Unsolved Murders

William Alfred Lewis

Age: 59

Sex: male

Date: 24 May 1939

Place: Plasmont House, Conway Road, Pontypool

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

William Alfred Lewis was found dead on his bed with a pillow over his face and a wound over the back of his head.

His room was in disorder and drawers had been pulled out and their contents scattered about.

William Lewis was noted as having been a considerable property owner owning a number of properties across the Pontypool district. He had also formerly been in business as a draper in Ebbw Vale.

He was last seen by his neighbours on the Monday, 22 May 1939.

The woman that lived in Plasmont Cottage which was a two storied annex to Plasmont House, the wife of a colliery worker, said that she didn't hear William Lewis about at all on the Tuesday, but said that she didn't suspect anything as he often went away to his sister's in Swansea.

A milk boy said that when he called at Plasmont House on the Wednesday morning, 24 May 1939, he found two bottles of milk delivered on the floor inside the back door from the day before.

A painter that had been working on the house then entered the house and found William Lewis lying dead across his bed in the back bedroom. The painter said that William Lewis was in his underclothes and that there was blood about and a small sum of money lying on some furniture. He said that he then went off to fetch the police.

During their investigation, the police carried out digging in the grounds of the house in a search for the murder weapon.

The post-mortem examination revealed that William Lewis had been gripped by the throat which had forced his tongue to the right side, and also by the upper left arm and that he had received two blows on the left side of his head, level with the top and about three inches and three and a quarter inches respectively behind his ear, although his skull was not fractured. Each of the wounds was about one inch in length and had penetrated almost to the skull and were slightly curved in shape. It was also found that the two fore-fingers of his left hand were evenly bruised for their full length.

William Lewis's heart was somewhat diseased, and the post-mortem concluded that his cause of death was due to shock and haemorrhage following blows upon the head.

It was suggested that the bruising on his fingers may have been caused by William Lewis striking his assailant or by the assailant gripping his fingers and injuring them in that way.

The doctor that carried out the post-mortem removed the injured part of the scalp and took hair samples, blood and scrapings from beneath William Lewis's fingernails.

The doctor also said that he could say that William Lewis had not had a substantial meal for some hours before his death as his stomach was empty but said that he found some milky substance in his small intestines, from which he concluded that milky food had been taken approximately three hours before his death. The police surgeon that also attended the post-mortem said that he didn't think that William Lewis had had a solid meal for at least 24 hours before his death but agreed with the thinking that William Lewis had partaken of some milky food about three hours before death.

The police carried out fingerprint examinations in the house and found three sets of prints on the wooden bedstead on which William Lewis was found, however, they were found to have belonged to the policeman that had first arrived at the scene, a doctor that was later called out, and a police inspector who was also called out.

Plasmont House itself was noted as having originally consisted of twenty-two rooms and stood in its own grounds of approximately three quarters of an acre. It had three entrance, one at the front in George Street, almost directly into Conway Road and a side entrance leading to a back yard that gave admission to a semi-basement kitchen. For some years five of the rooms had been shut off from the main part of the house and were rented out as a cottage to which access was gained by the door nearly in Conway Road. The five rooms where then known as Plasmont Cottage to differentiate them from Plasmont House.

Originally Plasmont House had been occupied by William Lewis's mother and her four sons and four daughters. Two of the daughters later married, the other two remaining spinsters. At that time William Lewis had been living away from Plasmont House during the week days and conducting his drapery business in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, until 1932 when he retired and went to live permanently at Plasmont House, by which time there was only one surviving single sister left, and his three other brothers were all dead. Later still, in 1936, his other sister died and from that time until the time of his death William Lewis occupied the house quite alone.

From then on, William Lewis used to carry out his household duties himself, with the exception that on Sunday mornings the woman from Plasmont Cottage would visit him for three quarters of an hour and clean the kitchen and pantry and prepare his midday meal for cooking.

William Lewis was noted as having lived frugally. At the time of the initial police investigation, the police report noted that William Lewis's two surviving married sisters estimated his estate to be worth between sixty and seventy thousand pounds, although it was later determined to be worth about twenty thousand pounds. The police report noted that the sisters estimate of the value of William Lewis's estate could be well realised by the internal condition of the seventeen rooms, which no person had been employed to keep clean for a period of at least three years.

It was also noted that it appeared that following the death of each brother and sister, their respective clothing was packed up into brown paper parcels and left on the beds. It was also noted that the house was very heavily furnished and that every drawer, box or other receptacle was packed with such oddments as would suggest that the family had been a family of hoarders inasmuch as the greater part of which was unworthy of storage. The police report also noted that it appeared that their one object in life had been to accumulate money and property.

It was found that William Lewis had owned or was interested in approximately eighty properties, including housing and shops, in the Pontypool district, and that he would spent his time during the week collecting rents and looking after his property in general. It was found that the chief days that he would collect rents was on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays. It was also found that he had collected many rents in the town on the morning of 22 May 1939.

His brother-in-law, sister, a reverend and his wife visited Plasmont House on 22 May 1939 at 2pm which they usually did when they were in Pontypool for the purpose of collecting rents from properties that they owned. When they did so, William Lewis was waiting for them with a prepared meal of cold shoulder of lamb, bread, butter and tea. They noted that they had visited later then their usual time to call and said that they assumed that William Lewis had eaten his own meal because he didn't join them.

The reverend and his wife then spent the afternoon at Plasmont House and in the town where they made calls on business firms and at about 5.15pm William Lewis and the reverend and his wife sat down to tea, each consuming a boiled egg, bread and butter and some tea, noting that William Lewis also had some cake. Then, at the conclusion of tea, the reverends wife cleared the table and although she said she could not remember exactly what quantity of milk was left over, she said that she knew that when they had had their midday meal that there were two jugs each with approximately a pint of milk on the table and that very little was used for the midday meal or at tea time. The police report noted that it could therefore safely be assumed that at least one pint of milk had remained after tea time.

The Reverend and his wife left Plasmont House at about 6.20pm in their car, accompanied by William Lewis for a distance of about one mile along the road towards their home in Swansea. Before leaving Plasmont House they each partook in a bottle of Guinness stout.

They parted at about 6.30pm and at about 6.45pm William Lewis was seen by a man walking along the main road in the direction of his home.

He was Later seen in Conway Road near his house at 8.20pm and at 8.30pm he attended the British Schools, near his house, for the purpose of gas mask fitting. He was seen there by a man that he knew well.

While the Reverend and his wife had been at Plasmont House, a builder and decorator who lived at The Firs in Waterworks Lane, Abersychan, was also present and in accordance with a contract previously agreed to, it was arranged that he should commence work painting the exterior of the house on the following day.

The builder and decorator attended the house the following day at about 7.30am on 23 May 1939 and remained there until about 7.30pm, painting the windows.

He said that shortly after he arrived that morning he noticed that a small window on the ground floor at the end of the house was open and at about 1.30pm before going to his midday meal, he said that he went to the kitchen, which was at the opposite end of the house, for the purpose of washing his hands and found that the kitchen door was open. He said that he didn't see William Lewis at all that day and thought that he might have gone to his sister and brother-in-law’s house in Swansea to spend the night or so as he had done that before and that William Lewis had left the window and kitchen door open on his behalf.

The painter and decorator said that he arrived the next day at approximately 8.30am and that after unloading some material and mixing his paints he commenced work at about 9.30am. He said that at about that time, the husband of the woman that lived in Plasmont Cottage walked onto the lawn of Plasmount House and said to him, 'Hasn't the old boy about yet?', meaning William Lewis, and he replied, saying that he had not seen him but wished to do so in connection with the colour of the paint and also because he needed some windows opened. He said that they were in conversation for about ten minutes discussing the likelihood of William Lewis having gone to Swansea and that he then went toward the backdoor with the intention of calling out for William Lewis when he was joined by the woman that lived in Plasmont Cottage who suggested going with him to look for William Lewis. However, he said that the woman's wife said, 'I see no necessity for that'. The man then said to his wife, 'You better stay here, you don't know what he will find', and the builder and decorator asked, 'What do you mean?', and the woman's husband replied, 'I don't know, you go on'.

The builder and decorator said that he then shouted out for William Lewis but got no reply, and said that they had some further discussion about William Lewis having gone away, and that he then entered the kitchen, went down the steps and into the dining-sitting room and then upstairs into a second sitting room, and thence into a bedroom overlooking George Street. He said that he then went from that room, across the landing to another bedroom and there saw the room in disorder, and said that when he looked in further, he saw William Lewis lying dead, crossways, on the bed, with his neck and left arm being visible and of a bluish colour and with a pillow over his head. He said that owing to the odour in the room, he concluded that William Lewis was dead.

He said that he then returned to the back door and that after a minute or so he saw the woman from Plasmount Cottage and requested that she go into her own house, noting that she ought to be thankful that she had not gone upstairs with him.

The woman from Plasmont Cottage asked the builder and decorator if William Lewis was dead and the builder and decorator said, 'Don't say nothing to anybody but go in the house please'. The builder and decorator then asked the woman’s husband to watch the back door whilst he went to fetch the police. He then went to Pontypool Police Station and returned with a policeman.

When they returned to Plasmont House, the builder and decorator waited downstairs whilst the policeman telephoned for a doctor. When the doctor arrived, he took the pillow off of William Lewis’s face and then after an examination certified him dead.

The bedroom that William Lewis was found in was situated on the first floor and was approximately seven feet by twelve feet. Upon entering the door to the bedroom, a washstand stood behind, and on the right there was a single bed with the head towards the door. On the opposite side wall there was a small wardrobe, chair and dressing table, and near the foot of the bed another small chair.

It was noted that the drawers of the dressing table had all been removed and the contents scattered about the floor.

William Lewis was clothed in an undervest, shirt, pants, socks and an elastic truss as he had suffered from a hernia. His head had rested in an angle of the bed and wall at the foot of the bed, with his body being diagonally across the bed with his legs from the knee being over the side of the bed.

There was a large splashing of blood on the wallpaper near the head that appeared to have been splashed in an upward direction. There were also some smaller splashes near the skirting board that appeared to have been caused in a downward direction.

There had been a pillow placed over his head and the bedclothes appeared to have been turned upside down.

The police report stated that it was difficult to form any opinion as to whether William Lewis had gone to bed when he was attacked, or whether he was attacked as he was about to go to bed.

The suit that he had been seen wearing earlier in the day had been folded up and placed in the wardrobe drawer and a pair of blue trousers, part of a blue suit that he usually wore when he was doing any odd jobs around the house was on the back of the chair at the foot of the bed, and his boots were beneath it.

It was noted that William Lewis would frequently change into an old suit when he went home, even if it was almost bed time and according to the woman who lived in Plasmont Cottage, she generally heard him bolting the doors between 10pm and 10.30pm, and said that she occasionally knew him to be up until 11pm.

It was noted that William Lewis was never known to send any pyjamas or nightshirts to the laundry and none could be found in his house that shewd signs of having been worn. His relatives also stated that when he had visited him to stay, he had never taken nightclothes with him.

His doctor also said that when William Lewis had visited him for hernia, he had been wearing two shirts but no pants in bed, and it was thought that it might well be that he had usually slept as he was found, and that on the occasion that he had visited William Lewis he had removed  his pants for the purpose  of examination.

It was noted that William Lewis was of small stature, about 5ft 4 1/2in tall, and under ten stone in weight, and not a likely man to have put up very stout resistance, particularly in view of his suffering from hernia and a diseased heart.

The police stated that in their view regarding the search made of the drawers in the room that there was no doubt that the motive for William Lewis's murder was one of robbery. However, it was not known whether any property was stolen. It was found that as far as William Lewis's relatives could assist, everything of value known to have been possessed by William Lewis had been found, including articles of jewellery, golden sovereigns known to have been left to him by his sister and the sum of money known to have been collected by him since his last date of banking on 17 May 1939.

It was noted that his weekly takings averaged £80 and that that amount, with the exception of a few shillings, was found wrapped up in brown paper in a box in a bedroom on the floor above where William Lewis was found. It was noted in particular that one of the £1 bank of England notes in the parcel was numbered D68A 128195 and that it had been issued by the Bank of England on 18 May 1939 to the head office of the National Provincial Bank and that they in turn forwarded a block of £2,000 of the notes to their branch at Pontypool, which arrived there on 19 May 1939. The manager of the National Provincial Bank at Pontypool said that they kept no record of when the D68A 128195 note would have been paid out, but thought that it would have been paid out on 19 or 20 May 1939. The police report stated that it could safely be assumed that William Lewis had not collected the note before 20 May 1939, and that in all probability it was collected by him in rents on the morning of 22 May 1939.

There were two safes in the house in two separate bedrooms, both of which were open and from the dust on the locks it was apparent that they had not been used for some time. Their chief contents were leases and deeds of property, and in one of the safes there were War loan stocks and Saving Certificates to the face value of £1,220. The keys to both safes were found in a lady's old handbag that was in a drawer of a chest of drawers and it was apparent that they had not been recently used.

It was noted that there was no evidence found anywhere of anything else being disturbed in any of the other rooms other than the room in which William Lewis was found dead.

There was no evidence to show how the assailant had got into the house as there were no visible marks to shew that the window found open on the ground floor of the house had in any way been forced and further noted that the chances of finding any marks showing that a person had entered by that means were defeated as the builder and decorator had painted the whole of it on 23 May 1939, before William Lewis was found dead.

Three keys were found on the landing outside the door of the bedroom in which William Lewis was found, two of them being of HTV pattern and the other of a Yale pattern. The HTV keys were found to fit the outside kitchen door and some significance was given to them as William Lewis had requested that the builder and decorator have two new keys cut about a week earlier for his kitchen door as he had mislaid the two that he had possessed. It was noted that the builder and decorator had advised William Lewis that it would be cheaper and safer to have a new lock put on the door and he did in fact obtain one for that purpose.

When the police made lengthy enquiries and visited various properties owned by William Lewis in the town, it was found that the Yale key fitted a shop situated at 13 Crane Street in Pontypool which he owned and was rented by Jacquemore's (Wine Suppliers) Limited, Gateshead. After the police interviewed the principal as well as persons who had been in his employ it was established that he and his servants had only ever had two Yale keys to the premises and that those two keys were still possessed by the principal and his manageress.

The police stated that it could be assumed that William Lewis had not handed over three Yale keys to the shop staff when he had let the premises and it was thought that William Lewis might well have put the backdoor key that he thought he had mislaid, together with the Yale key, in one of the drawers in the bedroom, and that the assailant or assailants had, in making their search of them and scattering their contents about, thrown them to where they were found.

It was thought then, that if the assailant or assailants had got admission into the house by way of the window, that they may well have left by the kitchen door leaving it unlocked.

It was noted that in addition to the HTV lock on the back door that there was also a box lock and a bolt on the inside, but that it was apparent from the dust and cobwebs on the box lock and bolt that they had not been used for some time.

The catch of the HTV lock was said to be released when William Lewis was found dead.

The police report stated that it was evident that William Lewis had been dead on the morning of 23 May 1939 as the milk that had been delivered that morning was later found unopened where it had been delivered. It was usual for the milkman to call at the house at 9.30am each morning and deliver two pints of milk, leaving it in two separate jugs that were left on the dresser in the kitchen by William Lewis for that purpose. The milkman said that he had delivered two pints of milk on the morning of 22 May 1939 and a similar amount on the morning of 23 May 1939 noting that the kitchen door was open as usual on each morning and that the jugs were in their customary place. He said that when he called on the Wednesday, 24 May 1939, at a similar time, he found that the kitchen door was open but that the two pints of milk that he had delivered on the morning of 23 May 1939 had apparently not been touched.

It was also found that the postman had delivered two or three letters at Plasmont House at about 6.55am on the Monday, 22 May 1939 and three letters at a similar time on the following morning, Tuesday 23 May 1939. The postman said that he didn't go to the back door but put the letters through a slot alongside the window of the kitchen and that they would drop onto a ledge inside, which he said was the usual practice. After William Lewis was found dead, three letters were found on the ledge bearing a postmark of 22 May 1939 which the police report stated supported the view that William Lewis did not come down to the kitchen on the morning of 23 May 1939.

The manageress of a newspaper stall in the Pontypool Market entrance said that William Lewis would call each day at 11am for his morning paper but said that on the morning of 23 May 1939 he didn't do so.

It was noted that several people said that they had seen William Lewis between 11am and 12 noon in town on 23 May 1939, but the police report noted that if William Lewis had left his house that morning that the builder and decorator would have certainly seen him.

It was also noted that the medical evidence also supported the fact that William Lewis had died on the night of 22 May 1939, or early on the morning of 23 May 1939.

The police report suggested that if William Lewis had returned home after seeing his sister and brother-in-law off and then had his tea at 5.15pm and consumed the milk that his sister said was remaining after tea, just prior to going to have his gas mask fitted, that he might well have died at about 11pm on 22 May 1939. However, it suggested that on the other hand, if he had consumed the milk after the gas mask fitting, it naturally followed that he died later than 11pm. However, it was also noted that he might well have been attacked at the time and died later, with the digestion of the milk in his stomach continuing until he died.

A woman that had been walking with her daughter along Conway Road between 10.45pm and 11pm on 22 May 1939 said that she saw two man who she described but not very fully. She said that the men crossed and then re-crossed a road and then finally walked along Conway Road in front of them and they then lost sight of them. The woman said that they continued to walk along Conway Road and that when they got to No. 2 they saw them again sitting on the window sill there. She said that they walked past the men and that when she looked round they were still there. It was noted that the woman's daughter could say very little about the matter except to support the fact that when she had been out with her mother she had seen two men.

The woman from No. 2 Conway Road said that although she had not seen or heard two men on her window sill, at 11pm that day, or shortly after, she had gone to her front door to look for her daughter, when she had seen two men coming from te back yard door of Plasmont House. She could only describe them vaguely but said that she did remember that one of them had been wearing an overcoat with a belt right round, which was also the description supplied by the woman that had been out with her daughter. They had both also said that one of the men had been taller than the other.

The police report stated that in view of what the women had seen, special attention was paid to ascertaining who might have been in the vicinity at that time of night. It was noted that it was quite possible for the woman from No.2 Conway Road to see the back door of Plasmont House from her doorstep and found that the street lighting had been on at the time, such that it was quite possible to see anyone coming from the back door of Plasmont House.

It was noted that to have done that and to have walked to Conway Road, they would have had to have walked past the door of Plasmont Cottage which was occupied by the woman there and her husband.

The husband was a colliery haulier who worked from 2.30pm to 10.30pm and who arrived home regularly at 11.30pm. However, he said that on his return home he saw no one and heard nothing unusual. He added that it was his practice to scrutinise the cul de sac carefully in which the back door of Plasmont House was situated because it was apparently the practice of various persons to urinate there. His wife said that she had been in bed when her husband had returned and had retired at 10.50pm and had heard nothing unusual that evening.

When the woman from No. 3 Conway Road was interviewed, she said that the woman from No.2 Conway Road had said to her on 23 May 1939, 'There were two men sitting on my window sill at the front of my house at about 11pm last night, and I told the children to put the wireless off and went into the front rom to hear what they were saying, but I could not hear anything. I went into my door and the two men were walking up Conway Road. When I went to the door shortly afterwards I saw two men coming from Lewis's house and they went along Wainfelin Road. One had an overcoat with a tie-up belt. I heard a banging towards Lewis's house'. The woman from No. 3 said however, that she heard nothing herself. The police report noted that in the light of what the woman from No3 Conway Road had said that they interviewed the woman from No. 2 Conway Road again about what she was alleged to have said, but she denied the whole of the conversation with the woman from No. 3.

The police also spoke to the daughter of the woman from No. 2 Conway Road and said that she told them that had been to a local dance on 22 May 1939 with a male friend that had finished at 11pm. She said that she had then walked home with the male friend arriving at about 11.10pm and that after a few minutes talk they parted company. However, neither of them saw any strangers in Conway Road, although the girl did say that two other young girls had also returned from the dance, but when they were questioned, neither of them had seen anything unusual either.

However, another woman from Amberly Place in Pontypool said that she had been in Upper George Street near the junction of Conway Road at 10.40pm on 22 May 1939 when she saw two men, which was noted as being about the same time that the woman and her daughter who also said they saw two men had seen them. The woman said that they were walking in the middle of the road and then crossed towards her and then lurched back into the middle of the road, and finally disappeared up Conway Road. She said that she was of the opinion that the two men were drunk. She had been carrying her baby at the time and took very little notice of them. She said that she saw no other persons and that immediately after the men had passed from sight she went home.

The police report noted that it was impossible to fix times to the absolute minute, but said that all the women had been definite about the times in their statements, which all seemed to point to the fact that two strange men were in Conway Road at some time between 10.40pm and 11pm on 22 May 1939, and that there was equally no doubt that two men were seen coming from the rear entrance to Plasmont House at about 11pm.

A colliery haulier who lived at 6 South View, a turning off Conway Road, said that he was returning home between 11.20pm and 11.40pm on 22 May 1939. He had been keeping company with the daughter of the landlord of the local hotel and said that it was his practice to assist her in her work at night and after the doors had closed at 10.30pm to have supper with her and go home. As such, he said that he was able to fix his time of departure at approximately 11.20pm. He said that on his way home, at the junction of Malthouse Lane and George Street, he passed two men who he knew as workmen from the local ammunition factory but didn't know their names. He said that further along the road he saw three local acquaintances, who he named, who were talking just outside Plasmont House. He said that he wished them a good night and passed on and then saw the daughter of the woman from No. 2 Conway Road who had been out to the dance standing near the wall of the Catholic Church which was opposite Plasmont House in Conway Road. He said that the girl was talking to a young man and that he fixed the time at about 11.40pm. He said that shortly after he passed them he heard the girl walk along behind him and go indoors with her mother who he said he had seen waiting on her doorstep as he passed.

The police report noted that there was little doubt that the colliery haulier had been somewhat out in his times. They said that they traced all the three men that he named and spoke to them, noting that they were all in a local club from about 8.30pm to just after 10pm. They had said that they had remained talking outside the club for some time after they left and that as they all lived in the same direction, they walked along George Street until they came to Plasmont House where they stood outside talking until about 11pm. They said that after they had been talking for a few minutes the colliery haulier passed them and that they then parted and went their various ways, which was noted as being consistent with the statements given by the woman and her daughter from No. 2 Conway Road and the daughters male friend.

The police said that they were unable to identify the two other men that the colliery haulier had seen but said that they kept in constant touch with him but said that he had not since seen any person in Pontypool who resembled them during the period of the investigation.

A young lad who had lived at 43 King Street in Pontypool said that he and a friend had been passing Plasmont House at about 10.30pm on 22 May 1939 when he saw two men standing in the gateway. He said that one of the men had been standing on the step with the other behind him. The young lad was able to give a vague description of the men but added that he would not recognise them again and his friend said that he couldn't remember seeing anyone in the gateway of Plasmont House as he passed.

A man that had lived at 40 King Street in Pontypool said that he had been returning from work at about 11.35pm on 22 May 1939 when, as he got to the junction of King Street and Conway Road, he saw two men who he didn't know and was able to describe only vaguely, standing and talking about 200 yards from Plasmont House, adding that he was of the opinion that they worked in the local ammunition factory, but could give no further assistance.

A local fishmonger who lived at 89 Upper George Street in Pontypool, directly opposite the northern side of Plasmont House said that he had been returning home with his wife at about 12.30am on 23 May 1939 when a stranger suddenly, and without any warning, appeared on the other side of the road. He was able to vaguely describe the man saying that he had worn a belted raincoat. He said that the man then walked off along Wainfling Road which was going in the opposite direction to Plasmont House.

The police report noted that the reluctance of people to come forward was a real handicap, saying that all the people that they had spoken to who said that they had seen certain men and other witnesses in Conway Road on the night of 22 May 1939 were interviewed by the police only as a result of diligent, house-to-house enquiries, results of information received and by listening to and sifting through local and hotel bar gossip.

They added that they also published an appeal in the press for persons who might have been in the vicinity on the night of 22 May 1939 to come forward and said that only two persons did so.

They said that the first person, a man from Bushey Park said that he had passed Plasmont house at 10pm but had seen nothing.

The second person said that he had passed Plasmont house at 7.55pm and had seen two strangers standing there, one standing near the door leading to the back yard and the other about five yards distant. The man had been able to describe both of the men and said that he could identify one of them, but the police noted that anyone visiting Plasmont house at that time could hardly be regarded with suspicion as a number of people called there in the evenings for the purpose of seeing whether William Lewis had a house or houses to let.

An appeal was also made in the press for the two men that had been seen in Conway Road near Plasmont House or sat or rested on the window sill nearby to come forward, but there was no response to that.

The police report stated that there were no grounds to doubt the word of the woman from No.3 Conway Road who had said that the woman from No.2 Conway Road had seen the two men on the morning of 23 May 1939, noting that they had seen the woman from No.2  Conway Road five or six times and on each occasion she had denied having told the other woman that. However, the police report noted that the fact that two men had sat or rested on the window sill was corroborated by the woman that had walked by with her daughter.

Then, four weeks later, the woman that said that she had seen the two men on the window sill with her daughter went to the police station in Pontypool with a newspaper extract containing the photograph of the builder and decorator who had discovered William Lewis's body and said that she definitely identified him as being one of the two men that she had seen in Conway Road on the evening of 22 May 1939.

She was emphatic on that point and her statement was taken by a local police officer. When the detectives from Scotland Yard who were leading the investigation saw her they said that she gave the impression of being genuine and definite in her belief. However, the police noted that the woman had been to see the woman from Plasmont Cottage first and conferred with her and shewed her the photograph and vouchsafed her opinion that the builder and decorator was one of the two men. The police report noted that it was enlightening to hear the woman’s version of what the woman from Plasmont Cottage had told her after conferring, which was, 'That must be him, you tell the police'.

The photograph referred to had appeared in the Argus newspaper on 25 May 1939.

It was noted that several other photographs of the builder and decorator had appeared in various other newspapers at about that time and that the builder and decorator had attended William Lewis's funeral which took place on 29 May 1939 at the burial ground attached to Penygarn Baptist Chapel in Pontypool.

As such, the police report stated that when it was all summed up, it was thought that as a result of listening to local gossip, particularly that of the woman from Plasmont Cottage, together with rumours of the build and decorators arrest which were common at the time, the woman had persuaded herself that the builder and decorator had been one of the men that she had seen.

The builder and decorator lived at The Firs in Waterworks Lane and was married with two children and employed five men and two boys, including his father and brother. The police report noted, that to commence with his examination regarding the murder it was worth noting that he was financially embarrassed and could get no credit in the locality. However, it was noted that in about November 1938 that he started doing repair work for William Lewis and they had apparently conducted their business amicably, and with mutual satisfaction, for as far was as known, William Lewis had gone on to introduce the builder and decorator to his sister, and his brother-in-law, the reverend, who both owned properties around Pontypool and for whom he he did work.

It was known that William Lewis had contemplated marriage and on about 12 May 1939 the builder and decorator had agreed on a price of £36 for decorating the exterior of Plasmont House in addition to some other contracts for minor jobs. As such, the builder and decorator put his men to work and had practically completed the colour washing of the walls and minor jobs, leaving only the house window frames to be done which the builder and decorator attended to personally and was so engaged when William Lewis was found dead. At the time of the discovery, the builder and decorator had sent his other men, with the exception of his brother, to other jobs on behalf of William Lewis a week or so prior to 22 May 1939.

On the Monday 22 May 1939 the builder and decorator had been at Plasmont House at about 3.30pm while the Reverend was there until about 5pm. He gave the police an account of his movements from that time until 10pm that night which were absolutely corroborated by eight people.

From 10.30pm until midnight he was at home with his wife and brother until midnight. He had been at home preparing estimates as a result of the calls he had made on that day and did not leave his house again that night.

On the following day, Tuesday 23 May 1939, the builder and decorator went to Plasmont house alone, having told his brother the previous night to go on to another job that he wanted rushed through. He then worked at Plasmont house until 7.30pm, but before he left, he mentioned to the woman at Plasmont Cottage that it was strange that William Lewis had not been about. He then kept some appointments that night and arrived home at 9pm and then stayed there all night.

The next day, 24 May 1939, he went to Plasmont House at about 8am and at about 9.30am, the man living at Plasmont Cottage came onto the lawn where the builder and decorator was mixing paint and then following a conversation went into the house to discover William Lewis dead on the bed.

It was noted that after the news of William Lewis's murder became public, rumours immediately spread associating the builder and decorator with the murder. A lengthy statement was taken from him at the time and he willingly allowed his fingerprints to be taken. The police report noted that his demeanour was that of a man with nothing to fear and he had handed his clothes to the police without demur when requested in order that they might be subjected to examination by the pathologist. Although there were minor discrepancies in his statements, when challenged on them, he was quite easily able to explain them.

When he told the police his version of how he intended to fit a rimlock on the back door following William Lewis having supposedly mislaid his keys, the police said that it was quite understandable, noting that he had purchased three rimlocks on behalf of William Lewis for properties owned by him. It was noted that only one rimlock was required and that it was quite in keeping with what else was heard about William Lewis, to believe, based on his parsimonious nature, that he would use a cheap rimlock on his back door in place of the existing useless Yale lock, rather than purchase a new Yale lock.

The police concluded that the builder and decorator had a concrete alibi and noted that he emphatically denied that he had been in Conway Road at the time stated by the woman that had been there with her daughter who later identified him as having been there based on the photo that she later saw of him in the newspaper. They also noted that unless the medical evidence was hopelessly wrong and that all the people that had corroborated his statement were lying, then the builder and decorator could not have committed the murder.

When the police considered the couple living in Plasmont Cottage, they found that the husband was a colliery worker and was illiterate and lived in poverty. They also noted that his wife was also illiterate and a garrulous inquisitive woman. They had been living in Plasmont Cottage for nine years.

They found that on the night of 22 May 1939, that the husband had been working and had not got home until 11.30pm and following that said he went to bed and didn't leave the house again until he went to work the following day.

It was noted that there was a communicating door between Plasmont House and Plasmont Cottage, but when it was examined from both sides, it was clear that it had not been opened for many years.

The wife had been in the habit of going into Plasmont house to do housework for William Lewis and said that on the night of the murder, 22 May 1939, she didn't come home until about 9pm and was in bed by 10.50pm and heard nothing unusual. She said that she usually heard William Lewis securing the back door between 10pm and 10.30pm and then go to bed.

The police report noted that William Lewis had contemplated marriage, and it was noted that despite his affliction, there was no doubt, judging by the literature found in his house, and the suggestive nature of jokes that he had pencilled on scraps of paper, obviously for the purpose of remembering them, that he was a man amorously inclined. The report noted that he had four women acquaintances, and that three of them could have justifiably regarded themselves as the object of his affections.

The first of the women was the daughter of William Lewis's first cousin. She had started to regularly visit William Lewis for some time in 1934 and became very well acquainted with him. William Lewis's sister was alive at the time, and before she died, she expressed a wish that she and William Lewis should marry. It was noted that William Lewis had been agreeable to that, but the woman declined on the grounds that she did not like Plasmont House. However, she continued to be very friendly with William Lewis and he advised her as to many of her business transactions, for she too, was interested in property dealings.

When she was questioned, she said that the last visit she made to Plasmont house was on Saturday 20 May 1939. During her interrogation, she spoke of William Lewis's habits and mentioned several of his other female acquaintances. The police report noted that judging by her demeanour when she made her statement on 2 June 1939 that she was obviously reluctant to be in any way involved in the whole case, which the police report put down to the fact that she was jealous of William Lewis's other female acquaintances. Further, it was stated that it was known that she had quarrelled with William Lewis when she had last seen him on 20 May 1939 and it was believed that it had been over the second woman. In her statement she said that she had slapped William Lewis on the face, but that before leaving at 8pm they were quite good friends.

The police report noted that there was no doubt that the first woman would have married William Lewis if he had agreed to move from Plasmont House to a modern residence. The police report noted that William Lewis was apparently fond of the woman and suggested that it might have been that he made a show of his affections for the second woman in order to get the first woman to marry him. The police report noted that William Lewis had proposed to her several times and was no doubt influenced by her financial position.

The second woman was a 38-year-old woman who was the daughter of a one-time well to do people and who resided at Maesycwmmer, Goytre near Pontypool. She suffered from rheumatism and as a result had gone into a nursing home at St Margaret’s in Corbett Avenue, Droitwich where she was seen on 4 June 1939 and a statement taken from her. She was somewhat simple minded and had met William Lewis through some business transactions. It was said that there was also no doubt that she would have contemplated marriage with William Lewis had he been prepared to leave Plasmont House after the marriage, and it was heard that William Lewis had repeatedly proposed marriage to her but that she had declined to accept for that reason. It was found that the second woman had been in Droitwich on 22 May 1939.

The third woman had lived at 25 The Avenue in Griffithstown and had been proposed to by William Lewis. She was an intelligent woman and the secretary to the head of a big estate agency in Pontypool, and despite the fact that she had made a joke about the marriage proposal, it was said that there could be little doubt that had William Lewis been prepared to leave the gloomy Plasmont House that she would have accepted him. It was heard that she was by far the more personable of the three female friends and by far the most intelligent. When the police went to see her, she said that she didn't want to make a statement as she had very little to tell, saying that she had not seen William Lewis for some weeks prior to his death.

It was noted that there was a fourth female acquaintance who lived in Llancayo near Usk. She was seen, but declined to make a statement, saying that she only knew William Lewis as a customer at her stall in Pontypool Market where she sold dairy produce. However, the police report stated that that was hardly true because they had found correspondence in William Lewis's house in which she had invited him to spend a few days holiday with her in 1938, and it was also found that she had accompanied him to his sister's address in Cardiff on one occasion.

The police followed a number of other lines of enquiry regarding the case.

A woman from a shop in Pontypool said that on 24 May 1939, two Irishmen came to her shop in Pontypool and made a purchase for which they paid with a one-pound note that was extracted from a large roll of notes. At the same time, an inspector from the GW Railway Police came forward with a discoloured note that had been tendered as fare to Bristol from Pontypool by one of two Irishmen whose description tallied with that supplied by the shop keeper. It was noted that at that time it was not known whether or not the banknotes had been stolen. When the discoloured note was examined it was found to have been caused by damp red dust. The two Irishmen were traced to Hannam near Bristol after several people were interviewed and proved to be brothers who were visiting Bristol but who had stopped at Pontypool to look for work. The money that they had been shewing freely had been earned by them during the time that they had worked in Glasgow on a Government Ammunition scheme. It was also found that they had a complete alibi for their movements on 22 and 23 May 1939 and had not been in Pontypool on those dates.

In one other case, two coloured men were subject of local rumour as having been seen in the vicinity of Plasmont House on 22 May 1939 in a motor car. After several people were interviewed, it was found that they were 'quack' doctors from Bridgend and that they had left the district before the murder.

A local mason also gave a statement to the police saying that he had been told by a friend of his that he had had two lodgers who were foremen at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Glascoed, who knew certain things connected with the murder and had suspected some fellow workmen of committing the crime. It was heard that the workmen had apparently been 'flat broke' one day and then the next had 'money to burn'. The mason also noted that it would be an easy way to dispose of any incriminating article by dropping it in the concrete at the Ammunition Factory. When the police interviewed the landlord at 64 Wainfelin Avenue in Pontypool, he didn't substantiate fully the statement made by the mason. He said that he did have two lodgers who he said that after hearing of the murder had remarked, 'It's funny if it is those two fellows who were spending all the money'.

The two foremen were traced, and it was found that they had lived elsewhere and had lodged in Pontypool during the week and gone home at the weekends. They both made statements regarding their movements and it was found that one of them had frequented a local pub called The Castle and that one evening a few days before 20 May 1939, he had met a man there from Burnley at about 10.15pm who had previously told him that he had spent time in Parkhurst for robbery. He said that they left the pub and walked down the town where the man from Burnley said, 'I know where I can get some easy money this week-end', indicating the direction of Plasmont House with his thumb, and then said, 'At back'. The foreman said that they then walked back to his lodgings and on the way stopped near a bridge a few yards from Plasmont House and that after a few minutes the man from Burnley went into his lodgings in Malthouse Lane on the other side of Plasmont House and the foreman went back to his lodgings in Wainfelin Avenue where he told his friend about the conversation.

Following the conversation, a few days before 20 May 1939, the two foremen later went back home at the weekend as was their custom. The foreman that had had the conversation went back to Malvern, an whilst there, had to make a call at the Malvern police station where he spoke to a policeman's wife an told her that she would hear of a big robbery in Pontypool, a statement that was verified by the wife of the policeman.

When the foremen returned to Pontypool and to the Royal Ordnance Factory at Glascoed on the early morning of 22 May 1939, they worked throughout the day, and then later went back to their lodgings at Wainfelin Avenue at 7pm, and then later, the foreman that had had the conversation with the man from Burnley went out at 9pm to go to The Castle pub in George Street where he met three other men employed at the Glascoed works. He later left them there at about 10pm and walked up the road towards his lodgings with another man who he only knew by sight having seen him at the Glascoed Factory and also in The Castle pub. The foreman then left the man at the corner of Conway Road, with the other man walking off up along Conway Road, and went back to his lodgings where he met the other foreman.

The foreman said that he worked at the Glascoed Factory on 23 May 1939 from 7.30am to between 7pm and 7.30pm and stated that the man from Burnley was also at work their daily during that week. The statement was corroborated by the other foreman that he was lodging with who said that on the evening of 22 May 1939 after finishing work at the Glascoed Factory at 6.30pm he drove the foreman and the man from Burnley home in his motor-car, dropping the man from Burnley off near The Castle pub and said that neither he nor the foreman left their lodgings that night.

The other foreman said that again, the following day, he drove the foreman and the man from Burnley home in his car dropping the man from Burnley off at The Castle pub. He said that then, he and the foreman had food at their lodgings and then went to The Castle pub where they met the man from Burnley and had a drink together until 10pm after which they went to Turner's Fish shop in George Street where the foreman and the man from Burnley had fish and chips. He said that they all then returned home along George Street to Malthouse Lane where the man from Burnley left them to go to his lodgings and that he and the foreman both went to their lodgings.

Both foreman agreed to have their fingerprints taken and their clothes examined for bloodstains, but with negative results.

The landlady at Wainfelin Avenue corroborated what the foreman had said about leaving the house at about 9pm on 22 May 1939 and returning at about 10.20pm, and further stated that the other foreman didn't leave that night either. She also said that on the night of 23 May 1939 both foremen left her house at about 9pm and returned about 10.30pm. She also said that on the night of 24 May 1939 the foremen returned home at 11pm after sending her a message at 8.30pm saying that they were going to a supper. She said that that night, 24 May 1939, she mentioned to them that a murder had been committed at Plasmont House. It was noted that the foreman had said that the landlady had told him about the murder at Plasmont house on 23 May 1939, but the police report notes that that was before the discovery of William Lewis dead in his bedroom, and the landlady said that she was positive that it was on the night that they had attended the supper.

The police also took a statement from the man from Burnley who was married and lived at 33 Rectory Road in Burnley, but who worked at the Glascoed Ordnance Factory in Burnley and was lodging at 4 Malthouse Lane in Pontypool at the time.

He said that on 22 May 1939 at 6.30am he had left his lodgings and proceeded to the Glascoed Ordnance Works, arriving at the timekeeper’s office at 7.25am. He said that he left work at 6.30pm and returned home in the motor car of the other foreman. He said that he then had tea and went to The Castle pub at about 8.30pm and later that night had a couple of drinks with the foreman with whom he left at closing time, 10pm. He said that they walked along George Street together towards their lodgings and then parted by Malthouse Lane at about 10.30pm. It was also noted that the man from Burnley had said that he had travelled to work each morning with a fellow lodger who was seen and was able to corroborate that.

The police report stated that in view of the fact that the man from Burnley was alleged to have said that he had been to Parkhurst for robbery, he was requested to have his fingerprints taken which he readily did, and his clothes were also examined, but there were no apparent traces of blood found on them. It was found that as a result of his fingerprints being taken that he had no previous convictions for crime or any offence of violence, however, it was found that he had been convicted on one occasion in Burnley for drunkenness and it was said by the Burnley Police that he was of a boastful nature.

It was noted that in the foreman's statement he had said that he had left The Castle pub on the night of 22 May 1939 with a man employed at the Ordnance Factory, but didn't remember who it was, but the police report suggested that it might have been the man from Burnley. The report noted that they were both heavy drinkers and that it was doubtful if they could remember with any degree of certainty from one day to the other who they were with on the previous night or nights, or the times they left each other. The report further stated that from the description of the foreman and the man from Burnley, they may well have been the men seen by the colliery haulier that had seen the two men at the junction of Malthouse Lane and George Street that he knew as men that worked at the local ammunition factory but whose names he didn't know, if for instance, they had been half an hour later arriving home  than the times that they had given in their statements, noting that the spot where the colliery haulier had seen the two men was the spot where the foreman and the man from Burnley would have parted to go to their respective lodgings.

Other enquiries were made regarding statements made by other people.

Another man that worked at the Glascoed Factory said that he had been in The Castle pub on the night of 22 May 1939 and had left shortly before 10pm. He said that he had then gone on to a dance hall on Crane Street where, at 11pm  he left with a lady friend who he saw off on a train for Usk, and then later, at about 11.50pm, whilst he was in Upper George Street, proceeding towards Conway Road, said he saw a man coming along Upper George Street towards him dressed in a shirt and trousers. He gave the police a brief description of the man, but he could not be traced.

Another man from Silverdale, Broadway, in Pontypool said that at about 10.30pm on 22 May 1939 he had seen two men who he couldn't describe pushing a motor cycle up the hill past the Catholic Church near Plasmont House in the direction of Wainfelin. However, although enquiries were made, the two men and the motor cycle could not be traced. However, on 12 June 1939, a telephone message was received from the Brecon Constabulary in Brynmawr to the effect that two men on a motor cycle had been seen in the district and it was known that they had been sleeping out, and further that they had deposited two haversacks at the Hafod Garage in Brynmawr  which were found to have contained clothing and tools.  When the police visited the garage and inspected the haversacks, they found that one bore distinctive splashes of blood and the haversacks were taken into police possession. The men had been seen by the police previously and were from Liverpool. On 15 June 1939 they were located at Ebbw Vale and statements taken from the which clearly shewed that until 24 May 1939 they had both been resident in Liverpool and that on that date they had driven on their motorcycle to Ebbw Vale to look for work, which was verified by Liverpool police whilst their statements were being taken. When the issue of the blood on the haversacks was addressed they said that on 8 June 1939 they had found a dead hare and rabbit on the road just before arriving in Gloucester and had strapped them to the haversacks on the carrier. They said that the hare had been run over and that the rabbit had been attacked by a stoat. They had then handed over the hare and rabbit to a woman who kept a small refreshment house which was verified by the Gloucester Constabulary.

A statement was taken by the Reverend’s next door neighbour who said that he saw him and his wife leave home at 7.30am on the morning of 22 May 1939, but said that he didn't see them return.

The Reverand said that he arrived back at his home in Swansea at about 8.15am on 22 May 1939 and it was said that there was no reason to doubt that.

A butcher that lived on Conway Road in Pontypool said that on 22 May 1939 at about 3.30pm while in George Street, he had seen William Lewis accompanied by a clergyman. He said that he also saw another man that he knew, who was under the influence of drink and said that the man said to him, 'Wouldn't I like to go and smash his bloody face', indicating William Lewis.

It was noted that the man that had said that, who lived in Fowler Street, had been in The Castle pub in George Street from 1.30pm until 3pm on 22 May 1939 and had had several glasses of beer after which he had left for home. When questioned, he said that he could not remember whether he spoke to anyone on the way home after the pub, or of making any statement about William Lewis of Plasmont house who he knew well. The man was illiterate and a heavy drinker. However, he was able to account for his movements on the evening of 22 May 1939 and of 23 May 1939 and his clothes were examined for any bloodstains while his statement was taken.

It also came to the attention of the police that two strangers, a man and a woman had been seen sleeping in a field near the Glascoed Ordnance Factory and after much enquiry and searching, they were located at Cadoxton near Barry Docks. However, it was found that the man had been in Swindon on 22 and 23 May 1939 and that he and the woman, who had run away from her husband, left for Usk on the 1.05pm train from Swindon on 23 May 1939.

The police also investigated a local man that had a reputation for being violent who was supposed to have been in the vicinity of Plasmont house on or about 22 May 1939, but he was later traced to London where he had been on 22 May 1939 having been there since 22 April 1939.

In another instance, the licensee of the Unicorn Inn in Pontypool said that a customer had appeared at his inn a few days after the murder with scratches down one side of his face. However, the man was found to be another employee at the Glascoed Ordnance Factory and said that he had cut his face whilst shaving on 26 May 1939, and his movements at the time of the murder were accounted for and verified by a corroborating statement made by his wife.

The police report noted that it was usual in cases of this description for rumours to go round and many names to be mentioned.

They noted that it was freely said that a builder's labourer from Rockfield Terrace in Pontypool had committed the crime. He had several convictions recorded against him for crimes of violence, and had at one time worked for William Lewis, and so he was accordingly interviewed. However, he was able to account for his movements at the material times and it was concluded that apart from the fact that he had a criminal record and had once worked for William Lewis, that there was nothing to shew why his name should have been mentioned.

A coal tipper from Newport said that a man he knew had been in Newport on 25 May 1939 discussing the murder and another man had spoken to the man who didn't answer him and drank up his beer and hurriedly left the pub they were in. The police said that they later identified the man and found him to be a man with a criminal record, including crimes of violence. The police took his statement in which he accounted for his movements at the material times, stating that he had been at his lodgings at Amberley House in George Street, Pontypool after 10pm on 22 May 1939 and that prior to that he had been to a local pub.

The police report noted that in addition to the man, many other local men with convictions recorded against them or with reputations as violent men were interviewed and asked to account for their movements, and a record of all criminals released into the surrounding districts was obtained which embraced Glamorgan, Breconshire and adjoining counties and the forces of those counties were asked to locate ad interrogate known criminals there as to their movements at the time of the murder. The report noted that many other provisional forces were also asked to do likewise, including Leeds City who were asked to locate a specific known criminal but without luck.

The police report stated that it was tremendously difficult to find many of the people that they had needed to interview and noted that without the help of the local police their efforts would have been doubled. It was noted that in normal times Pontypool had a population of just over 7,000 people but noted that recently the Glascoed Ordnance Factory had commenced. The factory was noted as being situated five miles from Pontypool on the Pontypool to Usk road and had 4,500 men employed there, most of them being strangers to the district, principally Irishmen and Welshmen, and who, for the most part, resided in the major part of Pontypool. It was said that in an undertaking of that kind that there was a constant coming and going of workmen, some only staying for a few days and then leaving without a trace. The police carrying out the investigation stated that they were faced with an ever changing population and that on many occasions it was necessary to see a dozen or more people before they found the man that they wished to interview. It was further noted that to add a little more to the difficulties, the workmen in most cases stayed only for a short while at any address, sometimes moving without paying their bills, and noted that the landlords kept very little in the way of records and as such, it was stated that it could readily be seen that finding people, even after an address had been supplied, was not easy.

The police report stated that many days were spent searching for the weapon at Plasmont house and the surrounding grounds as well as the railway embankments running at the north side of Plasmont House, but nothing was found. The report stated that from the bloodstain on the blanket of the bed together with the nature of the wounds inflicted that there was little doubt that the instrument used was an iron one, about an inch wide and a foot in length. An appeal was also made through the press requesting householders to search their gardens with a view to finding the weapon but without luck.

The police report concluded that it thought that the motive was robbery and that it was difficult to come to any other conclusion that the person or persons responsible must have had good knowledge of the habits of William Lewis and the position of the rooms in which he slept. It stated that if, as supposed, the thief or thieves had entered by the window which was found open, one would have expected to have found some other rooms in the house ransacked prior to entering the bedroom in which William Lewis slept which was upstairs on the opposite side of the house.

It was noted that it was common knowledge in the town that William Lewis was a wealthy man and that he collected rents weekly, which was information that the report stated could easily be gleamed by a stranger and with a short observation, the room in which he slept be established.

On 26 June 1939, William Lewis's family offered a £1,000 reward which was advertised through the press, but without any luck.

It also stated that it was unfortunate that the woman and her daughter that had seen the two men could not have given a better description of the men that she had seen or the woman from No.2 Conway Road give a better description of the men she had seen leave the back door of Plasmont House as it was felt that that information might have been the turning point for successfully clearing up the crime.

When his estate was dealt with in late July 1939 it was found that he had left £20,135 to be shared by his sisters, with net personalty of £3,114. The bulk of his property consisted of house property and shares.


*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.


see Daily Herald - Thursday 21 September 1939

see Gloucestershire Echo - Wednesday 24 May 1939

see Daily Mirror - Tuesday 30 May 1939

see Yorkshire Evening Post - Saturday 27 May 1939

see Western Mail - Thursday 27 July 1939

see Western Mail - Monday 26 June 1939

see The Scotsman - Saturday 27 May 1939

see Reminiscences of Old Pontypool

see National Archives - MEPO 3/809