You know how when you're a kid there's always a story about a scary murder that took place in your neighbourhood? Well, for many years I just wrote ours off as just that. Except it turns out that the murder was very, very real. So real the murderer was hanged for the deed in December 1948.
Here's the full story -
Clifford Godfrey Wills was born in 1916, the son of housewife Edith Marion Dunn and Thomas H Wills, a marine engine fitter. The couple had married in 1914 and at the outbreak of WWII were living in a semi-detached house in lower Pontnweydd. Wills served in the army and then, after being demobbed in 1945, returned to live with his mother at 3 Cromwell Place.
An electrician by trade, Wills was unemployed more often than not, but made up for it by being attractive and charming. It wasn't long after leaving service that Wills began an affair with (among others) Sylvina Parry, a married woman who was friendly with his mother and lived just a few doors away at 11 Wayfield Crescent.
'Viney', as she was known to family and friends, had been born Sylvina May Jones on January 9th, 1916. In 1933 she married John Parry, a furnace man at the GKN (Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds) Ironworks in Cwmbran, and a year later gave birth to their son, Anthony. Standing at just 5'2", Sylvina was said to be a happy, likeable woman, who was always chatty and telling funny stories with work colleagues, even if she tended to be reserved with her neighbours.
The house on the left, with the black window frames, is #11. These semis would be joined by rows of terraced housing in the early 1950s, one of which would be #44 Wayfield Crescent, located at the bottom of this street, where I grew up.
Tuesday 8th June was to be a big day for Sylvina - she was due to take delivery of a brand new car in Newport. Up at the normal time of 6:45 am, Sylvina left her home at the regular time of 7:30 am to get to her job as a machine operator at the Caldicot Tin Stamping Works. She spoke to neighbours also on their way to work, and to a colleague who took her a light meal just after midday, as usual. Sylvina had already arranged with management to leave work early that day to go and pick up the car, and left the premises at about 2pm.
[Disclaimer: I've only seen the claim she was getting a new car in one source, the 2014 Citizen Record article.]
For her husband, John, that Tuesday seemed to be just another working day. He left the house shortly before 2pm to get to his shift at GKN. When he returned home at 10:15 pm he was unnerved to find that, although 14-year-old Anthony was home, his wife was nowhere to be seen. John and Anthony sat up late waiting for her, and periodically John wandered the neighbourhood looking for her. There were plenty of pubs in Pontnewydd village, along with bus stops and a train station, so the chances of finding someone new who might know where she was would have seemed fairly good.
Finally, at 9:45 am the next morning, he went to report Sylvina missing, presumably at Richmond Road police station, which is now the site of Russell House retirement flats. Afterwards John went home and, restless, searched the house again, including the 'boxroom' (small bedroom) which was mainly used for storage. Noticing something out of place, John lifted up the long sheets on the bed and was soon back out on the street, meeting up with a police sergeant who was on his way to make enquiries about Sylvina's disappearance.
He'd found her, John told him, almost in tears.
Under the bed.
The sergeant was soon joined by more police, along with Home Office pathologist, Professor J M Webster. Under the leadership of DI R Atkins of Monmouthshire CID they carefully explored the crime scene.
Sylvina's body was partially clothed in stockings, shoes, and a plastic raincoat. Her head was covered with several items of clothing, and lay in a pool of blood. There were splashes of blood on her clothing and the walls, bloody footprints on the floor which didn't match any of the shoes in the home, and police were able to lift a bloody fingerprint from the black handbag found beside the body
The pathologist confirmed her head injuries - consisting of 12 individual splittings of the scalp inflicted by a heavy spanner found at the scene - could have caused death. But so could the three stab wounds to the chest, with one passing through the heart, made by a dagger. (The weapon was later identified as a knife belonging to Sylvina's son, Anthony.) Then again, he also ruled that she could not have survived the 11 inches plus of child's coat sleeve which had been violently forced down her throat as a gag. Her other injuries included manual strangulation marks to the throat, a broken nose, two black eyes, bloodied lips, and expanses of bruising.
Sylvina's watch had stopped at 4:30pm, and the pathologist determined the likely time of death was shortly before 4pm. A rolled up, unused condom was found on her left thigh.
John Parry, the obvious suspect, was quickly ruled out when his alibi was proven. Police quickly turned to house to house enquiries which revealed details of Sylvina's life John hadn't known. Curious neighbours had often observed Sylvina leading another man into the house, when her husband was at work. It wasn't long before one put a name to the face: Cliff Wills.
The Truth Outs
Police went to speak to Cliff at his home in the afternoon of Wednesday June 9th. He was still in bed, asleep, and when they pulled back the bedclothes it was to find him still dressed in a blood stained shirt and sporting slight cuts to the knuckles of his right hand. Sergeant D. Plummer cautioned Wills, and asked him to explain how he had come by them.
Wills claimed he had been in a pub fight in Newport the night before, and said that he had last seen Sylvina the previous day, stating: 'We were together in Newport yesterday and went to the cinema together. She has been mine for the last three years.' The problem was that it was a struggle to get much sense out of him. He seemed drowsy and distant, and when asked whether he had taken anything, he admitted he had swallowed between 15 and 20 sleeping tablets. He was taken first to the police station, then on to hospital where his stomach was pumped.
After treatment he was returned to the police station for questioning where he made a statement:
'She told me she would be ready to go to Newport just after 2pm. I went to the Pontnewydd Hotel and had a drink. I called at Mrs Parry's house at about two o'clock, she had on a new look two-piece, which I had not seen before, we arranged to meet at the Romany Cafe in Dock Street, Newport, but she did not turn up. I waited a short time, and while I was waiting I saw a girl named Doris. I had spent the previous Saturday night with her and we were on intimate terms. I arranged to meet Mrs Parry, but she did not turn up.'
Later Wills added, 'She had an appointment with someone, and I got a bit mad and decided to end it all, but I did not kill her.' He then asked whether she had suffered much and, after being assured that she had, Wills said: 'She deserved to die.'
That evening, after Inspector C Parsons had explained he would be held pending further enquiries, Wills told him: 'Our sex life was perfect. If I did not go to her, she would come to me.' During the journey by police van to Pontypool station, Detective Constable Brinley Wheatstone alleged that Wills said to him: 'What does it feel like to be sat by a killer? You have got your man.'
He went before a magistrate at Pontypool on July 1st and was committed for trial during the autumn assizes at Newport.
Wills maintained his innocence both during and after the trial, but the evidence against him was strong.
Laboratory testing had determined that the blood on his shirt matched Sylvina's blood group, and the shoe prints in the boxroom were a perfect fit to Wills'. More damning still was the matching of Wills' fingerprints to those found on Sylvina's handbag and the bathroom walls. Police hypothesised that Sylvina had been changing out of her work clothing when Wills knocked on the door. Quickly throwing on the rain mac, she answered, and the two went on to have consensual sex. It was after this that Wills attacked Sylvina and left her for dead, pausing only to hastily attempt to hide the body under bed.
[Local folklore maintained that after murdering Sylvina, Wills went drinking in Pontnewydd pubs, where he drunkenly confessed to people and tried to avoid John Parry who was out looking for his wife. No idea how much truth is in that part of the tale!]
The trial was held on November 9th 1948, where Wills was found guilty and sentenced to death by Mr Justice Hallet. The Home Secretary announced his decision that there were no sufficient grounds for his interfering in the verdict on December 1st, meaning that Wills was duly hanged at Cardiff prison just over a week later, on December 9th 1948. The execution was carried out by Stephen Wade, assisted by H.W. Critchell; it was Critchell's final execution.
Wills' body was buried in the prison grounds, before eventually being dug up along with five others to make way for a new cell block in 2003.
- July 17th 1948 edition of the Perth Mirror.
- Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Newport - Terry Underwood. (2004)
- Afternoon Tryst Turned Deadly - The Citizen Record. (19 March 2014)
- FindmyPast / Ancestry records.
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