David (Dai) Lewis (1896-1927)

The Murder of Dai Lewis

Two men were hanged for the murder of Cardiff boxer Dai Lewis in 1928. These executions still arouse controversy in Cardiff and at the time fuelled a movement for the abolition of the Death Penalty in which local Theosophists played a leading role.

Dai Lewis was a well known Welsh welterweight boxer. Back in 1927, the pursuit of his profession didn't provide him and his family with an adequate living. To augment his income, he rented chairs, tables, blackboards and other accessories used by the horse racing fraternity.

At UK race meetings bets were placed with bookmakers who were independent business men. They set up their paraphernalia among the crowd and accepted bets. Lewis provided the tools of the gamblers' trade and maybe a bit more. His business had a darker side. In order to rent his wares, he sometimes threatened to have a customer's table overturned or have his blackboard knocked down. In a way, he sold protection.

Occasionally Lewis would become overly ambitious and rent his equipment in locations at the track he knew very well were traditionally the territories of his competitors. On such occasions, Lewis stood to get at least a bad beating.

On Sept. 28, 1927, Lewis attended the Monmouth Races, where he did well renting out his accessories. He rented some tables in areas regarded as the exclusive territory of Edward and John Rowlands. A few friends tipped off Lewis that the Rowlands brothers were planning to teach him a lesson. As a precaution, Lewis decided not to go home to his wife, but instead took a room at a hotel on St. Mary St.

Nothing untoward happened that night. Next day, Lewis was back at the races, operating as usual. That evening, he went to the Blue Anchor Pub on St. Mary St. and stayed the evening, drinking and storytelling. In walked John and Edward Rowlands, accompanied by their friends, Daniel Driscoll, John Hughes and William Price. They proceeded to take a table and order drinks. Lewis felt a bit uneasy, but stayed and apparently enjoyed the evening. When the pub was about to close, some of the men left and lingered outside. Dai Lewis walked out into the fresh night air of St. Mary St.

Suddenly, a group of men, including John Rowlands and William Price, approached Lewis. Other men moved up behind him. Lewis, no shrinking violet and well aware of what was happening, raised his arms to defend himself.

Both groups of men crashed into Lewis, knocking him to the ground. As he struggled to rise, a knife blade flashed in the dark. One swipe and Dai Lewis' neck was slashed open. The group hesitated for a moment, looked at the fallen man and ran off into the night.

Prostitutes who had witnessed the event were the only ones to rush to Lewis' aid. They tore at their clothing and made a crude bandage in an attempt to stem the blood pouring from Lewis' wound. Minutes later, an ambulance was at the scene. Attendants ministered to Lewis, who was near death. He was rushed to the Royal Infirmary, where surgeons worked at stitching the wound, but there was no way of stopping the vast quantities of blood Lewis was taking into his lungs.

Police were called. They stood outside Lewis' door in case the critically wounded man would be able to speak and identify his attackers. While Lewis fought for his life, a telephone call came in to the reception office at the hospital. The caller inquired about Lewis' condition. Before revealing any information, the nurse receiving the call insisted on the caller identifying himself. The man hung up. A short time later, the nurse received a second call, which she thought was from the same man. Once again, when pressed to identify himself, he hung up.

The nurse became suspicious and informed police. Tracing equipment was utilized to intercept all incoming calls to the reception area. The man phoned again and the alert nurse was able to keep him on the line long enough for the call to be traced. It had originated from a local hangout, the Colonial Club.

Police were there in minutes. They took John and Edward Rowlands, Daniel Driscoll, John Hughes and William Price into custody. All five were charged with the attempted murder of Dai Lewis.

Investigating officers were advised that Lewis was not expected to live through the night. The five accused men were driven to the dying man's bedside. Lewis, who had been told that there was no hope of recovery, was able to comprehend what was going on and was able to speak. In a weak voice, he said, "I do not know how I have been injured. I do not remember how it happened. There was no quarrel or fight. I did not see anyone use a knife."

He stared up at the five faces peering down at him. He continued, "Ed, you had nothing to do with it. We've been the best of friends." To Daniel Driscoll he said, "You had nothing to do with it either. We were talking and laughing together, my dear old pal." Those were the last words spoken by Dai Lewis.

Since Lewis was a professional athlete and something of a local hero, his death caused much excitement. Over 25,000 people lined the streets of Cardiff on Oct. 3, 1927, when he was buried. Thousands more stood outside his home.

A few days later, John Rowlands admitted it was he who had slashed Lewis' neck. He claimed Lewis had attacked him with a knife. In the struggle, Lewis' neck had been slashed.

Edward Rowlands claimed he and Daniel Driscoll had walked out of the Blue Anchor, observed the fight from a distance and had run off when the crowd dispersed. Driscoll told the police the same story in an independent interview. There was no evidence whatever that John Hughes had participated in the attack. As a result, he was released, but the Rowlands brothers, Driscoll and Price remained in custody and stood trial for Lewis' murder.

The proceedings lasted only three days. The Rowlands brothers and Driscoll were found guilty and sentenced to hang. Price was acquitted.

Immediately after the trial, there were many who expressed the belief that Edward Rowlands and Daniel Driscoll were innocent. No concrete evidence had been introduced at the trial to conflict with their stories that they had been at the scene but had not taken part in the crime. Eventually, several petitions with a total 250,000 signatures was forwarded to officials, imploring them to review the verdict. An appeal was heard and dismissed.

John Rowlands, the confessed knife wielder, went mad under the pressure of the proceedings. He was declared insane and incarcerated in Broadmoor.

For the first and perhaps the only time in the history of crime, eight members of the original jury which had convicted the Rowlands and Driscoll issued a statement. They said that Edward Rowlands and Daniel Driscoll should not receive the death sentence. This plea was answered by the Home Secretary, who stated, "No regard can be paid to expressions of opinion by individual members of the jury by which a person has been convicted."

On the night before their execution, both men declared they had nothing whatever to do with Lewis' murder. In the morning, as 5,000 individuals milled about the Cardiff jail, Edward Rowlands and Daniel Driscoll were hanged.

SOURCE: http://www.theosophycardiff.org/histdailewis.htm

1928: Edward Rowlands and Daniel Driscoll

On this date in 1928, Edward Rowlands and Daniel Driscoll hanged in Cardiff for murdering a man whose last words exculpated Rowlands and Driscoll.

That victim, Dai Lewis, was a former prizefighter who was pivoting his career to dabble in the bookmaking side of the sport.

Lewis was trying his hand at a bit of the old protection racket, strong-arming bookies into kicking back shillings by "buying his chalk" to mark their boards in exchange for being their muscle. But in so doing he was intruding on the turf of Cardiff's established mobsters - specifically the Rowland brothers, Edward and John.

On September evening after a day at the races, the upstart entrepreneur Lewis was accosted by a small group of men as he left a pub. The assailants battered him to the ground, and then one of them slashed his throat.

The wound was mortal but not immediately so; streetwalkers in the vicinity rushed to the felled man as his attackers fled, and were able to stanch the bleeding well, and Lewis was rushed to the Royal Infirmary.

As Lewis bled fatally into his lungs, the doctors helpless to save him, a series of suspicious hang up phone calls to the Infirmary asking after his condition led police to another pub where the Rowland boys were relaxing with three of their cronies: Daniel Driscoll, John Hughes, and William "Hong Kong" Price. But when the five were brought to Dai Lewis's bed, the dying pugilist refused to break the underworld's code of silence by implicating them.

Lewis's explicit denial that the Rowlands and Daniel Driscoll had been among his attackers didn't cut very much ice, especially when John Rowland cracked and confessed to wielding the blade that took Lewis's life.

In a muddled trial with a good deal of contradictory and fleeting eyewitness testimony, both Rowlands and Driscoll - who unwisely floated a phony alibi - were convicted. (Price was acquitted, and Hughes was released uncharged; our story takes its leave of them here.)

The circumstances of the homicide have never in the years since become entirely clear; one common hypothesis is that the bookies were "merely" trying to give their rival a warning slash on the cheek to scare him away from their customers, and in the struggle the knife went astray. Another is that the murder gave police a pretext to target some gangland figures they were keen to get rid of.

But from the moment of their conviction the boys, and especially the plausibly-innocent Driscoll, were the subjects of intense public support. Reports say at least 200,000 Britons (some say as many as 500,000) signed petitions for Driscoll's pardon, and Liverpool dock hands threatened a national strike. Edward Rowlands too continued to maintain his own innocence.

No fewer than eight members of the jury who convicted Driscoll were so troubled at the sentence that they petitioned the Home Secretary to extend mercy. (Two of the jurors travelled personally to London to present their petition.)

The Crown was not interested:

It is a fixed and necessary rule that the individual views of jurymen must not be allowed to influence the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy. Jurymen may support an appeal for mercy like the rest of the public, but once a unanimous verdict is given the individual jurors cannot qualify it.

Ironically, only the admitted killer, John Rowland, would be spared the noose: he went mad under the pressures of incarceration and was sent to Broadmoor. John's brother Edward and their chum Daniel Driscoll both besought the Royal prerogative of mercy in vain.

Driscoll took the bad beat with a gambler's sang-froid, playing cards over port on the eve of his hanging - as thousands gathered outside the doors of the prison to weep and pray as the morning hanging approached.

"Well, I'm going down for something I never done," were his last words. "But you don't have to pay twice."

At the Cathedral that day, the Catholic priest - Driscoll's confessor - announced what his parishioners already believed: "they hanged an innocent man at Cardiff jail this morning." Efforts to obtain a posthumous exoneration have surfaced several times in recent years but never yet achieved the trick.

Actor Chris Driscoll is Daniel Driscoll's nephew.

SOURCE: http://www.executedtoday.com/2015/01/27/1928-edward-rowlands-and-daniel-driscoll/