Christmas murder in 1909 reunites long lost family

Christmas murder in 1909 reunites long lost family

A family ripped apart by a murder that shocked a Welsh community has been reunited – more than a century after the brutal killing.

Gwen Ellen Jones was lured to her death on Anglesey by a jealous lover on Christmas Day, 1909.

Her killer William Murphy became the last man to be hanged at Caernarfon jail for his crime.

But it orphaned two children – and sparked another mystery, which has only now been uncovered.

The tragic and traumatic story of how Gwen Ellen died was rediscovered by researcher Dr Hazel Pierce, and led to a HistoryPoints smartphone plaque being placed at her former home in Bethesda, Gwynedd, revealing details of the events that unfolded on 25 December, 1909.

The 35-year-old had been living on and off with 49-year-old labourer and former soldier William Murphy in Holyhead.

Dr Pierce described him as a “jealous, possessive and controlling man”.

He found out Gwen Ellen had taken up with another man, Robert Jones, in Holyhead and moved into new lodgings down the street “where he watched her every move”, said Dr Pierce.

Gwen Ellen was due to return to her family home in Bethesda the day after Christmas, to spend it with her adopted daughter Gwladys and her son – thought to have been fathered by Murphy.

But on Christmas night, Murphy lured her away outside the Bardsey Island Inn in Holyhead.

He strangled her and cut her throat.

After handing himself in to the police, he told officers: “I am not sorry for it. I am glad I have done it – I shall get a bit of rest now.”

He was hanged at Caernarfon jail on February 15, 1910, without ever showing a hint of remorse for the murder, only telling the priest as he walked to the gallows: “I hope the Lord will have a little mercy left for me.”

Gwen Ellen’s children Gwladys and William John were taken into care and never saw each other again.

But after the story gained publicity a year ago, it led to descendants of Gwen Ellen’s family and her adopted daughter being reunited.

The great-nephew of the murder victim and the niece of Gwladys are now in contact with each other – and have been sharing what more they know.

“After Gwen’s murder, my aunt Gwladys, who was only 13, was sent to a care home in Bontnewydd (near Caernarfon), and then adopted by a family from Bolton who had been following the case in the newspapers,” said the niece of Gwladys – Gladys Hughes, who is from the Llanrwst area of the Conwy Valley.

It was the Llanrwst Workhouse where Gwladys was born, and where she was originally adopted.

“My aunt always looked on Gwen as her mother, and although I was very close to her, she would never speak about Gwen or what happened.”

She was at home with her adoptive grandfather when the terrible news of the murder reached them.

She also had to give evidence in Murphy’s trial, and was reduced to tears on the stand by questioning from the killer himself.

Of course, she also lost her family – for a second time – and was sent to live in an English speaking mill town in Lancashire – more than a hundred miles (160km) from where she grew up.

But according to Gladys, her aunt did her best to put her traumatic childhood behind her and was successful, becoming a St John’s nurse.

Gladys said it had been “wonderful” to make contact with another part of the family lost following the murder.

Gwen Ellen’s great-nephew Gwynfor Parry agreed. His grandmother had been Jane Jones, Gwen Ellen’s younger sister.

“When I saw the photograph of Gwen Ellen Jones in the news reports last year, I was struck by how much she resembled my grandmother, Jane,” he said.

Gwen Ellen’s sister lived in Menai Bridge on Anglesey, which was referred to in the killer’s trial as one of the locations his victim would visit regularly.

But it also led to Dr Pierce uncovering another possible secret in the family history – there may have been a third child orphaned by the horrific murder.

“I looked further into the family and found someone living in Jane’s home in the 1911 census who Gwynfor had never heard about,” said Dr Pierce.

It was a child named Hannah who was aged two and had been born in Holyhead in the year Gwen Ellen died.

The child was described as Jane’s adopted daughter.

“So could Gwen have had another baby shortly before her death, which Jane adopted?” asked Dr Pierce.

“We have an old family bible with dates of births of family members going back to the 1850s – but many details have been rubbed out,” said great-nephew Gwynfor.

“I wonder if this is one of the reasons why?”

Leave a Reply