This was a murder of so unprovoked, premeditated, daring, and cruel a nature, that every reader must be shocked at the recital. For a man to have his house beset by a troop of villains, for the sole purpose of assassinating him, in a country famed for laws and the protection of persons and property, surprised every individual of the nation; and each circumstance connected with this dreadful tale serves to increase its horror. This crime was premeditated by one William Williams, a mercer, at Llandovery, in Carmarthenshire; and there is too much reason to fear that the wife consented to the murder of the husband: at all events, the accounts of the transaction would warrant such suspicion.
It appeared that William Powell, Esq. a gentleman of good estate, resided at Glanareath, in the parish of Llangaddock, in Carmarthenshire, in Wales. For some time he lived on bad terms with his wife, to whom he allowed a separate maintenance of one hundred pounds a year, and placed the children at a boarding-school near London. Mrs. Powell (a fatal step, too often taken by repudiated wives) incessantly railed against her husband, and, opening her complaints to Williams, urged him to assist her in taking away the children from under their father's care. This infatuated man accordingly accompanied Mrs. Powell to the school; and they had address enough to prevail upon the master to give them up the children, which Williams immediately placed into another, pointed out by the mother. Mr. Powell being soon apprized of these proceedings, he applied for his children; but their new master replied that he had received them from Mr. Williams, and that to him alone could he deliver them.
The Court of King's Bench was now moved for an habeas corpus, and Williams was served with a rule to show cause 'Why he should not deliver up the children to the father?' but of this serious proceeding Williams took no notice, until he was served with an attachment for a contempt of Court. This writ being sent to the sheriff for execution, Williams absconded, and formed the diabolical determination of revenging Mr. Powell's proceedings against him in the Court by his death. Failing in different attempts to shoot him, this remorseless villain tampered with a number of poor and ignorant Welshmen, to assist him in the horrid deed. This gang, according to the confession of one of them, consisted, altogether, of fourteen, of the following description:
William Williams, the instigator, of Llandovery, escaped.
Charles David Morgan, labourer, executed.
William Charles Morgan, his son, acquitted.
William Spiggot, a barber, executed.
William Morris, a saddler, executed.
John Spiggot, a servant, brother to William, acquitted.
William Walter Evans, labourer, executed.
David Morgan, an itinerant tinker, executed.
Walter Evan, his apprentice, executed.
William Thomas, a glover, admitted evidence for the crown.*
Thomas Drayn, labourer, escaped.
John Isaac, ditto, escaped.
Morgan James, a pedlar, escaped;
and another ruffian, called Captain Bowen, of Kel-y-Cwm, escaped.
[*Note: William Thomas soon met the fate of his companions, whom he now appeared against, as evidence for the public; for we find, in a note of Welsh Criminal Records, that on the 18th of September, 1773, little more than three years after the murder of Mr. Powell, this identical William Thomas was hanged at Pensarn, in Carmarthenshire, for a highway robbery.]
This horrid gang, in the evening, when Mr. Powell was sitting with his family, broke into his house in disguise, and murdered him with a ferocious cruelty too shocking to relate. The trial of that part of this gang who were apprehended came on at the city of Hereford, where they were removed by writ of habeas corpus, before Sir Joseph Yates, one of the judges of the Court of King's Bench.
A case so very extraordinary, in fact scarcely paralleled in the annals of criminal history, drew together the people from all parts of the county. Charles David Morgan, David Morgan, William Spiggot, William Walter Evan, William Morris, and David Lewellin, were found guilty: the evidence did not reach some, and the remainder of this horrid gang escaped from justice. The following speech of the judge, on passing sentence, will amply show the nature of their crime:—
'You (naming the prisoners) have been tried, and, upon evidence that leaves not the smallest doubt, have now been found guilty of the most wicked, the most savage, the most horrid murder that ever stained the hand of man—a cool, deliberate, preconcerted assassination! without a quarrel to provoke, without a passion to incite, without a motive to tempt you but the blackest that ever disgraced human nature—a willingness to earn the wages of iniquity, the execrable wages of a hireling assassin. And how hardened, how determined, were the preparations you made for that bloody work! Day after day projecting the design, till, at last, deliberately putting on the ruffian's frock, and blackened face, you daringly entered the doors of the deceased; and, in his own house, murdered him, most inhumanly murdered him, with every circumstance of savage barbarity! yet he had never done the least injury to you, not the smallest provocation of offence.
'That unfortunate man is now in his grave, and in two days you will be as cold and lifeless as he. But how different will be your departure! By your bloody hand he was wickedly murdered. You for that murder will justly die. It is now my duty to pronounce that dreadful sentence; an office which to me is ever painful. I feel for the melancholy condition you are in, who are so soon to die by the hands of justice; but how little did you feel for the poor man you murdered!
'Friday next, the day after to-morrow, will in this world be your last: but think of the more dreadful day to come, when you will appear before a far more awful tribunal, before the Great Judge of all mankind. Think how you will stand before him, covered over with the blood of your fellow-creature, whom you so wickedly murdered, most daringly presuming to destroy that life which the Almighty gave, and which He alone had a right to take away.
'You have now but two days to live, and in that short time have much work to do. I therefore most earnestly entreat you to employ every moment that is left you in imploring God's mercy and forgiveness, that your soul may escape that dreadful punishment which lasts through all eternity. At this bar you must expect no mercy.
'The sentence of the law will most certainly be executed upon you; and that sentence is, 'That yon must be taken from hence to the place from whence you came; and from thence, on Friday next, to the place of execution; that you be there hanged by the neck till you are dead; and that your bodies afterwards be delivered to the surgeons, to be dissected. And the Lord have mercy on your souls!'
They were executed accordingly, amid the execrations of a vast concourse of spectators, at Hereford, March the 30th, 1770.