The Monstrous Minister
"more than enough to turn the stomach"
A trusted minister from the North Wales seaside town of Tywyn, Rev Emyr Owen was a man above reproach. A long-serving member of clergy, Rev Owen had a somewhat peculiar demeanour, but was also well respected in the small Welsh community. He had overseen a number of small chapels, and even served as the High Sheriff’s chaplain.
Then in 1985, Emyr Owen found himself arrested and charged with unspeakable crimes. Suspicious was aroused by a series of anonymous letters, sent to police, which detailed shocking revelations that led back to the minister. His parishioners and the Welsh community and the world was shocked by what the monstrous minister had done.
In late 1984, a series of letters were sent to the Tywyn police station and the then chief constable David Owen at Colwyn Bay in North Wales. These letters were written anonymously, and appeared littered with swear words and an admiration for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. But this paled in comparison to a similar letter sent to a woman, which threatened to killer her four-year-old granddaughter.
It was at this stage that the case became more serious. There was no outward indication of just who had written the letters, however there were a number of important clues the author had let slip. The case of the anonymous letter writer was handed to Detective Constable Gwyn Roberts, who said they gave indications that the writer knew the Tywyn and Blaenau Ffestiniog areas.
“The handwriting was in the style of someone educated in the 1920s or 30s, with a particularly unusual letter T,” he said. The trail eventually led to the then 62-year-old Emyr Owen, a Welsh Presbyterian minister of Bethel Chapel in Tywyn, whose own handwriting linked to the handwriting in the letters.
This was done by comparing the handwriting in the letters to a message he had written in a copy of the New Testament, which was given to police by a farmer. When police searched the Rev Owen’s home, they came across shocking evidence of depravity. During the later hearing at Chester Crown Court, prosecutor Huw Daniel said police found pictures depicting “various perversions” including sadism and masochism.
After initially denying everything, with the official police records revealing his reply to the caution was “May the good Lord strike me dead. I have never written such letters”. However, under questioning he soon gave in and told investigators, “I wrote all those letters. I can’t tell you why. I will ill at the time.”
The Reverend soon made further shocking confessions to police. Owen admitted to mutilating three male bodies by severing their private parts, after police found photo negatives of dismembered genitalia arranged on plates at Owen’s home. Det Con Roberts said “It was a once-in-a-lifetime case and I had to pore through the law books to find the charge, because no other examples of people being accused of mutilating bodies could be found.”
Other items were found during the search of his home that would not normally be kept at a cleric’s residence. Officers found handcuffs, dental extractors and ropes, as well as photographic images of mutilated male corpses, which Owen admitted to carrying out. During another interview, Owen said, “I’d be glad to get it off my mind. It’s quite simple really,” he said. “Something came over me. The while thing is like a nightmare. It’s as though its been a bad dream.”
The Welsh clergyman was found to have severed the penises of the bodies after they had been laid out in a chapel of rest. During the court hearing, Mr Daniel said: “A type of recording which he had dictated was later transcribed, and contained detailed descriptions of mutilations of male bodies, three of them while they were in their coffins awaiting burial by him the following day.”
The severed male members were never produced in court – one had been fed to the seagulls on Tywyn beach, another burnt and a third thrown in the sea. “The families of those whose bodies were interfered with were never informed, and we managed to complete the inquiry without making any approach to them directly or indirectly,” Roberts said.
Following the court case, Det Con Roberts said he went through 6,000 handwriting samples before finding the one which nailed the minister. Emyr Owen, originally from Blaenau Ffestiniog, had spent eight years in charge of seven chapels in and around Tywyn in Gwynedd, could offer little explanation for the bizarre mutilations.
Three years before his secret and sordid life was exposed, Emyr Owen had been the High Sheriff’s chaplain, sitting alongside him and a judge at Caernarfon Crown Court. Now, he found himself in the dock, accused of abhorrent crimes against his own deceased parishioners. The only explanation the well-respected preacher could offer was that he had an evil side to his personality, and his personality was split between a good Emyr and “Emyr Ddrwg” (bad Emyr).
Emyr Ddrwg was said to be responsible for the letters and mutilation. However, psychiatrist Dr William Lawson said if was his belief that Owen was not suffering from any form of psychiatric illness. The clergyman linked his behaviour to an incident that happened before he became a minister, when his trousers were pulled down as part of an initiation ritual while working in a slate quarry.
However, a former schoolmate who recalled Owen remembered the minister had “acted strangely” even as a boy. Before his arrest, Owen would drive between chapels in a Fiat car decorated with three winged serpents breathing fire. Owen appeared before magistrates on Christmas Eve 1984.
Veteran journalist Derek Bellis said: “Court officials were not expecting any press interest that close to Christmas, and in those days there was no mobile phone or internet, so the copy was filed without newsdesks being alerted. When they came in late on Christmas Day to find the story waiting for them, the phone didn’t stop ringing. Many news editors thought I had made it up.”
For these shocking crimes, Owen was sentenced to four years. In his sentencing, Mr Justice Evans said minister Owen’s offences were “more than enough to turn the stomach”. His actions can be categorised as necrophilia. Fetishistic necrophiliacs are described as people who remove objects, e.g., body parts such as a finger or genitalia, from a corpse for sexual purposes, without engaging in intercourse.
Former North Wales Detective Constable Gwyn Roberts recalls his time working on the case. “Emyr Owen told me at the time that he was glad that he’d been caught. He said the ‘bad’ Emyr had now gone and that he would never return,” he said. “Looking back at those years – I’m so glad we caught him before he did something worse.”
“We’ll never know exactly what he did and unfortunately he took his secrets to his grave,” explains Roberts. After his release from prison, Emyr Owen was featured on the Y Ditectif crime series on S4C that aired in June 2016. The programme features an old interview with Emyr Owen himself after he was released from prison.
Vaughan Hughes, the producer, recalls his interview with the minister. He says, “One of the questions I asked him was simply – Why? Why did he carry out such deeds? And his response and shocking justification was that men should go to heaven without their sex organs.” Vaughan Hughes reveals that he had also been a victim of Emyr Owen’s threats.
“In my case, after the programme was aired, Emyr Owen started phoning my home and would make threats. It wasn’t very nice.” After his release from prison, he moved to Penrhyn Bay and was a frequent letter writer to local newspapers. Emyr Own continued to use the title The Rev, even though the Presbyterian Church of Wales had banned him from the pulpit. He died in Llandudno in 2001, aged 78.