It is every parent’s nightmare. Your child taken from you in the middle of the day in broad daylight. The next time you see them they are dead. This was the horror faced by the Macari family in the summer of 1941. To make matters worse, they knew who had done it. But they just couldn’t make it stick.
Guistina Macari, (known as Christina) was born in Antrim in Northern Ireland. Her father was Eugenio, a shopkeeper who had moved to Swansea to take over a fish and chip shop in Dillwyn Street. At the time of her murder Guistina was 3 years old.
She was wearing a blue dress, a green jumper, white pinafore and she had dark brown bobbed hair. She was a confident, happy girl who was well known to the bus conductors for her habit of hopping on and off the buses that used Dillwyn Street. She played in the shop, spoke to customers and was always friendly. She had been playing outside and had gone upstairs to see her mother who was ill in bed just before 1.00 pm on Saturday 17 May 1941. Mrs Macari never saw her daughter alive again.
Her body was found on Sunday afternoon in a plantation at Fforestfach, on the road between Cadle and Caereithin. 13 year old William Richards was searching amongst rhododendron bushes for empty bottles so he could redeem the deposit. It was known as a favourite place for courting couples. Guistina was lying in an unnatural position. She was fully clothed. Her right shoe was missing, later to be recovered hanging from a branch, which seemed to suggest she had been killed elsewhere and then carried and dumped beneath the bushes. Her buttocks were exposed, her knickers torn and pulled down. There was blood seeping from her genitals. She had been sexually assaulted with the fingers and then smothered. She had died at about 7.00pm, after being given chocolate and ice cream.
Eileen Brennan who worked in Macari’s was on her way to work and saw her walking up Mount Pleasant Hill with a strange man. She was the one who raised the alarm. Other people saw them too and there is a direct progress in the signings towards Fforestfach. They were seen on the streets, on a bus.
Scotland Yard was called in. The police appealed for witnesses from the pulpit in chapels and churches, and in cinemas. A number of men were suspected, but police attentions came to focus on 41 year old Thomas Williams of 20 Nicholl Street, about 50 yards from Dillwyn Street.
In the days following the murder, he was seen by neighbours washing his blue suit and drying it on the line, along with his mackintosh and his trilby. When he saw others looking at the clothes he hastily took them in. He also had his hair cut.
He was first called in for questioning on 31 May 1941. He had tried to escape through the back of the house where he lodged and over a wall but was found in an alley.
He was a man with an explosive temper. After another interview in Swansea Central in June, he went to see the doctor Hayden Peters to ask him to attend to his wife, who was upset because he had been picked up in connection with the murder. She wasn’t hurt, just upset. When Dr Peters refused, saying it wasn’t a case for the doctors, Williams became extremely agitated, shouting I’ll have you reported!
On 27 June he was collected in a police car to attend an identity parade at Swansea Prison. He had to be restrained in the car. At the parade he was positively identified by Sarah Evans as the man she had seen on St Helens Road with a little girl at 1.00 pm. Hers was certainly compelling evidence. She had seen him leading her away and she had sweets in her hand. Alfred Berry also was certain he had seen him at 1.05 pm with a child in Mount Pleasant. He indicated Williams by touching him on the shoulder as required. Williams tried to strike him and had to be restrained. This is a fxxxxxx fix frame up by the police! Those fxxxxxx from Scotland Yard are behind this! he screamed.
A man called Jones identified him as the man he saw on a seat in Mount Pleasant with a girl answering Guistina’s description. Again Williams tried to attack him. I’ll bash you, you bastard! My brother in law will get you! Ernest Mugford indicated he saw him at a bus stop with a child at 3.30 pm. Again Williams struck out, making contact this time. But significantly, four other witnesses couldn’t identify him. One thought they had seen him buying chocolate macaroons, another at Mynydd Newydd at 9.30 pm, a short distance from where the body was discovered.
Williams was taken back to Swansea Central still in a rage. In the Chief Inspector’s office he tore up papers relating to another case. When he was given tea, he threw it all over statements of evidence and smashed the mug. He was shouting, swearing and ready to fight. He attacked Detective Sergeant Tunsill by hitting him on top of the head with his fist. Thomas was bundled off to a cell to calm down. When he was taken to the charge room he became tempestuous again.
He had an alibi which was corroborated, to some extent by his wife Eva, although their stories didn’t always match. Eva had a cleft palate and was hard to understand. The police said she was of low grade mentally.
She had gone to work on Saturday morning, cleaning for Doctor Ritchings. He had gone shopping, buying potatoes, a piece of beef, cabbage and some sweets. In the afternoon he had listened to a football match on the radio. Then they had gone out to look at adverts in shop windows, since they were looking for new rooms. They had enjoyed a bedtime sweet and then retired to bed.
No one remembered him in their shops. All they did remember, was him turning up a few days later to remind them that he had been there on that Saturday.
As far as their personal life together was concerned he said
I am incapable of having intercourse. My wife is 46 years of age and she is not sexually inclined. I have never had intercourse with her.
He denied that he’d ever been to Fforestfach, but he was recognised as a man who had asked for a jug of tea only a few weeks earlier from a cottage only 50 yards from where Guistina was found. One witness identified him. The other did not. This was the pattern in all attempts to identify him. Whilst his long nose and slight frame made him stand out to some, others were less confident.
It was the unreliability of the identification that undermined the prosecution case when it reached court in Carmarthen in November 1941. And if they couldn’t make the identification stick, then the judge Justice Lawrence felt there was no need to proceed
The police reports commented
We know the jury, so far from wishing to stop the case, were anxious to find the man guilty but got it into their heads that it would offend the judge if the case went on any longer…This is the second murder this man has almost certainly committed and it may well be that we shall be called into a third.
The police described him as a criminal of many parts. He had a teenage conviction for an indecent assault on a girl in Monmouth when he had been imprisoned for six weeks. In 1913 he had assaulted Annie Jones and exposed himself to another woman. He had also assaulted an eight year old called Nellie Gould who was picking blackberries in Pontypool. He pulled her behind bushes and tore her knickers to shreds, scratching her private parts.
The police never looked for anyone else in connection with poor Guistina’s murder. They were convinced that they knew who had done it. There was other evidence too, evidence that was never presented in court. There was hair on his coat that was microscopically identical with that of Guistina. Fibres found on his coat matched those on her frock. He would have walked across a recently manured field – and traces of pig and cow dung were found on his shoe. Yes they had him and yes he got away – and the Macari’s never tasted justice.
This story first appeared in my book Swansea Murders and I have now received new copies from the printers. Go to the Swansea Murders page in the menu , or by clicking on this link, to find out more. The book contains 24 other crimes which were committed between 1770 and 1946.
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