Clifford Godfrey Wills - a case of overkill?


With special thanks to Monty Dart for researching and writing this article.


Pontnewynydd – a suburb of Cwmbran, South Wales was a quiet place in 1948.  At 11, Wayfield Crescent lived the Parry family – wife Sylvinia, aged 32, husband John, 36 and 14 year old Anthony their son. Early on the morning of the 8th of June 1948, Sylvinia Parry was getting ready to go to work at the Caldicott Lacquer Factory. As she left the house, wearing a pink blouse and khaki overalls under her mackintosh, she joined other women also on their way to work, the factory was approximately 5 – 7 minutes away from Wayfield Crescent. The women chatted about the forthcoming day. Sylvinia told her workmates that she was going to Newport, a nearby town, to buy a car. Some thought this a rather fanciful statement but they went along with the story and probably laughed behind her back when they were out of her presence. During the day, she asked her foreman if she could take some time off in the afternoon to view the car and he was agreeable to her finishing work early at 2pm. As she left the factory, Sylvinia’s husband John was leaving home to start his 2pm – 10pm shift in a nearby steelworks. He had spent the morning doing housework and had vacuumed two of the bedrooms. He returned the vacuum cleaner to the smallest bedroom in the house, known as the box-room.

When he arrived home some 8 hours later he found his son at home but no sign of his wife. This was highly unusual, she would always be there to cook tea for her son when he came back from school and supper for John after his shift. Neither of them knew what to do – John Parry wandered around the neighbourhood looking for his wife, he went into a couple of public houses just in case she had decided, on a whim, to go out with friends. By 9.45 the next morning, with still no sign of Sylvinia he decided to go to Pontnewydd police station. By chance he encountered Police Sgt Plummer on his beat and told him ‘My wife is missing, she didn’t come home last night.’

PS Plummer didn’t consider this an emergency. A missing wife that hadn’t been gone for less than 24 hours was hardly a priority. He advised John Parry to contact friends and relatives, maybe Sylvinia had decided to have a bit of a break from her marriage.

John Parry returned home in a distraught state. Contacting relatives wouldn’t have been as easy as it is nowadays, few people had a phone at home. He decided to look in all the rooms of the house, perhaps there was a clue somewhere. He had already searched the house once, the only room he didn’t enter was the box-room, a small bedroom with only space for a single bed.

As he entered the room, he thought it was a bit tidier than when he left it which was rather strange. He then saw, sticking out from under the bed, the body of his wife. Parry ran into the street in search of Sgt Plummer, they both returned to Wayfield Crescent. It wasn’t long before 11, Wayfield Crescent was full of police officers, scene of crime photographers and fingerprint and forensic officers from Cardiff Forensic Science Laboratory.

Sylvinia was lying on her front. When her body was turned over the full extent of her injuries was revealed, she had been beaten savagely about the head and there were three deep stab wounds to her left breast. Perhaps the most macabre discovery was that 11 inches of the sleeve of a jacket had been thrust down her throat. The tools to her destruction were still in the room, a large spanner, which John Parry said he had never seen before and an Indian knife and sheath.

Sylvinia was wearing cami-knickers, stockings, shoes and a plastic mackintosh. Beneath the body was a plastic handbag, on the bag was a clearly defined fingerprint. Police Inspector David Thomas also noted what he described as an empty ‘rubber preventative’ (condom) sticking to her left thigh.

Inspector Thomas searched the house and in the bathroom there was a clear shoe-print in blood. None of the shoes in the house matched the print.

Dr. Francis Thomas Nolan, a local doctor attended the scene and in his statement he says ‘The woman was definitely dead.’

As usual in domestic murders, the husband was considered the major suspect. However, his alibi was unshakable – workmates attested to the fact that he didn’t leave the workplace during his shift and the time the police surgeon estimated Sylvinia’s time of death.

Enquiries of the Parry’s neighbours revealed that the Parry’s seemed to have a happy marriage, however, gossip revealed that a man called Cliff Wills was a frequent visitor to Wayfield Crescent when John was in work and Anthony was in school. Wills knew John Parry and Sylvinia was a friend of Will’s mother.

Clifford Godfrey Wills was 31 and worked as an electrician. He lived with his mother at 3 Cromwell Road. It was 2.30pm, the day after the murder that policemen arrived at his home. His mother told them that he was still in bed. The police went to his bedroom, and found him on his bed, he seemed to be in a heavily drugged state.

‘I’ve taken about 20 Soneryl tablets. I’m fed up with life…I just want to finish myself off.’


Will’s was wearing a shirt stained with blood, he explained this away as having a case of ‘fisty-cuffs’ with a boxer, named George Logan, in a Newport pub.  (Interviewed later Logan denied that a fight had taken place.)  Rising from his bed Wills had difficulty in standing and a policeman helped him to dress. It was noted that he had some small abrasions to his knuckles.

He was immediately taken to the local hospital to have his stomach pumped. By 7.30 pm that evening Wills was deemed capable of giving a statement and he was transported to the police station. After his arrest he was being taken to the police station by Detective Inspector Brinley Wheatstone and Detective Harrison.  Click here for a photo of Wills being arrested.

‘What does it feel like to be sat by a killer’ said Wills. ‘You have got your man.’

He was cautioned. On examination, his shirt and shoes were both covered in blood – later to be identified as the same blood group as that of Sylvinia - and the soles of the shoes perfectly matched the print on the bathroom floor.

He was frank about his relationship with Sylvinia.

‘Our sex life was perfect’ he said. ‘I met her as usual as she was going to work yesterday morning and we agreed to meet outside the Romany Café at 4.30 pm. While I was waiting, Doris_______ saw me and came over to chat.’

He explained to the police officer that he didn’t want Sylvinia and Doris to meet, so he decided to go home with Doris. He said stayed with her until 4 am the following morning, at that time he decided to return to his home. He caught a bus to Pontnewynydd and went to bed. Later on that day he met Sylvinia at her home, they had planned to see a solicitor in Newport with regard to some land Wills owned.

They had intercourse on the sofa and afterwards she went up to change her clothes.

‘Shall I wear my ‘New Look’ she said, referring to her latest purchase of clothes.

‘Please yourself’ he replied.

Wills says he left the house for about 10 minutes whist she was changing and on his return, Sylvinia was gone, so he decided to go back to Newport to see Doris.

At Pontypool police station Wills said to Police Sgt Albert Cook “I have been trying to break that association for three years.’  ‘What association?’  ‘The association with Mrs Parry.’

P.S Cook once again cautioned him and he gave a statement.

‘I have known Mrs Parry since I was demobbed about three years ago. We lived for each other. I tried to break the association on several occasions, she was friendly with my mother. She meant everything to me, there are no two ways about that, for three years we lived in the same world. I was in Mrs Parry’s house on Friday morning, I went there about 10 am but she wasn’t in. I went back at 1.45 pm and she was at home. She was dressed in a ‘New Look’ two-piece dress and she looked lovely, a little gaudy perhaps but she liked pretty things. I was going to be intimate with her but I had had too much to drink previously which had a retarding influence, so we were not intimate although she wanted to be intimate. About two months ago I gave her a silver ring. It was our wedding ring.’


After that initial admission of guilt, made in the police car, Wills was adamant that he hadn’t murdered Sylvinia. However, the evidence against him was strong, the bloodied footprint, the fingerprint on the handbag was identified as his and blood on his shirt. Nowadays DNA would automatically prove his guilt or eliminate him.

Professor James Webster of Birmingham, who conducted the post mortem gave evidence that Sylvinia had died from shock and haemorrhage due to multiple injuries to the head and chest, where she had been stabbed three times. She had also suffered partial asphyxiation as a result of strangulation. She was wearing a mackintosh, Professor Webster opined that hearing a knock at the door, she slipped it on over her underwear, there were no signs of forced entry to the house, suggesting that she knew her killer.

Inspector Thomas asked Wills why she was wearing a mackintosh over her underwear. In his statement he said that Sylvinia was embarrassed that her left breast was considerably small than her right and always wore something over her top half.  ‘Perhaps she did the same for the bloke who murdered her’ he said.


Wills was tried at Monmouthshire Assizes on the 8th and 9th of November 1948, before Mr. Justice Hallett.  He absolutely denied the murder.  The forensic evidence told a different story, however and he was easily convicted.  None of his stories supported his innocence and at the end of the trial Mr Justice Hallett donned ‘the black cap’, in essence a large black square of material – a peculiarity of British trials when pronouncing the death sentence. Whilst the judge is reported as ‘being emotional’, Wills remained unmoved.

The abolition of hanging was a political issue at the time and when in prison awaiting trial, he claimed ‘They won’t top me even if they find me guilty.’  This was because in April 1948, the House of Commons voted in favour of a Bill introduced by Sidney Silverman to suspend the death penalty for five years.  The Labour Home Secretary, Lord James Chuter-Ede, announced that he would reprieve all murderers until the future of the Bill was resolved.  This resulted in 26 reprieves and no executions between March and October 1948, giving a total for the year of just eight.  The House of Lords rejected the Bill in late 1948, but it was decided to set up a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers to examine all aspects of capital punishment.


Clifford Wills was hanged by Steve Wade and Henry Critchell on Thursday the 9th of December 1948, on a cold grey day morning at Cardiff Prison just 6 months after the murder of Sylvinia Parry.

Wills was buried within the prison later that day.

In late 2003, the remains of Clifford Wills and the five other most recently executed prisoners (i.e. William Corbett, George Roberts, Howard Grossley, Evan Evans, and Ajit Singh) were exhumed from the prison grounds and reburied elsewhere to enable the construction of a new cell block.


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