I first became interested in the murder of Thomas Thomas at the Garnant branch of Star Stores after reading the excellent A Long Time Between Murders by Owen Harries in American Scholar magazine.
As a journalist based in south Wales with an unhealthy interest in historic crime, the brutal killing of the timid half-deaf shopkeeper instantly caught my attention – not least because I first came across the article less than a month before the 92rd anniversary of the incident and the village of Garnant lies within the area covered by the South Wales Guardian, a weekly newspaper for which I regularly work.
A retelling of the story to coincide with the anniversary seemed a relatively straightforward and obvious feature idea; so I put together 600 or 700 words on the Amman Valley’s only unsolved murder.
Often in such cases, that would have been enough. However, the case of Thomas Thomas intrigued me. The more I looked, the more I became engrossed in the crime and the community who experienced it.
The story of the murder at the Star had previously appeared in a number of places – not least Dave Michael’s wonderful Cwmamman History website. However, its various incarnations – including my original – are all based on the same two reports from the Amman Valley Chronicle – the local weekly newspaper of the day. Everything currently accepted regarding the killing is drawn from the Chron’s Thursday, February 17, edition – four days after the fact – and the inquest coverage on March 10.
Both editions dedicated an unprecedented amount of news space to the story, but neither could offer a complete insight into what had taken place and the subsequent investigation.
What struck me most about these reports was the number of clear contradictions they contained – particularly between comments made by individuals to the newspaper in the days immediately after the event and the testimony offered by those same people at the court hearing three weeks later.
Therefore, I kept digging. I realised that the story I had written for the local weekly, while covering all the key elements of the crime and adhering to the accepted version of events, omitted as much as it included. There were key questions that I, as a 21st century reader, wanted answered. There were questions I could not believe they didn’t ask.
As my collected files began to mount I decided Thomas Thomas deserved more than just a single-page feature some 92 years after his death.
It also became clear that the events of that fateful night in February 1921 were not merely the story of one doomed individual, but the story of a village, a community and perhaps even the story of Wales.
No one ever stood trial for the murder of Thomas Thomas, but the whisperers and gossip-mongers of the village settled – as they always must – on a culprit. With the passing of the years the guilt of that one man has entered into valley folklore as all but fact.
My research, while still far from complete, has led me to one undeniable truth: the rumour mill was almost certainly wrong.