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In the offices of the Homicide Bureau of the Detective Division of the New York Police Department, on the third floor of the Police Headquarters building in Center Street, there is a large steel filing cabinet; and within it, among thousands of others of its kind, there reposes a small green index–card on which is typed: "ODELL, MARGARET. 184 West 71st Street. Sept. 10. Murder: Strangled about 11 p.m. Apartment ransacked. Jewelry stolen. Body found by Amy Gibson, maid."Here, in a few commonplace words, is the bleak, unadorned statement of one of the most astonishing crimes in the police annals of this country—a crime so contradictory, so baffling, so ingenious, so unique, that for many days the best minds of the Police Department and the District Attorney's office were completely at a loss as to even a method of approach. Each line of investigation only tended to prove that Margaret Odell could not possibly have been murdered. And yet, huddled on the great silken davenport in her living–room lay the girl's strangled body, giving the lie to so grotesque a conclusion.
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Footprints in the Snow
(Sunday, September 9)
On the day following his decision, Markham and Vance and I were sitting in a secluded corner of the lounge–room of the Stuyvesant Club. We often came together there, for we were all members of the club, and Markham frequently used it as a kind of unofficial up–town headquarters.
"It's bad enough to have half the people in this city under the impression that the District Attorney's office is a kind of high–class collection agency," he remarked that night, "without being necessitated to turn detective because I'm not given sufficient evidence, or the right kind of evidence, with which to secure convictions."
Vance looked up with a slow smile, and regarded him quizzically.
"The difficulty would seem to be," he returned, with an indolent drawl, "that the police, being unversed in the exquisite abracadabra of legal procedure, labor under the notion that evidence which would convince a man of ordin'ry intelligence, would also convince a court of law. A silly notion, don't y' know. Lawyers don't really want evidence: they want erudite technicalities. And the average policeman's brain is too forthright to cope with the pedantic demands of jurisprudence."
"It's not as bad as that," Markham retorted, with an attempt at good nature, although the strain of the past few weeks had tended to upset his habitual equanimity. "If there weren't rules of evidence, grave injustice would too often be done innocent persons. And even a criminal is entitled to protection in our courts."
Vance yawned mildly.
"Markham, you should have been a pedagogue. It's positively amazin' how you've mastered all the standard oratorical replies to criticism. And yet, I'm unconvinced. You remember the Wisconsin case of the kidnapped man whom the courts declared presumably dead. Even when he reappeared, hale and hearty, among his former neighbors, his status of being presumably dead was not legally altered. The visible and demonstrable fact that he was actually alive was regarded by the court as an immaterial and impertinent side–issue. … Then there's the touchin' situation—so prevalent in this fair country—of a man being insane in one State and sane in another…. Really, y' know, you can't expect a mere lay intelligence, unskilled in the benign processes of legal logic, to perceive such subtle nuances. Your layman, swaddled in the darkness of ordin'ry common sense, would say that a person who is a lunatic on one bank of a river would still be a lunatic if he was on the opposite bank. And he'd also hold—erroneously, no doubt—that if a man was living, he would presumably be alive."
"Why this academic dissertation?" asked Markham, this time a bit irritably.
"It seems to touch rather vitally on the source of your present predicament," Vance explained equably. "The police, not being lawyers, have apparently got you into hot water, what? … Why not start an agitation to send all detectives to law school?"
"You're a great help," retorted Markham.
Vance raised his eyebrows slightly.
"Why disparage my suggestion? Surely you must perceive that it has merit. A man without legal training, when he knows a thing to be true, ignores all incompetent testimony to the contr'ry, and clings to the facts. A court of law listens solemnly to a mass of worthless testimony, and renders a decision not on the facts but according to a complicated set of rules. The result, d' ye see, is that a court often acquits a prisoner, realizing full well that he is guilty. Many a judge has said, in effect, to a culprit: ‘I know, and the jury knows, that you committed the crime, but in view of the legally admissible evidence, I declare you innocent. Go and sin again.' "
Markham grunted. "I'd hardly endear myself to the people of this county if I answered the current strictures against me by recommending law courses for the Police Department."
"Permit me, then, to suggest the alternative of Shakespeare's butcher: ‘Let's kill all the lawyers.' "
"Unfortunately, it's a situation, not a utopian theory, that has to be met."
"And just how," asked Vance lazily, "do you propose to reconcile the sensible conclusions of the police with what you touchingly call correctness of legal procedure?"
"To begin with," Markham informed him, "I've decided henceforth to do my own investigating of all important night–club criminal cases. I called a conference of the heads of my departments yesterday, and from now on there's going to be some real activity radiating direct from my office. I intend to produce the kind of evidence I need for convictions."
Vance slowly took a cigarette from his case and tapped it on the arm of his chair.
"Ah! So you are going to substitute the conviction of the innocent for the acquittal of the guilty?"
Markham was nettled; turning in his chair he frowned at Vance.
"I won't pretend not to understand your remark," he said acidulously. "You're back again on your favorite theme of the inadequacy of circumstantial evidence as compared with your psychological theories and æsthetic hypotheses."
"Quite so," agreed Vance carelessly. "Y' know, Markham, your sweet and charmin' faith in circumstantial evidence is positively disarming. Before it, the ordin'ry powers of ratiocination are benumbed. I tremble for the innocent victims you are about to gather into your legal net. You'll eventually make the mere attendance at any cabaret a frightful hazard."
Markham smoked a while in silence. Despite the seeming bitterness at times in the discussions of these two men, there was at bottom no animosity in their attitude toward each other. Their friendship was of long standing, and, despite the dissimilarity of their temperaments and the marked difference in their points of view, a profound mutual respect formed the basis of their intimate relationship.
At length Markham spoke.
"Why this sweeping deprecation of circumstantial evidence? I admit that at times it may be misleading; but it often forms powerful presumptive proof of guilt. Indeed, Vance, one of our greatest legal authorities has demonstrated that it is the most powerful actual evidence in existence. Direct evidence, in the very nature of crime, is almost always unavailable. If the courts had to depend on it, the great majority of criminals would still be at large."
"I was under the impression that this precious majority had always enjoyed its untrammelled freedom."
Markham ignored the interruption.
"Take this example: A dozen adults see an animal running across the snow, and testify that it was a chicken; whereas a child sees the same animal, and declares it was a duck. They thereupon examine the animal's footprints and find them to be the web–footed tracks made by a duck. Is it not conclusive, then, that the animal was a duck and not a chicken, despite the preponderance of direct evidence?"
"I'll grant you your duck," acceded Vance indifferently.
"And having gratefully accepted the gift," pursued Markham, "I propound a corollary: A dozen adults see a human figure crossing the snow, and take oath it was a woman; whereas a child asserts that the figure was a man. Now, will you not also grant that the circumstantial evidence of a man's footprints in the snow would supply incontrovertible proof that it was, in fact, a man, and not a woman?"
"Not at all, my dear Justinian," replied Vance, stretching his legs languidly in front of him; "unless, of course, you could show that a human being possesses no higher order of brains than a duck."
"What have brains to do with it?" Markham asked impatiently. "Brains don't affect one's footprints."
"Not those of a duck, certainly. But brains might very well—and, no doubt, often do—affect the footprints of a human being."
"Am I having a lesson in anthropology, Darwinian adaptability, or merely metaphysical speculation?"
"In none of those abstruse subjects," Vance assured him. "I'm merely stating a simple fact culled from observation."
"Well, according to your highly and peculiarly developed processes of reasoning, would the circumstantial evidence of those masculine footprints indicate a man or a woman?"
"Not necessarily either," Vance answered; "or, rather, a possibility of each. Such evidence, when applied to a human being—to a creature, that is, with a reasoning mind—would merely mean to me that the figure crossing the snow was either a man in his own shoes, or a woman in man's shoes; or perhaps, even, a long–legged child. In short, it would convey to my purely unlegal intelligence only that the tracks were made by some descendant of the Pithecanthropus erectus wearing men's shoes on his nether limbs—sex and age unknown. A duck's spoors, on the other hand, I might be tempted to take at their face value."
"I'm delighted to observe," said Markham, "that, at least, you repudiate the possibility of a duck dressing itself up in the gardener's boots."
Vance was silent for a moment; then he said:
"The trouble with you modern Solons, d' ye see, is that you attempt to reduce human nature to a formula; whereas the truth is that man, like life, is infinitely complex. He's shrewd and tricky—skilled for centuries in all the most diabolical chicaneries. He is a creature of low cunning, who, even in the normal course of his vain and idiotic struggle for existence, instinctively and deliberately tells ninety–nine lies to one truth. A duck, not having had the heaven–kissing advantages of human civilization, is a straightforward and eminently honest bird."
"How," asked Markham, "since you jettison all the ordinary means of arriving at a conclusion, would you decide the sex or species of this person who left the masculine footprints in the snow?"
Vance blew a spiral of smoke toward the ceiling.
"First, I'd repudiate all the evidence of the twelve astigmatic adults and the one bright–eyed child. Next, I'd ignore the footprints in the snow. Then, with a mind unprejudiced by dubious testimony and uncluttered with material clues, I'd determine the exact nature of the crime which this fleeing person had committed. After having analyzed its various factors, I could infallibly tell you not only whether the culprit was a man or a woman, but I could describe his habits, character, and personality. And I could do all this whether the fleeing figure left male or female or kangaroo tracks, or used stilts, or rode off on a velocipede, or levitated without leaving tracks at all."
Markham smiled broadly. "You'd be worse than the police in the matter of supplying me legal evidence, I fear."
"I, at least, wouldn't procure evidence against some unsuspecting person whose boots had been appropriated by the real culprit," retorted Vance. "And, y' know, Markham, as long as you pin your faith to footprints you'll inevitably arrest just those persons whom the actual criminals want you to—namely, persons who have had nothing to do with the criminal conditions you're about to investigate."
He became suddenly serious.
"See here, old man; there are some shrewd intelligences at present allied with what the theologians call the powers of darkness. The surface appearances of many of these crimes that are worrying you are palpably deceptive. Personally, I don't put much stock in the theory that a malevolent gang of cut–throats have organized an American camorra, and made the silly night clubs their headquarters. The idea is too melodramatic. It smacks too much of the gaudy journalistic imagination: it's too Eugène Sue–ish. Crime isn't a mass instinct except during war–time, and then it's merely an obscene sport. Crime, d' ye see, is a personal and individual business. One doesn't make up a partie carrée for a murder as one does for a bridge game…. Markham, old dear, don't let this romantic criminological idea lead you astray. And don't scrutinize the figurative footprints in the snow too closely. They'll confuse you most horribly—you're far too trustin' and literal for this wicked world. I warn you that no clever criminal is going to leave his own footprints for your tape–measure and calipers."
He sighed deeply, and gave Markham a look of bantering commiseration.
"And have you paused to consider that your first case may even be devoid of footprints? … Alas! What, then, will you do?"
"I could overcome that difficulty by taking you along with me," suggested Markham, with a touch of irony. "How would you like to accompany me on the next important case that breaks?"
"I am ravished by the idea," said Vance.
Two days later the front pages of our metropolitan press carried glaring headlines telling of the murder of Margaret Odell.
The Stuyvesant was a large club, somewhat in the nature of a glorified hotel; and its extensive membership was drawn largely from the political, legal, and financial ranks.
The case to which Vance referred, I ascertained later, was Shatterham v. Shatterham, 417 Mich., 79—a testamentary case.
 The Stuyvesant was a large club, somewhat in the nature of a glorified hotel; and its extensive membership was drawn largely from the political, legal, and financial ranks.
 The case to which Vance referred, I ascertained later, was Shatterham v. Shatterham, 417 Mich., 79—a testamentary case.
(Tuesday, September 11; 8.30 a. m.)
It was barely half past eight on that momentous morning of September the 11th when Markham brought word to us of the event.
I was living temporarily with Vance at his home in East 38th Street—a large remodelled apartment occupying the two top floors of a beautiful mansion. For several years I had been Vance's personal legal representative and adviser, having resigned from my father's law firm of Van Dine, Davis and Van Dine to devote myself to his needs and interests. His affairs were by no means voluminous, but his personal finances, together with his numerous purchases of paintings and objets d'art, occupied my full time without burdening me. This monetary and legal stewardship was eminently congenial to my tastes; and my friendship with Vance, which had dated from our undergraduate days at Harvard, supplied the social and human element in an arrangement which otherwise might easily have degenerated into one of mere drab routine.
On this particular morning I had risen early and was working in the library when Currie, Vance's valet and majordomo, announced Markham's presence in the living–room. I was considerably astonished at this early–morning visit, for Markham well knew that Vance, who rarely rose before noon, resented any intrusion upon his matutinal slumbers. And in that moment I received the curious impression that something unusual and portentous was toward.
I found Markham pacing restlessly up and down, his hat and gloves thrown carelessly on the centre–table. As I entered he halted and looked at me with harassed eyes. He was a moderately tall man, clean–shaven, gray–haired, and firmly set up. His appearance was distinguished, and his manner courteous and kindly. But beneath his gracious exterior there was an aggressive sternness, an indomitable, grim strength, that gave one the sense of dogged efficiency and untiring capability.
"Good morning, Van," he greeted me, with impatient perfunctoriness. "There's been another half–world murder—the worst and ugliest thus far…." He hesitated, and regarded me searchingly. "You recall my chat with Vance at the club the other night? There was something damned prophetic in his remarks. And you remember I half promised to take him along on the next important case. Well, the case has broken—with a vengeance. Margaret Odell, whom they called the Canary, has been strangled in her apartment; and from what I just got over the phone, it looks like another night–club affair. I'm headed for the Odell apartment now…. What about rousing out the sybarite?"
"By all means," I agreed, with an alacrity which, I fear, was in large measure prompted by purely selfish motives. The Canary! If one had sought the city over for a victim whose murder would stir up excitement, there could have been but few selections better calculated to produce this result.
Hastening to the door, I summoned Currie, and told him to call Vance at once.
"I'm afraid, sir——" began Currie, politely hesitant.
"Calm your fears," cut in Markham. "I'll take all responsibility for waking him at this indecent hour."
Currie sensed an emergency and departed.
A minute or two later Vance, in an elaborately embroidered silk kimono and sandals, appeared at the living–room door.
"My word!" he greeted us, in mild astonishment, glancing at the clock. "Haven't you chaps gone to bed yet?"
He strolled to the mantel, and selected a gold–tipped Régie cigarette from a small Florentine humidor.
Markham's eyes narrowed: he was in no mood for levity.
"The Canary has been murdered," I blurted out.
Vance held his wax vesta poised, and gave me a look of indolent inquisitiveness. "Whose canary?"
"Margaret Odell was found strangled this morning," amended Markham brusquely. "Even you, wrapped in your scented cotton–wool, have heard of her. And you can realize the significance of the crime. I'm personally going to look for those footprints in the snow; and if you want to come along, as you intimated the other night, you'll have to get a move on."
Vance crushed out his cigarette.
"Margaret Odell, eh?—Broadway's blonde Aspasia—or was it Phryne who had the coiffure d'or … Most distressin'!" Despite his offhand manner, I could see he was deeply interested. "The base enemies of law and order are determined to chivvy you most horribly, aren't they, old dear? Deuced inconsiderate of 'em! … Excuse me while I seek habiliments suitable to the occasion."
He disappeared into his bedroom, while Markham took out a large cigar and resolutely prepared it for smoking, and I returned to the library to put away the papers on which I had been working.
In less than ten minutes Vance reappeared, dressed for the street.
"Bien, mon vieux," he announced gaily, as Currie handed him his hat and gloves and a malacca cane. "Allons–y!"
We rode up–town along Madison Avenue, turned into Central Park, and came out by the West 72d Street entrance. Margaret Odell's apartment was at 184 West 71st Street, near Broadway; and as we drew up to the curb, it was necessary for the patrolman on duty to make a passage for us through the crowd that had already gathered as a result of the arrival of the police.
Feathergill, an assistant District Attorney, was waiting in the main hall for his Chief's arrival.
"It's too bad, sir," he lamented. "A rotten show all round. And just at this time! … " He shrugged his shoulders discouragingly.
"It may collapse quickly," said Markham, shaking the other's hand. "How are things going? Sergeant Heath phoned me right after you called, and said that, at first glance, the case looked a bit stubborn."
"Stubborn?" repeated Feathergill lugubriously. "It's downright impervious. Heath is spinning round like a turbine. He was called off the Boyle case, by the way, to devote his talents to this new shocker. Inspector Moran arrived ten minutes ago, and gave him the official imprimatur."
"Well, Heath's a good man," declared Markham. "We'll work it out…. Which is the apartment?"
Feathergill led the way to a door at the rear of the main hall.
"Here you are, sir," he announced. "I'll be running along now. I need sleep. Good luck!" And he was gone.
It will be necessary to give a brief description of the house and its interior arrangement, for the somewhat peculiar structure of the building played a vital part in the seemingly insoluble problem posed by the murder.
The house, which was a four–story stone structure originally built as a residence, had been remodelled, both inside and outside, to meet the requirements of an exclusive individual apartment dwelling. There were, I believe, three or four separate suites on each floor; but the quarters up–stairs need not concern us. The main floor was the scene of the crime, and here there were three apartments and a dentist's office.
The main entrance to the building was directly on the street, and extending straight back from the front door was a wide hallway. Directly at the rear of this hallway, and facing the entrance, was the door to the Odell apartment, which bore the numeral "3." About half–way down the front hall, on the right–hand side, was the stairway leading to the floors above; and directly beyond the stairway, also on the right, was a small reception–room with a wide archway instead of a door. Directly opposite to the stairway, in a small recess, stood the telephone switchboard. There was no elevator in the house.
Another important feature of this ground–floor plan was a small passageway at the rear of the main hall and at right angles to it, which led past the front walls of the Odell apartment to a door opening on a court at the west side of the building. This court was connected with the street by an alley four feet wide.
In the accompanying diagram this arrangement of the ground floor can be easily visualized, and I suggest that the reader fix it in his mind; for I doubt if ever before so simple and obvious an architectural design played such an important part in a criminal mystery. By its very simplicity and almost conventional familiarity—indeed, by its total lack of any puzzling complications—it proved so baffling to the investigators that the case threatened, for many days, to remain forever insoluble.
As Markham entered the Odell apartment that morning Sergeant Ernest Heath came forward at once and extended his hand. A look of relief passed over his broad, pugnacious features; and it was obvious that the animosity and rivalry which always exist between the Detective Division and the District Attorney's office during the investigation of any criminal case had no place in his attitude on this occasion.
"I'm glad you've come, sir," he said; and meant it.
He then turned to Vance with a cordial smile, and held out his hand.
"So the amachoor sleuth is with us again!" His tone held a friendly banter.
"Oh, quite," murmured Vance. "How's your induction coil working this beautiful September morning, Sergeant?"
"I'd hate to tell you!" Then Heath's face grew suddenly grave, and he turned to Markham. "It's a raw deal, sir. Why in hell couldn't they have picked some one besides the Canary for their dirty work? There's plenty of Janes on Broadway who coulda faded from the picture without causing a second alarm; but they gotta go and bump off the Queen of Sheba!"
As he spoke, William M. Moran, the commanding officer of the Detective Bureau, came into the little foyer and performed the usual hand–shaking ceremony. Though he had met Vance and me but once before, and then casually, he remembered us both and addressed us courteously by name.
"Your arrival," he said to Markham, in a well–bred, modulated voice, "is very welcome. Sergeant Heath will give you what preliminary information you want. I'm still pretty much in the dark myself—only just arrived."
"A lot of information I've got to give," grumbled Heath, as he led the way into the living–room.
Margaret Odell's apartment was a suite of two fairly large rooms connected by a wide archway draped with heavy damask portières. The entrance door from the main hall of the building led into a small rectangular foyer about eight feet long and four feet deep, with double Venetian–glass doors opening into the main room beyond. There was no other entrance to the apartment, and the bedroom could be reached only through the archway from the living–room.
There was a large davenport, covered with brocaded silk, in front of the fireplace in the left–hand wall of the living–room, with a long narrow library–table of inlaid rosewood extending along its back. On the opposite wall, between the foyer and the archway into the bedroom, hung a triplicate Marie Antoinette mirror, beneath which stood a mahogany gate–legged table. On the far side of the archway, near the large oriel window, was a baby grand Steinway piano with a beautifully designed and decorated case of Louis–Seize ornamentation. In the corner to the right of the fireplace was a spindle–legged escritoire and a square hand–painted waste–paper basket of vellum. To the left of the fireplace stood one of the loveliest Boule cabinets I have ever seen. Several excellent reproductions of Boucher, Fragonard, and Watteau hung about the walls. The bedroom contained a chest of drawers, a dressing–table, and several gold–leaf chairs. The whole apartment seemed eminently in keeping with the Canary's fragile and evanescent personality.
As we stepped from the little foyer into the living–room and stood for a moment looking about, a scene bordering on wreckage met our eyes. The rooms had apparently been ransacked by some one in a frenzy of haste, and the disorder of the place was appalling.
"They didn't exactly do the job in dainty fashion," remarked Inspector Moran.
"I suppose we oughta be grateful they didn't blow the joint up with dynamite," returned Heath acridly.
But it was not the general disorder that most attracted us. Our gaze was almost immediately drawn and held by the body of the dead girl, which rested in an unnatural, semi–recumbent attitude in the corner of the davenport nearest to where we stood. Her head was turned backward, as if by force, over the silken tufted upholstery; and her hair had come unfastened and lay beneath her head and over her bare shoulder like a frozen cataract of liquid gold. Her face, in violent death, was distorted and unlovely. Her skin was discolored; her eyes were staring; her mouth was open, and her lips were drawn back. Her neck, on either side of the thyroid cartilage, showed ugly dark bruises. She was dressed in a flimsy evening gown of black Chantilly lace over cream–colored chiffon, and across the arm of the davenport had been thrown an evening cape of cloth–of–gold trimmed with ermine.
There were evidences of her ineffectual struggle with the person who had strangled her. Besides the dishevelled condition of her hair, one of the shoulder–straps of her gown had been severed, and there was a long rent in the fine lace across her breast. A small corsage of artificial orchids had been torn from her bodice, and lay crumpled in her lap. One satin slipper had fallen off, and her right knee was twisted inward on the seat of the davenport, as if she had sought to lift herself out of the suffocating clutches of her antagonist. Her fingers were still flexed, no doubt as they had been at the moment of her capitulation to death, when she had relinquished her grip upon the murderer's wrists.
The spell of horror cast over us by the sight of the tortured body was broken by the matter–of–fact tones of Heath.
"You see, Mr. Markham, she was evidently sitting in the corner of this settee when she was grabbed suddenly from behind."
Markham nodded. "It must have taken a pretty strong man to strangle her so easily."
"I'll say!" agreed Heath. He bent over and pointed to the girl's fingers, on which showed several abrasions. "They stripped her rings off, too; and they didn't go about it gentle, either." Then he indicated a segment of fine platinum chain, set with tiny pearls, which hung over one of her shoulders. "And they grabbed whatever it was hanging round her neck, and broke the chain doing it. They weren't overlooking anything, or losing any time…. A swell, gentlemanly job. Nice and refined."
"Where's the Medical Examiner?" asked Markham.
"He's coming," Heath told him. "You can't get Doc Doremus to go anywheres without his breakfast."
"He may find something else—something that doesn't show."
"There's plenty showing for me," declared Heath. "Look at this apartment. It wouldn't be much worse if a Kansas cyclone had struck it."
We turned from the depressing spectacle of the dead girl and moved toward the centre of the room.
"Be careful not to touch anything, Mr. Markham," warned Heath. "I've sent for the finger–print experts—they'll be here any minute now."
Vance looked up in mock astonishment.
"Finger–prints? You don't say—really! How delightful!—Imagine a johnnie in this enlightened day leaving his finger–prints for you to find."
"All crooks aren't clever, Mr. Vance," declared Heath combatively.
"Oh, dear, no! They'd never be apprehended if they were. But, after all, Sergeant, even an authentic finger–print merely means that the person who made it was dallying around at some time or other. It doesn't indicate guilt."
"Maybe so," conceded Heath doggedly. "But I'm here to tell you that if I get any good honest–to–God finger–prints outa this devastated area, it's not going so easy with the bird that made 'em."
Vance appeared to be shocked. "You positively terrify me, Sergeant. Henceforth I shall adopt mittens as a permanent addition to my attire. I'm always handling the furniture and the teacups and the various knickknacks in the houses where I call, don't y' know."
Markham interposed himself at this point, and suggested they make a tour of inspection while waiting for the Medical Examiner.
"They didn't add anything much to the usual methods," Heath pointed out. "Killed the girl, and then ripped things wide open."
The two rooms had apparently been thoroughly ransacked. Clothes and various articles were strewn about the floor. The doors of both clothes–closets (there was one in each room) were open, and to judge from the chaos in the bedroom closet, it had been hurriedly searched; although the closet off of the living–room, which was given over to the storage of infrequently used items, appeared to have been ignored. The drawers of the dressing–table and chest had been partly emptied on to the floor, and the bedclothes had been snatched away and the mattress turned back. Two chairs and a small occasional table were upset; several vases were broken, as if they had been searched and then thrown down in the wrath of disappointment; and the Marie Antoinette mirror had been broken. The escritoire was open, and its pigeonholes had been emptied in a jumbled pile upon the blotter. The doors of the Boule cabinet swung wide, and inside there was the same confusion of contents that marked the interior of the escritoire. The bronze–and–porcelain lamp on the end of the library–table was lying on its side, its satin shade torn where it had struck the sharp corner of a silver bonbonnière.
Two objects in the general disarray particularly attracted my attention—a black metal document–box of the kind purchasable at any stationery store, and a large jewel–case of sheet steel with a circular inset lock. The latter of these objects was destined to play a curious and sinister part in the investigation to follow.
The document–box, which was now empty, had been placed on the library–table, next to the overturned lamp. Its lid was thrown back, and the key was still in the lock. In all the litter and disorganization of the room, this box seemed to be the one outstanding indication of calm and orderly activity on the part of the wrecker.
The jewel–case, on the other hand, had been violently wrenched open. It sat on the dressing–table in the bedroom, dinted and twisted out of shape by the terrific leverage that had been necessary to force it, and beside it lay a brass–handled, cast–iron poker which had evidently been brought from the living–room and used as a makeshift chisel with which to prize open the lock.
Vance had glanced but casually at the different objects in the rooms as we made our rounds, but when he came to the dressing–table, he paused abruptly. Taking out his monocle, he adjusted it carefully, and leaned over the broken jewel–case.
"Most extr'ordin'ry!" he murmured, tapping the edge of the lid with his gold pencil. "What do you make of that, Sergeant?"
Heath had been eyeing Vance with narrowed lids as the latter bent over the dressing–table.
"What's in your mind, Mr. Vance?" he, in turn, asked.
"Oh, more than you could ever guess," Vance answered lightly. "But just at the moment I was toying with the idea that this steel case was never torn open by that wholly inadequate iron poker, what?"
Heath nodded his head approvingly. "So you, too, noticed that, did you? …And you're dead right. That poker might've twisted the box a little, but it never snapped that lock."
He turned to Inspector Moran.
"That's the puzzler I've sent for ‘Prof' Brenner to clean up—if he can. The jimmying of that jewel–case looks to me like a high–class professional job. No Sunday–school superintendent did it."
Vance continued for a while to study the box, but at length he turned away with a perplexed frown.
"I say!" he commented. "Something devilish queer took place here last night."
"Oh, not so queer," Heath amended. "It was a thorough job, all right, but there's nothing mysterious about it."
Vance polished his monocle and put it away.
"If you go to work on that basis, Sergeant," he returned carelessly, "I greatly fear you'll run aground on a reef. And may kind Heaven bring you safe to shore!"
Heath had become acquainted with Vance during the investigation of the Benson murder case two months previously.
 Heath had become acquainted with Vance during the investigation of the Benson murder case two months previously.
The Print of a Hand
(Tuesday, September 11; 9.30 a. m.)
A few minutes after we had returned to the living–room Doctor Doremus, the Chief Medical Examiner, arrived, jaunty and energetic. Immediately in his train came three other men, one of whom carried a bulky camera and a folded tripod. These were Captain Dubois and Detective Bellamy, finger–print experts, and Peter Quackenbush, the official photographer.
"Well, well, well!" exclaimed Doctor Doremus. "Quite a gathering of the clans. More trouble, eh? … I wish your friends, Inspector, would choose a more respectable hour for their little differences. This early rising upsets my liver."
He shook hands with everybody in a brisk, businesslike manner.
"Where's the body?" he demanded breezily, looking about the room. He caught sight of the girl on the davenport. "Ah! A lady."
Stepping quickly forward, he made a rapid examination of the dead girl, scrutinizing her neck and fingers, moving her arms and head to determine the condition of rigor mortis, and finally unflexing her stiffened limbs and laying her out straight on the long cushions, preparatory to a more detailed necropsy.
The rest of us moved toward the bedroom, and Heath motioned to the finger–print men to follow.
"Go over everything," he told them. "But take a special look at this jewel–case and the handle of this poker, and give that document–box in the other room a close up–and–down."
"Right," assented Captain Dubois. "We'll begin in here while the doc's busy in the other room." And he and Bellamy set to work.
Our interest naturally centred on the Captain's labors. For fully five minutes we watched him inspecting the twisted steel sides of the jewel–case and the smooth, polished handle of the poker. He held the objects gingerly by their edges, and, placing a jeweller's glass in his eye, flashed his pocket–light on every square inch of them. At length he put them down, scowling.
"No finger–prints here," he announced. "Wiped clean."
"I mighta known it," grumbled Heath. "It was a professional job, all right." He turned to the other expert. "Found anything, Bellamy?"
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