Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence
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"We may not be able to blame him, but we certainly have the power to punish him. The law will not accept such sophistry as palliation for crime. What else does the fellow admit?"
"The rest of his tale is quite interesting, and I think would surprise you, unless, indeed, you have discovered the truth yourself."
"I think I could make a shrewd guess," said Mr. Barnes.
"Well, I wish you would tell me your story first. You see, after all, I am the legally employed investigator of this matter, and I should like to hear your story before telling mine, that I may be absolutely certain that your results have been arrived at by a different line of work, though of course you understand that I do not for a moment imagine that you would intentionally color your story after hearing mine."
"I understand you perfectly, Tom," said Mr. Barnes, kindly, "and I am not at all offended. You are right to wish to have the two stories independently brought before your reasoning faculties. Morgan tells you that he stole the rings in the afternoon. Perhaps he did, and perhaps he took them later. It does not now seem to be material. The subsequent facts, as I deduce them from the evidence, are as follows: Morgan had a pal, who was sweet on a girl called Nellie. By the way, did you get any trace of her?"
"She was with Morgan when I found him and she has come back with us."
"Good. Very good, It seems that Morgan also admired the girl, and that finally he and his pal had a saloon fight over her, during which Morgan struck the other man with a beer glass. This man fell to the floor unconscious, and was taken to his home in that condition. He has not been seen in the neighborhood since. Now we come to another series of events. Morgan admits taking the rings. Suppose we accept his story. He then left the house and drove the wagon back to the shop. Randal took it from there to the stables, but later in the evening Morgan visited the stables and induced the night watchman to take a drink. That drink was drugged, and the drug was morphine. The watchman slept soundly, and there is little doubt that while thus unconscious Morgan took the undertaker's wagon out of the stable on some errand. There is an interesting series of links in this chain which convicts Morgan of using morphine to accomplish his purpose. First, it is nearly certain that the watchman was drugged; second, a witness will testify that he found Mr. Mark Quadrant sound asleep, when he was supposed to be watching the coffin; third, I have taken from the pocket of a vest found in Morgan's rooms a powder which a chemist declares is morphine. Is not that fairly good evidence?"
"It is good evidence, Mr. Barnes, but it does not prove that Morgan took that body from the coffin."
"What, then, does it show?"
"It makes him an accomplice at least. He undoubtedly drugged the watchman and took the wagon out of the stables, but beyond that you can prove nothing. You have not offered any motive that would actuate him in stealing the body."
"The motive is quite sufficient, I assure you.His pal, whom he struck down with the beer glass, and who has not been seen by his neighbors since that night, must have died from the blow. It was his body that was cremated."
Mr. Burrows shook his head, and seemed sorry to upset the calculations of his old friend.
"I am afraid you cannot prove that," said he. "Tell me, what was the name of this pal? Have you learned that?"
"Yes; Tommy White."
"Do you know him by any other name?"
"No; but as he is unquestionably a crook he probably has a dozen aliases."
"One will suffice at present. Tommy White is none other than your disinterested informant, Jack Randal."
"What!" exclaimed Mr. Barnes, recognizing instantly that if this were true his whole edifice tumbled to the ground.
"Yes. I think that Morgan has told me a clean-cut story, though, as I said before, we must verify it. You see, he is a crook and ready to acquire other people's property, but I think he has a wholesome dread of the electric chair that will keep him out of murder. He was at one time a pal of Billy the Red, now in Sing Sing. After that fellow was put away he took up with Tommy White, alias Jack Randal. Randal, it seems, induced Morgan to join him in his nefarious schemes. The undertaker has told you, perhaps, as he has told me, that he invented his patent coffin because of numerous grave robberies that had occurred in one of the cemeteries. He little suspected that the robbers were his two assistants. These fellows would steal from the dead, while preparing the bodies for burial, if it seemed safe, as, for example, was the case with Mr. Quadrant, where it was known that the coffin was not again to be opened. In other cases they would visit the grave together. Sometimes they merely appropriated what jewelry there might be, but in not a few instances they stole the bodies as well, disposing of them to medical students."
"What a diabolical partnership!"
"Yes, indeed. Now, coming to the saloon fight, you are correct enough except as to the results. White, or Randal, was unconscious during the greater part of the night, and in the morning had but a dim recollection of what had occurred. He understood, however, that his injury had been the result of a fight with Morgan, and also that the girl Nellie had 'thrown him over,' to adopt the vernacular. He therefore left the neighborhood, and though the two men continued to work for Berial, they did not resume their friendship. White evidently was nursing his grievances, and only awaited an opportunity to make trouble for his old pal Morgan. This he hoped to accomplish by the information which he gave to you."
"You will hardly expect me to believe that Morgan gave up his position and left town without some better reason than a mere quarrel with his pal, and a petty theft?"
"Morgan did not give up his position, nor did he leave town of his own volition. He was sent away."
"Sent away? By whom?"
"By the principal in this case. I told you from the first that there were two in it. He has admitted to me what I did not know, but what I believe now because you tell me the same story. He confesses that he drugged the watchman at the stables and then drove the wagon away. But he denies that he either took Quadrant's body from the coffin, or indeed that he drove the wagon to the Quadrant house. In fact, he says he was paid to get the wagon unknown to the watchman, and that he was furnished with the powders with which he was to drug the man."
"Am I to understand that one of the dead man's brothers hired Morgan to do this?"
Mr. Barnes was thinking of his conversation with Amos Quadrant, during which that gentleman had suggested that an undertaker's wagon might approach the house at any hour without attracting attention. He was consequently astonished by the younger detective's reply.
"No," said Mr. Burrows; "he does not implicate either of the Quadrants. He declares that it was old Berial who hired him to do his part of the job."
New possibilities crowded into the thoughts of Mr. Barnes as he heard this unexpected statement. Berial hired Morgan to procure the wagon! Did it follow, then, that Berial was the principal, or was he in turn but the tool of another? Amos Quadrant had confessed that secretly it had not been his wish to have his brother cremated. Yet his was the authority which had engaged the undertaker and directed the funeral. Had he chosen to avoid the cremation without permitting the widow to know that his will accomplished her wish, how easy for him to engage the undertaker to carry out his purpose, oddly planned as it was! How readily might the poor undertaker have been bribed by this wealthy man to take the risk! After all, if this were the explanation, wherein lay the crime? By what name would it be designated in the office of the district attorney? Yet, even now, when all seemed known, two unexplained facts stood out prominently. How was it that the foot of the deceased Quadrant showed no scar? And what of the assertion made by Mr. Mitchel that a human body had been cremated? Could it be that Berial, taking advantage of the opportunity offered by his employer, had secretly disposed of some other body, while merely supposed to have removed Rufus Quadrant from his coffin? If so, whose body was it that had been cremated, and how could identification be looked for among the ashes in the urn at the cemetery? Mr. Barnes was chagrined to find such questions in his mind with no answer, when Mr. Mitchel might arrive with his promised surprise at any moment. Perhaps Morgan was lying when he accused the undertaker.
"Have you been able yet," asked Mr. Barnes, "to verify any part of this man's story?"
"Well, we only arrived at six this morning, but I may say yes, I have found some corroborative evidence."
"I have the shroud in which Rufus Quadrant was dressed in his coffin."
"That is important. Where did you find it?"
"In quite a suggestive place. It was locked up in old Berial's private closet at the shop, which we searched this morning."
"That certainly is significant. But even so, Tom, how do we know that this Morgan, who robs the dead and has duplicate screw-drivers for opening patented coffin fastenings, would hesitate to place a shroud where it would seem to substantiate his accusation of another?"
"We do not know positively, of course. We have not fully solved this mystery yet, Mr. Barnes."
"I fear not, Tom," said Mr. Barnes, glancing at the clock as he heard a voice asking for him in the adjoining office; "but here comes a man who claims that he has done so."
Mr. Mitchel entered and saluted the two men cordially, after receiving an introduction to the younger.
"Well, Mr. Barnes," said Mr. Mitchel, "shall I surprise you with my story, or have you two gentlemen worked it all out?"
"I do not know whether you will surprise us or not," said Mr. Barnes. "We do not claim to have fully solved this mystery; that much we will admit at once. But we have done a great deal of work, and have learned facts which must in the end lead to the truth."
"Ah, I see. You know some things, but not all. The most important fact, of course, would be the identity of the body which is the centre of this mystery. Do you know that much?"
"I have no doubt that it has been correctly identified," said Mr. Barnes, boldly, though not as confident as he pretended. "It was the corpse of Rufus Quadrant, of course."
"You are speaking of the body at the Morgue?"
"Certainly. What other?"
"I alluded to the body which was cremated," said Mr. Mitchel quietly.
"It has not been proven that any body was cremated," replied Mr. Barnes.
"Has it not? I think it has."
"Ah, you know that? Well, tell us. Who was the man?"
"The man in the coffin, do you mean?"
"Yes. The man who was cremated in place of Mr. Quadrant."
"Have you any suspicion?"
"I did have until an hour ago. I supposed that the criminal who managed this affair had thus disposed of the remains of a pal whom he had killed in a saloon row – a man called Tommy White."
"No, that is wrong. The body cremated was the corpse of a woman."
"Of a woman!" exclaimed both detectives in concert.
"Yes, gentlemen," said Mr. Mitchel, "it was a woman's body that was placed in the furnace. I think, Mr. Barnes, that I suggested such a possibility to you on the day when you first called my attention to this affair?"
"Yes. You said it might be a woman as well as a man. But that was merely a caution against hastily deciding as to the sex of the victim, supposing that a murder had been committed and the criminal had thus proceeded to hide his crime. But subsequent investigations have not brought to us even a suspicion that any woman has been foully dealt with, who could have been placed in the coffin by any who had the opportunity."
"Which only proves," said Mr. Mitchel, "that as usual you detectives have worked in routine fashion, and consequently, by beginning at the wrong end, you have not reached the goal. Now I have reached the goal, and I venture the belief that I have not done one half of the work that either of you have been compelled to bestow upon your investigations."
"We cannot all be as intellectually brilliant as yourself," said Mr. Barnes testily.
"Come, come, Mr. Barnes. No offense meant, I assure you. I am only upholding the argument, which I have advanced previously, that the very routine which gentlemen of your calling feel bound to follow often hampers if it does not hinder your work. I am merely a tyro, but not being professionally engaged on this case I was perhaps freer to see things with eyes unblinded by traditional methods of work. It is just as the onlooker often sees an opportunity to win, which the men playing a game of chess overlook. The player has his mind upon many combinations and sees much that the onlooker does not see. So here. You and Mr. Burrows have probably discovered many things that I do not even suspect, but it has been my luck to get at the truth. If you care to hear it, I will describe in detail how I worked out the problem."
"Of course we wish to hear the truth," said Mr. Barnes reluctantly; "that is, if indeed you have learned what it is."
"Very good. As I have said, hampered by the seeming necessity of following your investigations along customary lines, you probably began with the body at the Morgue. I pursued the opposite course. The case seemed so unique that I was convinced that the motive would prove to be equally uncommon. If the body at the Morgue were really that of Mr. Quadrant, as seemed probable from the identifications by the family and the doctor, I was sure that it had been taken from the coffin to make room for the corpse of another. No other motive occurred to my mind which appeared to be adequate. Consequently I thought that the first essential in unravelling the mystery would be the establishment of the fact that a human body had been cremated, and then, if possible, to discover the identity of that body."
"In other words, to identify the ashes of a cremated body," interjected Mr. Barnes, with a slight sneer.
"Just so. That in itself was a problem so novel that it attracted my interest. It is usually considered that cremation has the objectionable feature that it offers a means of hiding the crime of murder. This idea has contributed not a little to thwart those who have endeavored to make this means of disposing of the dead popular. Would it not be an achievement to prove that incineration is not necessarily a barrier against identification?"
"I should say so," said Mr. Barnes.
"So thought I, and that was the task which I set myself. I visited the chief of the detective bureau, and soon interested him in my theories. He even permitted me to be present at the examination of the ashes, which was undertaken at my suggestion, an expert chemist and his assistant going with us. At the cemetery the urn was brought forth and its contents spread out on a clean marble slab. It was not difficult to discern that a human being had been cremated."
"Why was it not difficult?"
"When one hears of the ashes of the dead, perhaps it is not unnatural to think of these human ashes as similar to cigar ashes, or the ashes of a wood fire. Where complete combustion occurs the residue is but an impalpable powder. But this is not commonly the result in the cremation of the dead, or at least it does not invariably occur. It did not in this instance, and that is the main point for us. On the contrary, some of the bones, and parts of others, sufficiently retained their form to be readily distinguishable as having come from the human skeleton."
"As I have never examined a cremated body," said Mr. Barnes, "I must admit that your statement surprises me. I had supposed that all parts of the body would be brought to a similar state. But even if what you say is true, and granting that from pieces of charred bone it could be demonstrated that a human being had been burned, still I would like you to explain how you could differentiate between man and woman."
"Perhaps it would be difficult, or even impossible, judging from the charred bits of skeleton alone. But if we remember that a woman's garb is different from the dress of a man, we might find a clue. For example, if you saw what could unmistakably be recognized as parts of corset steels, what would you think?"
"Of course the deduction would be that the body had been that of a woman, but I should think it an odd circumstance to find that a body prepared for burial had been corseted."
"The same thought occurred to me, and from it I drew an important deduction, since substantiated by facts. I concluded from the corset steels that the body had not been prepared for burial."
"I follow you," said Mr. Barnes, now thoroughly interested in Mr. Mitchel's analytical method. "You mean that this woman was placed in the coffin clothed as she had died?"
"Practically so, but I did not decide that she had necessarily died clothed as she was when placed in the coffin. My conclusion was that it must have been as essential to dispose of the clothing as of the body. Thus the clothing would have been placed in the coffin with her, even though perhaps not on her."
"A good point! A good point!" nodded the detective, approvingly.
"So, you see, the ashes of the dead had already revealed two clues. We knew that a human being had been cremated, and we could feel reasonably sure, though not absolutely positive, that it had been a woman. Next, the question arose as to the identity. If cremation would hide that, then the criminal might hope to escape justice by this means."
"It seems incredible that the ashes could be identified, unless indeed some object, provably connected with a certain person, and which would resist fire, had been placed in the coffin."
"No, that would not satisfy me. A false identification could thus be planned by your thoughtful murderer. What I sought was some means of identifying the actual remains of a cremated body. I have succeeded."
"You have succeeded?"
"Yes. I had a theory which has proven to be a good one. If some of the bones of the body resist cremation, or at least retain their form though calcined, it should follow that the teeth, being the most resistant bones, and, moreover, protected by being imbedded in other bones, might well be expected to remain intact. If not all, at least a sufficient number of them might be found to serve the ends of justice."
"Even if you could find the teeth with shape undisturbed, I fail to see how you could identify the remains by them."
"The method is as reliable as it is unique. In these days of advanced dentistry, the people of this country have been educated up to such an appreciation of their dental organs that, from the highest to the lowliest, we find the people habitually saving their teeth by having them filled. I knew by personal experience that it is a common practice among dentists to register in a book of record all work done for a patient. In these records they have blank charts of the teeth, and on the diagram of each tooth, as it is filled, they mark in ink the size and position of the filling inserted. Now while the teeth themselves might resist the heat of the furnace, retaining their shapes, we would not expect the fillings, whether of gold or other material, to do so. Thus, I expected to find the teeth with cavities in them. I did find fourteen of the teeth fairly whole, sufficiently so that we might identify them, and know what position in the mouth they had occupied. No less than ten of these teeth had cavities, which, from the regularity of their outline, it was fair to assume had been filled. These I took to my dentist for an opinion. He was at once interested, because it seems that members of the dental profession have long urged upon the police the reliance that may be placed upon the dentist in identifying living criminals or unknown dead bodies. He examined the charred teeth, and taking a blank chart of the mouth, he plotted out the size and positions of the fillings which once had been present. Another very interesting point was that we found two teeth, known as the central incisor and the cuspid (the latter commonly called the eye-tooth), united together by a staple of platinum. This staple had of course resisted the heat because platinum melts at so high a temperature. My dentist pointed out to me that this staple had been a foundation for what he called a bridge. One end of the staple had been forced into the root of one tooth, the other end passing similarly into the other. Thus the space was spanned, and an artificial tooth had been attached to the bar, thus filling the space. He also pointed out that the bar was covered with a mass which was evidently the porcelain of the tooth which had melted in the furnace."
"This is very interesting," said Mr. Barnes, "but unless you could find the man who did that work, you still could not identify the person cremated."
"My dentist, as I have said, made out for me a chart of the person's mouth, which you may examine. You will see that it is quite specific. With that number of fillings, occupying definite positions in special teeth, and coupled with the presence of the tooth bridged in and the manner of making the bridge, it would be an unexampled coincidence to find that two persons had obtained exactly similar dental services. Would it not?"
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