It was at Monmouth racecourse that Dai Lewis, an ex-professional boxer, began earning his living dangerously with a small-time protection racket. Using the threat of his muscle, he rented out chalk and boards to the bookies at exorbitant prices which insured them against unforeseen accidents. But a gang led by the Rowlands brothers, John and Edward, was already offering the same service, and on SEPTEMBER 28th, 1927, they did not fail to notice Dai Lewiss invasion of their patch.
He knew he was stepping on toes and had the foresight not to go home that night in case a welcoming committee awaited him. Instead he booked into a hotel in Cardiffs St. Mary Street.
The next day he went to the Monmouth track again. Still feeling it unsafe to return home, at the end of the day he went back to the hotel. Later, in the Blue Anchor pub in St. Mary Street, he saw several members of the Rowlands gang, but they all left. What he didnt know was that they had gone to a café across the road to watch and wait for him.
When he left the pub at closing time he was suddenly surrounded. A fight followed in which he was stabbed in the throat, but when police questioned him in hospital he refused to name his assailants.
The hospital then received two telephone calls asking how Lewis was faring. Each time the caller rang off when the duty nurse asked his name. The police put a trace on the line, and when the man rang a third time the call was found to have come from the Colonial Club, a known haunt of the Rowlands gang.
Officers arrested five of its members: John and Edward Rowlands, Daniel Driscoll, John Hughes and William Price. All were charged with attempted murder, and it was arranged for Lewis to make a deposition. The five suspects, each handcuffed to a policeman, were then herded round the dying mans hospital bed in the presence of a magistrate and his clerk.
Lewis was told that he was not expected to recover, and when he was asked what had happened outside the Blue Anchor he replied in a husky whisper, I dont know how I have been injured. I do not remember how it happened. There was no quarrel or fight. Nobody did any harm to me. I did not see anyone use a knife.
Turning to the Rowlands brothers, he said: You had nothing to do with it. Weve been the best of friends. Then he told Driscoll, You had nothing to do with it either. We were talking and laughing together.
The underworlds code of silence had been kept, but when Dai Lewis died on September 30th the suspects were charged with his murder.
After several days under pressure John Rowlands made a statement admitting his involvement. He claimed it was Lewis who had produced a knife, and said that in struggling to take it from him he must have accidentally stabbed him in the throat.
The prosecution decided there was insufficient evidence against Hughes, and the charge against him was dropped. The other four were sent for trial, and at its conclusion the Rowlands brothers and Driscoll were found guilty and sentenced to death. Price was acquitted.
But the case was controversial. A petition for a Home Office inquiry was signed by 250,000, three doctors claimed that Lewis had died from a heart attack and not from his stab wound, and a majority of the jury wrote to the Home Secretary asking for the death sentences not to be applied.
Nevertheless the convicted mens appeals failed, but John Rowlands was spared the hangmans noose. On the way to his appeal hearing he had gone berserk in the prison van, and he was subsequently certified insane and transferred to Broadmoor.That left Edward Rowlands and Daniel Driscoll, and they were executed together on January 27th, 1928.