William Murphy was close to 50 years of age, a labourer by trade and a retired corporal with the Royal Anglesey Engineers. No-one knows a great deal about him but he would almost certainly have come to Anglesey from Ireland. He was unable to speak Welsh.
He had found work in various places. In Holyhead itself in the Mynydd Twr clay works, and in the water works. Also in the goods yard of Holyhead station.He had also for a time worked on the new stretch of railway between Gaerwen and Benllech. He was quite a popular person and it was said of him that he was fearless.
William Murphy was very fond of one Gwen Ellen Jones, a married woman whom he saw on various occasions. Gwen was living apart from her husband Morris Jones, who at the time lived in Llanfairfechan.
Gwen was living with another man called Robert Jones, at 51 Baker Street Holyhead, one of the poorer parts of the town. She was very poor and was often to be seen hawking cheap goods from door to door, or simply begging on the street.
William had lost touch with Gwen, and sought her in her father’s house, John Parry of Bethesda. He had hinted that he would kill Gwen if he found her with another man. John Parry tried to put him off by saying that his daughter had gone to Llanddona, although he knew full well that she was in Holyhead. He also knew that William Murphy would eventually find her.
On Christmas Day of 1909, one Elizabeth Jones who shared rooms with Gwen went with her for a walk. Murphy came looking for them and found them in the Bardsey Inn in Newry Street. He insisted on talking to Gwen alone and sent Elizabeth away. She went not knowing that she would never see her friend again.
Murphy returned to the Bardsey Inn a little after nine o’clock. He was alone and there were scratch marks on his face. He noticed this in a mirror, and pulled out a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe the blood away. It was noticed at the time that the handkerchief was already bloody. He said later that he had been in a fight with two men.
However, Murphy gave himself up to the police, and led them to Gwen’s body which was lying in a ditch near Walthew Avenue. They had quarrelled, he said. She was drunk and was having difficulty standing up. She had told him that she was very fond of him, but she would not go with him. This incensed Murphy that he must have strangled her , and slit her throat with his knife before dragging her by her hair into the ditch. He later said that he could not think of her with another man, and that he was not sorry that she was dead as he would get some peace now.
When he was brought before the justices at Holyhead, he defended himself, although not very successfully. And he was committed for trial in Beaumaris Court on 26th January 1910. His reaction was to say, “Very good, sir. Another fortnight of peace”.
At his trial in Beaumaris he was defended by Mr Austin Jones who had been appointed by the judge, Sir William Pickford (of the Pickford transport and removals family). Prosecuting were Mr Ellis Jones Griffith, who was also fighting a General Election, and Mr Trevor Lloyd. Mr Austin Jones had very little with which to defend Murphy. The knife which slit Gwen’s throat was proved to the Court’s satisfaction to be the one with which Murphy used to eat. Neither was there any evidence that Murphy was of unsound mind.
The judge summed up in what was considered to be a fair way and the jury took only three minutes to reach a verdict of guilty. After the judge passed sentence of Death Murphy thanked him.
This calm demeanour remained with him throughout his stay in prison in Caernarfon. When word was brought to him that an appeal for clemency had been denied, he did not flinch. He gave the prison staff no trouble, and in return all were said to be kind to him.
He went to his death at the hands of Pierrepoint the executioner, and his assistant Willis calmly wearing the same clothes and boots in which he had been arrested. There is a story about him that says that when his arms had been pinioned, he had asked the executioners “Is it easy?” They had answered that it was. He then stood on a chair and jumped off it asking, “As easy as this?” They answered “Yes”. He said, “I can do that.” Indeed it is said that the Catholic Chaplain of the gaol Father Gouzier who attended him during his final hours was more agitated than he.
As was the custom, the bell of St Mary’s Church began to toll, but was silent after two strokes. The people outside the gaol thought that there had been a last minute reprieve, but the silence was due to the clapper of the bell falling off, and the sound of the trapdoor being sprung behind the walls told them that the execution had been carried out. The notice of Murphy’s death was posted on the prison door at about a quarter past eight.
References Llygad am Lygad - Eigra Lewis Roberts