am to die, I die as an innocent man”
Researched and written by my friend Monty Dart.
In 1928 the
Did two innocent men die at the hands of public executioner? The solicitor to William Price, H.M. Lloyd certainly thought so. H.M. Lloyd knew all the men involved – all had been in trouble with the police, they might have been ‘bad boyos’ but murder was a step too far.
At 11pm on the night of the 29th of September 1927, Dai
(David) Lewis aged 31, a Welsh welterweight professional boxer and a member of
the Canton Rugby Football club in
The attack had been over within minutes. It appeared that
Lewis had tangled with the notorious
The previous day Lewis had attended Monmouth races where he had made a few pounds working a common scam of hiring out buckets of water, sponges for cleaning their boards, stools and other paraphernalia to the bookmakers. This wasn’t a choice of the bookmakers – it was in the form of a protection racket, preferable to having their stands tipped over during a race or suffering a beating at the hands of the gang.
Not unnaturally there was little love lost between the bookmakers and the gangs, however Lewis, who was not part of a gang but worked alone, was popular with the bookmakers (probably because he wasn’t part of a gang and less of a threat) and this rankled with the Rowlands gang. On the 28th September 1927 he muscled in on their territory once more and arrived at Monmouth race-course before the Rowlands and their cohorts. Edward (Tich) and John Rowlands were both known to resort to violence when crossed and this time Lewis had gone too far.
Lewis however, was heard to laugh about the threats, saying
that he wasn’t afraid of the gang. Despite his bravado, that night he didn’t go
to his home to his wife and children at
The men got into a huddle around him, with the intention of giving him a good pasting, he knew he was outnumbered. However, one of the assailants decided to get rid of their rival for good. Suddenly a flash of a blade was seen in the street light. Lewis fell to the ground, the gang paused for a moment to look at him then fled into the darkness. An ambulance was called and Lewis was taken to Cardiff Royal Infirmary, he was losing blood fast. Surgeons tried in vain to save him, the 7 inch gaping wound to his throat was so deep that his windpipe was severed.
In the meantime word of the incident had reached the
newsroom of the local paper, the Western Mail. At 11.30pm there were few
reporters still on duty but Sydney Graves, a junior reporter was dispatched by the
editor ‘Get to
“Picture if you can this slum area with little or no lighting and many of the buildings in a near state of ruin. And me, a young lad almost terrified out of my wits, knocking at the door at a quarter past twelve at night. There was no electric light at all and as I waited I could hear a tapping noise coming down the stairs of the house. Then the door was opened a few inches and someone peered out at me. Seeing that I was only a lad, the door opened wider and an old man, Lewis’ father half blind, carrying a stick in one hand and a lighted candle in another, asked me what I wanted. I started to tell him that Dai had been in an accident when a woman came down the stairs behind him. She must have heard me mention Dai’s name. I was the first person to break the news to the family.”
Chief Inspector Tom Hodges and Detective Inspector Albert Davies arrived at the hospital and stood in vigil by his bedside in the hope that Lewis might name his assailant. Since his admission the hospital had received three phone calls from a man asking about the condition of Lewis, a nurse advised the police when, on the first two calls the phone was put down abruptly. On the last call she managed to keep the enquirer on the phone long enough for the police to trace that the call came from the notorious Colonial Club in Custom House Street, the caller transpired later on to be Driscoll. He hadn’t been involved in the attack, arriving after Lewis was on the ground. Ted (Tich) Rowland made for home when the fight started. It transpired that he had good reason for this, but it was to influence the jury during the subsequent trial.
At Cardiff Royal Infirmary, Lewis made a dying deposition in the presence of a magistrate. By now Edward Rowland had been located and brought before the dying man. ‘Tich never laid a hand on me’ said Lewis. He also said that Edward Rowlands, Daniel Driscoll and William Price (other members of the gang) had no hand in his injuries. As for John Rowlands, he didn’t mention him at all.
Wife Annie Lewis arrived and she was with her husband as his life slipped away.
In preparing the case the solicitor Harold Lloyd discovered an entirely different scenario. Far from being frightened of Tich Rowlands and Dan Driscoll, Lewis had spent the night with them in the Blue Anchor, John Rowlands and William Price were also there, chatting up two ladies at the other end of the bar. It appears that John Rowlands certainly had it in for Lewis – and had said he would “make a mess of him”.
The trial took place at
Why did Tich run away from the
scene when he hadn’t been present at the stabbing? He asked solicitor Harold
Lloyd what should he do if asked in court his reasons
for fleeing. “Just tell the truth” he was advised. “Tell them that having just
come out of prison for being guilty of violence and having such a bad record
you did not want to be mixed up in any trouble”. Tich
was concerned that this would prejudice the jury against him. He was pressed by
the prosecution time and time again, Lawrence Vine, his counsel, objected
strongly, knowing it would look bad for his client but in the end the Judge,
Mr. Justice Wright, demanded an answer.
“I had not long come out of prison and I was a convict on licence. I was
well known to the police of
In the witness box John Rowlands insisted the he alone was responsible for Lewis’ death. This didn’t seem to sway the jury – in the end Driscoll and the two Rowlands Tich and John and Driscoll were sentenced to death. William Price was acquitted. See press cutting
After the verdict Driscoll immediately contacted Lloyd the solicitor in great distress, swearing that he would do anything for the two innocent men. Lloyd, with Mr. C.S.Hallinan, solicitor for Driscoll, were both concerned that two men would face the gallows for a crime they hadn’t committed. Lloyd went to see Tich in Cardiff Prison and took with him the summing up by Judge Wright. Whilst he acknowledged that Tich was no scholar he also knew he was a shrewd man, “It’s no good relying on this” said Tich “I’ll be topped for sure. It’s a million to one chance.” Prior to his conviction, so certain that the truth would prevail he had said more than once “They won’t hang me, they don’t do things like that in this country” and now he faced a certain death unless an appeal could save him.
The appeals failed. Two jurymen called at the Home Office with a petition from eight of the men on the jury asking for mercy, subsequent evidence had caused them ‘much anxiety’ and they asked for the death sentence to be quashed. Petitions were organised and many public meetings were called. Meanwhile on the 15th of January 1928 it was reported in the Daily Mail that John Rowlands was committed to Broadmoor Insane Asylum “having gone mad” with the knowledge that his brother and his close friend were facing the rope for a crime they didn’t do.
Just 48 hours before their execution came the irrevocable decision of the Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, “that the law must take its course” and the two men would die. See press cutting. John had escaped the final punishment. Lloyd visited Tich in the condemned cell, the day before the set date for the execution, he wanted to make a will. Lloyd says it was very difficult to leave the condemned man saying “I’ll see you again”. Driscoll in the next cell heard Lloyd and called out to him and the governor granted him a visit. “You remember what I told you” said Driscoll “I have told the truth.”
Tich Rowlands was visited by his mother “I have told the truth all through.” he said “Think of me at eight o’clock tomorrow. They can break my neck but they can’t break my heart.”
It was approaching 8 a.m. on Friday the 27th of January 1928
and the scaffold had already been readied to hang Edward Rowlands and Daniel
“Faith of our Father’s, holy faith,
We will be true to Thee, ‘til death.”
Then the strains of Ave Maria poured over the prison walls, the men in the condemned cells must have heard it. At Driscoll’s request to the governor, the two men had been allowed to shake hands at the entrance to the gallows room and one said “Which one is mine?” as he surveyed the nooses. Outside the prison, women fell to their knees and recited the rosary. Many women fainted at the tolling of the prison bell and had to be handed over the crowd to safety.
Robert Baxter was the hangman and as this was a double hanging, he had three assistants. They were Lionel Mann, Thomas Phillips and Robert Wilson.
There was a huge difference in the prisoners’ weights. Driscoll stood five feet seven and a half inches tall and weighed 200 lbs. He was described as heavy and muscular on the LPC4 form. Baxter gave him a drop of six feet three inches. Rowlands was a diminutive man, just five feet one tall and weighing 126 lbs. He was allowed a drop of eight feet six inches. In both cases there was dislocation of the upper cervical vertebrae.
However, was this a massive miscarriage of justice? Who killed Dai Lewis and had the murderer escaped justice? Many policemen believed in the innocence of Rowlands and Driscoll.
For more on this case go to :
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