If you were to stand today at the junction of Wellwright Road and St Fagans Road in Fairwater you would be standing on the spot of one of the most baffling, unsolved murders that ever has occurred in the Cardiff area. The investigation that followed captured the attention of newspapers and news-sheets across Britain and even involved a sensational input from a Medium who screamed the murderer's name!
The peace and tranquillity of that Fairwater evening in July, 1896 was to be broken in the most violent and seemingly motiveless of ways. Villagers heard, in the still of the late evening, a shot, then after a minute or so, a long and piercing scream before another shot, then absolute silence.
The Spreading Chestnut tree, where today's Fairwater Green is situated, was where the lane to the St Mary's Church and the Earl of Plymouth's Estate in St Fagans commenced. Two of the villagers from the nearby Cartwrights Farm, made their way up the dark, unlit lane in the direction of the scream. As they did so a person passed them coming out of the gloom of the lane, they had the look of a sailor. The villagers did not take much note, but were soon stopped in their tracks when they literally stumbled over the lifeless body of a man where today's Wellwright Road meets St Fagans Road.
The local police were summoned and the body of the man was taken by horse and cart up to Llandaff Police Station and placed in the old Fire Engine shed at the rear. The man had been shot twice in the back. Within 12 hours they had identified the man as David Thomas, 41 years of age, a new employee on Lord Windsor's estate at St Fagans. He had only lived in the area for three weeks moving up from Penypeel Road in Canton where he lived, whilst working for Clarke's the Monumental Sculptors in Cardiff Road, Llandaff. He was described as unassuming, gentle and easy going.
The tiny Court Room at Llandaff Police Station was packed on the following day, where the extremely emotional witnesses, including his wife Catherine, gave evidence to the Coroner's Inquest jury. They concluded that David Thomas had been murdered by persons or persons unknown. Within four days he would be buried in St Mary's Church, St Fagans, a grave now lost.
David Thomas, on the day he was shot, had left his house at Park View around 2.30pm and walked to see his friend William Augustus in Penypeel Road, Canton. Then together, during the early evening, they wandered up Cowbridge Road and had a 'blue' (2/3 pint) in the Ty Pwll Coch, then after passing the Railway Public House they sat on the bench that surrounded the Chestnut Tree on Fairwater Green.
All the police knew for sure was that around 9.30pm William Augustus left his friend to walk home to Canton. David Thomas waved him 'goodbye' to go his house at St Fagans. He never made it!
Witnesses gave numerous sightings of the two friends and also others who were around the area during the evening. In many ways the investigation was clogged up by convoluted observer statements. The one man, who had been seen coming from the lane, apparently had been noticed by others during the day 'hanging around.' His description was circulated and men of like description arrested across the country from Manchester to Bristol, all to no avail.
A medium at a séance in Windsor Place a few weeks later took on the persona of David Thomas and apparently screamed the name of the murderer. This young girl, still in her teens, was later taken by journalists and National Physic Observers to Fairwater where she enacted the whole scene and fell in exactly the same spot where David Thomas had fell. Her witness was exact. The problem for today's investigators was that the name she screamed was never put into print, and to all intents and purposes, never followed up.
The witness statements are still extant today, the police enquiry book still there to view. Was it a man who murdered David Thomas, or according to some, a woman dressed as man. I have put a suspect in the mix, a man who committed the Margam murder two years later. He was later hung!
One commentator at the time called the murder, 'a cold blooded assassination'. The question was, and is, why?
(Abridged from the book. 'Why Shoot David Thomas' by John F Wake)
Other books in the series. 'The Cruel Streets Revisited' - 'Cardiff. Those Cruel and Savage Streets'
A MEDIUM, IN A TRANCE, RE-LIVES THE MURDER.
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