Police lay to rest the mystery of Mrs Maddock

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The Independent Online

In the New Swan inn, just down the road from the Aubrey Arms, where Barbara Maddock vanished, they still reminisce fondly of the man who many believe murdered her.

In the New Swan inn, just down the road from the Aubrey Arms, where Barbara Maddock vanished, they still reminisce fondly of the man who many believe murdered her.

Will Maddock, a two-bottles-of-whisky-a-day man, was a larger-than-life character, a pub landlord extraordinaire, a man around whom men and fun would congregate. But a man, too, who may have maintained an extraordinary pretence, claiming for 17 years that his wife had left him, when all the time she was rotting above the Aubrey Arms' beer store.

Today detectives are expected to lay to rest the 27-year-old mystery of what had happened to Mrs Maddock. Forensic tests on human bones, discovered on Monday by a builder working at the Aubrey, will reveal one way or another whether she walked out - as Mr Maddock always claimed - or whether her body lay in the beer store's attic while the people of Ystradgynlais in the Swansea Valley wondered what had happened to her

Mrs Maddock disappeared on 28 October, 1973 at the age of 47 without saying goodbye to her son Hywel or daughter Jean. Dressed in a brown suede coat, pale trousers or skirt and white shoes, she was thought by many to have simply walked out of the family pub after a spell of depression, possibly to return to Brisbane, Australia, where Mr Maddock had met her after the war.

A huge and highly-publicised police search of the pub, the surrounding area and friends' homes in Liverpool and London - where she had gone after previous disappearances - proved fruitless. (Just how the body was missed, out in the open on the first floor attic of the building, is something the police will now have to explain.)

In the years that followed, there were four sightings, including one made by a nephew, but no word came from Mrs Maddock. Were they real sightings, people wondered? Was she in Australia? Or had the old boy done her in?

Barbara, an attractive and vivacious Liverpudlian, had been brought up in Australia but was persuaded to return to Britain by Will Maddock, a former Royal Navy bosun who had been living in Australia since being demobbed there at the end of the war. His parents had run the Aubrey Arms, so when they left it to him, the couple returned to an already successful business.

"He once told me that when he took over the Aubrey in 1948, beer was sixpence a pint - and he used to take £55 on a Saturday night," said one of Mr Maddock's close friends. "That was a hell of a lot of money.

"The pub was a goldmine, mainly because of Will, his personality and his drive. But also because when he was a bosun in the Navy, he was responsible for handing out the rum; it seems for years he'd been holding some back, so when he came home, he had bottles of the stuff to sell at a time when you could mostly only get beer. People used to come from miles around with their wives and girlfriends, and they never stopped coming."

Today, Ystradgynlais is a small quiet town surrounded by verdant hills into which, decades ago, small private driftmines were cut. Now, with the closure of the mines and a Lucas motor parts factory, it is a depressed, if pleasant, place. But in the Sixties and Seventies, it was a prosperous area with private miners taking home 50 per cent more pay than their National Coal Board counterparts (about £35 per week, compared with £22 per week in the 1960s, said one ex-miner).

"Will had interests in three private mines," said another of his friends, none of whom will be named. In the area, there are those who believe he murdered Barbara, and those who believe he simply couldn't, and few wish to be identified with either camp. "I was once walking behind him on the way to the Aubrey's toilet when something fell out of his pocket; it was a roll of money - £3,000,"said the friend.

"In those days, the pub would be full of solicitors, police, miners - every type of person you could imagine. You weren't allowed to open until noon, but Will would open at about 7am and people would pop in for a drink on their way to work or after a shift down the mine.

"But he wouldn't serve you one minute after time was called. Back then, it was 10.30pm plus 10 minutes drinking time, then you were out."

Tales of Mr Maddock's drinking exploits are legion. He was sinking two bottles of whisky a day by the time he died, 10 years ago, at the age of 69. There were drinking contests that ended with ambulances being summoned.

There was the time "Dai Burma" (so called because he was forced to work on the Burma railway) keeled over and died on New Year's Day morning during a gathering at the pub.

"No-one was supposed to be there until noon, so we couldn't report his death until after then," said one old local. "Well, we laid him out in the bar, and then one of the guys sounded doubtful. 'You absolutely sure he's dead?', he asked us. 'Absolutely,' we says. 'Well then,' said this bloke, 'he won't mind if I finish off his beer'."

To Barbara and the children, the drinking was no fun. In the pub, there were rows. Barbara left for Liverpool and London on two occasions and, said her doctor, had been treated for depression for nine months before her disappearance.

Mr Maddock's drinking friends described her this week as "hard". One said she was "a bitch"; but she would have seen them as contributing to his alcoholism.

Hywel, who is said locally to have had a bad relationship with his father, is now a fitness fanatic and teetotaller, although he still runs the pub.

Neither he nor Jean, Barbara's child from a previous relationship, have said anything about the discovery, but both are said to be very upset.

Those who don't believe Mr Maddock could have killed his wife point to the fact that he paid the Salvation Army each year to keep an eye out for her.

"He was a good, kind bloke, the best," said one of his friends. "Why would he do that if he knew she was dead?"

Whether or not Will Maddock did kill his wife, at least the mystery of her whereabouts may soon be solved and her remains laid to rest. Knowing what happened to her would provide some comfort to herchildren, at last allowing them to know she didn't simply walk out and leave them.