Dawn was late in coming on the morning of Thursday, February 18.
When the darkness of night finally did subside it gave way to thick black clouds swollen with freezing rain which fell with a grim incessancy throughout the day.
Uniformed constables remained stationed outside the Star Stores and gave short shrift to the now only occasional gawkers who attempted to peer in beyond the drawn down shutters and catch a glimpse of the murderous scene inside.
Meanwhile, outside Number Two, Glanyrafon Villas, where the funeral of Thomas Thomas was due to begin, more than 300 people had gathered to pay their last respects to the slain man.
Inside, the body of Thomas Thomas had already been placed in a coffin of unpolished oak with silver fittings. The sealed lid bore the inscription:
Died 12th February 1921,
Aged 44 Years.
No mention of the manner of his end was mentioned on the casket, nor would it be on his headstone when he finally came to rest in the village where he had been born.
Despite the rain and sombre mood, stilted gossip and hushed rumour still raged amongst the gathered mourners as the manner of Thomas Thomas’ death and the identity of the culprit remained the only topic on village lips.
Some of those present poured scorn on the efforts of the men from Scotland Yard, claiming they were “baffled”, had come on a wasted trip and were sure to soon return to the metropolis. Others reported that a telling new clue had been uncovered that very morning and an arrest was to be made that day. The reports, however, were wrong.
At 11am, Reverend John Thomas, pastor of Bethesda Chapel in Glanaman where Thomas Thomas had gone to worship, opened the proceedings with a short private service conduct inside the house where the dead man’s brother, his landlord and representatives of the Star Tea Company were the only ones present. Those outside jostled and pressed as close to doors and windows as decency would allow, in a bid to hear what was being said.
Rev Thomas then moved outside to address the throng and from the shelter of the doorstep raised the spectre of the brutal crime that had brought them there.
“I believe it would be better that the murderer lay in this coffin than Mr Thomas Thomas,” he told the hushed, now silent crowd.
“The people of the Amman Valley will never feel more than what they do this day.
“No man has ever left Cwmaman under such tragic circumstances.”
Then, glancing from face to face of those in the crowd and staring hard into eyes of any who dared hold his gaze, with the fire and brimstone authority he would often show while sermonising from his pulpit, he proclaimed: “The moment man turns God out from his soul, his conscience has left him, and he has no control over life.”
Of those present, few were not then moved to tears as the Reverend led them in a rendition of the miners’ hymn, Yn y dyfroedd mawr a’r tonnau – In the great waters and the waves.
Reverend William Williams, the vicar of Garnant, also offered up a few short words in memory of the dead man, but all thoughts lingered on Rev Thomas proclamation and the realisation that a killer without remorse stood amongst them, most likely right there in the midst of the gathered crowd.
At precisely 11.30am the coffin was carried from the house on the shoulders of Inspector Eardley, Councillor David Jones, Mr D Evans and Mr D Thomas, the regional inspector and respective managers of the Porthcawl, Llandovery, Ammanford and Llandeilo branches of the Star Supply Company.
John Thomas, the dead man’s brother, and his wife were the only family mourners present.
The four shopworkers placed the coffin in the rear of the waiting motorhearse and covered it in the wreaths and floral tributes sent by the directors of the Star Supply Company, of 292-314 Old Street, London, the staff from Star Stores branches in Ammanford, Bridgend and Carmarthen, numerous residents of Garnant and Glanaman, and one from Mr and Mrs Phillips of Bridgend, with whom Thomas Thomas had once lodged.
The hearse slowly departed and led a slow procession of some 30 cars along the valley road where every business in Garnant and Glanaman had closed for the day in tribute and where the blinds of every house had been drawn down “as a token of the deepest sympathy”.
The five-mile road to Ammanford was thronged with people as the funeral procession made its slow progress westward to Llangendeirne Churchyard for interment. In Ammanford itself, the streets were crowded with sympathisers as the cortege passed by, followed by the many Garnant and Glanaman residents who made the 30-mile journey to attend the burial in the dead man’s home village.
Following the burial, the mourners took shelter in the Farmers Arms pub across the road from the churchyard cemetery where refreshments had been arranged.
While at the pub, John Thomas, stationmaster and brother of the deceased, was approached by a man he had never seen before.
He did not recall seeing the man at the house in Garnant nor at the graveside, though the fellow could well have been present at both, although it was just as possible that he had arrived later, after the mourners had adjourned to the Farmers Arms.
The stranger appeared to be in his mid to late twenties, more than 25 but less than 30. He stood roughly five-foot-four or possibly just slightly taller, with rather small, shallow features and dark eyes. He wore a thin, unimpressive moustache. On his head was a cap pulled down, but his dress was otherwise un-noteworthy.
The man leant in close to John Thomas without introduction or conversation and whispered: “I know who killed the shopkeeper.
“Thomas Mountstephens murdered your brother.
He said Mountstephens was a wicked, evil man.
“He cannot be trusted,” the stranger said.
“He is a man of bad character.”
He said it was well-known within the valley that Mountstephens was the killer.
“I was surprised that your brother ever went to lodge with him – or that he stayed there,” the stranger said finally, then disappeared back amongst the bodies of the crowded bar.
John Thomas saw no reason to ask any questions of the stranger or make any attempt to follow him. Nor did he see any reason to report the conversation to the police for two more days.
“He took no steps whatever to find out who this man was who was speaking to him, nor did he ask him any questions upon his statements,” wrote Nicholls in his report to Scotland Yard.
“He does not know whether the man was in the funeral party, where he came from or whither he went.”