After she was savagely attacked on FEBRUARY 20th, 1909, it took elderly Cecilia Harris several weeks to die. She had long been in poor health, so would she have died when she did anyway? This was the point at issue when John Edmunds stepped into the dock at Monmouth Assizes, charged with her murder.
He was a 24-year-old labourer, and the court heard that he had gone to Mrs. Harriss lonely farm near Abersychan, where he shot her, raped her three times, cut her throat and stole her valuables. When she died in hospital a few weeks later, she was found to have congestion of the lungs, fatty degeneration of the heart, diseased kidneys, and long-standing pleurisy and bronchitis.
The defence made the most of this, suggesting her death was caused by her poor health. But two doctors testified that she had not died from natural causes. They said her death had been accelerated by her injuries – her heart failure was caused by the congested state of her lungs due to her septic throat wound.
Convicting Edmunds of murder, the jury made no recommendation to mercy. He was sentenced to death, his appeal was dismissed, and he smiled as he was led to the scaffold, appearing to be indifferent to his fate. His executioner described him as the most callous man he had ever hanged.