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Champion helped to catch a murderer.

Byline: By Anna Hammond South Wales Echo

Detectives investigating the brutal murder of a South Wales teacher needed to recreate the killer's escape route. They wanted someone who could sprint through the streets of Merthyr Tydfil in order to trace the suspect's every move and it was a local boxing champ who came to the rescue.

The Merthyr Matchstick Man Johnny Owen took time out from training for a vital European fight to help in the hunt for the killer in his local community which had been left stunned by the cold-blooded attack. He never would have guessed that his own tragic death would later prevent him from seeing the culprit put behind bars.

Witnesses had described seeing a man running unusually fast and looking scared on the morning Ann Cuesta was stabbed to death at home on Tuesday, January 29, 1980, sparking one of the biggest hunts the region had ever seen.

Johnny, wearing a bobble hat and tracksuit, set out from the cottage in Park Row Gardens where the murder took place and covered a five-mile route in 25 minutes which took him past all the points where the suspect was seen.

The wanted man was 17-year-old garage worker Stephen Martin Pitt who had stabbed the petite dark-haired schoolteacher more than 50 times in a state of frenzy after she had spurned his advances.

Pitt, of Winifred Street, Dowlais, told police he had fancied Mrs Cuesta when he forced his way into her home after her husband had left for work at the local post office.

She would have been getting ready for work at Edwardsville Junior School when Pitt appeared, punched her and pushed her upstairs to the bedroom.

After she had broken a window and screamed for help, Pitt pushed her down onto the landing floor where he tried to have sex with her. It was after they had both gone downstairs that he had panicked, fearing she would call the police, and stabbed her

Shocked neighbours described Ann and Louis Cuesta as a nice, quiet couple, who had been redecorating and renovating their detached home for several years before they finally married in March 1979 and moved in.

When her devastated husband discovered her body, a huge police search of the Cyfarthfa Park area for the murder weapon began and 40 detectives began door-to-door inquiries.

The next day officers asked motorists using Park Row Gardens as a short cut to work and schoolchildren on their way to Cyfarthfa High School and junior school if they saw anything suspicious.

Richard Gould, head of St Joseph's Catholic Infants and Primary School, Tredegar, where Ann had worked for 13 years, told reporters: 'She was an excellent girl, a lovely girl and most dedicated. I couldn't praise her sufficiently. She was an outstanding girl, so cheerful and most dedicated to teaching.'

Five weeks passed and with the killer still at large, detectives launched a mass fingerprinting exercise of all males aged over 13 living in the area around the 36-year-old's home. And who was there yet again to give police a helping hand? Johnny Owen, the new European bantamweight champion, who gave the fingerprints of his left hand.

No doubt the involvement of such a hero gave the appeal publicity and encouraged others to volunteer.

Police needed to find a match to a print found at the murder scene and began knocking on the doors of an estimated 1,520 men pledging to cover the whole of Merthyr until they got their man.

In mid-March Pitt's name was given to police after a witness had seen him passing on his way to work and his prints were taken.

After the December trial at Cardiff Crown Court, head of South Wales CID Detective Chief Superintendent Viv Brook, who led the investigation, said: 'We would have come to him eventually anyway on our fingerprinting exercise. We would have found him first at his work. But it would have been another three weeks before we reached him there and two before we reached his home because he lived in an outlying district.'

Pitt denied murder.

But the jury rejected a defence bid for a manslaughter conviction on the grounds of diminished responsibility and found him guilty of murder.

It was alleged that Pitt, who had turned 18, suffered from epilepsy. One person who never saw the killer receive his life sentence was Johnny Owen.

On September 19, 1980, he was taken to hospital from the ring at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles where he had challenged world bantamweight king Lupe Pintor.

The 24-year-old lay in a coma fighting for his life until November 4, 1980, when he tragically lost his last battle.

His statue stands in Merthyr Tydfil town centre.
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 5, 2007
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