> surgeon, Mr Collins, who had also been present at the inquest. On its own the medical evidence was not enough to support the accusation of intention of malice required for a conviction on the charge of murder, though quite possibly it would have been enough for a conviction on the lesser charge of manslaughter, if one had been sought.
However Surgeon Collins evidence, coming as it did after the testimony of the two servants, was crucial to the prosecution’s case.
Judge Hardinge asked Collins:
"Upon your examination of the deceased, and upon what you have heard from the witnesses, tell us, what in your opinion was the cause of death?"
As the opinions of most expert witnesses of whatever century are often both lengthy and convoluted thus was Surgeon Collins.
In short, he stated that he could find no single cause of death; the boy had not suffered any wound that could be described on its own as being mortal, and the extreme coldness of the day alone was unlikely to have killed him. His conclusion was that:
" the ill treatment which has been described, in all or part of it, the assaults, the wounds or contusions, the want of necessary food and of sufficient apparel, had occasioned the death of the deceased."
The defence, sensing one would imagine, that the initiative had passed to the prosecution, argued that the surgeon's opinions were not proof, as indeed they were not.
They continued by arguing that the intense cold on the morning of January the 29th could have killed a healthy person, or that the shock the boy suffered by falling from the horse, coupled with the cold could have caused his death (the labourer had testified earlier that the boy had suffered no apparent additional injury from the fall). Finally they claimed, somewhat desperately, if Webborn’s assaults and deprivations had in fact been the cause of William Thomas's death they had been without malicious intent.
As what was possibly a last resort, and in contradiction to their acceptance that although Webborn had been brutal, it hadn't been malicious, the defence called several prominent citizens (none of whom were or ever had been one of his servants) as witnesses to Webborn's character.
All these good folk testified, in good faith, though with a degree of reticence, to the accused man’s well known humanity and integrity.
The Judges summing up was a lengthy, as impartial as he could make it and involved clarification of the law as regards implied malice * when applied to the act of murder.
He then told the jury that there had been no positive testimony that John Webborn had in fact starved, beaten or exposed the boy to death.
*Put very simply, if someone commits various acts of wilful cruelty but without the direct intention to cause death but are of the nature which can endanger life and death is caused as a result then these acts are construed as murder. In addition, if these acts are committed over a protracted period, thus giving adequate time to reflect on and stop such actions, then the malicious intention is seen to be aggravated.
Nor did it positively appear that sending William Thomas home in such a weakened condition had in fact dealt a death blow.
He was, the Judge said, prepared to leave it to the jury to form an opinion in their own minds and consciences, as to whether the accused man's treatment of his servant had been morally correct, and if not whether this treatment had been so severe as to be the direct cause of the child's death.
The essence of the Honourable Justice Harding's legal argument was that if Webborn's inhuman treatment (during his summing up he stated that on the evidence he believed it to be so) coupled with the boy’s exposure to the weather caused his death, whether intentional or not, then, basing their decision on what is called a moral conviction of guilt, they were bound by their oaths to bring in a verdict of guilty.
Only if the jury could find any other cause for William Thomas's death, such as the severity of the weather alone, as refuted by Surgeon Collins with whom they were at liberty to disagree, should they incline towards mercy.
It took the jury two hours to come to their verdict. It may have come as a surprise to some of those present who believed that such a verdict could not be founded on such imprecise evidence, but that one word guilty obviously found approval in the heart and mind of the Judge.
In passing sentence the Honourable Justice George Hardinge addressed Webborn.
" regardless of justice and compassion, you violated the laws of God and man; you became the guilty author of this poor creature’s death:-and why?, not on a fit of passion, of provocation's real or supposed, not even, though deliberately for the purpose of correction; but from the fiend like depravity which tortures for the mere exercise of cruelty, our slaves and victims."
On the morning of the Friday following this speech, for John Webborn, Master, as for his servant William Thomas, Child of God,
There was no mercy.
A FOGGY NIGHT IN <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">CARDIFF</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">TOWN</st1:placetype></st1:place>
f for you were now to try and trace the dark ribbon of the Glamorganshire canal that once wound its tortuous path down from the busy town of Merthyr, through the City of Cardiff, and out into the cold waters of the Bristol channel, you would find that it is buried, both in memory and concrete.
In 1901, the year the <st1:placename w:st="on">Australian</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Commonwealth</st1:placetype> was formed, Queen <st1:state w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Victoria</st1:place></st1:state> died and Marconi sent the first radio message in Morse, the Glamorganshire canal was still a living thriving waterway.
Sadly, like many waterways, then as now, it too played its blameless role in mankind’s unending saga of violence and death.
The setting for the somewhat seamy early Edwardian melodrama that we are about to investigate was, and still is, a suburban area of <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Cardiff</st1:place></st1:city> known as Black Weir. The principal stage is the bank of the canal close to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Cardiff</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Castle</st1:placetype></st1:place>. The main players are two soldiers, some citizens, and a part time lady of the night.
The first act begins at about 1.30 p.m. on the afternoon of November the 5th, when the woman, 38 year old Bridget Millward, walked out of the Cardiff Union Workhouse, where she had been an irregular inmate ever since she had parted from her husband six years earlier.
In character she was perhaps typical of the harsh times in which she lived and is reputed to have been, when sober, of a pleasant disposition, but when drunk, inclined to be abusive and at times, violent.
Physically, Bridget was a large woman, strong enough it was claimed, to be able to do a man's work. On at least one occasion, when returning to the workhouse after have imbibed a little too liberally, she turned violent and it had taken the combined strength of four people to subdue her.
Her moral reputation was also somewhat flawed. Though not believed to be an out and out “woman of ill fame”, she was at least a well known figure in the less respectable hotels and pubs, and had gained the reputation of being a “good time girl”. She had, not surprisingly, come to the notice of the police from time to time, who were reported to have been of the opinion that, although she could not be considered as a regular or professional prostitute, she would occasionally sell her “favours”, should the financial need arise.
In looks, Bridget could lay no claim to being of great beauty. In addition to her size and strength, she had a speech impediment, the result of being born with a cleft palate, her nose was twisted due to being severely broken at some time, she had a lip deformity, and she wore ill fitting dentures.
This speech impediment become more significant as the story unfolds.
As darkness fell and a thick, gently swirling blanket of fog clamped itself down over the city, the two other principal characters set forth for a night on the town.
Patrick Regan and John Sullivan were both recently recruited militiamen in B Company of the third battalion, The Welsh Regiment, stationed in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Cardiff</st1:place></st1:city>. Regan, who came from Aberavon was twenty, Sullivan, who hailed from Ebbw Vale; twenty two. Both were ex miners, were undergoing basic training, and both had been allowed an evening pass that required them to be back in barracks by midnight. They should have had the company of another young soldier called <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Lowell</st1:place></st1:city>, who had also been given a pass, but for reasons best known to himself, he decided that on that evening he would not to take advantage of it.
Passing through the gates, in uniform, wearing their caps and carrying canes, their greatcoats buttoned up to against the chill, they disappeared, swallowed up in the fog, Free, if only for one evening, from the harsh discipline the two young men went, as young and even not so young men will, in search of liquid refreshment, and hopefully, understanding and compliant feminine companionship.
By 8.30 p.m., this search had led them to the Friendship Hotel in Bute Terrace, where whilst drinking with a group of other soldiers, they met, and struck up a conversation with Bridget Millward.
One hour later, around 9 p.m., Bridget, in the company of two soldiers, left the Hotel. Before leaving, she deposited a parcel containing her afternoon purchases with the barmaid, Emily Jones. Emily, when questioned, remembered that Bridget had left with two soldiers, but couldn't remember who from among the group with whom Bridget had been drinking. Emily also stated that all the time Bridget had been there, she had been a model of good behaviour.
From this point on the story, despite being filled by walk-on-walk-off characters, becomes as ethereal as the fog that blanketed the City.
An hour or so passed after Bridget and her escorts had left the Friendship Hotel before Bridget Millward was spotted again, this time by a Police Constable Fudge. Fudge had been standing outside the Glove and Shears public house at around ten o'clock when a women he recognised as Bridget Millward, and two soldiers, whom he later identified as Regan and Sullivan, came out of the pub and faded away into the fog, going as a threesome down North road in the direction of Black Weir.
A few minutes later the three people; two soldiers and a woman were seen again by a groom, John Virander, who was on his way home to where he lived at 28, <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Wellington Street</st1:address></st1:street>. At this point, the trio was just past the intersection with Corbbett road, and alongside the lowest section of the canal wall that bordered <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">North Road</st1:address></st1:street>. According to Virander, the two soldiers were trying, in the face of determined resistance by the woman, to force her over the wall and onto the towpath.
Whether Virander’s sudden appearance, looming as he did out of the fog alarmed them, or whether the woman’s struggles proved too violent, can only be a matter of conjecture, but for whatever the reason, the two soldiers, dragging the woman along with them, fled into the fog, going back in the direction of Corbbet Road.
They were seen again within a few minutes at the entrance to <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Corbbet Road</st1:address></st1:street> by two telegram delivery boys, George Shellum and Frederick Thomas. Both boys claimed that the woman, who was struggling to get away and swearing and shouting, was being held by one of the soldiers. Shellum also said that he heard the other soldier say to the woman. "Come a little further and you can have a glass of beer".
No one will never know if Bridget was in anyway tempted by this offer as her shouts had brought the gallant groom Virander, galloping from the other side of North road to the top of Corbbet Road, to investigate.
On arrival Virander, who later identified both men, saw, or at least claimed to have seen, Regan standing behind Bridget and holding her arms, whilst the other soldier, Sullivan, appeared to have pulled her clothing aside and was engaged in sexual intercourse with her.
Virander testified that he grabbed hold of the somewhat occupied Sullivan and pulled him off the woman, at which point, Regan, without letting go, ran off down <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Corbbet Road</st1:address></st1:street> dragging Bridget with him, closely followed by Sullivan, whom, Virander had by this time released.
This story was partly corroborated by the two telegram boys, who would only go as far as to say that they saw the groom go up to, and speak to the two soldiers.
Virander, then claims that he chased after the two soldiers and their captive and eventually caught up with them, at which point, Sullivan took of his belt and threatened Virander, saying "I'll let you have some of this belt if you don't go away" (It's likely, if Virander’s heroic chase actually happened, that this is a Bowdlerised version and Sullivan's words were probably slightly more basic in content).
According to Virander, he replied 'that he didn't want to fight and get himself into trouble'. The result of this obvious backing down on Virander’s part was that Sullivan grabbed hold of the woman’s arm, and, quickly followed by Regan, walked away with her back in the direction of Black Weir.
Later, Virander claimed that it had been Regan that had threatened him, however by that time, due to the efforts of Regan's and Sullivan's solicitor, the celebrated Mr Harold Lloyd, Virander had been largely discredited as a reliable witness. It transpired that the groom had been dishonourably discharged from the Army for desertion, and had served a term of imprisonment in a military prison for this offence.
The testimony of the two telegram boys confirmed that there was an exchange of words between the three men, even if initially Sullivan and Regan denied being anywhere near Black Weir that night, or that they had any contact with Bridget Millward.
However, when this denial proved to be patently untrue, they changed their story and claimed that Virander had told them that he was a plain clothes policeman, and threatened them that unless they gave him money, he would arrest them both for immoral behaviour.
Whatever the truth, Virander, who by the time was not looking quite so much like the courageous upright citizen as he may have hoped, understandably denied this accusation; admitting to have impersonated a policeman would have landed him in the next cell to two accused men.
Civic minded citizen or petty blackmailer, the reference to immoral behaviour contained in the accusation both Regan and Sullivan levelled at Virander amounted in no small part to an admission that their intentions towards Bridget Millward were sexual by nature, and go some way towards corroborating Virander’s story that the woman was being forced into intercourse with Sullivan.
Virander however was not the last person to see Bridget Millward alive. At around 10.15, the three were seen again twice in <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">North Road</st1:address></st1:street>.
The first encounter was by a Mrs Annie Hall, who stumbled out of the fog to come face to face with two soldiers, one of whom was holding a drunken swearing woman by the bodice. Mrs Hall hurried past, but not before she heard the women say that 'she was not a prostitute even though she was drunk'.
A few minutes later, a Miss Annie Walross, who was also coming down <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">North Road</st1:address></st1:street> on her way home to <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Templeton Court</st1:address></st1:street>, came across the same little trio. Miss Walross testified that the two soldiers still appeared to be holding the woman, and that she heard her ask them to leave her alone. Both of these two women noticed a peculiarity in the woman's speech. They both later identified Sullivan and Regan as the soldiers, and Bridget Millwood from a description of the clothes she had been wearing.
When questioned, Annie Hall, Annie Walross and John Virander all agreed that in their opinion, Bridget could have got away with very little difficulty had she chosen to do so.
This is quite possibly true, but then she was very drunk and, even if not prepared to sell her favours at that time, most certainly well used to, and able to cope with, sexual harassment. In this context, it's most unlikely that she believed her life to be in any great danger.
What most people would probably ask is why, at this point, did Regan and Sullivan continue. With all the comings and goings, people popping up like jack-in-the-boxes out of the fog, and Virander making a nuisance of himself, why didn’t the two soldiers bin their hopes of a night of fairly soggy passion, and gone back to camp.
Evidence from the last person known to have seen the trio places Sullivan, Regan and Millward, at around 10.30 p.m. back at Black Weir, close to a bridge that at that time crossed the canal from <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">North Road</st1:address></st1:street> to a place called Templetons Farm. Living in a house close to this bridge was a County Court Bailiff, Thomas Evans.
Evans stated that at approximately 10.30, he heard what sounded to him like a woman's scream and went to his door to investigate, but the fog was too thick for him to see clearly. From his doorstep, he heard the sound of a woman singing, quickly followed by a bout of swearing. He also noted that there was something odd about the woman’s voice.
It was about this time we are told; that Regan, perhaps worried about the way things were going, decided to leave. Apparently Sullivan asked him to stay, a request that Regan refused, causing a short argument.
Bailiff Evans stated that during the time he had stood on his doorstep peering into the murk, a lone soldier appeared briefly out of the fog and began to walk back towards the city. A few minutes later this same soldier reappeared, heading in the direction of the army barracks. A short time afterwards another soldier and a woman materialised, crossed the road in front of Evans and were swallowed up by the night. Evans said that, as far as he could tell, they appeared to be on friendly terms.
For the next forty to forty five minutes John Sullivan and Bridget Millward were out of sight and sound of the World, their actions shrouded by the unrelenting blanket of mist.
Standing next to the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Mission</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Church</st1:placetype></st1:place> on <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">North Road</st1:address></st1:street> was the house of an artist, Edgar Thomas. At the far end of Thomas’ garden was a thick stone wall separating his garden from the canal towpath. At around 11.15p.m., Thomas was in his garden (why he was there at that time of night was never explained, unless of course he was on his way to or from the privy) when heard a woman’s voice coming from somewhere on the other side of his wall. In the artist’s own words the woman was ‘using extremely filthy and bad language’. Thomas also noted that the woman appeared to have had a speech impediment. He claims then to have heard the words ‘drown myself’ the rest of the sentence apparently being unintelligible.
Although it was common knowledge that after darkness fell the canal bank was often frequented by women plying the oldest profession, Thomas claimed that he then called out asking if anything was the matter; this being followed by a short silence before a man’s voice said ‘Go on or the policeman will be here’.
At about this point, Edgar Thomas began to think to himself that maybe the presence of the police might be a good idea and left his property to go in search of a policeman.
Unable to find one (some things never change), he returned home a short while later, by which time the only sound to be heard from the towpath was the muted murmur of the water lapping against the canal bank.
Not a lot had changed when dawn broke over <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Cardiff</st1:place></st1:city> on the morning of the 6th of November, the fog still hung stubbornly over the City and the advent of daylight did little more than add a dull yellow glow to the murk.
On the Glamorganshire canal, the daily passage of vessels cut their unhindered rippling paths through the dark waters, until a steam barge driven by Thomas George of Gabaltha drifted slowly to a halt with a fouled propeller. On investigating, George found that the propeller was fouled by some water logged clothing, inside the clothing was the dead body of a woman.
Once in the mortuary, the dead woman was quickly identified as being Bridget Millward, late of the Cardiff Union workhouse. A subsequent medical examination, not undertaken until twenty four hours later revealed no obvious signs of violence.
In contradiction, two boatmen, John Burge and Noah Francis came forward to say that whilst walking the towpath they had come across the obvious signs of a recent struggle, and had recovered several hairpins, from the path, as well as a set of dentures which they had discovered lying in a patch of mud. The hairpins and the dentures were believed to have belonged to Bridget Millward.
Either on the same or the following day, Thursday the 7th, both Police Constable Fudge, and the groom John Virander, came forward to say they had seen the Bridget Millward on Tuesday, the night of her death, in the company of two soldiers. As a result, on Thursday afternoon, Fudge and Virander, in the company of Police Detective Gretton and Police Sergeant Francis, visited the barracks of the 3rd Battalion, the Welsh Regiment.
After Gretton had explained the purpose of their visit to Major Lucas, the Battalion’s adjutant, he ordered a general parade of all the soldiers who were on the post at the time. After quick inspection by PC Fudge and John Virander, militiamen John Sullivan and Patrick Regan were identified from among the ranks of soldiers, as the two men seen in the company of Bridget Millward on the night of November the 5th. *
Although uncorroborated, Regan is purported, on seeing Virander, to have said to the man next to him ‘that’s the bloke who threatened my mate’. When the parade was dismissed, both Regan and Sullivan were already under arrest on suspicion of murder.
It is at this point we leave the victim, who ceased to have any major role to play or any real importance when, with a momentary splash, she disappeared beneath the cold waters of the Glamorganshire canal. The stage is now set for the drum roll of justice, that dispassionate world of accusation and denial, where innocence and guilt are proven, as much by impassioned speeches by counsel, as by the evidence that is placed before the Judge and jury.
At the inquest into the death of Bridget Millward, the witnesses, whose tales have already been recounted, each told their story. At its close, the coroner brought in an open verdict. Bridget Millward was simply “Found Drowned”. The coroner then added that the circumstances in which she came to drown where highly suspicious. He acknowledged that in her reputed intoxicated condition she could have lost her footing and fallen into the canal. There was also, if one took into account the artist, Edgar Thomas’ testimony, the possibility that she could have purposely taken her own life. However there was enough evidence not to rule out the possibility of murder and Regan and Sullivan should remain in custody pending a magistrates hearing.
When the magistrates hearing was convened, each of the witnesses told the same dismal story as they had at the inquest , except that this time, under cross examination by Mr. Harold Lloyd, the solicitor retained by both the accused, the validity of Virander’s testimony, as well as his character, was called into question. There was also one new witness, Corporal MacDonald, who had been corporal of the guard on the night of the 5th November. MacDonald told the court that Regan had returned to the barracks that night at 10.40 p.m. (this tied in fairly neatly with the time that County Court Bailiff Thomas Evans stated he had seen one of the soldiers walking towards the barracks), and had gone straight to his billet. According to the Corporal, Regan’s appearance was perfectly normal, other than the fact that he had lost his cane.
In the case of Sullivan, MacDonald recorded him returning to camp a few minute before midnight. This was fairly consistent with Edgar Thomas’ statement that he had heard Sullivan’s, if it was Sullivan, voice on the towpath at around 11.15 p.m. Macdonald noticed that Sullivan’s boots were muddy and that he had lost both his hat and cane, but otherwise there were no marks or stains on his uniform or greatcoat.
In his book ‘Murder, Mystery and Mirth’, Regan and Sullivan’s solicitor, Harold Lloyd, included a chapter on the case entitled ‘The Black Weir Mystery’. In his account of the investigation into the death of Bridget Millwood, Lloyd states that the two soldiers told him that they had both lost their canes and Sullivan his cap, during a fight with some young miners in a pub located some distance from where the unfortunate woman died. This is the same story it is claimed that both men gave Macdonald as an excuse for losing their equipment. According to Lloyd, after five days search he found incontestable proof that such a fight had occurred and that he had recovered Sullivan’s cap from a little girl who had found it two miles from Black Weir, close to the scene of the alleged fight.
Lloyd also claimed to have a number of surprise witnesses whom he was going to produce at the hearing to confound the prosecution and corroborate Regan and Sullivan’s alibi. However, before Lloyd could perform this trick, the prosecution produced a surprise witness of their own; Regan and Sullivan’s billet mate and friend, Militiaman Lurwell, who had decided not to go out with them the night in question.
Lurwell told the court the reason he hadn’t attended the inquest on the 8th of November was because he hadn’t known it was taking place. He had also not come forward earlier because he had been unsure of what to do about the knowledge he had concerning the case.
Lurwell’s story went as follows. Lurwell claimed he was still up and dressed when Sullivan came in. Although, as was customary, lights out was at 10 p.m., Lurwell had been in another billet talking, and by the time Sullivan arrived everyone else in his billet, including Regan, was fast asleep.
In the glow from the stove, Lurwell saw Sullivan go over to Regan’s bed, and sitting down on it wake the sleeping man. Lurwell, whose own bed was next to Sullivan’s then went over to join them. Sullivan asked Lurwell ‘Haven’t you been out tonight?’ to which Lurwell replied ‘No, I could not get out tonight’. The newly woken Regan is then said to have asked Sullivan ‘Did you get any money out of her?’ and when Sullivan replied ‘No’. Regan added ‘I had two shillings out of her that she gave me for beer and I came back and said that I’d lost it – then I sold her watch for two shillings and I spent that.’ (this reference to a watch was not pursued as the prosecution admitted that there was no evidence to suggest that Bridget Millward had a watch in her possession on the night she met her death). Lurwell stated that in reply Sullivan said ‘Never mind, I chucked her in the canal, and had a narrow escape myself, my hands went in the water’.
If true, Lurwell’s testimony appeared highly damaging to Sullivan, nor was much in the way of a character reference for Regan. However, as the defence was quick to point out, the only person who could corroborate Lurwell’s evidence was Regan, who, being in the dock as a murder suspect along with Sullivan, would be most unlikely to do so.
In his account of the magistrates hearing, Harold Lloyd states that, deciding not to produce his surprise witnesses that would have placed both men elsewhere on the night in question, he moved for immediate dismissal of the charge against Regan as the testimony of MacDonald, Evans and Lurwell all placed Regan in the barracks at the time the alleged murder took place.
Why Lloyd decided not to call his witnesses, and thus attempt to exonerate both men at the same time, Harold Lloyd does not bother to explain, nor does it seem to have ever concerned him that, had these ‘witnesses’ been called, which, if justice was to be served they should have been, the magistrate would have probably released both men and saved everyone a lot of time and expense.
However, despite Lloyd’s claim, it was not he, but Mr. David, the solicitor prosecuting the case on behalf of the Treasury, who told the magistrate that whilst the prosecution considered Regan’s behaviour to be highly reprehensible, it would have no objection to him being discharged. The stipendiary Magistrate agreed that the proof of innocence in Regan’s case outweighed any proof of guilt, but said that Regan should nevertheless remain in the dock until the hearing was concluded.
When both the defence and the prosecution declined to call Regan to the stand, on the Magistrates orders, the case against Patrick Regan was dropped and he was discharged. As for John Sullivan, the Magistrates hearing found a primae facie case against him and he was committed to prison to await trail at the next assizes for the wilful murder of Bridget Millward.
Why Lloyd, Sullivan’s defending solicitor, missed the opportunity to clear his client’s name by questioning Regan regarding the alleged fight, especially if this questioning was backed up by the testimony of the supposedly ever patient uncalled surprise witnesses, Lloyd fails to mention.
John Sullivan stood trial before Mr. Justice Kennedy at the Spring Assizes held in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Cardiff</st1:place></st1:city> during March 1902. The prosecution had retained the famous barrister of his day, Mr. Benjamin Francis Williams K.C. Either as a counter to the heavyweight prosecution counsel, or because, as he rightly judged, it would create a drama in which the role of justice would become a side issue, for the defence, Sullivan’s solicitor, Harold Lloyd, gave the brief to St. John Francis Williams, the son of the eminent K.C.
Sullivan, his face impassive, was brought into the dock wearing his red army uniform, almost a spectator in a courtroom farce that appears to have had little to do with determining one man’s guilt or innocence in the death of another human being.
The course of the trial was a stormy one with counsels for the prosecution and defence, famous father and ambitious son using the courtroom as an arena for a gladiatorial contest of emotive eloquence and scathing ridicule.
Once again the witnesses for the prosecution trotted out their stories, each of them undergoing a searching cross examination by the Younger barrister, determined if at all possible to be victorious in the face of his father’s skill and experience. Along with Virander, who again suffering from having his past misdeeds paraded in open court and must have wished he had never heard of Bridget Millward, the principal target for Williams the Younger was ex (the 3rd Militia Battalion having been disbanded) Militiaman Lurwell, by that time living in Canton.
The defence immediately attacked Lurwell, suggesting to him that his statement concerning Sullivan and Regan’s late night barrack room conversation was a tissue of lies, fabricated by Lurwell in revenge as Lurwell had believed and previously accused Sullivan of stealing tobacco from him. Lurwell vehemently denied this suggestion, claiming that at the time of Bridget Millward’s death he and Sullivan were the best of friends. Whatever the truth about the relationship between him and Sullivan and the supposedly stolen tobacco, and even accepting that human nature can be unfathomable and perverse, for Lurwell to try and get a man hung in revenge for such a small slight does appear to be a little excessive.
When, after Lurwell had been released by the defence, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Williams the Elder announced that the case for the prosecution was closed, the legal infighting appears on the surface to have become fiercer.
According to the account of Mr. Harold Lloyd, the defence solicitor, the defence counsel argued that the prosecution case could not be closed until the most important witness of all, Patrick Regan had been called.
According to Lloyd, the prosecution rejected this suggestion outright until instructed by the Judge to call Regan to the stand. The defence, Lloyd and Williams the Younger were stated to be overjoyed in having forced the prosecution to call the main defence witness to prove the prosecution’s case against Sullivan. Of course, Williams the Elder, knew that having called Regan for the prosecution it would be disastrous for his case if he treated Regan as a hostile witness and accordingly after Regan, who was also wearing uniform, had taken the oath, he, in Lloyd’s words ‘astounded the court’ by announcing that he did not intend to question the witness.
The prosecution, having thus denied itself the right to an examination in chief, as well as the right of a hostile re-examination following Regan’s testimony, handed the witness over to the defence.
In Lloyd’s account, and remembering that he was still supposed to have these ‘surprise’ witnesses proving that Regan and Sullivan were involved in a fight a good distance away from where Bridget Millward died, Williams the Younger began by producing the cap that Lloyd had been found and given to Lloyd by the little girl. Examining the cap, Regan identified it as being Sullivan’s from the regimental number written on the inside of the rim. Regan then described the fight outside the public house and totally denied that the conversation alleged by Lurwell had ever taken place.
Lloyd tells us that following a few other minor questions by the prosecution on points requiring clarification, that he in consultation with the defence counsel decided not to call witnesses to corroborate Regan’s story, nor as was expected to call the accused, Sullivan, to the stand. In effect, between them they had decided not to make the case for the defence considering that this had been done quite sufficiently by the last defence turned unwanted prosecution witness, Patrick Regan. As a result the defence moved for dismissal on the grounds that there was no case to answer.
A more impartial account, whilst reaching the same point offers a somewhat contradictory story. Rather than it being Mr. St John Francis Williams who argued that Regan should be called by the prosecution it was the Judge, Mr. Justice Kennedy who had brought up this point and that reluctantly, but in accordance with the Judge’s wishes, Williams the Elder called Regan but refused to question him.
Where the contradiction between Lloyd’s account and this one comes in, is that Regan made no denial of him and Sullivan being with Bridget Millward that November night, but said, as had already been corroborated, that following the approach of the man he thought was a detective (Virander), he had started back to the barracks alone at around 10.30 p.m. Regan did, as previously stated, refute the midnight conversation between himself, Sullivan and Lurwell, saying he had gone straight to bed and not woken up until morning reveille.
The case against John Sullivan for the wilful murder of Bridget Millward closed with a whimper. Following the defence’s move for dismissal, the jury, with the Judge’s permission and without leaving the court held a brief consultation. When the foreman of the jury rose to his feet he announced that it was the opinion of them all that they had insufficient evidence to form a verdict.
In the legal battle, Williams the Younger had defeated Williams the Elder. Harold Lloyd, who had held his ‘surprise’ witnesses forever in the background, was perhaps relieved that they remained so. John Sullivan, the last man to see Bridget Millwood alive walked, proved neither innocent or guilty, from the court in the company of his friend Patrick Regan, a free man.
The woman known as Bridget Millward passed into history, buried in a paupers grave, as mean and unjust as the life she had lived.
How she died is now, if still a mystery, as it was then, of little importance.
She was, after all was said and done, just a woman
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