Saturday, 20 February 2010

Thomas Richards - Hanged 29th November 1894

The Carmarthen Journal, 1894:

'It was on a Saturday morning that Thomas Richards, a 41 year old sailor, appeared before Carmarthen Assizes charged with the wilful murder of his sister-in-law Mary Davies of Borth, sometime between 20th and the 21st September, 1894. At the time the precincts of the Guildhall was crowded with an eager crowd waiting for the court doors to open.
By 9.30, the jury were in place and awaiting the arrival of the Judge Mr Justice Lawrence. With the arrival of the judge, the warders brought the prisoner from the cells below and the court fell into silence at his appearance. He appeared to be very sickly and despondent. With the charge read out, he replied in a quiet voice "Not Guilty".'

It seemed that Mary Davies's husband, a sailor, was also a friend of Richards and on the morning of 20th September, James Davies was leaving Swansea Harbour just as Richards was arriving in port. Richards had asked the captain for four days leave of absence to go to Swansea Hospital. This was untrue. In fact he went to Aberystwyth, arriving between 10pm and 11pm, and then stealing a horse from a field. He made his way to Borth some 9 miles away, and went straight to his sister-in-laws house.
He broke into the house and ransacked downstairs but as he made his way upstairs, Mary Davies lit a candle and started yelling. Richards put a pillow over her face to smother the shouting and left her for dead. At first nobody missed her because she was a seamstress and was often away from home for a few days at a time. However as the weekend drew near, neighbours became suspicious, entered the house, and discovered Mary's body on the bed with a pillow covering her face. In the beginning there was no hint of foul play and it was not until the discovery of a five pound note on the floor of Richards's by his son that suspicion fell on him.
It appeared that the National Provincial Bank in Aberystwyth had handed over £62.11s.7d to a man who had signed his name as James Davies. Richards had stolen a deposit note from the house and had forged the name James Davies to obtain the money. He had asked the bank to cash the deposit note that contained £262.4s.8d and to place £200 in another account, leaving him with £62.4s.8d plus the interest. He then put £40 in a tin and mailed it to his wife and the new deposit note back to Mary's house. A witness was produced stating that Richards had been in the Skinners Arms in Aberystwyth and that he had asked the landlady to write two envelopes for him, one of which was addressed to Mary Davies and the other to Mrs Richards.
After a search that went on for several days, Thomas Richards was arrested at the Falcon Inn, Old Market Street in Neath, on suspicion of robbery at Borth and immediately said, 'I know nothing about it'. At the police station he was searched and a watch, £7.8s.5 1/2 and a gold wedding ring were found in his pocket. He protested his innocence and stated that he had not been in Aberystwyth for over a year and demanded to know with what evidence they were charging him. He was charged with the death of Mary Davies, at Borth on 20th September, 1894 and with breaking into the house on the same night, and stealing a deposit note to the value of £263 and a £5 Bank of England note and with forging the name of James Davies at the National Provincial Bank Aberystwyth and obtaining £62.11s.8d by deception. He denied all charges, saying the witnesses were wrong.
The ring proved to be the most damning evidence. John Davies, Mary's husband, was able to identify the ring and said that his wife would never remove it from her finger. When the coroner had seen the body he noticed that a ring had been recently removed from the dead woman's hand. The evidence against Richards was conclusive.
At first Richards denied being in Borth, saying that he had gone to Neath from Swansea having recently returned from France in a vessel called the Dorset and that he had bought the ring some 3 years before. He said he'd paid 30 shillings for it. He denied being in Aberystwyth in the previous 12 months. When he was confronted with the evidence of the landlady of the Skinners Arms and the bank teller, he broke down and said 'Oh dear, I don't know what came over me'.
Thomas Richards made a confession to the police as he was being taking from Neath to Aberystwyth.

**** Statement when arrested ****

'I wish to tell you all as far as I can remember. I came to Aberystwyth by the last train on Thursday night last and then went to Borth. On the way I turned into a field, caught a pony, which I rode to near Borth. I left the pony near Borth and went to my sister-in-law's house and got in through a window, which I opened with a gimlet (small boring tool). After I got in I lighted some matches and found some keys on a chest of drawers and took from one of them two notes, I then went upstairs, where my sister-in-law slept, who by that time, had lighted a candle. She was then screaming, and in order to prevent her, I pushed her on the bed and placed a pillow over her head.
I never thought of killing her, I only wanted to prevent her from screaming. I did not know she was dead until you told me at Neath. (Chief Contsable of Cardiganshire, Mr Howell Evans). I left the house through the front door, and went onto Aberystwyth. On my way, I passed my own house, and pushed the note (£5) under the door. I had been drinking heavily, and did not know what I was doing. I must have been mad.'

Recorded in the Carmarthen Journal

On his return to Aberystwyth, Richards was further charged with removing the ring from Mary Davies's finger. This he denied. It was not until 2nd October that he sent for the Chief Constable. He the then confessed to stealing the ring from the dresser. He denied that he had removed the ring from the dead woman's finger:

'I had no intention of taking her life, and if I did, I hope the Lord will forgive me.'

At his trial, Richards continued to protest his innocence despite the witnesses who saw him in Aberystwyth and Borth before and after the murder. The jury took one hour to return a verdict of guilty.
With that the judge donned the black cap and addressed Thomas Richards:

'The jury, after a long patient, and exhausting trial, have found you guilty of the crime of murder, and I always think it right, and I think it is the least that the jury can ask of the presiding Judge, that when he agrees he should express that agreement publicly. I think there is no other conclusion, which could be rightly come to except that verdict which the jury has given on the present occasion.
That you were the means by which this unhappy woman lost her life I think no one can have possible doubt. You were there for the purpose of taking valuable property in any case, and there can be no doubt whatever that you chose a time when you knew that the husband had gone to sea, and that you did all that you possibly could to hide the result of your crime.
Maybe, I do not know; it is a matter only as far as your mind is concerned; you knew when you left that house whether that woman was dead or not. Undoubtedly the whole of the evidence shows that there can be no doubt whatever that her death was due to violence used by you, and ask you earnestly that during such time as may be left to you, to make your peace with that God against whose laws you have so grievously offended. The only duty that I have now to discharge is to pass sentence upon you in the terms which I am obliged to pass by law; and that sentence is that you be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, and from there hanged by the neck until you shall be dead and that your body be afterwards buried within the precincts of the prison in which you shall be last confined after your conviction. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.'

Carmarthen Journal 1894

Richards turned pale as he walked to the cells below the court. In a later interview at Carmarthen Gaol with his solicitor, he said he thought 'the judge was a bit hard on me.'
Richards's wife and son visited him at the gaol a few days before his execution and the Governor and the warders present described the scene as being terribly touching. They all cried bitterly but it was the son's mournful sound that was the most heart rendering, a sound that was heard throughout the gaol. It was the last meeting and parting of a husband and wife, and the final farewell of an affecionate son before the hangman arrived to carry out the extreme and just penalty of the law. It was shortly after this family visit that the High Sheriff arrived to inform Richards that the date of execution had been set for 29th November.
During his incarceration, Thomas Richards resigned himself to his fate, as much as it is possible to imagine a man in his position to be. However as his final day neared he presented to the prison staff a final statement:

'I don't remember leaving Swansea or how I left there. The first place I remember was Pencader, where I asked if I could have a drink, and I am not sure whether I had one or not. The next place I remember was Aberystwyth Station, and I think I went out straight. I don't remember going into the Railway Inn, but I won't swear I went in. This was after ten o'clock. Very few can tell I am drunk until they speak to me, as drink does not affect my walk very much.
The next time I remember anything was turning into a field, and I have a indistinct recollection of catching a pony. The pony was a fresh one. I had not ridden for many years, and I had no reins. I don't know how I got out of the field. I can remember going through with my arms around the pony, and when near Brynbala I let go of my arm and fell on my back. I then passed my own house, but just by the board school, something came into my mind and told me to go to my sister-in-laws house to fetch money.
I knew she had money, and had an idea where she kept it. That is where her mother kept it when I lived there for two years immediately after we were married. I thought she kept it in the small drawer at the top of the chest of drawers on the left hand. I went there and did not go near my own house. I saw nobody about. When I got to the deceased house, I tried the windows first, and found there was no bolt. I lifted the window right up and went in. I am positive of this.
Although I am reminded of the gimlet hole in the back door, I know nothing of the gimlet or the back door. After going in I began to look for the drawer. I lit a match, and found the door locked, and I saw keys on the top of the chest immediately above the drawer. The ring was also there. I took the ring and opened the door. I found the deposit note and the £5 note. This took me about five minutes. The door of the parlour was open. I then went upstairs, and, as I was upstairs, I heard her strike a match.
I went forward to the bedroom, and saw the deceased with one foot out of the bed - I think it was her left. She had not got wholly out of bed. When she saw me she screamed once, and I gave her a small push on the breast, which caused her to fall on the bed, and I then threw the pillow on her face with one hand to prevent her screaming. No unnecessary violence was used in any way, and all I thought was to get away. I was then anxious to get out, and I believe I blew the candle out and went downstairs and out through the front door.
I had put the window down when I first went in. I was there a moment. I did nothing to her in anyway indecent, nor had I ever done anything to her. I did not do anything to her except as I have said, and did not intend to harm her in any way, as I had no cause to do anything to her. I am innocent of any intention of doing her any harm. I think I heard her scream as I went through the front door, but not much.
I did not know she was dead until the Chief Constable of Cardiganshire told me on Wednesday. I was only in the house a little over 5 minutes. There was no struggle at all except as I have said. I have said all that has taken place. I said nothing to her and she said nothing to me, as when she began to scream I was afraid somebody would hear and rouse the village up. I left the keys in the same place as I had found them, unless I left them in the lock. I took nothing away except the ring, the deposit note, and the £5 note.
I don't know what possessed me to take them. After leaving, I went up to my own house and put the £5 note under the front door of my wife's house. I had no gimlet, and have no recollection of any such thing. I don't know why I didn't go into the house. I heard the clock strike two when I was doing this. I then left for Aberystwyth, and when I got to Moelcerni I went into a field and slept until daylight, when I proceeded to Aberystwyth. Ifirst went to the Skinners Arms about eight o'clock and had several beers there.
Miss Ellis's story is true as to what took place. I admit every thing that the witnesses say to the money, but I most emphatically deny the murder. I don't know why I took th £64. I sent the deceased the note for £200 on the Friday morning. I admit all the witnesses say as to what took place on Saturday. I do not remember saying anything about the ring, as I was drinking hard the whole time. I stayed at the Royal Oak until the Monday, when I left for Llanelli, and there saw Peake, but I do not remember what I said, as I was muddled.
I bought shoes there and I also bought fowls from there, and that is all I remember, I was drinking hard there. I do not remember that I said anything about the ring. From Llanelli I went to Neath about seven o'clock, and went to the Falcon until I was arrested. I do not know what I said when I was arrested, and it may be what the police say is true. When I first saw the chief, he said in Welsh that he charged me with three things, breaking in the house, stealing the money and causing her death. I do not remember what I said 'they are mistaken'. I was completely overcome when he told me she was dead, and I hardly knew what I said as to Pugh's evidence. My recollection is that I went to the bank, produced the note, and told him how much I wanted and he asked me to sign.
I did so, 'J.D.' He did not ask me to sign my own name. When I was on board the Coquette, captained by Captain Jenkins, Havelock Villa, Aberystwyth, in the west coast of Africa, I got a fever, which affected my joints and head. I was never in my mind. All I thought was to get the money, and when I considered that, they would find the money gone. I sent my wife £40, as I knew she would not use it, and it would be there for the deceased. I did not know that she was dead until the chief told me at Neath. Before my God I say I never intended her any injury or to murder her.
I had got the money before I went upstairs. I don't know what possessed me to go upstairs, unless it was to talk to her in my silliness. She used to sleep in the parlour where the money was kept. I don't know whether recognised me. I did not touch her body anywhere, except on her chest with my own hand. I did not touch her face or thigh - did not touch her clothing, in fact, I did not touch her at all, except as I have said.
When I touch her I used the left hand, which had the effect of making her lie across the bed, and I took up the pillow with the right. I did not intend to strangle her, and only meant to stop her, for I put out the candle the same time. We had no struggle in any way. I have only come to myself since I have been in custody. I am nearly broken-hearted at what has happened.

Thomas Richards.'

**** Execution ****

The Home Secretary stated that he could see no reason why he should interfere with the carrying out of the sentence of the law. Richards appeared to accept his fate. He even told his warder that he believed the sentenced passed upon him was a merciful divine decree.
The rrival of hangman James Billington in the town caused a stir despite the fact he had been the hangman at the execution of George Thomas in the previous February. Town folk were keen to see the famous hangman and followed him from the train station to gaol.
When he had first been admitted to prison Thomas Richards had weighed 136 lbs, but when weighed on the Wednesday he had gained 12 lbs and now weighed 148 lbs. 'Grief Fat'.
Billington allowed a drop of 7 feet, and a weighted sack filled with sand to Richards's weight of 148 lbs attached to the hangman's rope in order to stretch the rope overnight.
It was at 7.58am that Billington entered the cell and pinioned Richards. The condemned man made no comment, and walked unaided to the platform. He had made up his mind to die. With the rope secured around his neck, the clock struck 8am and the lever was pulled, Richards fell into eternity. It had only taken two minutes from the entry to the cell to the hoisting of the black flag outside.
Richards was buried fully dressed in quick lime during the course of the morning, within the prison walls. With the customary notice pinned to the gaol gate, it announced the end of Thomas Richards.


  1. I think it was a drinking plan to rob cash and what ever happened to his sister in law in her room ,only he can say ,never admitted to the crime he had nothing to lose the hangman rope was his fate, you would say OK l did it to shut her up ,Your not getting hanged twice ,He made a dreadful mistake that night ending a life for what' only he can answer that,

  2. Thomas was my great, great grandfather and his victim my gg aunt. These events were never spoken about in our family and were unknown to my father and me until relatively recently. It has come as something of a shock. The truth went with him to his grave, but it's a tragic but highly interesting story. Scott Richards

  3. Scott...on the off chance that you are still keeping an eye on reply to these comments, please let me know if you are prepared to talk about this and I will send you my contact details. Thanks.

    1. Hello, yes. I'd be happy to discuss this story.