Morgan Walter Jeffreys was barely a step behind her when Phoebe Jones gave out her awful scream.
She froze stock still as if the horror she faced had drained her of all forward momentum and Mr Jeffreys was forced into an evasive manoeuvre to avoid crashing into the back of the young woman and knocking her flat on her face.
“Mr Thomas!” she shrieked.
There was nothing but silence.
After a heartbeat pause, Phoebe spun on her heels and bustled past Mr Jeffreys in a state of great distress.
The shop assistant had raced down the stairs and out of the cellar door before her landlord had time to catch his breath.
Within seconds of Phoebe disappearing out of the cellar door, Morgan burst in with a look of bewildered panic on his face. Mr Jeffreys turned and, followed by his son, slowly took another step upwards.
As his eye level rose to above that of the top step he too caught sight of the vision that has so terrified Phoebe.
Thomas Thomas lay dead behind the provisions counter. His head was towards the front windows. One leg stretched back towards the rear of the shop, and pushed out of the doorway into the back room closest to Morgan Jeffreys. The other was bent at the knee against a box on the floor. The dead shopkeeper lay on his back and slightly turned so, with eyes wide open, he looked directly into the eyes of those coming up the stairs.
He head had been bashed open and a pool of blood had congealed around him. His shirt front was soaked and his neck and collar were stained dark red. A box nearby was also splashed with that vital fluid.
The safe was wide open and papers and cards and various other items were spread about the back room floor.
Both men, like the female shop assistant before them, were forced to take a moment to comprehend the sight that met them before they were sent reeling backwards down the stair and out into the sharp morning air.
The sound of the two men bursting out of the rear door of the Star Stores startled William Copestake, another resident of Commerce Place who was outside collecting coal for the fire.
Copestake originally hailed from Derbyshire and was another who had made his way to south Wales in search of work.
He had arrived in the Amman valley around 1896, aged about 20. It was not long before made the acquaintance of Margaret Davies, a woman almost twice his age. They married in the summer of 1897 and their first child, a daughter named Mary duly arrived some five months later.
Copestake moved south for work, and by 1901 was underground hewing coal, just as his father had done in the pits of Derbyshire.
The work was hard and life was a struggle. For whatever reason, William was not destined to spend long underground and by 1911 he was working as a farmhand in the employ of Sarah Hicks at Waunwhiad Farm in Glanaman.
While Williams had found bed and board with the widow Hicks in exchange for sweat and labour, his family was not so fortunate.
Margaret, now in her mid 50s, along with Mary, William junior and Annie were residents of the Llandeilo union workhouse.
By the time the two Jeffreys men burst pale-faced and gasping into the sunlight through the rear cellar door of the Star Stars on that chill February morning in 1921, William Copestake was aged 45 – Margaret was passed 60. Despite their past woes the couple were now in residence in rooms above one of the shops at Commerce Place.
William called over to the two men in greeting – it was always good to remain on friendly terms with one’s landlord – but he was made immediately aware that something was wrong.
Mr Jeffreys called him over and told him of the horrors inside the store.
The three men returned inside and climbed the stairs to where William Copestake could see the body of Thomas Thomas.
He was then dispatched to fetch the doctor. Morgan Jeffreys junior was sent to summon the police.