Monday, September 19, 2011

Rhoda Willis, Welsh Child Care Provider Hanged for Murder - 1907

NOTE: Rhoda Willis called herself “Leslie James.” She was the last woman to be executed in Wales.


FULL TEXT Mrs. Leslie James, the baby-farmer, was executed in Cardiff gaol for child murder on August 14th at eight o’clock. By a strange coincidence the date of her execution was that of her forty-fourth birthday. Strenuous efforts had been made to obtain a reprieve for her, but the Home Secretary could find no grounds on which to recommend her to mercy.

The murder for which she was executed was that of a child entrusted to her care with which she had received a premium. Before going to the scaffold she made a full confession of her guilt, and admitted the justice of her sentence.

The confession was made to her solicitor, for whom Mrs James sent after breakfast, and took the following form: —

“I wilfully killed the child. I killed it in the train on the way to Cardiff. A sudden temptation came over me, and I could not resist. I particularly want those who tried me, particularly the judge, to know that I was quite guilty, as I should not like to die with any chance of them thinking I was innocent. It has been a great comfort for me to tell you this, and I can now die with a  clear conscience.”

It is also understood that some days before her trial she confessed to a fellow prisoner that she had killed the child. At first she thought of drowning it in a bath, but afterwards smothered it.


On Monday afternoon Mrs James, very penitent and quite resigned to her fate, asked to see the governor. That gentleman at once responded to the condemned woman’s request, and after the interview despatched the following telegram to Liverpool to the man who had massed as her husband: —

“Come at once. Now wishes to see you. Lose no time.”

Travelling all night, the man in question, who is a marine engineer, formerly in the service of Messrs Morel and Co., of Cardiff, reached the gaol early on Tuesday, and at 11 a.m. saw Mrs James, who received him at first cheerfully, but broke into a passion of tears as she asked after the two children she had had by him.

Before they parted she handed to him a letter, in which she stated that she was quite prepared for and resigned to her fate. She had never appreciated the singing of the birds and the sunshine more than during the last two or three days.

In pathetic terms she made reference to their two little girls, whom she commended to his care, and begged him not in any circumstances to divulge to them what their mother’s fate was.

She hoped God would pardon her for her sins, and she was certain she should die in the knowledge that she would be forgiven everything in the hereafter.

In her interview with her solicitor on Wednesday before proceeding to the scaffold Mrs James also signed her will, in which she left all she possessed to her Liverpool visitor.

She walked to the scaffold without kid and perfectly composed. Pierpoint, who had travelled from London after executing Brinkley at Wandsworth, was the executioner, and death after the drop fell was declared to have been instantaneous.

Mrs James’ maiden name was Rhoda Sidles, and she was born in Sunder , her father being a well-known hotel proprietor, who in later years took over a hotel in Birmingham, where he sold some years ago. She is described as being in those days a handsome girl, with. large, expressive eyes, and a wealth of golden hair. She received a first-class education at a private hoarding school on the outskirts of town.

When about nineteen years of age, Rhoda, as she was called in her young days, fell in love with and married Thomas Willis, a young Sunderland marine engineer, with a chief’s certificate. They were very happy, and eighteen years ago they settled in Grange town, Cardiff, bringing with them their only child, a bright little girl, who is now in domestic service at Cardiff.

Mr Willis died while on a visit to his friends in Sunderland some twelve years ago. Mrs James, returning to Car diff, then made the acquaintance of the marine engineer who paid her the last visit on Tuesday. She lived with him as his wife in Paget street, Grangetown. Cardiff. Two children were born, and then differences and quarrels arose.

At last the two agreed to separate, the woman going to her brother, a licensed victualler in Birmingham, and the children being left with the man. The woman, on returning to Cardiff from Birmingham after an absence of about two years, was in very straightened circumstances. Then she took to drink heavily – and that was the commencement of the downward career which has ended on the scaffold.

Twelve months ago Mrs James was Knocked down by a bicycle in Cow bridge road, Canton, Cardiff, and for twelve weeks she was under treatment at the workhouse infirmary. There she underwent an operation for an injury to the head sustained in the accident. Shortly after leaving the workhouse she got into the hands of the police for the first time in connection with the theft of a medal, and from that moment sank lower and lower.— “Lloyd’s Weekly.”

[“Hanged On Her Birthday. - A. Baby-Farmer’s End. - She Confessed Her Crime. Execution At Cardiff.” (from Lloyd’s Weekly, London), The Grenfell Record (Australia), Oct. 26, 1907, p. 7]



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