Episode 32 - Buried Alive - Stacey Gwilliam
As a child, Stacey Gwilliam from Swansea was a happy little girl with a large group of friends and a bright future ahead of her. But one toxic relationship with an abusive partner during her teenage years changed the course of Stacey’s life forever. Many of her later relationships followed the same pattern of abusive behaviour, which seemed to be almost impossible to escape.
While Stacey was struggling to find love, she also suffered from several health problems, including issues with breathing due to asthma and cervical cancer diagnosed in 2013. During that difficult time when Stacey needed love and support the most while undergoing surgery to remove the tumour, she found that she was once again living in an abusive relationship.
Stacey and her partner at the time, a man named Keith Hughes, first met in 2011. Keith was a painter and decorator—and as a bodybuilder, he was a big man, especially compared to Stacey’s tiny 5ft 2ins frame. For some, having a strong partner can bring a certain sense of safety, and perhaps that is how Stacey felt with Keith in the beginning. Their relationship started like any normal relationship with dreams and hopes of a happy future together. But just like it had happened to Stacey so many times before, things eventually took a turn for the worse. Her friends and family began to notice “marks and bruises” on her body long before the first known serious incident took place.
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It seemed that by 2013, so two years into their relationship, Stacey had thought about ending things with Keith. Determined not to let that happen, Keith locked Stacey into his house and brutally assaulted her multiple times. The situation could have ended very differently if Stacey hadn’t been able to jump out the window and run to get help. After the incident, Keith was charged with three counts of assault and one count of false imprisonment—he was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. That was the end of Stacey and Keith’s relationship. Or it should have been. But unfortunately, leaving an abusive relationship is not easy, especially for a person like Stacey, who never really had experienced what it is like to be in a healthy relationship. Despite all she had gone through, Stacey still had feelings for Keith and listening to him promising things would be different in the future made breaking the Cycle of Abuse extremely difficult. As Stacey explained:
“I was just hoping he would change, believing he would change, he said he had remorse.”
It was also during Keith’s imprisonment that Stacey was diagnosed with cancer and needed more support than ever before. So while Keith sat behind bars, Stacey wrote to him and by the time he was released in July 2015, the couple was back together and planned to marry. Stacey made it very clear the engagement was the last chance she was willing to give to Keith. And yet, just weeks after their reunion, Keith was back to his old ways.
After Keith once again assaulted her and stole her money, Stacey decided she had had enough. There were no more second, third and fourth chances. Stacey knew the relationship was over and there was no going back this time. But no matter how impossible Keith made it to be in a relationship with him, one thing was for sure—he was never going to let Stacey go.
Shortly after making the decision to break up with Keith, on July 20, 2015, 34-year-old Stacey headed to Swansea city centre to sell her engagement ring. Unfortunately, it seemed like bad luck was not letting go of its hold on Stacey, as Keith happened to be in the centre at the same time. After spotting his ex-fiancé, Keith began following Stacey around, demanding to have a discussion about their relationship. Stacey didn’t have any intention to speak with Keith, but as it appeared there was no way out of the situation otherwise, she agreed to have the final conversation—but only if they spoke in a public place. We don’t know for sure why the former couple didn’t stay at the city centre and instead headed to Bracelet Bay, a small bay on the south of The Gower. Apparently, Stacey thought the area would be busy with people for her to be safe, but at the same time peaceful enough to have a serious conversation. But no matter what the reasoning was, by the time Stacey and Keith arrived at Bracelet Bay, she realised she had made a terrible mistake—no one else was present at the bay that day.
As soon as Keith realised the two of them were alone, he attacked Stacey viciously, declaring ‘If I can’t have you then nobody else is ever going to have you.’
As Keith grabbed Stacey from behind, she struggled to free herself but there was nothing she could do—he was 14 stone and as strong as an ox. Keith jumped over his ex-fiancé, slamming his knees deep into Stacey’s chest before strangling her. It was not just that Keith wanted to prevent Stacey from breathing, he literally tried to break her neck with his bare hands. It didn’t take long for Stacey to fall into darkness—but her nightmare was only just beginning.
Satisfied he had killed Stacey, Keith buried her body in a shallow grave some distance from a walking trail. He quickly threw some earth, branches and shrubs over Stacey before stealing her car and fleeing the scene.
Keith’s escape, however, was short-lived as he crashed the vehicle thanks to being drunk at the time after a vodka binge. Following his arrest, Keith actually admitted to the police what he had done, proudly telling the officers he had just killed Stacey Gwilliam but refusing to reveal where he had hidden the body, saying:
“You’ll never find her.”
But there was something Keith didn’t know. Despite the brutal assault, Stacey wasn’t dead—she had been buried alive. After a while, Stacey woke up to complete darkness, as she later recalled:
“It felt like I was buried in a grave – there were dead branches, ferns and shrubs all over me. All the undergrowth was so heavy on top of me I was struggling to breathe or remember where I was. It was all crammed on top of me – I had a horrible claustrophobic feeling of being trapped. I felt paralysed, everything seemed to be happening so slow. I thought I was going to die because I could barely breathe.”
Stacey could have easily let the panic take over her and eventually suffocated. But instead, she calmed herself down, gathered all the strength she had left in her tiny, beaten body and began to dig a way out with her nails. The progress was slow, but thankfully, Keith had not done a very good job of burying his ex-fiancée, and eventually, Stacey saw light and breathed in the fresh air.
She pulled herself out, got up and crawled onto a nearby road outside a golf club close to Caswell Bay. There, Stacey was eventually spotted by two passers-by who alerted the authorities. Stacey was then rushed to the hospital, where she was put in an induced coma for two weeks with serious injuries to her neck, lungs, mouth and tongue.
Stacey eventually came out of the coma and after some weeks in the hospital, she was released to at-home care. From that point, Stacey had to learn how to talk and walk again—and she did.
Needless to say, it was a great shock for Keith to have Stacey giving her victim statement in court. She said:
“He knew the relationship was over and knew I would not go back to him. He took me down there that day to kill me, and he nearly succeeded. I will never ever forget what he did to me that day, and what he did to me throughout our relationship – and now I have to live with that for the rest of my life.“
In December 2015, Keith Hughes was convicted of the attempted murder of Stacey Gwilliam and sentenced to life imprisonment—the minimum term, however, is only 8 years and 7 months. That is less amount of time than Stacey ended up having after her second chance in life.
After everything she went through, Stacey suffered from mental health issues, including depression, anxiety disorder and panic attacks. In addition, the assault itself and the fact Stacey inhaled debris while underground caused her to have constant problems with her asthma, along with chest infections and multiple organ failures. In the years following the unimaginable ordeal, pneumonia was a constant torment for Stacey, who took several prescribed medications as well as drugs she ordered online to manage her symptoms.
Despite all her struggles, Stacey also tried to find love again and she did enter a new relationship in 2020, with a man who seemingly understood what she had gone through. But unfortunately, there is not a happy ending to this story. After an argument, this person told Stacey she deserved everything Keith Hughes had done to her.
Less than a year later, on November 27, 2021, 40-year-old Stacey Gwilliam was found “unresponsive in the middle of the bed” by her sibling at their mother’s home in Townhill. By the time Stacey was taken to the hospital, it was already too late—she was pronounced dead on arrival.
According to the coroner’s report, Stacey had died of bronchial pneumonia and combined drug toxicity from self-medication. The inquest into her death found no evidence of any suspicious circumstances and no evidence to suggest Stacey purposely ended her own life. It seems that her death was simply a heart-breaking accident initiated by the horrific attack six years earlier.
In the end, Keith Hughes got what he wanted.
Today, Stacey Gwilliam’s story serves as an example of why supporting and helping the victims of domestic abuse is so important. It doesn’t help to ask why Stacey or other people in the same situation didn’t leave earlier—it is the moment they decide to leave that is the most dangerous.
Host – Rhiannon Doe
Voiceover – Kwesi
Website layout & design – Fran Howard