British Executions

John Edmunds

Age: 24

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 3 Jul 1909

Crime Location: Garnwen Farm, Abersychan, Pontypool

Execution Place: Usk

Method: hanging

Executioner: Henry Pierrepoint


John Edmunds was convicted of the murder of Cecilia Harris 59 and sentenced to death.

He shot her and cut her throat at Garnwen Farm, Abersychan, near Pontypool on 20 February 1909. She died two and a half months later from natural causes.

John Edmunds was a collier. Cecilia Harris was a caretaker at Garnwen Farm and said that she knew John Edmunds by site but not by name.

On the afternoon of 20 February 1909 Cecilia Harris was alone at the farm. John Edmunds had been seen by several people that afternoon hanging around the farm with a gun and between 4pm and 5pm he went up to the farm.

Cecilia Harris said that she saw John Edmunds come up to the farm with his gun and said that she saw him from a window pointing the gun at her and said that she ordered him off. She said that she saw him a little later in the yard when he again pointed the gun at her. She said that she then locked the door but said that John Edmunds broke a window and entered the kitchen.

She said that she then ran out of the house but said that John Edmunds followed her and then shot her in the face. The shot broke her jaw and lacerated her right cheek. She said that he then threw her down and had connections with her three times. After she said that he took her back into the house to wash her face and bandage up. She said that she offered him her money and her watch to induce him to go and said that he took her purse with 5/- in it.

She said that John Edmunds then caught her by the neck and cut her throat with a knife that had been on the table. The wound severed more than half of her windpipe but missed her main arteries. Her right hand had also been cut whilst she was trying to defend herself.

She said that she then fell on to her knees on some sacking and that John Edmunds then took her by her hair and bumped her head on the floor.

However, she then got away and ran out of the door, frightening a child who was coming to see her.

She said that John Edmunds then said, 'I can b-----r off now any time' and went away too.

Cecilia Harris ran off to another farm about a quarter of a mile away. where she wrote a statement saying that John Edmunds was the man that had attacked her.

She was then taken to Pontypool Hospital and the next day her dying deposition was taken. However, she lived for another two and a half months and then died from natural causes on 5 May 1909. However, it was said that her death had been accelerated by her injuries and John Edmunds was charged with her murder. It was noted that she had even started to recover and that on 23 April 1909 she had seemed very much better and gave evidence to the police concerning the charge of assault with intent to do murder. However, she died a few days later.

When John Edmunds was first arrested he said that he knew nothing about it.

In his statement, after being told that Cecilia Harris had said that he had attacked her he said, 'Yes, I know she said so, but it is not true. I was not nearer than the bottom of Abersychan to Garnwen yesterday. I was about the house all day. Between 5 and 6 a little girl was with me and at 5.40pm the man who is living under us, came in and asked me if I was going to the theatre at Abersychan. I said 'yes'. I left the house about seven. A man was with me and at half-time I went as far as the railway station. I went home from the theatre after ten and saw the police at the bottom of Abersychan. The railway station was the nearest point for me to be to Garnwen yesterday.'.

However, both his clothes and Cecilia Harris's clothes were taken away to be examined and they were both found to have particular fibres on them which were later identified as coming from sacks that had been at the farm house.

It was also noted that at 7.30pm on the 20 February 1909 that John Edmunds had been seen in a shop in Abersychan buying oranges for which he tendered a 5s piece, which was thought to have been a 5s piece that he had taken from Cecilia Harris.

At the trial the 11-year-old boy that had reached Garwen Farm at about 4pm on 20 February 1909 said that he had gone there to give some papers to Cecilia Harris and that when he arrived he saw a man who he identified in court as being John Edmunds.

John Edmunds had also been seen by a number of other people loitering about near the farm.

At his trial his defence said that there was no motive for him to have committed the crime. Whilst it was said that his motive could have been to grab some money or to give way to his unbridled passions, it was said that the question of motive had nothing to do with a case like this. It was said that the evidence given of John Edmunds conduct showed him to be a man bereft of even the slightest spark of humanity and that he had acted more like a brute beast than a human being, and that he must have committed what he did before he realised what had happened.

John Edmunds was convicted but appealed his conviction saying that Cecilia Harris had died from natural causes with it being said that she had showed signs of having died from chronic Bright's disease. A doctor’s evidence stated that Cecilia Harris had suffered from congestion of the lungs with signs of old standing pleurisy and bronchitis. Her heart was also found to be flabby and undergoing fatty degeneration and her kidneys were diseased. Her death was stated as being due to failure of the heart caused by the congested state of her lungs which was due to the septic nature of the wounds in her throat and mouth that were setting up a foul atmospheric condition which Cecilia Harris was then breathing in. The court heard that both doctors that had examined her body were satisfied that apart from the injuries inflicted, the natural conditions existing were not such as to account for her death and that death was in fact accelerated by her injuries.

The police report stated that it was quite incredible that Cecilia Harris could have survived the ordeal on 20 February 1909 and have died in the ordinary course from natural causes on 5 May 1909.

The police report stated that the question of the weight applied to the interval between Cecilia Harris being attacked and then dying was the only serious issue. It stated that if the crime had been rape alone, being accompanied by brutal but not murderous violence and that death had then followed from the shock of the assault then the weighting of the two and a half month would have been more significant. However, the report stated that in the case of Cecilia Harris's murder, John Edmunds's acts pointed to murder and nothing else and that the rape was merely an incident in that, noting that if the gunshot had been a few inches to the left that it would have been fatal and that if the knife had behaved differently then her throat wounds would also have been fatal. It was also noted that John Edmunds had also done his best to finish his work by bumping her head on the floor and as such it was impossible to doubt that he had intended to kill her and that at the time he had had every reason to believe that he had done so. It stated that the fact that her constitution, in spite of disease, had enabled her to live for two and a half months and did not affect in the smallest degree the gravity of his crime.

John Edmunds appeal was dismissed, and he was executed on 3 July 1909 at Usk.

see National Archives - HO 144/913/179216, ASSI 6/44/2