Unsolved Murders

Robert Gwilym Owen

Age: 33

Sex: male

Date: 2 Jul 1954

Place: Criccieth, Caernarvonshire

Robert Gwilym Owen was found in an shallow open grave on Friday 2 July 1954.

A verdict that he died from strychnine poisoning self-administered while the balance of his mind was disturbed was returned at his inquest.

He had gone missing on 29 June 1954 and was found three days later in a rhododendron thicket on a small island in a shallow grave. The grave had been lined with rhododendron leaves from nearby bushes and had a homemade cross with his name on at one end.

After his body was found the on the Friday night on the island, which was about a mile from his home, the police said that they had not ruled out the possibility of foul play.

More than 100 searchers had been involved in the search for him in nearby woods and across fields after he had gone missing.

His father said that he knew of no reason why Robert Owen might take his own life.

Robert Owen had been a farmer at Ponybryn Farm in Criccieth in Caernarvonshire and had run the farm for his aged parents.

The cross had been carefully made and assembled with dovetail joints and four counter-sunk screws and bore the inscription, 'Robert Gwilym Owen, born June 11, 1920, died June 29, 1954'. The inscription had been printed in block letters with a ballpoint pen.

At his inquest, the police said that they thought that Robert Owen had dug the grave himself, lined it with leaves and placed the cross at the head of it and had then gone back to Penybryn Farm where he lived with his parents and brother and changed into his best suit, brown shoes and cap and had then gone back out to the island.

His post mortem found that he had taken enough strychnine to kill at least 30 men.

Whilst it was not known why Robert Owen would have killed himself, when the Coroner asked Robert Owen's father, 'Has any such sad occurrence as this happened in your family before, on either side', Robert Owen's father replied, 'Oh, yes'.

Robert Owen's father also noted that strychnine had been used before on the farm for killing moles.

A policeman at the inquest said that when he went into the tool-shed at the farm he found a piece of wood that was identical with that that the cross had been made from and that in the shed he found a long handled spade that still had mud on it. He said that he also found the corduroy trousers that Robert Owen had been wearing before he disappeared on the evening of 2 June 1954, noting that they were wet to the knees. He added that he also found Robert Owen's working boots which he said were covered with dirt and mud.

A police inspector said that he went to the island to examine the grave, photographs of which were shown at the inquest. He said that hte grave was in the centre of a small clover-leaf shaped island near the edge of a lake that was about a quarter of a mile from Penybryn. He said that the island was thickly covered with rhododendron bushes and could be reached by walking along fallen trees.

The police inspector said that he found a beer bottle near the grave that contained a small quantity of fluid.

A Home Office pathologist said that when he carried out the post mortem he found the equivalent of 31 grains of strychnine in Robert Owen's body, noting that the fatal dose was between half a grain and two grains. He said that the strychnine would have caused convulsions and death within an hour but that a dose as big as he had found would have caused death quickly and would have been compatible with the finding of his body lying so peacefully in the grave.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Belfast News-Letter - Monday 05 July 1954

see Western Mail - Wednesday 28 July 1954

see Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 05 July 1954