A Very Murderous Suicide
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?
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