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Splott Baby Murderer by John F. Wake

Splott Baby Murderer by John F. Wake
6 Sep 2019

Leslie James was from Sunderland. She came to Cardiff and was the wife to two husbands. The first died tragically and Leslie never got over it. She married again but it went wrong and she was left on her own.

She moved into a house in Portmanmoor Road, Splott, Cardiff as a lodger. Leslie was drinking heavily and needed money not only for her habit but for the monies for board and lodge. She advertised for babies to purchase and she was successful. She bought at least three babies, one she abandoned on Splott Road bridge. It died later of hypothermia.

Another was her downfall. Her landlady found the dead body of the baby in Leslie's room whilst she drinking in the Lord Wimbourne public house across the road. The police ultimately charged her with the murder of the baby, which she denied.

She was later to admit smothering the tiny baby on the Coryton-Queen Street train between Heath Halt and Cardiff Queen Street.

However, she admitted only hours before the execution that she was not Leslie James at all. Her real name was Rhoda Willis. 

'Her execution had been set for 8 a.m. on Wednesday, the 14th of August, 1907, which was also her 44th birthday. She was still an attractive woman, her blaze of golden hair glinting in the morning sunshine as she was led across the yard to execution shed. This was remarked upon by Henry Pierrepoint in his diary. Present were the usual officials, including the Under Sheriff, Mr T T Williams, the Governor, Mr H B Le Mesurier, the Chaplain Rev Arthur Pugh and the Prison Surgeon, Mr J D Williams. As was usual with a female execution the press were not admitted.

It was reported by a witness that Rhoda met her death bravely and died without a struggle: "We learn from one who was present that the culprit's demeanour prior to her execution was wonderfully calm, and she went to her death bravely." In fact, the officials of the prison were lost in admiration of her fortitude: "She displayed far greater control over her emotions than some men whom eye-witnesses of the execution had seen hanged." 

"As she stepped out of the cell into the open air she gave one glance towards the sky, the last she was to give before being ushered into the presence of her Maker.”

Her last words just before the lever was operated were “Lord Jesus receive my soul.”

(full account in Cardiff - Those Cruel and Savage Streets)


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