A MURDEROUS SUICIDE
inter In Wales ales is nearly always bleak, and December of the year 1862 was no exception. In the valleys of the Rhondda, frost’s icy grip had given way to a cloak of swirling early morning mist when there rang a cry that in so many places and in so many tongues has echoed down throughout the ages:
The news slipped electrifyingly from nearly every tongue, to inflame or titillate emotions as it spread from valley to valley. The blood bespattered body of Jane Lewis of Tyntyla Farm had been found foully murdered, her throat cut from ear to ear.
In the pubs, across the open fields, from cottage to cottage, along the narrow ribbons of the villages clinging to the valley slopes, speculation and rumour ran its riotous course:
'the murdered girl’s sweetheart had, in a fit of jealous passion, done the dreadful deed'.............'suspicion had fallen on another man'...........'there had been an arrest'............'the police were baffled'......
The tale grew with every eager telling.
Then suddenly, the sour breath of scandal fouled the air. In tones sibilant with outrage, the news, spoken in hushed whispers spread with corrosive speed,
’ the murdered girl had been with child’.
This exciting gossip was quick to propagate, rumour piling on top of rumour.
Knowing looks crossed faces stiff with reproach, mixed perhaps, despite their disapproval, with a degree of relief. The crime had not been one of murder; guilt ridden by her shameful condition, the girl had committed the greatest sin of all, that of suicide!
How much safer it was by far to have the corpse of a shamed and bewildered suicide lying in the mortuary, than the body of a murderer’s unhappy victim. Especially as it was still believed by some that an unknown killer was still on the loose and walking among them.
To many of her contemporaries, disgraceful as her act of self destruction had been, perhaps the tragic path she had chosen was for the best.
Maybe, if we consider the time and the place that fate had given her to live her short life, for the unfortunate unmarried Jane Lewis, trapped by the wages of sin, to choose self destruction rather than live tarred with the name of a fallen woman was the only supportable solution.
That of course was the sort of attitude which was rife at
the time, old fashioned and slightly ridiculous as it may seem to some of us now. However a study of 19th century morals and attitudes and how they compare to ideas of sexual freedom that have fluctuated from the 1960’s to the early years of the 21st century is not what greatly concerns us in this story.
Our problem is both simpler and more difficult by far. We are not required to either condemn or condone, but to make an attempt at unravelling the truth.
Was the untimely death of twenty two year old Jane Lewis of Tyntyla Farm the result of a cruel murder or a desperate suicide?
There was an official verdict handed down at the time, but for the moment it is not the place in our story for it to be revealed. All we can do is start by looking at the known facts, although some of those may be of doubtful provenance, then, in an endeavour to separate fact from fiction, try to look at what may have been obscured.
It’s a task which has been carried out many times since that bleak December night when the dark deed was done, and one that has never really been satisfactorily resolved.
So here are the facts, such as they are, the rumours that circulated at the time, and some of the unsubstantiated folklore that has been built up to surround the death of Jane Lewis. It's now up to you, if you’re interested, to take employment as a ’cold case’ detective and try to unravel fact from fiction, truth from lies and arrive at a verdict that is as close to the truth as you wish to believe it to be.
On Sunday the 3rd of December 1862 a total of eleven souls lived at Tyntyla Farm which was perched on the slope of Penhrhys Mountain overshadowing Rhondda Fawr.
They were the farm’s tenant, Thomas Williams, Maria Williams his wife , the couple’s six children and three servants; fifteen year old David Morgan, twenty six year old Thomas Edmunds from Ogmore Valley and twenty two year old Jane Lewis. Of the three servants, only Jane, the daughter of Issac and Selina Lewis of Tyncoed, was a blood relative of the Williams family, being Maria William's niece.
During the course of the afternoon and early evening of Sunday the 3rd of December 1865, three of those eleven people left Tyntyla, only two were to return alive.
The first to leave, early on the afternoon of that fateful day, was the farm’s tenant, Thomas Williams. In the company of his brother, who had called for him, he had set off on foot to visit Bodringallt Farm. His intention was to return home that evening via the mining village of Gellidawel where he was to attend the evening service in the Welsh Baptist Chapel.
As was usual, Mr Williams expected two of his servants to also be there, his labourer 26 year old Thomas Edmunds, and his wife's niece, Jane Lewis. His wife Maria Williams stayed at home all day to look after the couples' children, as did the youngest servant, 17 year old David Morgan, who spent the afternoon until dark amusing himself playing in the fields around Tyntyla.
The second person to leave that afternoon was Williams' oldest servant, 26 year old Thomas Edmunds who, at about 5 p.m., set out from Tyntyla to go to the Chapel at Gellidawal
Anyone wanting to go to or from Tyntyla Farm to the village of Gellidawal had a choice of two paths. One was a gently sloping cart track which wound down the hillside via Penhreys lane, the journey taking between ten and fifteen minutes. The other, half the distance of the first, was a much steeper track that ran straight down the hillside and passed through what had once been extensive woodland.
Tom Edmunds chose to take the longer of the two paths. He broke his journey twice, first at the Star public house, leaving there a little after five fifteen, then again at the cottage of Keziah Morgan, arriving there between five twenty and five thirty. This time slot fits assuming he spent no more than a few minutes in the pub.
His reason for calling at Morgan's cottage was simple, he wanted to borrow a handkerchief to wipe away some dried blood from his face. Edmunds explained the blood by telling Keziah Morgan that he had been scratched by a calf earlier that afternoon.
In the light of the crime to be discovered some hours later, this blood, added to the evidence of a scratch mark on Edmunds' face, would normally have thrown an enormous amount of suspicion on the 26 year old servant. That it did not was due to young David Morgan confirming Tom Edmund’s statement, that earlier in the afternoon he had been scratched by a calf.
Also in Edmunds favour, while he was at the Morgan's, Mrs Morgan noted the 5.15 p.m. train from Ystrad station passing the cottage during the fifteen to twenty minute period that he was there. On leaving the Morgans he attended the 6 o’clock service in Gellidawel, where it was later reported he arrived at the Chapel in good time for the service. If these times are reasonably accurate, Edmund’s whereabouts and actions after leaving Tyntyla at 5 o’clock are accounted for.
The last person to leave Tyntyla Farm that afternoon was Jane Lewis.
Her aunt, Maria Williams was vague as to the exact time her twenty two year old niece actually left, but said as far as she could remember, it was about six o clock, shortly before darkness fell.
It's reasonable to assume that Maria Williams was slightly out in her statement, because to all intents and purposes in early December it would have been dark by 5.45 p.m. so this would put Jane's departure between 5.15 and 5.30 p.m.. This means she left anywhere between 15 minutes to 30 minutes after Thomas Edmunds, who by that time would have been at Morgan's cottage.
Just prior to her leaving Jane told her aunt that she had promised to meet her sweetheart, another Thomas Williams, who was known locally by the name of Tom Screens or Thomas of the Screens, so that they could go to Chapel together.
Up to this moment it was just another Sunday, like many other Sundays before and, until Thomas and Jane were married, the expected pattern of the future.
Unhappily this future was never to be.
Sometime between the hours of 8 and 9 o’clock that night the farmer, Thomas Williams, returned home to Tyntyla and mentioned to his wife that Jane had not attended the service as expected. A short time later Jane's sweetheart Tom Screens arrived at Tyntyla looking for Jane, as she had not met him as she had told Maria Williams she had intended to do.
During the conversation Tom Screens also expressed, without clarification, a fear that the reason Jane had not kept their tryst was that she had taken up with another man. Stating his intention of going to look for Jane, Tom left shortly afterwards, thus allowing the Williams to go to bed.
Jane's uncle and aunt later stated to the police that at this point they weren’t unduly worried about Jane's non appearance or for her safety. She was after all a woman of twenty two and there was a tea party being held in the village to which it was most probable she would have gone. There is no mention of Thomas Edmunds being present when Tom Screens called at Tyntyla in search of Jane, and nowhere is it recorded at what time that Sunday night Thomas Edmunds returned to the farm.
All we know is that he was certainly there and in bed when, at eleven o clock Maria Williams became sufficiently alarmed at Jane's absence to wake her husband and persuade him to get up and rouse Thomas Edmunds so that the two of them could go in search of her missing niece.
Following an fruitless search of the farm buildings, Williams and Edmunds set of together to investigate the shorter, steeper and more direct route to the village. Neither Williams, Edmunds or Tom Screens claimed to have used this route on their journeys between Gellidawal and
to imagine what went through the minds of these two men as they stumbled in the darkness down the steep path. Concern over Jane's safety, or understandable irritation at being forced out of bed to go and look for someone who selfishly had, by staying out so late, shown total lack of consideration for others.
What isn't so hard to imagine is their horror when, 180 yards down the track from the farmhouse, and a short distance from the stile which marked the boundary of the first field, they discovered the prone body of Jane Lewis.
Quickly overcoming their shock, the two men examined the girl and finding no obvious signs of life then ran through the night down to Gellidawel to raise the alarm and try and get help.
A doctor, in the person of Mr Davies, the Cymer surgeon’s assistant, was hurriedly summoned and made his way back through the night with Williams and Edmunds to what, most probably at that time, all three of them believed was no more than the scene of a terrible accident.
A quick examination of Jane's body told Evans that there was much more to the case than just a simple if tragic accident, and he in turn sent for P.C. Richard Wise, the constable stationed in Gellidawel.
Perhaps the best way to describe the scene on Penhrys Mountain in the early hours of the morning of the 4th of December 1862 is to use the somewhat dry prose of Police Constable Wise, just as it was recorded at the time of the inquest into the death of twenty two year old Jane Lewis, servant:
" She was lying on her right side across the footpath about twenty yards from the stile at the top of the wood. I found a razor with blood on it two feet seven inches from the body. A brooch, untouched by her blood was four feet one inch from the body, also a bonnet, ribbon and collar five feet six inches from the body. There was blood on the bonnet and the ribbon. I noticed that the ribbon was cut in two and quite saturated with blood. The string of the bonnet was cut through I also found a razor case open two feet from the bonnet and seven feet six inches from the body on the upper side. No blood was on it. I had a wax candle and my lamp and examined the place near where the body lay but failed to perceive any kind of a struggle. I found an imprint on the side of the path close where the bonnet, ribbon and collar lay and noticed an indication of a person having been kneeling on one knee. I saw blood and dirt on the right knee of the deceased. The deceased's hair was not all disarranged."
(A very thorough account on the part of a village bobby using only a wax candle and lamp, but there are one or two things which appear a little inconsistent. If there was no sign of a struggle why was her bloody bonnet ribbon and collar lying five feet from the body? Also, due to the dirt on her knee and the marks on the ground Wise deduced that there was some evidence to indicate that she had knelt or had been forced down close to where he found the bonnet. Neither Edmunds or Williams make any mention of trying to move Jane’s body, which we must accept as fact because had they done so it would have undoubtedly resulted in them getting some of her blood on their clothes, blood which PC Wise would have found during his investigation. This being the case we can only assume that either the murderer (assuming such a person existed), moved her after the attack or that, mortally wounded either by an assailant, or if she did truly commit suicide, by her own hand, she crawled five feet six inches before expiring.
Not beyond the bounds of possibility… true, however, had she done so, and remembering that her throat was cut, would she not have certainly left some trace, either in terms of crawl marks or blood, on the ground or her clothes and, as one would imagine, managed to mess her hair up a bit).
Another account, written shortly after the event gives more, if gruesome, detail than Wise’s bald recounting of the facts, and was probably one of the sources of the more lurid rumours that excited the imagination of the populace.
This writer claimed that the girl's throat was cut from ear to ear, nearly severing her head from her body. He also stated that the razor found by P.C. Wise still had a slice of Jane's finger attached to it from when she tried to defend herself by grabbing the razor held by her assailant, and was presumably still holding onto it when the blade passed through her throat.
The writer also recorded that Maria Williams, Jane's aunt, took him to the place where the body had been discovered. According to him, opposite to where Jane’s body had been found lying stood a tall hazel bush, its branches liberally be-spattered with blood. This discovery made it obvious, at least to our informant, that the murderer had hidden himself on the dark side of the bush waiting to grab the unfortunate girl from behind as she walked past.
Without being able to refer to the actual post-mortem report, it’s difficult to judge how much fact and how much journalistic licence is contained in these accounts. At least it appears that in the writer’s opinion, there was no doubt that the cause of Jane Lewis's death was that of murder.
Police Constable Wise also appears to been originally of the same mind. With both Jane's uncle Thomas Williams and Thomas Edmunds on the scene, the assumed murder weapon, the razor found by Wise, was quickly identified as being one that belonged to Thomas Edmunds.
According to both men, Edmunds usually kept his razor on the top of a cupboard at Tyntyla Farm, (one account gives ownership of the razor to the dead girl’s uncle Thomas Williams, and that it was normally kept on top of a grandfather clock, though I think in view of later police actions this was incorrect) and which was the last place it had been seen earlier on Sunday morning.
For P.C. Wise, detection of the culprit appeared, at least on the surface, to be straightforward. The search for the murderer’s identity had to be limited to those persons who, on that Sunday, had access both to Tyntyla Farm and the razor.
From this list, Wise immediately eliminated Maria Williams and her children and also the boy Thomas Morgan. Thomas Williams, the girl’s uncle, was also quickly discounted as he had been either in the company of his brother or his wife all day. This left the owner of the razor, Edmunds, who, at the start of his investigation, was quite reasonably P.C. Wise's prime suspect.
In an attempt to prove either Edmund's guilt or innocence Wise examined the man’s clothing for any trace of bloodstains. Finding none, he then went up to Tyntyla to ask Maria Williams, who would be responsible for the servant’s washing, to identify every item of Edmund's clothing.
After going through all the man’s clothing the only item she could state to her knowledge was missing was a shirt front, which in Wise’s opinion was hardly evidence for an arrest and which, it was later revealed, had been given to the boy Morgan weeks earlier.
Finding no evidence other than ownership of the razor to implicate Thomas Edmunds, Wise, who had asked for the names of anyone visiting Tyntyla during the day found himself left with just one other suspect, Jane's sweetheart, Tom Screens. To be fair, Wise had reason to include Screens as a suspect as it was, and still is, with good reason in some murder cases, normal for the police to consider the husband or lover a major suspect.
Not only had Tom Screens a romantic relationship with the dead girl, Screens had also had the opportunity to steal Edmund's razor when he had called in the evening in search of Jane. It's not known if it was at this time Thomas and Maria Williams repeated to Wise, Tom Screens doubts as to the girl’s faithfulness, but if they had, this would have also given P.C. Wise a possible motive for murder.
Despite the short amount of time between the discovery of Jane's dead body between eleven and twelve o clock, and P.C Wise making his way to Tom Screen’s lodgings in Heolfach at around one a.m. in the morning, word of the murder had spread widely enough for him to be accompanied by a sizeable crowd of sightseers.
Rousing Tom Screen’s from his bed Wise took him into custody on suspicion of murder, though at that moment, although Wise had reasonable cause, it was more probably motivated by a desire to protect Screens from the excitable mob than anything like being in possession of sufficient evidence to warrant a formal arrest.
Questioned by Wise, Screens told the constable that the last time he had seen Jane had been the previous Wednesday when they had arranged to meet on Sunday and go to the service in the Chapel together.
When asked about his movements the previous evening, and in particular the hour between 5 and 6 p.m., Screens told Wise that he had been in the company of a friend from 5 o clock up until just after the service when he went up to Tyntyla in search of Jane. This was later confirmed by statements from witnesses that he had not left Gellidawel until after the end of the Chapel service.
On the face of it Screens had no opportunity to kill his girlfriend though several odd questions are left open. Why, as he had arranged to meet Jane so that they could go to the Chapel together, did he not approach Thomas Williams in the Chapel and ask where Jane was, instead of going up to Tyntyla some time after the service.
Also, if Screens was as concerned about Jane’s whereabouts as he claimed, why did he take the long way to go to and from Tyntyla when the logical course of action would have been to search both paths?
Finally, where had he been, and what had he been doing, that it took him so much longer to reach Tyntyla from Gellidawel than the far older Thomas Williams?
Whether these questions bothered P.C. Wise or not, he obviously felt he had insufficient ground to charge Screens and so released him from custody.
With Tom Screens' release, the on the spot police investigation ground to a halt. Perhaps unsure as to whether they were dealing with a murder or suicide, and if it was a case of murder with no identifiable suspect, the police decided to wait until the result of the post-mortem on the girl before taking any further action.
The result of the post-mortem, performed by the Cymer surgeon Mr Nauton Davies, only added a further complication. Placing the time of Jane’s death at between five thirty and six o clock, shortly after she left Tyntyla, a time which appeared to eliminate both Screens and Edmunds, the surgeon also disclosed that at the time of her death Jane Lewis had been ten weeks pregnant.
This gave the police a welcome opening. Still lacking a murder suspect, and faced with the difficult task of finding a candidate, the idea that, rather than having been murdered, the dead girl had taken her own life in preference to facing the shame of unmarried motherhood gained increasing favour.
Unfortunately for the police the suicide theory was ruled out by surgeon Davies who stated in his report, that in his opinion the three mortal cuts to the throat Jane had received had been delivered by a second person who had been behind her.
Despite this medical report and not totally ruling out the possibility of murder, the police were still inclined to cling to the neater suicide theory and on December the 5th called in the Cardiff surgeon Dr Edwards to conduct a second examination of the body.
Confirming the local surgeon’s findings Dr Edwards issued a report stating that in his professional opinion it was physically impossible for any person to self inflict the type of wounds Jane Lewis had suffered. This opinion, coming from a surgeon they had selected, placed the police in the unwelcome position of having to accept that the case was one of murder and not suicide, and also having the difficult job of satisfying public opinion by finding the culprit.
Armed with no particular evidence against anyone, they solved this dilemma by arresting Jane’s fellow servant Thomas Edmunds and charged him with her murder.
The prosecution’s case against Edmunds was incredibly weak and based primarily on the fact that he was the owner of the murder, or suicide, weapon, the razor.
What we have to consider, even if at the time the police didn’t appear to, is had Edmunds, for reasons we shall never know, murdered Jane, would he have so conveniently left his own easily identifiable razor at the scene of the crime?
Unlikely, but not impossible, especially, assuming that he was in the habit of carrying his razor in his pocket when going to church, and that the murder was unpremeditated and committed in a moment of passion. If he had intended to kill Jane, wouldn’t it have been more practical to have used the pistol, which he owned, and which with the absence of more modern forensic procedures, would have been a far more untraceable weapon?
On being questioned Edmunds admitted that on one occasion some weeks earlier, he and Jane had become lovers and it was therefore possible that he could have been the father of her unborn child. Edmunds was obviously under that impression, because rather than acting guiltily about his liaison with Jane he made no secret of his affection for her and told the police that on the day of her murder he had enquired about obtaining a special licence so that they could be married the following week.
If this was true, any motive Edmund might have had for killing the girl to avoid being forced into marriage is removed. With no apparent motive, and, if we accept for the moment that the estimated time of Jane’s death was reasonably accurate, Edmund’s alibi was fairly cast iron and the evidence for his innocence was far stronger than that of guilt.
That is of course, in the ten minutes or so between leaving Keziah Morgan’s house and arriving at the Chapel, he had run back to Tyntyla via the steeper track, met up with Jane, killed her, then ran back to the village to arrive in time for the six o clock service.
There is of course a question that crosses at least my mind. If Edmunds and Jane were engaged to be married, even if this engagement was a secret, why, unless he already knew where she was, is there no mention of him being worried when Jane did not turn up at the Chapel, and why, when he came home, did he, by going off to bed, quite clearly show little or no concern as to her whereabouts?
What the police appear to have disregarded, possibly because of his unbreakable alibi, was Tom Screen’s obvious motive for killing his sweetheart Jane. It’s not recorded if Tom Screens knew of Jane’s relationship with Edmunds, though it’s highly likely, if you consider his remarks when supposedly searching for her, that he was suspicious of her being unfaithful with someone else.
Lamentably, throughout mankind’s violent history, sexual jealousy, the crime of passion, has been one of the most common if somewhat irrational motives for the killing of a loved one.
This does not in anyway prove Screen’s guilt, though it is worth remembering that Screen’s exclusion as a suspect its based purely on the medical evidence concerning the time of death. Contrary to the accuracy displayed in the majority of crime fiction, in reality the placing the time of death is an inaccurate science. The temperature at the time, where death occurred, blood loss, state of dress, even the cause of death are all contributory factors. In 1862, any post-mortem examination which gave the time of Jane Lewis’s death within the narrow time scale of half an hour, between 5.30 and 6.00 p.m. must have been the result of educated guesswork rather than exact scientific analysis.
Bearing this in mind, let us indulge in a little theorising.
Let us suppose that Jane was not murdered immediately after leaving Tyntyla but some two or three hours later.
Jane Lewis is a young woman who for one reason or another has a sexual relationship with another servant at the house where she works, and who is not her current boyfriend with whom she was or had been in love. Unhappily she falls pregnant and the father of her child, if Edmunds is to be believed, wants to marry her.
Jane is left with little choice considering the age in which she lived, but before she can marry she has the unenviable task of telling her sweetheart that not only is she pregnant by another man, but that she is about to marry him.
On the day of her death, the last Sunday before her marriage, she has arranged to meet her about to be discarded sweetheart at Chapel and attend the service with him. Jane sets out from Tyntyla, her heart heavy with what she has to do and finds she cannot face it, at least not in public.
The thought of greeting Tom Screens, then sitting silently with him for two hours her dark secret churning inside her, the fire and brimstone sermon tearing at her guilt is more than she can bear. She can’t go straight back to Tyntyla, her Aunt would ask questions so she waits on the path knowing that Tom will come searching for her as soon as the service is over. Then, with the darkness hiding her face, she will tell him.
Up to a point her plan works. When the service ends, Tom Screens, already worried and suspicious hurries up to Tyntyla, not as he claimed by the long route, but by the quicker steeper path. He finds Jane waiting for him by the stile. They talk, Jane confesses, perhaps naming Edmunds as the father of her unborn child and her husband to be. Doubtless Tom rants and raves, and as Jane turns away Tom grabs her forcing her to her knees. Maybe she pleaded with him, reminded him she was with child. In a fit of jealous passion Tom pulls a knife from his pocket and slashed Jane across the throat. When the fit passes Tom realises he has murdered the woman he loves and that he will surely hang for his crime.
He doesn’t panic, instead his thoughts lead to self preservation and revenge. He goes up to Tyntyla and tells the story about waiting for her, then going to look for her before finally ending up at Tyntyla thus explaining why, having left the Chapel at the same time, he arrived there so much later than Jane’s uncle Thomas Williams.
On leaving Tyntyla Tom Screens goes back down the track to Jane’s body and bloodying Edmund’s razor which he has stolen, drops it next to her body. He then goes home to his lodgings believing, rightly as it turns out, that Edmunds will be accused of his crime.
Naturally this is a highly speculative re-enactment and goes not one whit towards proving or disproving either Screen’s or Edmund’s innocence or guilt. Then again just how speculative is it really?
A Pontypridd journalist wrote forty years after the event, that a few months after her death, he had met Tom Screens at his new lodgings in Tonyrefail which was a distance of less than a hundred yards from the site of Jane Lewis’s grave, and in the journalist’s words ‘he (the journalist) looked upon one broken-hearted’.
Tom also told this reporter that when he and Jane had embraced on Wednesday before her death, the last time Tom Screens claims to have seen her alive, a strange hand that he didn’t recognise came between them in the darkness.
A foreboding of death perhaps, or Welsh romanticism? Who knows?
More interestingly Screens claimed that during the course of that last meeting he and Jane had discussed their intended marriage. If true, it's not hard to feel some pity for Jane, trapped into a marriage agreement with two men, one of who's child she was carrying. However, if Screens was telling the truth it does, assuming for the moment Edmunds had lied and in truth did not want to marry Jane, remove any motive he might have had for killing her.
If Jane married Screens, any fears Edmunds may have had about being trapped into marriage were removed. If he hadn't lied and was deeply in love with the girl then he had no reason to kill her. What Tom Screens story does do is, if he knew that Jane was going to marry Edmunds, give Tom the jilted lover an even stronger motive to commit murder.
Tom Screens also told this reporter a slightly different version of his movements on the fatal night in question. He claimed that he went to the Chapel to meet Jane as arranged but when he saw that she wasn’t in her usual place by the choir he hadn’t actually gone in but waited for her by the door.
When the service started and she still hadn’t arrived, he then went up to Tyntyla in search of her, a good two to three hours before both Mr and Mrs Williams stated he did. On being told by Jane’s aunt, Maria Williams, that she had already left, Screens then claimed that believing Jane was playing some kind of trick on him and not gone to the Chapel at all, he returned, not to the Chapel as would be expected but to his lodgings in Hoelfach.
This information, if correct, puts a possible meeting between Tom Screens and Jane Lewis far closer to six o clock, the estimated time of Jane’s death.
If true, it’s curious that none of this came out at the inquest or as far is recorded, during the police investigation. Of course, unless Screens was lying to the journalist, though at this point he had no real reason for doing so, then several people, Mr and Mrs Williams to name but two, had at the time lied to protect him.
Had the police been aware of this possible earlier meeting between Screens and Jane at the time, one can only assume they would have acted upon it.
Asked by the journalist why, when ostensibly searching for Jane he had both times used the longer route to go to and from Tyntyla, Screens is reported to have replied
‘that he couldn’t explain it, but was glad he had because otherwise he might discovered her body and in his panic picked it up so getting her blood on his clothes’.
A somewhat curious explanation in itself.
So who did murder Jane Lewis?
Tom Screens, her jilted sweetheart in a fit of jealous passion? Her lover, Thomas Edmunds in an attempt to avoid being forced into marriage?
Or were they both innocent grief stricken men who were unfortunate to have fallen in love with the same woman who had fallen victim some never discovered wandering psychopath who just happened to be lurking on a cold December night close to Tyntyla farm, which, unbeknown to anyone, he had earlier burgled and stolen a razor?
The short answer to the question of who murdered Jane Lewis is nobody!..........that’s of course if you’re willing to accept the verdict of the inquest into the tragic death of Jane Lewis.
The inquest, held at the New Inn Hotel Pontypridd before Mr George Overton and the Coroner Mr Thomas Williams lasted five days with evidence being given by a great number of witnesses, the most important being Surgeon Nauton Davies, Dr Edwards and Dr Taylor a London pathologist who had also been called in to examine Jane's body.
All three medical gentlemen were of the undivided opinion that, considering the nature of the wounds Jane Lewis had suffered, it was impossible for them to have been self inflicted and for her to have caused her own death.
When the coroners jury retired to consider their verdict there could only be one reasonable conclusion. Jane Lewis had been murdered by a person or persons unknown..............
Twelve of the fourteen person coroners jury knew better, declaring to a somewhat astounded courtroom that in their considered opinion Jane Lewis had committed suicide whilst suffering from temporary insanity.
The only conclusion that can be drawn from the verdict is, that in some cases, insanity is a communicable disease.
Quite understandably the jury were slated in the local press with such statements as:
We have often thought but never with more reason to believe than now, that Welsh juries must be constituted differently than in other parts of the British Empire’ and ending with ‘now we have this senseless and unjustifiable finding of the twelve jurymen in the Rhondda Valley murder case’.
Defending their decision one of the twelve wrote to the paper reminding everyone that it had been stated in court that not only did she have easy access to the razor, but although normally she was of a cheerful disposition, lately she had been crying a lot, complaining of feeling unwell and threatening to take her own life.
The juror then states, in view of this, the most natural conclusion the jury could come to was that she carried out this threat in a most determined manner.
Well it’s a point of view, and one with which two members of the jury evidently disagreed.
A few days after the close of this hearing, Thomas Edmunds, still in custody for the murder of Jane Lewis was committed for trial at the next Assizes.
Taking the advice of the Judge and not surprisingly considering the inquest verdict, although the Coroner, in contradiction to own his jury's bizarre pronouncement, had recorded an ‘open verdict’, the Grand Jury threw out the indictment.
To all intents and purposes that was the end of the case of the death of 22 year old Jane Lewis. Thomas Edmunds left the area shortly after his release and no more is known about his subsequent life.
Sometime in the year of 1867 Tom Screens emigrated to Australia and was never heard of again........or was he?
In 1902, a Mr Richard Packer from Treforest told the story of something that had occurred when he and his father were both living in Australia.
One day, about two or three years after Jane Lewis’s death, one Sunday afternoon, whilst standing outside their house in a place about twenty miles from Ballarat, they saw a man picking up stones and throwing them at the houses he passed. Stopping to speak to them he asked if they were Welsh and on receiving a ‘yes’ went on to ask them where they came from.
When they replied, Lantrisant in Glamorganshire the man said "I’m from the Rhondda. Did you hear of the murder of Jane Lewis of Tyntyla?" When they replied that they had, he added "It was I that killed her".
The natural assumption is that this wandering person was Tom Screens, his mind partially deranged by guilt. However, as Richard Packer said, as he and his father had no idea as to the mans name, I suppose it could have just as easily been Thomas Edmunds or even this other wandering psychopath whose name never came into the frame at the time.
Maybe it was even one of those strange souls who, for reasons of their own, like confessing to murders they have not committed.
Jane Lewis is buried six miles from Tyntyla, on the west side of the Ainon Chapel, Tonyrefail. She was the first person to be buried in the graveyard, as at the time of her death the Chapel was in the process of being built.
A victim she certainly was, but of whom?
THE QUALITY OF MERCY?
nless you happen to have been born in that year, for most people 1949 holds no special significance. 1949 was however the dawning of a short but potentially lethal dark age for all mankind.
It was the year when the Russian bear showed its teeth to its erstwhile allies and enemies alike with the Berlin blockade and the exploding of its first atom bomb.
It was the year when NATO was formed to hold back the ever expanding ‘iron curtain’.
The year when the ‘yellow peril’ appeared to become a reality as Mao seized power in China and drove the Nationalists to Formosa, or as its now known, Taiwan.
Culturally it was the year in which Henry Miller wrote death of a Salesman. Marylyn Monroe became nearly every man’s fantasy woman. George Orwell published 1984, a novel that predicted another type of fantasy, that of a future in which individual freedom became subjugated to that of the omnipresent State.
A fantasy which, depending on who you are and where you stand in relation to tracking and surveillance satellites, speed cameras and C.C.T.V. cameras, might not be that fantastic after all.
It was also the year in which the murder, or rather the murders we are going to look at, took place.
In terms of human suffering, they affected the lives, not only the murders and their victims, but those of the forgotten ones, their families and friends. On a global scale, they were of no great moment.
However, as each of us has but their own individual and tenuous hold on life, perhaps in that respect, global suffering is also, of no great moment.
Two days apart, on the nights of the 4th and the 6th of June 1949, two young South Wales men committed two separate, and apart from the act itself, two unrelated crimes of murder.
Within two months they were themselves both dead; dying together when society’s retribution for having transgressed both temporal and spiritual law, was as swift as it was final.
As the clock struck 9 on the morning of August the 4th 1949, whilst the other inmates of Swansea Prison went about their normal daily routine, Rex Harvey Jones and Robert Thomas Mackintosh stood side by side as the last of Great Britain’s public hangmen, Albert Pierrepoint placed the white hoods over their heads.
When Pierrepoint, who when he wasn’t being an executioner, was the landlord of a pub opened the trap, alone and afraid they fell to, in those dread words, ‘hang by the neck until dead’, in atonement for their foul crime.
The coincidence of them being executed at the same moment was not the only uncanny coincidence relating to their individual cases.
Both murderers committed their crime within the very small area in South Wales that encompassed Aberavon and Abergregan.
Both murders took place within two days of each other. Both men had during their two years national service, been posted to the Middle East.
Both of them were 21 years old and both had known their victims quite a considerable time.
Both men had sex with their victims before they strangled them to death and both, independent of each, claimed to have experienced a total mental black out and were not aware of, nor could recall either their actions or what had caused them.
There were also a minor coincidence on the side of the victims. Beatrice May Watts who was murdered by Rex Harvey Jones, and Beryl Beechy, murdered by Robert Thomas Mackintosh, were both employed in tinplate works. Beatrice at Briton Ferry and Beryl at the Mansel Works in Port Talbot.
Here the similarities end, for when on the 12th of July, the Jury brought in a verdict of guilty on Rex Harvey Jones, they made a strong recommendation for clemency. One day later, when the same jury brought in an identical verdict on Robert Thomas Mackintosh, they made no such appeal.
The events of the night of the 5/6th of June were, for Peggy Watts, as Beatrice was commonly called, and Rex Harvey Jones a joint tragedy and their unhappy story is relatively simple to relate.
Twenty year old Peggy lived with her parents at Greenfield Cottages in Abergregan. Rex, a miner, also lived with his parents in Heol-y-Tyla, Duffryn Rhondda.
He and Peggy had met each other some months earlier and were considered as going out together in a casual, if sexually intimate, sort of way. During this period, Rex was supposedly in love and officially engaged to a young woman living in London.
On the evening of June the 5th, Rex, in the company of his two brothers Fred and Aubrey travelled down into Neath for an evenings drinking at the Central Club. During the course of the evening Rex is said to have drunk about seven pints of beer and although undoubtedly under the influence of alcohol, his tolerance was such that he was not considered to be in any way drunk.
At the same time as Rex and his brothers were enjoying themselves, Peggy Watts had gone to a dance being held in her employer’s works canteen in Briton Ferry. As no arrangement had been previously made to meet that night, it came as a pleasant surprise to both of them when, making their respective ways home they bumped into each other at the Victoria Gardens bus station in Neath.
For the two apparently easy going lovers, their respective evenings, which had up to that moment appeared to be at a close, suddenly offered the promise of a pleasurable revival.
The bus which they boarded together was full, the humour of the passengers light hearted and friendly. To free a seat for another lady passenger, Peggy sat on Rex’s lap. When, at about 10.15 p.m., the bus stopped at Abergregan, Rex told his brothers that he was going to get off with Peggy in order to walk her home.
Undoubtedly this announcement was greeted with a certain amount of ribald good natured comment as the couple’s intentions, before Rex was to deliver her home to her parents, were fairly obvious.
Arm in arm they walked up the lonely dark road through the forestry plantation on Nantybar mountain towards Peggy’s home. During this walk the couple were seen by a Mrs Corwyn, who returned Peggy’s friendly wave.
On reaching the edge of the plantation, they slipped behind a large standing stone, Peggy carefully removing her glasses and putting them in a pocket before sinking willingly into Rex’s waiting arms.
Nobody, not even, if he is to be believed Rex Harvey Jones, knows what happened then. The next thing Rex claims remembering is finding himself kneeling over Peggy’s body and being faintly aware that his thumbs felt sore.
Panicked, Rex felt for Peggy’s pulse and not finding one slowly came to the dreadful realisation that at some point after or during their lovemaking, he had taken the girl’s throat in his hands and strangled her to death.
Leaving his dead sweetheart lying behind the rock Rex walked up the dark lonely road to Abergregan, continuing alone the journey that not that long before they had begun happily together.
At 1.15 a.m. on the morning of June the 6th, the telephone at Cymmer police station was answered by Police Constable Michael and to Michael’s surprise a mans voice said ‘Send a motor car down to the telephone call box in Abergregan. I have killed a girl’.
Ringing off the caller gave his name as Rex Jones.
After first notifying Police headquarters in Neath, P.C. Michael set off on his bicycle for Abergregan and soon met a man walking towards him.
Stopping him P.C. Michael asked “Are you the man that telephoned?”. Rex replied that he was, and added ‘I have strangled Peggy Watts with my hands. I felt her pulse and it had stopped”. At that point or very shortly afterwards a police car pulled up and disgorged Inspector Davies from Neath.
Rex told Davies ‘I smothered the girl in the woods; We had intimacy first; I have had it before. I don’t know what made me do it.’ He then took the policemen to where he had left Peggy’s body. When charged one hour later with the murder of Beatrice May Watts, Rex Jones replied ‘I am guilty’.
From the very moment that he committed his crime Rex Harvey Jones never displayed anything but remorse and repugnance for what he had done. He had never been in trouble with the law before, his National Service army record was impeccable and he did everything in his power to help the police.
Whilst on remand awaiting trial he wrote to Pamela Cole, his fiancée living in London. The letter’s contents were highly poignant and prove that despite the enormity of his deed, Rex Jones was not an insensitive brute of a man.
He told the girl who was to have been his future wife, that he expected to be hung and that she had been the best thing that had happened in his life, that they could have been happy together if he hadn’t gone insane and murdered someone.
His letter to Pamela ended with he words
‘Find someone decent and marry him. Forgive me and live a happy life. Goodbye darling, in life and death I love you.
Ironically, it was this streak of decency and inherent honesty that probably cost Rex Harvey Jones his life. If he had lied, told the court that Peggy had provoked him into an argument, that he had lost his temper and had never intended to seriously harm her the charge could well have been changed to one of manslaughter.
As it was, he stuck resolutely to the truth as he saw it, offering no excuses other than saying that he had blacked out and had no recollection of why or how it had happened.
It was this total lack of any mitigating circumstances that might have enabled the murder charge to be reduced, that drove the Judge, Mr. Justice Croom-Johnson, in his summing up to tell the jury that there was no evidence which, on a matter of law, they could reduce the charge to one of manslaughter.
There was no suggestion that Peggy had said anything to cause Rex to lose his temper. The Judge told the jury:
‘The first direction I have to give is that it was a case of murder or nothing.’ He continued, ‘You will have to steel your hearts against the strain of circumstances, of good character, steel your hearts to see justice done’.
In the name of justice the good people of the jury steeled their hearts. In the name of humanity they appealed for clemency.
The appeal went unheard. When on August the 1st, the then Home Secretary stated he saw no reason to ask the King to intervene and grant a reprieve for either Rex Harvey Jones or Robert Thomas Mackintosh, his was a true heart of steel.
Sadly this politician, acting as both a judge and jury, was unable to understand the difference, not between the fact of the two crimes, but between the men he condemned to death!
Rex Harvey Jones and Peggy Watts were however still in blissful ignorance of the dual tragedy that would, on the evening of June the 5th destroy both their futures, when at Aberavon, at about 6.00 a.m. on the morning of June the 4th 1949, John Dennis Williams, a railway line checker discovered the half naked body of a young woman lying across an ash heap on the embankment of the Main Swansea to Cardiff line.
The railwayman’s cries soon brought another line worker at a run and also attracted a bicyclist, Bert Gravelle on his way to his job as a crane driver.
Leaving the two railway workers to stay with the body, Gravelle pedalled (the days of the mobile phone were 50 years in the future) as he could to Aberavon police station to raise the alarm. The first officers to arrive on the seen took one look and knew that they were at the start of an investigation into a particularly brutal and horrific murder.
The dead girl’s body had been thrown, or more possibly lifted, over the wall that separated the road from the railway track and had either landed or been placed on the ash heap.
The actual cause of death was strangulation, a length of window sash cord had been wound round her throat and knotted at the front and back.
The clothes on the upper part of her body were torn and from the waist down she was naked and a careful search of the area failed to produce her underclothes or her shoes.
Her body also showed signs of a violent struggle with scratch marks on her thighs and stomach and it was obviously that she had bled copiously from her vagina.
Prior to being brutally raped, the dead girl, quickly identified as sixteen and a half year old Beryl Beechy, had been a virgin.
A few short hours after the discovery of Beryl’s body, a chance remark made to the girl’s distraught father John Beechy, by his friend Maldwyn Mackintosh, who had known Beryl all her life, sent the police racing to interview Mackintosh’s son, Robert.
Beryl’s last hours are easy to trace.
Just before 7 p.m. on the evening if June the 3rd, Beryl, all dressed up for a night out, left her home in Green Park Street Aberavon to visit her friend June Mackintosh in Vivian Square.
Beryl’s original plan for that evening had been to go the cinema with another friend, Catherine Corrish, who also lived in Green Park, but Catherine had arranged something else for that evening and in doing so, in all innocence, sealed Beryl’s fate.
As her daughter left home, Beryl’s mother gave her ten shillings to give to Mrs Mackintosh. This money was in part payment for a suit Mrs Beechy had bought from Mrs Mackintosh. The Beechy and Mackintosh families had been close friends for years and had, for a period just prior to Beryl’s birth in 1933, shared a house.
The last person known to have seen the girl alive with the exception of her killer was another family friend, Mrs Richards, who spoke to Beryl just as she was getting off a bus at the Aberavon Municipal Building’s bus stop.
When Beryl said goodbye to Mrs Richards and walked off in the direction of Vivian Square, her short life had little time left to run.
On reaching the Mackintosh house, Beryl discovered that the only person home was her friend’s brother, Robert who was engaged in cleaning up the house. Robert, who had also known Beryl all her life, they had grown up together, told her that his sister June had already left for the pictures and took the ten shillings from Beryl that her mother had sent to his.
The time at this point was around 7.30 in the evening.
When one short hour later Mrs Mackintosh came home, Beryl Beechy was already dead, her strangled, raped and bloody body cooling on the pile of discarded ashes, where it had been thrown.
Robert Mackintosh claimed, just as Rex Harvey Jones did two days later, to have no recollection of what had happened until he came to, lying on his bed, to find Beryl’s dead body jammed halfway under it.
Unlike Rex, Mackintosh did not give himself up to the police. Possibly he panicked, when the enormity of what he had done hit him. If he had, as he claimed, really suffered a total black out, then the discovery of the girl’s body might possibly have further unhinged him enough to make an attempt at concealment.
However, had he been fully aware of his actions when, on the spur of the moment, he forcibly raped Beryl, then strangled her with a cord to stop her telling anyone, then that act, along with everything that followed was a premeditated, if inept, attempt to escape justice.
Robert Mackintosh claimed that his first reaction when waking up to find Beryl’s body under his bed was to conceal the body so as not to worry his mother when she came home and found her.
Accordingly, after a quick visit to the toilet, in order to avoid this lamentable discovery, he wrapped Beryl’s body in a her coat. He then carried her downstairs, 40 or so yards along the road to the railway boundary wall and threw her over.
Still carrying the coat, he returned home to hide it under a pile of his own dirty washing. After concealing the coat, he then bundled up Beryl’s skirt, knickers, scarf and shoes intending to take them to work with him the next day so that he could burn them in one of Steel Work’s furnaces.
These items of clothing were later found hidden in a disused building in Port Talbot Steelworks.
It could be said that all these actions were made by a young man
thrown into a panic by the enormity of what he had done. It is possible of course that this supposition does contain an element of truth; however panicked or not, before hiding the murdered girl’s coat under his own soiled garments, he found time to go through the pockets, find Beryl’s wage packet, open it and steal the £3.12s 6d that it contained.
When Mackintosh’s mother returned home at 8.30 p.m. he made no secret of the girl having been there. He even gave her the ten shillings she had brought from her mother.
The police investigation was fairly straight forward, they found bloodstains on, in and under Mackintosh’s bed, on the walls and the front door. With the exception of the stains in the bed, which were type B, Mackintosh’s, from a cut toe he had sustained earlier and which he initially used to try and explain away the presence of the blood, the rest were type A, Beryl’s blood type.
He told the police that he felt he had been acting strangely ever since his return from the Middle East. He told them that that a few months earlier whilst experiencing a similar blackout, he had tried to kiss his sister June. In one statement he made he described his action as ‘trying to get across her’ which implies that the attempt was a little more serious that he was prepared to admit.
On that occasion he was caught by his father who threatened to thrash him if he ever tried anything like it again.
When charged with Beryl Beechy’s murder, Robert Mackintosh made a full confession in which he expressed the most terrible remorse. Who knows, maybe he was truly repentant. Perhaps the only thing we can be totally sure of came from his own mouth when he told the police, ‘I have been a pig’.
There is little left to discover out of what, are in truth no more than two simple, if tragic tales. It’s easy to have sympathy for the victims, for the families on both sides; all of the honest, respectable hardworking people who never would have expected their lives to be marred in such a dreadful way.
For the two villains, sympathy, as ever can only be subjective. Almost certainly, when Rex Harvey Jones and Robert Thomas Mackintosh woke up on the morning that they both took another human life, they never once thought that a few months later they would standing together on the scaffold to pay, in the words of that overworked phrase, their debt to society.
Both killings were coincidental, unpremeditated, born out of circumstances that were, if they indeed were both telling the truth about being unaware of their actions, beyond their control.
Of course, an assumption that they were both telling the truth leaves us with a question. Had something happened during the respective military careers of these two ex national Servicemen in Egypt and Palestine, that triggered a subconscious disregard for human life, an awful equation between sex and death?
Obviously not all soldiers, in fact very few, who have seen the horror of war, commit murder in their later civilian life, but only a fool would argue that war does not go some way towards brutalising both men and women.
Now, 1949 was along time ago and we have moved forward into third millennium. We have e-mail, facebook, personal and industrial blogs, environmental concerns, etc, all the trappings of our modern society, but what really has changed, apart from increasing numbers of faceless bureaucrats.
Ordinary people as well a career criminals still commit murder. Localised territorial or religion based wars, ethnic cleansing and International terrorism are growth industries, albeit wholeheartedly condemned as barbarism by all civilised societies.
Societies whose most profitable industrial export products are in the main the life blood of death and destruction, small arms, tanks , aircraft, weapons of war.
True we have evolved. Today, Robert Mackintosh and Rex Harvey Jones would not have died for we, the civilised Western democracies that is, do not execute murderers any more.
We give them rent free, warm accommodation and a licence free TV for shorter and shorter terms of imprisonment whilst we throw an honest hardworking family into the streets because through no fault of their own they are out of work and can’t pay their bills or taxes.
That of course is another subject. As every writer is guilty of taking the opportunity to jump on their own personal soapbox from time to time perhaps we should ask ourselves, what has really changed and where, then as now, does the burden of guilt truly rest?
BORN TO BE HUNG
"His complexion and eyes are very dark; his features taken separately are not bad but in their totality present an expression of reckless defiance and a strong predominance of animal passions'
o, this is not a publicity blurb about an up and coming sexy film or pop idol, but of a man on trial for his life in 1842. Written with all the flowery journalistic prose of the period, long before an image of reckless defiance and animal passions could lead to fame and wealth, this description could have done little to provoke sympathy for the man in the dock defending himself against a charge of Murder.
Not that there was much sympathy to be had in this case. The charge was not simply one relating to the illegal killing of one person by another, but referred to the heinous crime of matricide, the murder of a mother by her son. To carry out such an act was considered to be unnatural by a society which by that time considered the killing of another human being, unless officially condoned, to be an outrage.
This is not a mystery story. It is simply a brief investigation into an 160 year old murder, another episode in the vast annals of British criminal justice and therefore betrays none of the plot to say straight away that the culprit, one Richard Edwards, was found guilty by a jury of his peers and paid the supreme penalty for his vile and inhuman crime.
Although little more than the recounting of an unremarkable and sordid real life drama, its main character, an unsavoury and detestable individual who, in the words of a contemporary writer "Was born to be hung", there are a few aspects of this case that may prove intriguing to the more analytical among crime buffs and the armchair detective.
The young Richard Edwards was raised by his mother, a widow, in one of twelve one roomed terraced cottages that stood beside the old horse drawn tram road that linked Merthyr to Abercynon.
He was born sometime in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fourteen, the year when Napoleon gave up on the idea of world domination and took himself of into exile on <st1:place w:st="on">Elba</st1:place>.
It's believed that, when still a very small child, Richard was brought from <st1:city w:st="on">Cornwall</st1:city> to live in Merthyr Tydfil in the <st1:place w:st="on">South Wales</st1:place> by his mother, for both of them are reported to have spoken Welsh with a Cornish brogue. This Cornish background gave rise to Richard Edwards becoming widely known in the area where he lived by the nickname of "Dick Tamar" (The Tamar river being the boundary between Devon and <st1:city w:st="on">Cornwall</st1:city>, or as is claimed by the Cornish, <st1:country-region w:st="on">England</st1:country-region> and <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Cornwall</st1:place></st1:city>). His mother being known by her friends and neighbours as "Tamar Edwards".
Little is known about Tamar Edwards' life other than, as for so many others, it had become hard so at the time of her death in 1842 she was living on relief from the parish of Llanfabon. Her son Dick, it would appear, was of little or no financial help.
A well known figure to the people living in and around Merthyr, Dick Tamar, like many other men in the mining communities, was by occupation a miner. There any further comparison ends.
Paradoxically, Dick had a reputation for working well and conscientiously, on the rare occasions he could be persuaded to work. This said, he was, unlike so many of his fellow miners who worked hard long hours in dangerous circumstances to provide a meagre life for their families, by nature work shy.
Within the local community, he was generally considered to be a violent ne'er-do-well, and had been imprisoned for various acts of violence. Dick, physically, with his dark flashing eyes, was considered to be a handsome man and thus attractive to many of the more adventurous young ladies of Merthyr.
To be the subject of this acknowledged rogue's amorous attentions often brought a much coveted glamorous frisson and a hint of danger to otherwise insular and predictable lives.
This reputation as a ladies man did, however, contain a degree of hazard, and in 1839 Dick Tamar found himself in the dock, in serious danger of losing his life on the scaffold.
On December the 17th 1839, the charred body of Ellen Murphy, a young Irishwoman was discovered in the cinder pits of Cyfarthfa Iron Works, located near <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Merthyr</st1:placename> <st1:placetype w:st="on">Church</st1:placetype></st1:place>.
Ellen Murphy had been manually strangled to death after being brutally assaulted, her body thrown into the pit in the hope that it would either be totally consumed or charred beyond recognition. It was common knowledge in Merthyr that Dick Tamar and Ellen Murphy had a relationship, and in view of Dick's reputation, it was not totally surprising that following the three day inquest into the woman's death, Dick Tamar found himself indicted for her murder.
Dick stood trial for the murder of Ellen Murphy during the Glamorganshire Spring Assizes held in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Swansea</st1:place></st1:city> on the 10th of March 1840. On this occasion the fates were kind to Dick.
Mr. Justice Maule, the presiding judge, directed the jury to acquit Dick Tamar because no factual evidence pointed to his guilt, and he couldn't be convicted on the grounds of suspicion alone. It is interesting to note that Mr. Justice Maule partly based his decision on the testimony given at the inquest into the death of Ellen Murphy by Dick Tamar's mother.
At the inquest Tamar Edwards swore on oath that on the night Ellen Murphy had been brutally murdered, her son Richard Edwards had spent the entire evening at home with her. Whether guilty or innocent, justice in the eyes of the law had been done and Dick Tamar walked from the court a free man. Having cheated the scaffold, little did Dick know that this freedom was only a reprieve from what would seem to have been his predetermined fate.
Nor, could Tamar Edwards have known that, in providing her son with an alibi, she had sealed her own violent fate.
(Sketch taken from a contemporary drawing)
Here then is Dick Tamar's story, or at least a version of it.
In 1841, one month after the birth of their blind son, Dick, who was then 27, married Margaret (Peggy) Morgan, the daughter of well respected Merthyr miner, William Job Morgan.
On the surface it appears to have been a short lived marriage, because by Thursday the 14th of April 1842, the day when the sequence of events that led to Dick being hung by the neck until dead began, Dick and his wife Margaret were living apart. Three months earlier, after only six months of married life, Margaret Edwards had taken her son and returned to her parents home in Rhydycar.
The full reasons for this separation are not clear, although it known that Dick's mother, Tamar Edwards had, some time earlier, ordered her out of her cottage where all four of them had been living together.
At around 3.00 p.m. on Thursday the 14th of April, one of Tamar Edwards' neighbours, Mary Jenkins, the wife of a collier, saw "the old woman" (Tamar Edwards' age at the time of her death is uncertain. All the accounts refer to her as an old woman although it is possible, considering the tendency towards early marriage and the ageing effect that the harshness of the life had on women, that she could have been little more than 43 or 44 years old), drawing a pitcher of water from the communal pump and returning with it to her cottage. Mary Jenkins later testified that although Tamar Edwards was normally a regular sight, either drawing water or fetching in coal, she never saw her alive again.
Dick claimed that Mary Jenkins wasn't the only person to see his mother alive on that day. According to Dick, a man named William Powell saw his mother when he called at the cottage saying that he had been sent by Dick's father in law, William Morgan, to ask on behalf of his daughter and grandson if Dick had any money to send to them.
Whether or not Powell saw Tamar Edwards is relevant is questionable other than it serves to catch Dick out in a lie. Dick met Powell at the door and told him that his mother had a female visitor and he didn't wish to discuss his personal affairs in front of her.
Accepting this quite reasonable excuse, Powell stayed outside the cottage, and so never saw Tamar Edwards. Powell then left, taking Dick Tamer's message that "he would not give a penny, that they both kept away from me, that I was willing to take them both back" to William Morgan.
The female visitor Dick claimed was inside with his mother at the time of Powell's visit was never identified by Dick, not at the inquest nor at his trial did anyone come forward to confirm Dick's statement.
However, if there was someone, it does add some credence to the confession Dick made a few days prior to his execution.
Dick Tamer it appears was in earnest when he told Powell that he would take his wife back. The following day, Friday the 15th, Dick set out for his father in law's cottage at Ryhdycar. Stopping twice for liquid refreshment, once at the Dynefor Arms and once at the King's Head, he arrived at around 10.00 a.m.
William Morgan, Dick's father in law was by that time at work, however Dick's wife and mother in law were at home. He was asked by his wife 'why had he come?', to which Dick is claimed to have replied, 'for her'.
In the first instance it appears that Margaret Edwards agreed to return home with her husband, then after discussing it with her mother, changed her mind. Thwarted, Dick decided to stay at Ryhdycar and wait until William Morgan returned home from work, probably believing that the whole affair would be better sorted out by the men of the family.
When William Morgan returned home at about 7.30 p.m., Dick told him that 'he had come quietly and like a man to take his wife home with him', adding, that she had at first agreed, then, influenced by her mother, changed her mind.
Whether at that time Morgan's sympathies lay with his daughter or with her husband we can't be sure, what he did do was send for his daughter, who had by that time gone to bed. When Margaret appeared Dick told her to dress and come home with him. Once again she refused and William Morgan told Dick that he believed that his daughter was afraid of him.
Dick argued that this wasn't true and it resulted in both men challenging Margaret Edwards to either confirm or deny this allegation. Her reply isn't on record, so we must draw our own conclusions, because a short time later Dick left Rydycar, alone.
Dick did not however return to his mother's cottage in Merthyr but went instead to The Duke public house, from whence, his sorrows well and truly drowned, he staggered to Casting House No 7 at Dyffryn and slept, in the words of Richard Mantle, a hauler, who saw him there on the Friday and again on the Saturday night "lying in the dust and the dirt".
On Saturday morning the 16th of April, the day following Dick Tamar's abortive attempt to reclaim his wife, William Morgan, for reasons never explained, washed his hands of his daughter and cast both her and his blind grandson out of his house. Dick was presumably still sleeping it off at Dyffryn
Rejected by her father, Margaret Edwards made her way to Merthyr in search of either her husband or her mother in law. Not finding anyone home, Margaret spoke to two of Tamar's neighbours, Mary Trehearne, who lived next door, and Ann Williams. Mary Trehearne told her that she believed Tamar had left on Friday to go and collect her relief money from the Parish at Llanfabon, and that as a rule she usually stayed there for two or three days.
Neither woman had seen Dick Tamar that morning, nor did anyone see him all day Saturday or Sunday.
Still in search of shelter for herself and her son, Margaret Edwards then went to her aunt, Jane Phillips' house in Caedraw. Unable to stay at her aunt's due to inadequate space, both she and her child lodged for the Saturday and Sunday night at the home of Eleanor Phillips, a close neighbour of her aunt.
One Monday the 18th Dick Tamar resurfaced and was seen twice outside his mother's cottage. The first time by Mary Trehearne at about 11 a.m. Mary testified that he asked her "when did you see my mother" and that she told him the same as she had told Margaret on Saturday, to which he replied "Aye, it's down at Llanfabon she is".
Dick had roughly the same conversation with Ann Williams, when at around 5 p.m., she found him outside Tamar's cottage trying to look inside by pulling aside an old cloak that Tamar usually hung at the window when she wasn't there.
Ann Williams, apparently seeing nothing odd in finding her neighbour's son trying to spy into the cottage where he ostensibly lived, she agreed that Tamar would probably return that evening by tram.
Dick then asked Ann Williams if she had seen his wife and learnt that she had gone to her aunt's in Caedraw.
Dick Tamar arrived at Jane Phillips' house in Caedraw a little after 6 p.m. where he found his wife and child. Asked by Dick what she was doing there, Margaret explained that her father had thrown her out Friday night but, because it was night, he had allowed her to stay until Saturday morning before leaving. In reply to Dick's request that she return to Merthyr with him, Margaret is reported to have asked "To what? Dick is supposed to have replied that "she would come before his Mother" adding that in any case "she was away at Llanfabon" (The source of this conversation is Margaret's aunt, Jane Phillips ).
At 7 p.m., Dick left Caedraw with his wife and child to return to Merthyr. Before leaving Dick assured Jane Phillips that there was both food and fuel available at his mother's cottage for them, and asked her to visit them. It would seem that Dick was partly untruthful because on reaching the cottage he had to go out to Evan David's shop to get food whilst his wife lit a fire.
Up to this point, our story is just another not so remarkable family affair. However from the evening of Monday the 18th, until shortly after midday on Saturday the 23rd, the train of events becomes more elusive. Dick told two stories, one to the police, and one to the prison chaplain. Sometimes they corroborate each other, often they don't.
According to Margaret Edwards, nothing untoward occurred during that week other than the non return of her mother in law. Margaret claims that on Saturday morning, when her husband Dick left saying he was going to Dowlais to collect his pay, he told her that under no circumstances must she clean the floor near, or look under, the bed,.
Dick's first story is somewhat different. He claimed that on returning home from Evan David's shop on the Monday evening, he found his wife crouching in the corner of the room. What happened next is probably best retold in the words Dick used at his trial.
"She told me my mother was under the bed, dead. I said, 'What did you say girl?' She said again; 'I went there and looked. I got quite distracted and Peggy (Margaret) laid hold of me and told me to be pacified. I exclaimed 'Good God, who has been here killing my mother?' We pacified ourselves, then settled to say she was away from home."
He also claimed that the next day, Tuesday the 19th, on his wife's instigation, he opened his mother's private box and took out three handkerchiefs. His wife then took them to sell at a shop owned by a Jewish shopkeeper called <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Lyons</st1:place></st1:city> but came back saying she had been turned away by the shopkeeper's wife.
Dick further claimed that a little later she told him that she had not gone to <st1:place w:st="on">Lyon</st1:place>'s shop to try and sell the handkerchiefs but to Davies the tailor. He also claimed that from Tuesday onwards his wife had taken to wearing his mother's clothes.
Unfortunately, because it may have helped to decide which of the pair, Dick or Margaret, were lying, neither of these shopkeepers, their wives, or Margaret Edwards' younger sister, who was supposed to have received one of Tamar's handkerchiefs as a present from Margaret, were ever called to give evidence.
At approximately 9 a.m. on Saturday the 23rd a man called David Lloyd visited Tamar Edwards' cottage. During the short time he was there, he estimated no more than 3 minutes or so, he asked after Tamar and was told by Dick (at this point, according to Dick, he knew his mother was dead and still hidden under the bed, so did his wife), that she was still at Llanfabon. He remembered that when he entered to the cottage to light his pipe from the fire, Margaret Edwards was cleaning the floor.
Around midday, when Dick had left for Dowlais and after, if what Margaret claims is true, instructing his wife not to clean near or look under the bed, Margaret Edwards appeared at Mary Trehearn's cottage door.
She told Mary that she was worried that nothing had been heard of her mother in law for over a week and that she believed there was something hidden under the bed, but that her husband had ordered her not to look. Mary Trehearne told Margaret to look anyway, a suggestion which Margaret rejected saying that she was afraid, and asked Mary to look for her. Mary refused, saying she would not do it alone, but would if someone, another neighbour, Martha Waters, was with her.
The two women then went to Martha Waters' home and persuaded her to accompany them back to Tamar's cottage. The first thing Martha and Mary noticed on entering the single room that made up Tamar's dwelling was the terrible smell (David Lloyd made no mention of noticing any smell when 3 hours earlier he had entered to light his pipe). The bed at this time was placed against one wall, the side exposed to view being covered by a blanket that reached to the floor. With great trepidation Mary Trehearne lifted one corner of the blanket and reached underneath the bed, her hand immediately coming into contact with the right elbow of an obviously dead body.
Although in their evidence not one of the three women mentioned screaming, (though I imagine that unless she was made of very stern stuff indeed, Mary Trehearne at least would have indulged herself into some loud exclamation of horror), some commotion attracted the attention of a passing Penderyn miner, Thomas Richards.
Richards immediately entered the cottage, took one look at the corpse, then ushering the women outside, sent first for the police. He then closed the door to the cottage and stood guard over it until the police arrived.
The first policemen on the scene, arriving at 1.35 p.m., were Sergeant James Hume and Constable Rees Williams, followed about twenty minutes later by the Merthyr surgeon Mr Dyke. Hume, examining the body, noted that the dead woman was wearing a black cotton shift and that a dark coloured flannel night-gown had been thrown across her legs. Her head was covered by a handkerchief which had been laid across her shoulders and knotted behind her neck. She was lying on her right side with her right hand raised above her head and her left arm across her chest. He also noted that traces of coagulated blood and other fluids around the right nostril and livid bruising to the throat.
The findings of the subsequent post-mortem carried out by Mr Dyke and another surgeon, Mr. Edward Davies, gave the cause of death as strangulation; the position and type of marks on the throat being such as to indicate that death had been the result of manual strangulation (As in the case of Ellen Murphy). Both men estimated that the dead woman, now formally identified as Tamar Edwards, had been dead for between 5 and 6 days.
Perhaps now, before continuing the story it is time to ask ourselves a few questions. Questions that do not so much concern the innocence or guilt of Dick Tamar, but the depth of involvement of Margaret Edwards, his wife.
If Margaret Edwards had, as Dick claimed, discovered Tamar Edwards' body on Monday night, why did she not immediately raise the alarm? One possible answer to that question is of course, fear. Fear that if her husband was capable of murdering his own mother, he would certainly wreak vengeance on her for betraying him.
However, if Margaret discovered Tamar's body on the night of Monday the 18th, this would mean that he had murdered his mother on the evening of Thursday the 14th or early Friday the 15th.
This would conveniently explain why Dick was loathe to go back to the cottage either Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, and why he avoided entering the cottage, until accompanied by his wife and child on the following Monday.
Of course if, as he wanted, his wife had returned home with him on Friday, that meant that she would have discovered Tamar's body just that much sooner. In addition, the medical opinion placed Tamar's murder as having taken place only five or six days prior to its official discovery. Sunday, Monday or even Tuesday. If the medical estimate was reasonably accurate, I think we can rule out Sunday, as Dick was not seen once in or near his mother's cottage. Monday during the day is also unlikely as we must ask ourselves why did he hang about outside the cottage unless: 1, his mother wasn't there, or 2, he was afraid to go in because he had murdered her the previous Thursday or Friday (9 to 10 days earlier), or sometime Monday.
For a moment let us assume that Tamar Edwards was murdered on Monday evening, 5 days before her body was ‘discovered’. This would mean that she could have returned home during the two hour period Dick was in Caedraw fetching his wife and child. Alternatively she could have returned when Dick and Margaret were together in her cottage or even whilst Dick was out searching for food.
In which case the two women called have fought and Margaret Edwards strangled her mother in law herself.
What does seem odd, though not so abnormal if you consider that at this time the Glamorganshire Constabulary was in its early infancy, was the lack of any thorough investigation. At no point was any attempt made to confirm when, or if at all, Tamar Edwards had gone to Llanfabon, whether she had collected her relief money, and if she had, if anyone had seen her on her return journey to Merthyr.
One thing stands out clearly. Had Tamar Edwards actually gone to Llanfabon, returned unnoticed by her neighbours and was murdered on Monday evening or the following morning, Margaret could not simply have discovered Tamar's body. She had to have been present when she was killed.
If we return to the events of Saturday the 23rd, one person at least, Martha Walters, believed that Margaret, if not necessarily a participant in the murder of her mother in law, had a least full knowledge of the crime and had actively aided in its concealment.
On the discovery of Tamar's body, Martha Walters told Margaret "Your mother in law is dead, and has been for a long time". She added that "Margaret had lain over the body and that she (Margaret) was worse than Dick".
From this statement it's obvious Martha Walters had no doubts in her own mind that Margaret knew full well she was sleeping only a few inches above the dead body of her mother in law. Martha suspected that Margaret was using her husband's absence to raise the alarm, thus hoping to avoid any hint of complicity in the murder.
There were ample grounds for such a suspicion if you remember that the first thing that had struck both Mary Trehearne and Martha Walters when they entered the cottage was the smell. Its hard to believe that Margaret Edwards had in all innocence remained for five days in a one roomed cottage, sleeping above the corrupting body of her mother in law.
It's also well possible that the visit earlier that morning by David Lloyd was a warning to Dick that his mother's disappearance couldn't be concealed for much longer, prompting him to leave in an attempt to escape justice.
By the same token, Lloyd’s visit could have provoked Margaret to instigate the discovery of the body, especially if she suspected her husband had absconded leaving her to face the music.
Although almost immediately on his arrival Sgt. Hume ordered a search to be made of the surrounding area for Dick Tamar, he was nowhere to be found. The suspected murderer, it appeared, had gone to ground. Hume also ordered the arrest of Margaret Edwards and whilst the arresting officer, Constable Rees Williams, was leading her through the rapidly gathering throng of sightseers she cried out in Welsh "Dick has done it at last".
When a woman in the crowd shouted back the question "What was it he had done?" Margaret replied "Murdered his mother and hid her under the bed."
Evidently Margaret's efforts at disassociating herself from her husband had some effect because, later that day, after making a statement to Sgt. Hume's boss, Superintendent Davies, she was released.
Meanwhile the hue and cry for the absconding Dick Tamar was gathering momentum and mounted policemen began galloping the length and breadth of the district to investigate the numerous reported sightings of the fugitive.
From Saturday the 23rd to the following Wednesday the 27th of April Dick remained at large, although reports of the hunted man being sighted at Cwm Bargoed, Torfan, Gelligaer, Pantywain; Penlan, Penrhiwcalch and Aberdare flooded into the police.
The only one of these places its sure that Dick had visited, although it wasn't reported at the time by the person concerned, was Gelligaer.
At about 7 p.m. on the evening of Sunday the 24th, Dick knocked on the door of one William Richards of Gelligaer asking for bread. Asked by Richards why he was begging on the Sabbath, Dick told him that he had been out of work for three months. He gave his name as Richard Jones, a single man from the Parish of Llandovery, but who had been born in Rhymney.
Although William Richards had heard of the murder of Tamar Edwards and the search for her son Dick, he had not been suspicious; it was the time of the Chartists, and all too sadly, out of work men begging for food was far from uncommon in the <st1:place w:st="on">British Isles</st1:place>.
Out of compassion Richards told his wife to give the beggar some bread and bacon, then send him on his way.
When by Wednesday the Police appeared to be no closer to catching the wanted man, a handbill was printed and widely circulated in Merthyr and the surrounding districts. As no known copy of this wanted poster survives, we can only reproduce that part that can be found in a contemporary newspaper account.
Richard Edwards is about 28 years old, 5 feet 9 inches high, dark complexion and hair, long visage, dark eyes and whiskers, and was dressed in a snuff coloured cloth coat with side pockets, wearing a dirty smock over the same; oil cases capor hat, light blue corduroy trousers, white flannel waistcoat, red worsted cravat, strong working shoes footed white, generally walks with his left hand in his pocket!
Ironically, at the moment that the police began circulating this handbill, the drama surrounding the wanted man was already drawing to a close.
By Tuesday the 26th, Dick's travels had carried him the 30 or so miles from Merthyr to Talybont in Breconshire. In Talybont he heard the news that a £30 reward had been offered for his capture, and, for reasons he never explained, began to retrace his steps back to Merthyr.
It appears that he sheltered on Tuesday night at the Plymouth Iron Works at Dyffryn, and at about 5 p.m. on Wednesday was spotted by Cyfartha miner John Hier in a plantation by Glynderris Pond on the Cwmcanaid to <st1:street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Glynderis Road</st1:address></st1:street>.
John Hier, who knew Dick Tamar personally decided not to inform the police, but send a message to William Morgan, Dick Tamar's father in law. Possibly because he hoped to share the reward money, even a very small share of £30 was a lot back then.
An hour or so later, William Morgan, in the company of his two sons and some unnamed workmen found Dick standing by the edge of the road whittling a stick with his knife.
William Morgan testified at Dick's trial that the following conversation took place.
Morgan said to his son in law, "Dick, is it here thou art, thou must go before me to the village" (Merthyr).
Dick replied, "To what or for what?"
Morgan, "Because they want to see thou there; throw the knife out of thy hand, thou are not fit to carry it, throw it or I will make thee throw it."
Morgan stated that he then seized a billhook saying, "I will strike this into thy guts if thou will not loose it."
When Dick dropped the knife Morgan claims to have said, "Go thou great murderer."
To this accusation Dick is reputed to have answered, "Who did I murder."
Morgan replied, "Thy own Mother, thou great murderer, and put her under the bed and slept on her."
Offering neither agreement or denial Dick was then said to have put out his hand to Morgan saying, "Thou can give me thy hand Will."
Ignoring the outstretched hand Morgan asked, "For what Dick?"
Dick's answer was, "Thou hast two brothers who murdered men, and one of them was hanged publicly before the World and the other is living (William Morgan’s two brothers, one of whom was hanged in Monmouth, were 'Scotch Cattle'. This name was given to the gangs that terrorised men who refused to join the newly formed unions. These attacks were often so violent that the death of the victim was not uncommon), I thought to be with thee tonight and give myself up tomorrow." Dick paused then added, "Thou are proud to catch me tonight because there is money to catch me."
Morgan answered that he was very proud to catch him, but he had heard nothing of the money.
Dick then told his father in law about hearing that there was a reward for his capture and is alleged to have given his reason for returning to Merthyr was because, "He was raving in his skin".
What he actually meant by that is unclear, however it is interesting, especially in view of Dick's later confession that when, at his trial, Dick was offered the opportunity to cross examine William Morgan, he refused stating somewhat cryptically "the witness is too dangerous for me to speak to him; I would shoot him, I am so angry with him".
With Dick disarmed, William Morgan and his escort took Dick to Merthyr and handed him over to the police. When the word spread that Dick Tamar was safe in custody, as one contemporary, perhaps exaggerated if enthusiastic, account put it,
"The huzza's of thousands evinced their joy that the foul murderer of his mother had been taken."
At 10 a.m. the following morning, the 28th of April, Dick was taken to the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placename w:st="on">Angel</st1:placename> <st1:placename w:st="on">Inn</st1:placename></st1:place> in Merthyr where he came before a magistrate, Mr G.R. Morgan. The court sat hearing evidence until 6 p.m. when Dick Tamar was committed to prison on a charge of murder to await trial at the next Glamorganshire Assizes.
Handcuffed and his legs in irons, escorted by Superintendent Davies and a Police Sergeant also called Davies, Dick Tamar was taken by train from Merthyr to Cardiff Prison. It was reported that every station along the journey was packed with people wanting to hoot and jeer at the accused man.
At one halt, Taff Vale, a young woman is reputed to have shouted at Dick, "I saw Greneacre hanged and I hope I shall see you hang too'. (James Greenacre was a prosperous trader and politician who was hung at Newgate for the murder of Hannah Brown. The only connection between the two men is that they shared the same executioner, Willam Calcraft.)
Dick Tamar, never one to give the best impression of himself is said to have given the woman a look of contempt, before shouting back "Were my hands loose I would settle with you."
Richard Edwards, known as Dick Tamar, came to trial during July 1842 at the Midsummer Assizes held in <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Cardiff</st1:place></st1:city>. As he was not legally represented and spoke only Welsh the Court appointed an interpreter for him.
At the close of his trial, Dick made no effort to offer any form of defence. Following the Judge's summing up, it took the jury just twenty minutes to bring in a verdict of' 'Guilty'
Asked through the interpreter if he had anything to say before sentence was passed Dick Tamar replied "If I were guilty of my Mother's murder, neither Judge nor Jury would see me in the Hall (The County Court House) at Cardiff; my heart and my conscience is clear from my Mother's death."
If Dick entertained any hope that this plea of innocence would evoke either pity or clemency from the court it was quickly dashed.
In passing sentence the Judge told Dick, "It is needless for me to say, that that in a case such as yours, it would be idle to look for a remission of sentence; to hope for mitigation of punishment this side of the grave."
At exactly 8 a.m. on Saturday the 23rd of July 1842, two months to the day his mother's body had been discovered, her son, Richard Edwards, was publicly hung outside Cardiff Goal for her murder. As was usual on these occasions, the City was packed with sightseers, street vendors beggars and all the other who enjoyed the show that this act of justice freely provided.
Standing on the scaffold, Dick Tamer protested his innocence one last time by crying out to the crowd, "Hear me. I am guilty of every crime except thieving and murder."
Seconds later, the executioner, William Calcraft placed the noose around his neck and pulled the bolt so ending the life, but not the story of Dick Tamar, murderer.
On July the 18, five days before his execution and in the presence of the Prison Chaplain The Rev. Thomas Stacy, and witnessed by Mr John B. Wood the Prison Governor, Dick Tamar made and signed his confession. It makes interesting reading.
I was not alone when my Mother came by her death, my child, ten months old was in the bedroom. My Mother died on Thursday night. When dead, two women placed my Mother beside my little boy, where the corpse remained until the Monday night following. The two other persons present besides my wife were the nearest relations of Peggy (my wife). Peggy and the other person who had been in the womb of the other. These three persons told my father in law and my mother in laws sister that they had passed the night on Cefn Coed Cymer. I gave my Mother a blow about the jaw because Peggy cried out my mother was beating her. My Mother fell down under my blow. Peggy, her mother and brother then laid hold of my Mother. My Mother did not speak. She groaned for some time. I saw Peggy and the other two squeezing her throat until she stopped groaning. I was in liquor, the other three were not. This happened about Twelve o'clock or One o'clock, I cannot tell exactly because there was no watch or clock there. Now if Peggy had been allowed to be examined by me in the Hall. I should have made all this known there. Peggy asked me to bury her. I said I wouldn't, I would leave her there, for I was afraid of being seen. I told them they had killed my Mother. They begged me to keep everything secret. We all remained in the house till the dawn of the day. I then went up to Dowlais, and the others returned to my father in law as they say and told the story of being all night at Cefn Coed Cymer. I met my wife again about six o'clock in the evening of the following Monday at her Aunt Jane Phillips' house in Cae Draw, and we went together, the child in her arms to my Mother's house. My wife placed the child the opposite side of the bed to where my Mother was lying. We then together dragged the corpse out and placed it under the bed. We continued to live in the house the rest of that week. I was full of anxiety all week and on Saturday, the day my Mother's body was discovered, I started off, leaving my wife in my Mother's house. I was absent from Saturday until the following Wednesday, when I was apprehended in the cart house at Duffryn and wandering about. I tell the best truth - the truth I shall tell in the presence of God where I will be next Saturday - to you now. My blow did not kill my Mother for she groaned afterwards. Her death was caused by their meddling and scuffing with her on the ground. I know not exactly in what manner. I mean Peggy, her mother and her brother were scuffling with her. Neither of these three charged me at the time with killing my Mother. This is all true as I shall answer to God.
Dick's confession, condemned at the time by all who read it as a monstrous and villainous attempt to implicate his wife and her family, especially her mother and brother; does evoke several questions.
Death cell confessions are never considered very credible, especially in later times when they could possibly influence a reprieve. As in Dick's case this was out of the question, and as Dick, by his own admission, had struck his mother whilst drunk, we could ask ourselves, what did he possibly have to gain by lying other than perhaps a belated desire to set the record straight.
Certainly Dick Tamar was a thoroughly violent and disreputable character. He had probably committed murder at least once before and was without doubt involved both in the death of his mother and in the concealment of her body. Was he however her murderer?
The Thursday night Dick is referring to is the 14th of April, the day he now claimed his mother died, and the last day anyone saw her alive. He also quite clearly says that not only was his wife present, but she contributed in her mother in law's death. This is in sharp contradiction to his wife's statement that she had no idea anything untoward had happened until near the end of the following week, when she began to suspect that there was something under the bed.
The truth is therefore linked to the date of Tamar Edwards' death.
During Dick’s trial a woman named Gwenlain Williams gave evidence that Tamar Edwards had visited her house on Saturday 16th, 2 days after Dick claimed she had been killed. In his first statement Dick told the police that he had met Mary Trehearne not once, as she stated, but for a second time on the following Monday after her returned home with his wife and child, and that she had told him she had seen his mother the day before on Sunday 17th. As Mary Trehearne did not confirm this statement and Dick contradicted it in his confession it's reasonable to assume he was lying.
There is of course the evidence of the two surgeons who stated that in their opinion Tamar Edwards had only been dead 5 to 6 days before her body was discovered. If we now assume Dick lied in his first statement, Gwenlain Williams got her dates mixed up, and the surgeons were making an educated guess (in those days, fixing the time of death after several days was an inexact science), we come back once more to the Thursday the 14th as being the date Tamar Edwards died.
Now we have to ask ourselves was it murder or accidental death and in either case was it Dick alone who had performed the deed, Dick and his wife, or Dick's wife, her mother and brother?
There appear to be several possible scenarios:
1. Dick, alone with his mother, hits her in a drunken rage then strangles her. Possible, though he had no apparent motive for such an action and unless he was totally stupid he would hardly go in search of his wife and child to take them home with him whilst his mother is lying dead either, on or under the bed.
2. Dick, alone with his mother, hits her to hard in a drunken rage and she unfortunately dies. Possible, but if true, who strangled her after she was dead?
3. Dick is partly telling the truth. His wife, her mother and her brother are with him, but only innocent bystanders when he hits, then strangles his mother. Again possible, although again there is the lack of an obvious motive, and why would they try and cover up her death, especially if they were innocent. Dick was noted for his violent behaviour so there would be little doubt that their non involvement (as proven when Margaret was quickly released), would have been believed had they informed on him.
There is some evidence towards supporting Dick's claim that they were present in the house. Dick told William Powell that his mother had a female visitor. It's not certain he would have mentioned his wife if she had been at the cottage as well, so this would make two women with his mother. Whether Dick would have mentioned that his brother in law had he been there is uncertain.
4. Dick was telling the total truth in his statement. He hit his mother in the drunken misapprehension that he was protecting his wife. Then, whilst he was too stupefied to understand what was happening, his wife, mother in law and brother in law strangled his mother, which makes them, not Dick, Tamar Edwards' murderers.
It is of course possible that Margaret alone, or helped by her family, incited Dick to strangle his mother on their behalf, which could make all four of the equally guilty.
How likely is this possibility? Unfortunately we know nothing about Tamar Edwards' character, but its well possible, considering the harshness of both the age and the place she lived, and the hard life she must have had, that she was a strong dominant woman.
We know that all was not well between her and her daughter in law. In fact she had thrown her out of her house. In this case, is it not feasible that she and her relatives visited Tamar in the hope of persuading or forcing her to take back her daughter in law?
Perhaps due to Tamar's recalcitrance feelings ran high, the discussion grew more and more heated resulting in a violent brawl during which things got totally out of hand.
If it did happen like this, suddenly there is a motive for Tamar's murder.
It would certainly explain why Dick, not wanting to be left alone with his mother's corpse, tried to get his wife to come home on Friday. It would also explain why she refused and why, if he had found out what had happened, her father told her to leave his house the following morning.
It would also explain why Dick stayed away from home Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and made no attempt to enter the cottage on the Monday until he had got his wife to come back with him.
Of course, all the above is supposition, the full truth will never be known. You may or may not believe in one of the above scenarios or have one of your own. You may also think, quite rightly, what does it matter anyway? Its ancient history.
Dick Tamar was tried and executed for his crime, maybe others escaped, maybe there were no others, perhaps it was a miscarriage of justice and even if it was, Dick probably deserved his fate.
To repeat an earlier question, despite the paucity of real facts and the conflicting evidence as to whether Tamar Edwards was murdered on the Thursday or the following Monday, Martha Walters at least found it hard to believe that in all innocence, Margaret Edwards slept for 5 nights in a tiny one room miners cottage over the decomposing corpse of her mother in law. Do you?
(NOTE: As most of the people whose words have been reported in this story only spoke Welsh, the accuracy of translation depends solely on the skill of the contemporary translators.)
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