Rodrigues Ottolengui.

Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence



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"That is sound reasoning," said Mr. Barnes.

"Very well. I had a statement published in the four leading dental magazines, accompanied by a facsimile of the chart made by my dentist, and I solicited correspondence with any dentist who could show a similar chart in his records."

"That was a good method, provided, of course, the dentist who did the work subscribed to one of these magazines."

"Of course the advertisement might not meet the eye of the dentist who treated the dead woman, but even though he were not a subscriber he might hear of this matter through some acquaintance, because, as I have said, this subject of identification through dental work is one that widely interests the dentists. However, success rewarded us. I received a letter from a dentist in one of the New Jersey towns, stating that he believed he could match my chart. I lost no time in visiting him, and, after examining his book, was satisfied that the person who had been cremated that day was an elderly, eccentric woman, named Miss Lederle, Miss Martha Lederle."

"Mr. Mitchel, you have done a remarkably clever bit of work, and though you have succeeded where I have failed, I must congratulate you. But tell me, after learning the name of the woman how did you trace her to this city?"

"I deserve no credit for that. It seems that Miss Lederle had long had a little fleshy tumor on the inside of her cheek, which had had an opportunity to grow because of the loss of a tooth. Her dentist often advised her to have it removed, lest it might become cancerous. She put it off from time to time, but recently it had grown more rapidly, and at last she called on the dentist and asked him to recommend a surgeon. He tells me that he gave her the names of three, one residing in Newark, and two in this city. Of the New York men, one was Dr. Mortimer."

"By Jove! Doctor Mortimer!" exclaimed Mr. Barnes. "I begin to see daylight. It was he who supplied the morphine powders, then?"

"Ah, then you know so much? Yes, Dr. Mortimer instigated the transfer of bodies. As soon as I charged him with murder, he thought it safest to tell me the truth and throw himself upon my mercy."

"Upon your mercy?" said Mr. Barnes, mystified.

"Yes; the man has not committed a crime, at least not the crime of murder. It seems that on the afternoon of the day before that fixed for the funeral of Mr. Quadrant, this Miss Lederle called at his office and requested him to remove the tumor from her cheek. He consented, and suggested the use of cocaine to deaden the parts. The woman insisted that she must have chloroform, and the doctor explained that in the absence of his assistant he would not care to undertake the administration of an an?sthetic. But the woman was persistent; she offered a liberal fee if the operation could be done immediately, since it had required so much time for her to bring her courage to the point of having the tumor removed; then the operation itself seemed so simple that at last the surgeon was overruled, and proceeded.

He did cause the patient to remove her corset, and, her garments thoroughly loosened, she was placed on the operating-table. He says he administered very little chloroform, and had not yet attempted to operate when the patient exhibited dangerous symptoms. In spite of his most untiring efforts she succumbed, and he found himself in the dreadful position of having a patient die under an operation, with no witnesses present. He closed and locked his office and walked from the house in great mental agitation. He called at the Quadrants', and heard there that the coffin would not again be opened. Then a great temptation came to him. The woman had not given him her address, nor had she stated who had sent her to Dr. Mortimer, merely declaring that she knew him by reputation. There was no way to communicate with the woman's relatives except by making the affair public. He recalled that a similar accident to an old surgeon of long-established reputation, where several assistants had been present, had nevertheless ruined the man's practice. He himself was innocent of wrong-doing, except, perhaps, that the law forbade him to operate alone, and he saw ruin staring him in the face, just at a time, too, when great prosperity had appeared to be within his grasp. The undertaker, Berial, was an old acquaintance, indebted to him for many recommendations.

"The plan seemed more and more feasible as he thought of it, and finally he sought out Berial, and confided to him his secret. For a liberal fee the undertaker agreed to dispose of the body. Dr. Mortimer supplied him with a drug with which to overcome the watchman at the stables, so that the wagon could be taken out unknown. He himself visited the Quadrant house, and, under the plea of relieving Mark Quadrant of a headache, gave him also a dose of morphine. At the appointed time Berial arrived at the doctor's office and took away the woman's body, first replacing the corset, which, of course, they were bound to dispose of. Together they went to the Quadrants', and there exchanged the bodies. Subsequent events are known to you. Thus the truth has arisen, Ph?nix-like, from the ashes of the dead. The question remaining is, what claim has Justice upon the doctor? Gentlemen, is it needful to disgrace that man, who really is a victim of circumstances rather than a wrong-doer? He tells me, Mr. Barnes, that he has not had a moment of mental rest since you asked him whether ashes could be proven to be the residue of a human body."

"I recall now that he started violently when I spoke to him. Perhaps, had I been more shrewd, I might have suspected the truth then. The difficulty of hushing this matter up, Mr. Mitchel, seems to be the friends and relatives of the dead woman. How can they be appeased?"

"I will undertake that. I think the real estate which she leaves behind will satisfy the one relative. I have already communicated with this man, a hard, money-grubbing old skinflint, and I think that with the assistance of Mr. Berial we can have one more funeral that will satisfy the curiosity of the few neighbors."

And thus the matter was permitted to rest. There was yet one point which puzzled Mr. Barnes, and which never was made clear to him.

"What of the scar that I could not find on Rufus Quadrant's foot?" he often asked himself. But as he could not ask either of the brothers, he never got a reply. Yet the explanation was simple. Mark Quadrant told Mr. Barnes that his brother had such a scar, his object being to baffle the detective by suggesting to him a flaw in the identification. The idea occurred to him because his brother Amos really had such a scarred foot, and he so worded his remark that he literally told the truth, though he deceived Mr. Barnes. When the detective repeated this statement to Amos, he noticed the care with which his brother had spoken, and, in turn, he truthfully said that his brother had spoken truthfully.

II
THE MISSING LINK

"The object of my visit," began Mr. Barnes, "is of such grave importance that I approach it with hesitation, and I may even say reluctance. Will you give me your closest attention?"

"I understood from your note," replied Mr. Mitchel, "that you wished to consult me in regard to some case which you are investigating. As you are well aware, I take the keenest interest in the solving of criminal problems. Therefore proceed. But first let me light a Havana. A good cigar always aids my perception."

The two men were in the sumptuous library of Mr. Mitchel's new house, which he had bought for his wife shortly after their marriage. It was ten in the morning, and Mr. Mitchel, just from his breakfast-room, was comfortably attired in a smoking-jacket. After lighting his cigar, he threw himself into a large Turkish chair, rested his head upon the soft-cushioned back, and extended his slippered feet towards the grate fire, his legs crossed. As he blew little rings of smoke towards the detective, he seemed absolutely unsuspicious of the story about to be told.

Mr. Barnes, on the contrary, appeared ill at ease. He declined a cigar, and, without removing his overcoat, he leaned his left arm on the low marble mantel as he stood talking, his right being free for gestures when he wished to emphasize a point.

After a brief pause he began:

"Whilst I am not officially connected with the regular police, my young friend Burrows is, and is highly esteemed by the Chief. You will remember him in connection with the Quadrant case. He called upon me about noon on last Sunday. The story which he had to tell was the most remarkable in some respects that I have heard. Briefly, it is as follows: As you know, it is common practice among speculating builders to erect a row of houses, finishing them at one end first, so that, not infrequently, one or two of the row may be sold while the mechanics are still at work on the other end. In this manner ten houses have been built in this immediate vicinity."

"In the street just back of me," said Mr. Mitchel.

Mr. Barnes watched him closely at this moment, but he seemed entirely composed and merely attentive. The detective proceeded.

"It appears that two of these houses have been sold and are already occupied. The next four are completed, and the sign "For Sale" appears in the windows. The others are still in the hands of the workmen. The four which are for sale are in the care of a watchman. They are open for inspection during the day, but he is supposed to lock all the doors before going to his home in the evening, and to open them to the public again on the following day. According to this man, he locked all the doors of these four houses on Saturday night at six o'clock, and opened them again at eight on Sunday morning. Between eight and nine he showed two parties through one of the houses and, after dismissing the last, was sitting on the stoop reading the morning paper, when he was startled by hearing a scream. A moment later he saw two women rush out of the house next to where he sat, and from their actions it was evident that they were terribly frightened. It was some time before he could get any lucid explanation from either, and when he did he understood them to intimate that some one had been murdered in the house. He asked them to show him to the spot, but they most positively declined. He therefore, with unusual display of common sense, summoned a policeman, and with him visited the room indicated by the frightened women, who made no attempt to run away, though they again refused to go into the house, even with the officer. What the two men found was horrible enough to account for the women's actions. In the bathtub lay the body of a woman, the head, hands, and feet having been cut off and removed."

"I should say that, under these circumstances, identification would be most difficult," said Mr. Mitchel, "unless, indeed, the clothing might afford some clue."

"The body was nude," said the detective.

"In that case, you have to deal with a man who has brains."

"Yes; the murderer has adopted just such methods as I imagine you would pursue, Mr. Mitchel, were you in his predicament."

Mr. Mitchel frowned very slightly, and said:

"You offer me a doubtful compliment, Mr. Barnes. Proceed with your case. It is interesting, to say the least."

"It grows more so as we proceed, for we have once more an evidence of the futility of planning a crime which shall leave no clue behind."

"Ah, then you have found a clue?" Mr. Mitchel removed his cigar to speak, and did not resume his smoking, but seemed more attentive.

"Listen," said the detective. "The policeman immediately notified his superiors, and by ten o'clock Burrows was at the house, having been detailed to make an examination. Having done so, and recognizing that he was face to face with a crime of unusual importance, he hastened to solicit my assistance, that I might be early upon the scene. I am satisfied that I reached the house before any material alteration had been made in any of those small and minute details which are overlooked by the careless eye, but which speak volumes to one with experience."

"I suppose, then, that you can describe what existed, from your personal investigation. That is more interesting than a report at second hand."

"I went over the ground thoroughly, as I think you will admit when I have told you all. Here was one of those wonderful cases where the criminal exercised extreme caution to obliterate all traces of the crime. His actions could only be surmised through analytical and deductive methods. There are some facts which cannot be hidden, and from these a keen mind may trace backwards. For example, the head and extremities had been removed, and a minute scrutiny of the remaining parts might disclose many things."

"Ah, here we note the triumph of mind over matter." There was just a slight sneer, which nettled the detective.

Mr. Barnes proceeded with some asperity. Indeed, he spoke more like himself; that is, with less hesitancy, as though heretofore he had found the story hard to tell, but that now his scruples had vanished.

"An examination of the stumps of the arms proved conclusively that a sharp knife had been used, for not only had the tendons and vessels been cleanly severed, but in two places the cartilage capping the ends of the bone had been shaved off smoothly."

"Come, Mr. Barnes," said Mr. Mitchel, "do not dwell so upon unimportant details."

"The weapon is always counted as a very important detail," said Mr. Barnes, sharply.

"Yes, yes, I know," said Mr. Mitchel. "But you are above the ordinary detective, and you surely perceive that it is a matter of no consequence whether the knife used was sharp or dull. In either case it could be hidden or destroyed, so that it could not be found to serve in evidence."

"Oh, very well," said Mr. Barnes, testily. "I will come to the deductions concerning the neck. Here there were several points of interest. Again it was evident that a sharp knife was used, and in this instance the condition of the edge of the knife becomes important."

"Indeed! How so?"

"The most minute scrutiny of the body disclosed no wound which could have been the cause of death. Unless poison had been administered, there are but three ways by which death could have been effected."

"And those are?"

"Suffocation, either by choking or otherwise; drowning, by holding the head under water in the bathtub; or by some mortal wound inflicted about the head, either by a blow, the use of a knife, or a pistol shot. I doubted the pistol, because so careful a man as the assassin evidently was, would have avoided the noise. A stab with a knife was possible, but unlikely because of the scream which would surely result. A blow was improbable, unless the man brought the weapon with him, as the house was empty, and nothing would accidentally be found at hand. To drown the woman, it would have been necessary to half fill the tub with water before thrusting the victim in it, and such an action would have aroused her suspicion. Besides, the clothes would have been wet, and this would have interfered with burning them. Thus by exclusion I arrived at the belief that the woman had been choked to death, a method offering the least risk, being noiseless and bloodless."

"What has the sharpness of the knife to do with this?"

"It was, in my mind, important to decide whether the head had been removed before or after death. A dull knife would not have aided me as a sharp one did. With a sharp knife a severing of the carotid artery before death would have resulted in a spurting of blood, which would have stained the walls or floor, so that it would have been difficult, or impossible, to wash away the telltale marks. But after death, or even while the victim was unconscious, a cool hand, with a sharp blade, could cut down upon the artery in such a way that the blood would flow regularly, and, the body being in the bathtub, and water flowing from the faucets, no stains would be left."

"Then you think that the woman was choked to death?"

"I have not a doubt of it. There was a terrible struggle, too, though in an empty house we could find no such signs as would inevitably have been made in a furnished apartment. But the woman fought for her life and died hard. This I know because, despite the precaution of the assassin in removing the head, there are two or three distinct marks on the neck, made by the ends of his fingers and nails."

"Well, having discovered so much, you are as far as ever from the identity of the criminal, or of the woman."

"Every point unravelled is so much gain," said Mr. Barnes, evasively. "My next deduction was more important. Let us picture the scene of the crime. For causes as yet unknown, this man wished to kill this woman. He lures her into this empty house, and, choosing a favorable moment, seizes her by the throat and strangles her to death. To prevent the identification of the corpse, he decides to remove the head, hands, and feet, parts which are characteristic. He takes off the clothes and burns them. We found the ashes in the kitchen stove. He takes the body to the bathroom, and, placing it in the porcelain tub, turns on the water, and then proceeds with his diabolical scheme. Even though we suppose that he first filled the tub with water, the better to avoid stains, when we remember that he took away the severed parts it is inconceivable that not a stain of blood, not a smudge of pinkish tint, would be left anywhere. Granting that he might have endeavored to wash away any such drippings, still it would be marvellous that not one stain should be left."

"Yet you found none?" Mr. Mitchel smiled, and resumed his smoking.

"Yet I found none," said Mr. Barnes. "But this was a most significant fact to me. It led me to a suspicion which I proceeded to verify. The plumbing in this house is of the most approved pattern. Under the porcelain bathtub there is a patent trap for the exclusion of sewer-gas. This is so fashioned that some water always remains. Supposing that bloody water had passed through it, I should find this trap partly filled with water tinted in color. I removed the screw, which enabled me to catch the water from the trap in a bowl. It was perfectly clear. Not a trace of color."

"From which you deduced?" asked Mr. Mitchel.

"From which I deduced," said the detective, "that the woman had not been killed, or dismembered, in the house where her body was found. By examining the other houses and emptying the traps, I found one which yielded water plainly colored with blood, and I also found a few smudges about the bathtub; places where blood had splashed and been washed off. The assassin thought that he had made all clean, but as so often happens with porcelain, when dried there still remained a slight stain, which even showed the direction in which it had been wiped."

"Very good! Very good indeed!" Mr. Mitchel yawned slightly. "Let me see. You have discovered – what? That the knife was sharp. And that the woman was killed in one house and carried to another. How does that help you?"

At this point Mr. Barnes gave Mr. Mitchel a distinct surprise. Instead of answering the question, he asked suddenly:

"Mr. Mitchel, will you permit me to examine that watch-chain which you are wearing?"

Mr. Mitchel sat straight up in his chair, and looked sharply at the detective, as though trying to read his innermost thoughts. The detective stared back at him, and both were silent a moment. Then without speaking, Mr. Mitchel removed the chain, and handed it to Mr. Barnes, who took it with him to the window, and there examined it closely through a lens. Mr. Mitchel threw the remains of his cigar into the fire, and, placing both hands behind his head as he lay back in his chair, awaited developments. Presently Mr. Barnes returned to his place by the mantel, and in resuming his narrative it was noticeable from his tone of voice that he was more than ever troubled.

"You asked me," said he, "how my discoveries helped me. I say from the bottom of my soul that they have helped me only too well. That I proceed in this matter is due to the fact that I must follow the dictates of my conscience rather than my heart."

"Brutus yielded up his son," suggested Mr. Mitchel.

"Yes. Well, to resume my story. The point of importance was this. Imagine the assassin with both hands at the woman's throat – two things were inevitable. The woman would surely struggle, with arms and legs, and the murderer would be unable to resist, his own hands being occupied. What more natural than that the arms of the dying woman should be wrapped about the body of her assailant? That the hands should grasp and rend the clothing? Might perhaps come into contact with a watch-chain and tear it off, or break it?"

"And you are intending to examine all the watch-chains in the neighborhood upon such a chance as that?" Mr. Mitchel laughed, but Mr. Barnes took no notice of the intended taunt.

"I have examined the only chain I wished to look at. Deducing the struggle, and the possible tearing off of some part of the assassin's attire, I was glad to know which house was the scene of the crime. Having satisfied myself in this direction, I proceeded to search for the missing link in the chain of evidence, though I must confess that I did not expect it to be truly a link, a part of a real chain. The idea that a watch-chain might have been broken in the struggle did not occur to me until I held the evidence in my hand."



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