Morgan Jeffreys always liked to start his day with a cup of tea.
On any normal Sunday Anne would have attended to such domestic chores and he would already have been seated in his favourite chair in front of the fire, his pipe at his lips and the morning’s papers spread across the kitchen table.
Today however his wife of 31 years and more twists and turns than he dared recall was unwell. She had remained in her bed leaving Morgan to fend for himself.
The 58-year-old had risen around 8.30am and set about lighting the fire and stove in a bid to bring some much-needed warmth to the house on a cold, crisp February morning.
It was only then that he realised there was not a drop of milk in the house.
Fortunately, Morgan’s eldest son – also called Morgan – was also up – despite nursing the after-effects of spending his Saturday night – and most of his weekly wage – drinking in Ammanford, Glanamman and Garnant.
With little consideration for his condition, the 28-year-old was despatched to the nearby farm with an empty jug in his hand.
Morgan junior had been gone barely long enough to hop over the low wall between Commerce House – the Jeffreys’ home – and the neighbouring Star Stars before he returned. Morgan senior was at the cold-water tap filling the kettle when his son reappeared in the doorway.
“There is a light at the Star, and the door is open,” he told his father.
The time was approaching 9am.
Mr Jeffreys paused a moment as the copper kettle in his hands grew heavier. The rear door to the Star opened into a cellar. A staircase ran from the dark, damp storage area up to the back room, which in turn opened out into the shop at street level.
“Oh, Mr. Thomas is sure to be there,” he said eventually. “Call out to him.”
Morgan nodded and climbed the wall once more before approaching the rear of the shop. At the open back door he stopped and called to the shopkeeper.
He reported back that he had received no response, though whether he shouted loud enough for Thomas Thomas, stone deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other, to have heard remains a mystery.
He suggested that his father rouse Miss Jones, the head assistant at the Star who lodged with the family, before climbing the wall once more and making his way across the field towards the farm. Morgan was far more interested in a cup of tea than the comings and goings of shopkeepers.
Morgan senior, meanwhile, considered the implications of the gas lights being left on so late at the Star the previous evening and the realisation that they remained burning the following – along with the open rear cellar door.
Strangely, he would initially tell the Amman Valley Chronicle reporter that it had been he who first spotted the lights at the Star and the door left open, however in time his version of events would become more in keeping with that of his son.
Whether it was Morgan senior or junior who first spotted that the door was ajar, it is certainly true that the elder man eventually decided to take his son’s advice and it was he who called up to Miss Jones.
In a bid not to startle or frighten the young lady, he decided he would avoid alerting her to the events at her place of work immediately by asking whether she would be attending chapel that morning.
In her room upstairs, Phoebe Jones was annoyed to be disturbed so early on her one day off a week, particularly by such a strange question.
Mr Jeffreys knew all too well that Phoebe was not a regular chapel-goer. The thought of some Hell and damnation preacher sentencing her to the fire and brimstone for her sins in a freezing chapel as she failed abysmally to make herself comfortable on a granite-hard pew held little appeal for Phoebe compared to the warmth of her bed. The Bible-quoting Mr Thomas, her employer, provided enough parables and lessons from the good book for her during the working week.
Ten minutes later, Mr Jeffreys called up to her again. This time to inform her that the rear door of the Star was open.
Phoebe leapt from her bed, dressed as quickly as she was able and within minutes was in the kitchen where the kettle was beginning to boil.
While Phoebe dressed, Morgan Jeffreys senior had gone to the rear of the Star, poked his head in the open cellar door and called out to Mr Thomas, again without response.
Morgan junior was returning with a jug of warm milk when the shop assistant came out of the home they shared. He sat down on the wall between the Star and his home with an air of curious indifference as his father appraised Miss Jones of the situation.
Phoebe pushed open the rear door of the Star and like the two Jeffreys men before her, called out to Mr Thomas. She too was met with silence.
She strode into the cellar and began to climb the fourteen steps which lead into the back room.
immediately she stepped onto the first of the stairs, her head was level with the floor of the rear room where the safe was located and which in turn led through an open doorway into the shop itself.
The sight which met her eyes set her heart pumping her chest.
The safe door was wide open and the contents were scattered over the floor. The drawers were half pulled out as if someone had hurriedly searched them. Insurance cards were spread over the floor, as were some dusters and swabs which were kept in the safe. The small tin box in which the day’s taking were placed before being locked away for the night was lying near the safe. The tin was open and clearly empty.
By the time she had climbed the third step she was able to see into the interior of the shop proper.
What she saw would remain in her nightmares for the rest of her life.
Thomas Thomas was lying on his back behind the provision counter. His head was smeared with blood and a thick red pool had congealed on the floor around where he lay. His mouth hung open in a fiendish gape.
As the scream burst from Phoebe’s lips, she looked into the eyes of Thomas Thomas and the dead man stared back.
Phoebe screamed his name, but she knew that Thomas Thomas was dead.