Steve Adams


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Some time ago, I began researching an unsolved murder which took place in the Carmarthenshire mining village of Garnant in 1921.

I began writing a blog on the subject and Americymru were kind enough to post entries and an interview with me on this site.

Thanks to my research, I believe I have finally solved the murder at Star Stores and identified the killer.

The project moved on from its original idea as a blog and this month, Seren Books published Murder at the Star.



For those who might be interested, here is an article I was recently asked to write for the BBC Wales website:

At 10.15 on the night of Saturday, February 12, 1921, Diana Bowen and her daughters left the fruit shop at Number Three, Commerce Place, in the Carmarthenshire mining village of Garnant.

Diana was to be the only adult witness to the murder at the Star.

The Bowens had taken no more than a few steps when they were heard a most ungodly noise from behind the blinds of the Star Supply Stores, the upmarket national chain next door.

“It was an awful screech,” Diana told the Amman Valley Chronicle.

“There was a thud and the sound of running feet.

“I was going to have a look, but after hearing running on the stairs I thought everything was all right.

“I thought the boy in the shop had had his hand in the bacon-slicing machine.”

Shortly after midnight, across the valley at Glanyrafon Villas, Thomas Hooper Mountstephens was waiting for his lodgers to come home when one, Arthur Impey, arrived after a shift at Gellyceidrim colliery.

The two men could see the glow of the gas lights through the rear window of the Star and Impey suggested that they walk over to ensure that all was well.

Mountstephens refused.

An hour later, Impey grew concerned. It was most unlike the chapel-going, Bible-quoting, almost deaf Mr Thomas – sickly, frail and lame, and having undergone nasal surgery at a clinic in Swansea just the week before – to be out so late.

Again he urged Mountstephens to accompany him to the Star.

Mountstephens’ refusal would see him branded a killer for almost 95 years.

As Mountstephens fed his chickens the lodger’s uneaten supper morning, the body of Thomas Thomas was discovered across the valley, dead behind the provisions counter of the Star.

His throat was slashed open and his head had been battered, shattering the temporal and parietal bones with such force as to leave eleven separate pieces of bone embedded in Thomas Thomas’ brain. The shopkeeper’s cheek was also fractured in two places.

The upper part of his trousers, the lower part of his waistcoat, and his Cardigan had been unbuttoned before a knife had been plunged into his abdomen. The clothes were undamaged, and some attempt had been made to refasten them after the blow had been struck.

The upper set of the shopkeeper’s dentures lay by his head, embedded in a piece of bloodstained cheese.

A broomhead, smeared in blood, was on the floor, though there was no sign of the handle. Nor could any knife be found.

A total of £128 and two-and-a-half pence had been stolen from the safe – two days takings for the Star and six months wages for a Garnant miner.

A post-mortem, carried out by Dr Evan Jones – the village GP who had studied medicine alongside Arthur Conan Doyle, identified three potentially fatal wounds: The doctor’s analysis of the injuries was to prove crucial to the investigation.

The following day, a bloodstained broomhandle and a boning knife were discovered in a nearby stream.

The Metropolitan Police sent one of their most respected detectives to West Wales

Detective Inspector George Nicholls would one day head the murder squad and be named one of the influential policemen in Britain. He spoke at least half a dozen languages and it was Nicholls who arrested Charles Wells, the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo.

During World War One, Nicholls had been seconded to Special Branch as a spy-catcher.

He arrived in Garnant on Tuesday, February 15, but the trail was already cold.

The previous day, the woman of Garnant – outraged that the dead man’s blood had been left to cake on the floor of the Star, forced their way into the shop with buckets and mops and scrubbed the premises clean, removing all traces of the culprit and the crime.

Nicholls would spend a month in Garnant, but without evidence had little to go on.

There were, he felt, three main suspects: Mountstephens, who had already been convicted in the court of public opinion; Morgan Jeffreys - the landlord of the Star was seen at the rear of the building around the time of the murder; and an unemployed miner named Tom Morgan, known to be a thief.

Nicholls eliminated Mountstephens – despite the public feeling against him – and Jeffreys from his investigation, and turned his attention to Morgan.

Morgan had spent time in a borstal institution as a youth and had been banned from the collieries due to his habit of claiming other men’s work as his own.

There were though two key elements which exonerated Morgan.

Firstly, he had an alibi.

Most importantly however was the doctor’s assessment that the shopkeeper’s injuries could only have been caused by a right-handed man.

Six months earlier, Morgan had lost the use of his right hand in a bizarre accident that removed all but his thumb and little finger in an explosion which he refused to explain.

Based on Dr Evan Jones unshakeable assertion, it was physically impossible for Morgan to have committed the crime.

Nicholls remained unconvinced and interviewed Morgan on three separate occasions, but thanks to the Garnant ladies there was nothing to connect him to the murder and no basis to undermine the doctor’s analysis of the injuries.

Had Nicholls been able to cast doubt on the doctor’s evidence he would have been able to prove not only that the murder could have been committed by a left-handed man, but that it must have been.

Rather than clearing him, Tom Morgan would have become one of only ten per cent of the population who could have been the killer – and the only actual suspect capable of the crime.

Then perhaps Nicholls would have questioned why every independent witness named in Morgan’s alibi claimed not have seen him and realised that the one person whose word corroborated his whereabouts was complicit in a tissue of lies stretching back almost a decade.

Then, and only then, could Nicholls have proved Tom Morgan committed the murder at the Star.

Murder at the Star is published by Seren Books and is available at all good bookshops as well as Amazon and elsewhere.

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A case already beyond control

By Steve Adams, 2014-04-05

Details of the crime were about to be published

in the Amman Valley Chronicle.

It was only after the coroner had adjourned the inquest and the gathered pressman crowded and jostled around the men from Scotland Yard in some hope of a quote that Nicholls realised Dr Jones had already been interviewed by a reporter from the Amman Valley Chronicle, the local weekly newspaper.

His heart sank even lower when he learned that Thomas Hooper Mounstephens, the dead mans landlord, had also already received a visit from the press.

Nicholls and Canning dispatched everyone else from the vestry save for the man from the Chronicle before demanding to know exactly what the doctor had said and more importantly, what the newspaper planned to print.

The reporter said he had spoken briefly with the doctor on the Sunday evening after his initial viewing of the body but prior to the post-mortem examination.

Dr. Jones said he was called to the shop about ten oclock on Sunday morning and saw the deceased lying behind the counter with his head towards the window, the reporter told them.

Flicking through his notepad, he read the quotes he had taken down during the conversation.

On a superficial examination I found a gap in the throat, which had severed the carotid artery and the jugular vein. There was also a punctured wound in the abdomen.

The newsman then reeled off a list of the dead mans injuries which both Nicholls and Canning would have preferred to keep to themselves for the time being.

The puncture wounds were done with a sharp instrument, and the bruises may have been caused by the brush.

Either of these wounds would ultimately prove fatal, but the immediate fatal wound was the gash in the throat, from which he would bleed quickly to death.

The wound was about one inch by one inch and death would come in the course of a few seconds.

Nicholls shook his head and wondered what other evidence and details of the case which could in time prove essential to the investigation had already been made public. His worst fears were soon to be confirmed.

Turning his page, the reporter continued quoting the doctor.

The peculiar part of the wound in the abdomen was that none of the clothing was cut, he read.

To read more click:

To find out more about the killing of Thomas Thomas in Garnant, Carmarthenshire, in 1921, visit or follow @murderatthestar on Twitter.

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New Bethel Chapel

The spacious vestry at the rear of New Bethel Chapel was already crowded when Nicholls, Canning, Sergeant Richards and Deputy Chief Constable Evans arrived at its gates as the residents of Garnant pressed their way inside to hear what might be said and for those who had not been at the earlier visit to scene to get a first glimpse of the men from Scotland Yard.

The chapel itself was just 20 or so yards down the valley road in the direction of Ammanford from the Star and sat on the border of Garnant and neighbouring Glanaman with the purpose of serving the Non-Conformist faithful of both villages.

It had been opened in 1876 with the foundation stone laid two years earlier and was erected on land gifted for the purpose by Evan Daniel of Swansea.

Designed by architect John Humphreys of Morriston and built by T. Thomas of Llanelli for a reported 2,040 11s and 6d, New Bethel has originally been the cause of some dispute with many residents preferring that two chapels be constructed one in each village.

However, a small majority had won the day and a single unifying place of worship was erected, but the schisms within Non-Conformity would not go away and within the next 25 years three smaller chapels were built in Glanaman to serve their respected denominations.

Reverend Timothy Eynon Davies ministered at New Bethel Chapel until 1883 when he left to take up the pulpit at the Countess of Huntingdon Church, Swansea.

At the time of his departure, New Bethel was to be one of the most well attended Welsh chapels, having a regular congregation numbering in excess of 1,300 worshippers.

Davies was replaced by the Reverend Josiah Towyn Jones who remained at New Bethel until 1904 when he left to become a Christian missionary with the Welsh Congregational Century Fund.

A Liberal Party activist, Jones a close friend of David Lloyd George acted as election agent for Abel Thomas, the Member of Parliament for Carmarthenshire East and Llanelly for more than 22 years and when Thomas died in 1912, replaced him as MP in Carmarthenshire East and Llanelly. When the seat was abolished in 1918 Jones was elected MP for the new seat of Llanelli. .

Meanwhile, New Bethel continued to see its congregation swell and in 1914 a new organ was constructed at a cost of 1,000 mainly due to the efforts of the Organ Fund Committees energetic secretary William Michael the husband of Margaret Michael, whom Diana Bowen had breathlessly told her tale of awful screams and boys with their hands in bacon slicers while Thomas Thomas lay dying.

A hush fell on the crowded vestry and all eyes turned towards Inspector Nicholls and his colleagues as they entered the chapel and passed beneath the inscription stone, which read:

This Stone
Commemorates The Gift By
E Daniel, Esq., Swansea
Of The Site Of The Temple
With Other Valuable Donations
To The Congregational Church
Worshipping At This Place

Nicholls, Canning, Sergeant Richards and the Deputy Chief Constable took the seats reserved for them alongside the gathered pressman just moments before John Nicholas took his place at a table under the pulpit and called the proceedings to order.

Once the formalities of swearing in the eight-man jury with John Phillips, postmaster, as foreman were over, the coroner eyed them each in turn.

To read more click:

To find out more about the killing of Thomas Thomas in Garnant, Carmarthenshire, in 1921, visit or follow @murderatthestar on Twitter.

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Misery makes Heroes of us All

By Steve Adams, 2014-03-27

Private Arthur Williams

9 Btn Royal Welch Fusiliers

At 5.50am on September 25, 1915, a furious bombardment like the revving engines of one thousand motorcycles roared across the sky above the heads of the 9 th Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers towards the German lines positioned north of Loos, a small mining town in northern France.

For three whole weeks, the men of the 9 RWF had lain in wait face down in the craters of earlier exchanges preparing for the order that announced The Big Push the great advance that would drive the Germans out of France and end the unendurable horrors of the Great War.

An artillery bombardment had pounded the German line for four days solid to shatter enemy morale and decimate the machine gun nests and wire defences that protected Kaiser Wilhelms men, but in the cold, damp morning air the shelling intensified beyond the worst imaginings of the most battle-hardened Tommy.

On that almost breathless morning as unceasing rain transformed the British positions into a quagmire, the war would surely change its course. Until that day, the Germans had outnumbered and outgunned the allied forces, but now, at last, opposing generals boasted all but equal resources in terms of men, guns, bullets and munitions.

Huddled with their brothers-in-arms in those filthy, rain-drenched fields awaiting the shrill whistle to advance were men or rather boys - from Ammanford, Llandeilo, Cross Hands, Brynaman and every village in between.

On September 20 - the day before the bombardment had begun, Mrs Williams of 33 Heol Las, Ammanford, received a letter from her 22-year-old son, Arthur. Arthur and his comrades, in the fields and trenches north of Loos, knew the push was merely days away. His younger brother Richard was a few miles up the line. Accompanying the letter, Arthur sent a note home to his sister:

You mustnt worry mother about him; he will be all right, and tell mother that I am as happy as a lark, and to be proud that she has got two sons fighting for our country.

Arthur ended: Trusting that God will spare us to come home again after doing our duty.

In those early hours of September 25, at Divisional Headquarters some miles rear of Arthur and his comrades, General Sir Douglas Haig watched a junior officer light a cigarette.

As the smoke drifted gently in the direction of the German lines, Haigs mind was at last set firm.

For six long months, the Germans had unleashed a fearsome new weapon chlorine gas. But now the allies possessed a horrific cloud of their own to asphyxiate and debilitate its victims and leave them helpless to hot metal spat from angry guns.

As the cigarette smoke danced along the morning breeze, Haig gave the fateful order to release the Allied gas.

At 6.30am the British guns fell silent and a pall of smoke and chlorine fell between opposing lines. The whistles which refused to go unanswered sang out across the dawn and Arthur, Richard, Private Stephen Prout another Ammanford boy and Corporal John Evans of Cross Hands, and thousands like them clambered out from the water-filled holes and trenches where they had sheltered and slept in comradely trios, each taking a turn in the middle to savour whatever warmth could be found there.

We braced ourselves and leapt onto the open field, said one survivor afterwards.

Misery makes heroes of us all.

Arthur, according to his fellows, was one of the first over the top.

The spreading gas forewarned the Germans of the Push, and unbeknownst to the boys of 9 RWF the unrelenting bombardment had done little to diminish the defences that awaited them.

The incessant rain of days and weeks made progress all but impossible. Their great coats were soaked in mud and blood and rain and each weighed heavy as an overflowing coal sack as the men of 9 RWF walked on through mounting piles of corpses into a hail of burning lead.

Haigs gentle breeze began to falter. The wind turned south and pushed the noxious fumes away to leave the Kaisers men unmoved and offer them clear sight of Tommys slow charge.

Undeterred, the boys and men of 9 RWF pushed on, and undeterred the German guns rang out.

Arthur took a bullet to the stomach and fell on that blood and rain-soaked field so very far from home. Some unknown, un-named comrade ignored the fizzing, whizzing Hell about him and stopped and kneeled and freed poor Arthur from his backpack. Together they crawled, with Arthur fighting harder even than hed fought the Hun, back from whence theyd come.

From the British line, he was carried in a makeshift ambulance 150 miles south-east to No2 Stationary Hospital at Rouen, arriving either on September 26 or 27.

On September 29, a letter was delivered in the morning mail to 33 Heol Las.

Dear Mrs Williams, wrote the nurse, I am sorry to tell you that your son, Private Arthur Williams, died last night of wounds received in action.

He was admitted at 8pm, and was unconscious, and died very peaceably at 11.

He was suffering from abdominal wounds, and the surgeon had no hope from the first.

I wish I had more to tell you. It is terribly hard for you to only get bare facts, but unfortunately it is all I can do.

Stephen Prout was wounded at Loos, but survived the war, as did Richard Williams and John Evans, who despite the horrors he would live to witness, said of the September 25 advance: It was a charge I will never forget.

Arthur Williams was buried at Abbeville Communal War Cemetery near the Somme in France.

There is a corner of that foreign field that is forever Ammanford.

I am delighted to announce that on Tuesday, March 25, the wonderful John Rhys Davies of Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones (two name but two) fame was kind enough to record Misery makes Heroes of us All for me at the BBC studios in Cardiff. John, an Amman Valley boy, was only too happy to record my tribute to one of Ammanford's fallen. The audio will be made available online in the not too distant future.

John Rhys Davies recording Misery makes Heroes of us All.

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The meeting with Deputy Chief Constable Evans did not got as well as Nicholls had hoped.

Despite the discovery of the murder weapons, the broken button and possible albeit imperfect fingerprints, Evans was already expressing doubt that the crime would ever be solved.

As far as I can see, there remains not a single worthwhile clue for the police to work upon, he told the man from Scotland Yard.

Evans was 65 years old and less than two months from retirement from the force.

It seemed to Nicholls that perhaps the Deputy Chief Inspector was already thinking of his garden and his pipe, though he chose not to share such thoughts with the local officers.

Evans did however place at Nicholls disposal the full assistance of the Carmarthenshire Constabulary to investigate the crime as he saw fit.

In reality, the full assistance of the force meant the services of Sergeant Richards and Constable Thomas.

Nicholls was assured however that should there be a breakthrough in the case any other assistance that he might require would be readily given, but for the day-to-day ground-work of the investigation he should look no further than the support provided by the two Garnant officers.

With little more to be gained from further discussions, Nicholls, Canning, Sergeant Richards, PC Thomas and Deputy Chief Constable Evans made their way to New Bethel Chapel where John William Nicholas, the Carmarthen County Council solicitor, was in his role as county coroner to open the inquest into the death of Thomas Thomas.

To read more about the Murder at the Star click

To find out more about the killing of Thomas Thomas in Garnant, Carmarthenshire, in 1921, visit or follow @murderatthestar on Twitter.

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On the morning of Monday, February 14, Dr George Evan Jones, assisted by his partner Trefor Hughes Rhys, began the gruesome task of carrying out a post-mortem examination on the body of the shopkeeper.

Jones was a North Walian by birth though his mothers family hailed from Cheshire and it was here he spent his schooldays before undergoing medical training at Edinburgh University, where he was a contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Rhys was originally from Kidwelly some 30 miles east of Garnant on the River Gwendraeth. He earned the rank of Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Great War, and seen his share of bloodshed and death in Mesopotamia in the spring of 1918 having arrived in Baghdad the previous August. After the war, Rhys came home to Wales and the fiance he had left behind. He married his childhood sweetheart Dora in Pembroke in the spring of 1920 and the young couple immediately moved to the Amman Valley and a new life where the now 30-year-old Rhys has taken up the position alongside Dr Jones.

The two men set about the examination with a grim stoicism. Both had experienced the worst of injuries, whether from the battlefield or the pit, but the mutilated body of the frail shopkeeper bore witness to a unique tragedy.

Read more:

To find out more about the killing of Thomas Thomas in Garnant in 1921, visit or follow @murderatthestar on Twitter.

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Nicholls was keen to visit the scene of the murder at the earliest opportunity and after finishing breakfast the four men walked the short distance to Star Stores.

The Deputy Chief Constable had arranged to travel over from Llandeilo at noon to discuss the case and both Scotland Yard detectives wished to familiarise themselves with the shop and surrounding area prior to the meeting.

Sergeant Richards was also keen to show Nicholls what, he considered, might be the only clue to have been found inside the Star and he led the men the short distance along the valley road to the shop.

Before entering however, Nicholls asked to be shown the broken, boarded window pane fixed by Thomas Thomas in the hours prior to his death.

With the detectives noting down the details in their pocket books, Richards then guided them down the darkened Coronation Arcade to the yard at the rear of the Star where, in response to the questions of his new companions, he highlighted the complete absence of any footprints which might have been linked to the crime and subsequent getaway.

Nicholls was again satisfied that the uniformed officers assessment was correct that there had been little or no chance of any impressions being left due to the heavily compacted earth and sub-zero temperature overnight on February 12.

Richards then ushered them to the cellar door through which the killer had most likely escaped and from there up into the heart of the Star.

After carrying out a minute examination of the bloodstained floor and wooden box on which the shopkeepers vital fluid had been splashed, the detectives expanded their search throughout the remainder of the shop, warehouse and cellar area.

During their examination, Nicholls marked a number of smudges and grease marks which, after viewing under his magnifying glass, he identified as fingerprints.

Nicholls, Canning and the two Carmarthenshire officers then examined each of the doors and windows of the Star and apart from the broken window pane could find nothing untoward.

There appeared no sign of forced entry anywhere on the premises.

Once the senior office was satisfied that nothing has been missed during previous searches he allowed Richards to direct his attention to the safe and the one item which the sergeant believed may have been worthy of consideration as a clue.

During his initial examination of the open safe in the hours following the discovery of the body, Richards had spotted a small piece of a broken button lodged in the lower of the two mortises inside the right-hand side of the safe.

Read More:

To find out more about the killing of Thomas Thomas in Garnant in 1921, visit or follow @murderatthestar on Twitter.

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Inspector Nicholls and Sergeant Canning welcomed the bacon and eggs that awaited them as warmly as they in turn were greeted by the residents of Garnant police station.

While housing the village station on the ground floor with an office, a reception area and a cell, the building was also the home of Sergeant Richards, his wife Mary, PC Thomas, his wife Annie and their respective families.

It came as little surprise to the men from Scotland Yard when they found themselves the centre of attention for prying young eyes which peered around door jambs before being shooed away by their mothers who scurried from kitchen to dining room with second helpings and cups of hot, sweet tea.

With their breakfast plates cleared and despite the fatigue of their overnight journey, the two detectives were keen to be brought up to date on all developments since Nicholls had spoken with the chief constable via the telephone the previous afternoon.

The four officers, two uniformed and two in their London suits, sat around the kitchen table sipping tea from the finest china cups the ladies of the station had available as PS Richards and PC Thomas gave what information they could and answered whatever questions the men from Scotland Yard put to them.

Nicholls was impressed. He had come to Garnant doubtful of the efficiency of these local Welsh Bobbies and fearful that their inadequacies might well impede the investigation rather that progress it.

Instead, he had found two men who despite the limitations of the equipment and training available to them appeared conscientious and professional. Sergeant Richards in particular left Nicholls confident that no obvious clue had been missed nor ruined by clumsy fingers or over enthusiasm.

Richards produced the boning knife and broom hand retrieved from the brook for inspection. Two nail heads protruded from the end of the broom handle and it seemed safe to assume that these had previously secured it to the broomhead.

Satisfied that the evidence as it was had been kept secure and untouched in the station strongbox, Nicholls asked what over leads might have come to the fore.

The only fresh line of enquiry to have emerged since his conversation with the Chief Constable had arrived late on Monday afternoon when a gentleman from Ammanford had presented himself at the station.

He was interviewed by Sergeant Richards who ascertained that the man had attended the same concert as Phoebe Jones on Saturday night.

The gentleman had then set out on his homeward journey in his motorcar but had stopped a short distance from the Star Stores to pick up a lone hitchhiker who was walking along the valley road in the direction of Ammanford. The time had been approximately 2am.

The motorist had happily given the man a lift for the night had been cold with a damp mist settling along the valley.

The two had chatted amiably enough during the short journey before the passenger was dropped as requested - at Tirydail Square in Ammanford a short time later.

The walker had claimed that he too had attended the concert, though the driver had no recollection of seeing him at the event.

Nor did the driver recognise the man as a resident of Ammanford though he had aroused no suspicion as the motorist was at that stage completely unaware of the events which had occurred earlier in the evening at the Star.

The two men had shared little more than idle chatter and had not exchanged names or any other information which might further identify the pedestrian, their conversation centring solely on the weather, driving conditions and the motorists car.

The fact that this man had remained in Garnant for some three hours after the dance had come to an end at 11pm was a cause of some suspicion for Sergeant Richards and Nicholls agreed it was imperative that he be traced as soon as possible.

To follow the investigation into the murder of Thomas Thomas at the Garnant branch of Star Stores in Carmarthenshire on February 12, 1921, visit or follow @murderatthestar on Twitter.

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