Saturday, 13 February 2010

David Rees - Hanged 13th March 1888

It was around 10.30am on November 12th November 1887 that Thomas Davies, a messanger at the Dafen Tinworks in Llanelli was found dying in a field after having been horribly battered about the head on Bryngwyn Hill. Nearby, covered in blood, police discovered a hanger, a tool used in the tinworks. Thomas Davies had been carrying a bag containing the tinworks wages, £590 in gold and silver, of which £300 was missing.
Later in the evening the police went to question David Rees at his home, and as a result he was arrested on suspicion of having committed the murder. It was widely believed at the time that there was another man involved in the crime. Witnesses had reported seeing another man in the area but despite extensive enquiries Rees stood in the dock alone.
The evidence against Rees was very damning. A young boy, named W.J. Lewis, came forward and told police that he had been hiding in the hedgegrow overlooking the murder scene. He was able to identify Rees. It was this lad who first spoke of the second man. If there was another person involved, Rees was to take his identity to the grave.
Motive was robbery. It was well known that Thomas Davies carried large sums of money from Llanelli to Dafen. Rees was also well known in the area, indeed in the days leading up to the murder he had been asking people for a loan.
What was considered the most damning piece of ebidence came from a Mrs Hughes of the Tremelyn Inn, Llanelli. She stated that on 31st October, she had a long conversation with Rees, and it was during this conversation that he had threatened to kill her because she refused to lend him money. The defence tried saying this was meant as a 'joke' and that Rees had no intention of carrying it out.
Having heard all the evidence the jury retired and returned after 32 minutes with the verdict - Guilty. Rees made no reply when asked if he had anything to say before being sentenced. With great solemnity the judge placed the black cap upon his head and passed the sentence of death.
The condemned was then removed from the dock and taken to the cells below. Then something unprecedented in the annals of court proceedings occurred. Rees started yelling and complaining that he had not understood the sentence or even the fact that he had been condemned to die. On hearing this, the Governor of the gaol Mr O. Thomas, who was present in the court, went to speak to the Judge. The Judge returned to the bench and without dooning the black cap ordered that the prisoner be brought back into court.
He repeated the sentence of the court and requested that the interpreter, Mr Long Price, translate the sentence into Welsh. As the prisoner was led away for the second time Mr Price broke down crying, as did many others at the repitition of the solemn scene. It closed what was at the time decribed as a most remarkable trial. It had lasted two and a half days, a total of twenty three hours sitting time.
Members of the church visited Rees at Carmarthen Gaol and described him as having lost his old sparkle. When they asked how he was, he replied in Welsh - 'Picwl Trist' (sad pickle). In further conversation, Rees went on to say, 'I am innocent, and have been wrongly convicted,' but that he would rather be there in those circumstances than have that crime on his conscience. His words were; 'Ond mae'n well gen i fod yma ar gam na bod yma yn euog.' Reminded of the confession that he had made, he replied emphatically that he was not guilty of the murder, and had nothing more to say about it.
He had said all he had to say on the matter, and added he was he did not kill Davies, laying great emphasize on the word 'Kill'. Being asked who did kill 'Tom Bach', Rees replied, 'Dyna beth sy yn dywyll i fi, syr'. (That is a mystery to me, sir.) The members of the church pressed for him to reveal his accomplice but his only reply was 'Hum'. This was the only indication by Rees that he was shielding another and that he was prepared to go to the gallows with that knowledge. As they left the cell for the final time his parting words were, 'They know me in Llanelli. Remember me to them.'

The Confession

I, David Rees, confess with much grief and sorrow that on the 12th day of November, 1887, I myself, single-handed, and unaided by any other person, did wilfully kill Thomas Davies, of Felinfoel, Llanelli. The money which I took away from the possession of the said Thomas Davies I afterwards hid somewhere in some hedge of the field next adjoining the Box Cemetery, but I cannot at present remember the exact spot.
I wish to state that drink was the cause of all this. I was drunk at the time I committed the crime, but I felt muddled in consequence of my having been drinking heavily during the previous day and night. I am truly sorry for what I have done and I humbly entreat the forgiveness of the deceased relatives for the misery and grief I have caused them.
What I have stated above is a true confession, and I have made this confession as being the only reparation and satisfaction I can offer to those I have so grievously wronged, and may the Lord have mercy on my soul.

(Signed): David Rees, Dafen.
Witnessed O. Thomas, Governor.
T.R. Williams, Chaplain.

The Execution

Tuesday 13th March, 1888, was the day of the execution. David Rees appeared to sleep well during the night and awoke around 5.45am. He got up and dressed with no prompting. At 6.30am, a breakfast was delivered to the condemned cell. It consisted of bread, milk and butter. He refused tea. At 7am, the chaplain, Rev T.R. Walters entered the cell and offered spiritual comfort. All was quiet in the gaol until 7.45am. It was at this time that the prison bell began to toll, announcing to all (within the walls and outside) that the execution was about to be carried out. Berry the hangman entered the cell at 7.57am carrying the pinioning straps.
Timing was important and at 7.57am, Berry pinioned Rees. By now the condemned was crying bitterly. At one minute to eight, the procession started from cell to scaffold. First came the Chief Warder and Warder Jones; then the Chaplain reading the Burial Service; David Rees had to be supported by Warders Howells and Thomas; followed by the hangman; the Under Sheriff Mr D. Long Price; the prison Surgeon Mr James Rowland and the Governor Mr O. Thomas. Reporters followed, representing newspapers of South, West and Mid Wales.
Rees had to be supported as he walked, sobbing, as they made their way to the gallows. During his time in gaol he had put on weight. It was a common occurence in inmates awaiting execution and became known as 'Grief Fat.'
The grim parade reached the shed in which the scaffold had been erected. Rees accompanied by the warders went in followed by the Hangman. Rees was then positioned by Berry on the trap, the white cap placed over his head, and the rope adjusted around his neck.
Finally by placing the brass-locking ring under the left ear, the noose was in position. During all this time the Chaplain had continued to read the Burial Service in Welsh with Rees repeating the verses and shaking his head as if bewailing his terrible fate. At exactly 8.01am as the chaplain read 'Arglwydd, bydd drugarog wrthym ni', the dread lever was pulled. The drop fell and Rees was launched into eternity. The entire process had taken just half a minute from the time he had stepped on the trap. As the drop fell open, the black flag was raised on the gaol flagstaff above the female wards facing Spillman Street.
The scaffold was not new but was described by Berry 'It is the best I have have ever seen'. The rope used was Italian silk hemp.
The burial took place in the gaol grounds in a grave dug in the prison garden on the northwest side of the building.
As usual crowds gathered outside to see the hoising of the black flag and the customary notice of execution to be posted on the gate.
So ended the final day of David Rees, the murderer who with an unknown accomplice murdered 'Tom Bach' of Dafen.

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