The Psychological Solution
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Picture by Paul
Short Story from Amazing Stories 1928 January, digitized 2007 by Doug Frizzle
In this story, we encounter our versatile author in an entirely new line of thought. While this story may not contain as much science as some others by Mr. Verrill, we are quite certain that you will be interested in it as a highly entertaining murder mystery that uses the science "psychology" in the working out of a successful solution.
CHAPTER I The Discovery of Columbus
HENRY COLUMBUS, khaki clad, his ebon face gray with ashes and dust, and driver of one of those two-wheeled abominations maintained by the municipality of New York for the reception of rubbish and the dispersal of dust over passengers, was industriously emptying the ash cans on the north side of West 85th Street.
It was a charming spring morning, and Henry, well content with the world and himself, was whistling cheerily while he worked. As he rolled the battered iron containers to the curb, and raising them, dumped their contents into his vehicle, he glanced at the miscellaneous odds and ends that poured from them, ever on the watch for some discarded but still serviceable article which he might salvage.
Farther down the street, and working east from Amsterdam Avenue on the opposite side of the thoroughfare, was Tony Celentano with his wagon. Like Henry, the Italian was also on the alert for chance treasure-trove among the rubbish.
As the dusky namesake of the famous discoverer reached the group of cans before a block of brown-stone front houses, he noticed that one of the receptacles was filled to overflowing with a bulging, patched, burlap bag.
Whatever the contents were they were heavy, and wondering vaguely what the can contained, Henry heaved it over the edge of his cart. The bag. however, was tightly jammed into the can, and, in order to dislodge it, he was forced to clamber onto the half-filled wagon. Grumbling a bit at the extra labor involved, he grasped the sacking with a huge black paw and tugged at the bundle.
''Must be some folks' dawg must be daid," he muttered to himself, as he noticed the peculiar yielding limp character of the thing. "Must 'a been some pup," he continued. "Spec' he one of dem perlice dawgs mos' likely."
Exerting more strength, Henry yanked the bundle, and the old burlap ripped open. The next instant the quiet street echoed to a blood-curdling screech, as the negro leaped from the wagon, and with wildly rolling eyes, dashed westward at breakneck speed, yelling as he ran.
Had it not been for Celentano, Henry might be running yet. The Italian, startled at his fellow worker's scream, and seeing his mad dash, sprang across the street and seized Henry's flying coattails. Together the two rolled head over heels, Henry struggling to free himself and continue on his way; the Italian as intent on holding him and learning the cause of his fright.
Although the hour was early, the negro's screams had aroused the neighborhood, and boudoir-capped feminine, and tousel-haired masculine heads were appearing at windows throughout the block. Two yellow and three checker taxis were already racing for the scene of uproar, and milk wagon drivers and other early wayfarers were running from all directions towards the struggling men. Last of all— and most remarkable for having been in the neighborhood when wanted—came a panting policeman.
As the latter pushed his way through the group that had gathered about the negro and the Italian, Henry caught sight of the blue uniform and found his voice at last.
"Lordy!" he gasped. "Lord A'mighty! T'ank de Lord you's come! Boss, dey's a daid man up yander in mah cart!"
Instinctively, at the words, every head was turned, and everyone gazed half fearfully toward the wagon, which still stood where Henry had abandoned it in his flight.
"Whatcha givin’ us?" demanded the officer. "Come along here and show me watcha hollerin' about."
But Henry demurred. "No, sir, Boss." he exclaimed, fairly shaking with terror. "Ah ain' gwine near dat cart. No, sir, dey's a sack in a can wha's got a daid man inside. No, sir, Boss. Ah ain't aimin' to go meddlin' with no daid folks."
But with the officer grasping his collar, Henry, despite his protests, was dragged unceremoniously towards the cart, with the crowd following and Tony bringing up the rear.
Still skeptical, the officer stepped on the wheel hub and peered over the vehicle's side. Lying among the rubbish was the battered can, and where the rotten sacking had been torn apart, a human head was exposed.
"The smoke's right!" ejaculated the policeman. Then, turning to Celentano, "Here, you Wop, hustle around to the box and send in a call for a couple a men. Tell 'em there's a murder up here."
By the time the other officers had arrived on the scene, the usually quiet street was in an uproar, and a dense crowd filled it from Central Park West to Amsterdam Avenue. A hasty examination of the gruesome find was made, and the sack, which contained the body of a well dressed man, was removed from the wagon and taken to the police station, much to Henry's relief. But he vowed vociferously that he would gather no more rubbish cans with possible cadavers within, and an extra driver had to be sent for to drive the cart on its rounds and complete the collection of containers.
That a murder had been committed seemed evident. The dead man's clothes were stiff with dried blood, and an ugly gash just below the collar-bone showed how he had met his end. Naturally, therefore, the police immediately conducted an examination of the premises in front of which Henry had made his discovery, and, of the occupants thereof. But equally as naturally, without results. The houses, once the residences of well-to-do citizens, had been converted into furnished apartments and were occupied by tenants whose respectability and good standing could not be questioned. Not one, and for that matter not a resident of the entire street, could be found on whom the police could cast suspicion, though why the police should have imagined that a murderer or murderess would place the body of a victim under his or her own window was as great a problem as the crime itself.
And the mystery of the crime very rapidly deepened and became more and more involved. Even the dead man's identity was unknown. No one who in the least resembled the body had been reported as missing. There was no mark or clue that would throw light on the matter. The sack which had contained the dead man was so old and had been patched and mended so often that it was hopeless to endeavor to trace it. Not a soul in the street could remember ever having seen the murdered man, and the police were forced to admit at last—as they might just as well have done in the beginning—that the body had been brought from a distance and dumped into the ash can.
That such an easy and safe means of disposal of a corpse had never before been adopted by murderers was rather astonishing, and the very simplicity of the unique method of getting rid of the body made it the more baffling. At any time during the night, a motor car might have driven through the street and might have drawn in to the curb without arousing the least attention or suspicion. And, with equal ease, the body might have been carried from the car across the few feet of intervening sidewalk and dumped into an empty ash can. The street, during the night, was unfrequented and not too well lighted, and by waiting for a favorable opportunity, the criminal or criminals might easily have stepped from the car, dropped the sack with its contents into the container, and continued on their way as though nothing unusual had happened. Even had pedestrians been near, there would have been little chance that the murderer would have been noticed. The cans stood in heavy shadows between the high front steps of the houses, and no passer-by would have thought it unusual to see a car parked before a house or to see a man entering or emerging from the area-way under the front steps.
Indeed, residents of the block agreed that a number of cars had been through the street during the night preceding Henry's discovery, and that several of them had been drawn up in front of the houses where the body had been found.
In fact, by checking up, the police found that there had scarcely been an hour during the night when cars or taxis had not been in the street; but not one of these had attracted enough attention to cause the observers to note the license numbers, the body types, the colors or the makes of the cars.
For a time the murder mystery filled the papers. A thousand and one theories and suggestions were advanced. A score of people identified the body, only to be proven wrong as the supposed victims were duly accounted for. Then the whole affair lost its news interest and the public forgot it.
CHAPTER II Doctor Thane, Psychologist
ALTHOUGH the press, the man about town, the subway perusers of the daily papers, and the public in general had forgotten the crime and its baffling mystery, two men were still deeply interested in solving it. One was the chief of detectives in whose district the body had been found; the other was Doctor Edmund Curtis Thane, the eminent scientist.
Doctor Thane had, on more than one occasion, proved of invaluable aid to the police in unravelling mysteries of crime, and yet he was neither a criminologist nor, in the ordinary sense of the word, an amateur or scientific detective. He was by profession an anthropologist, and most of his waking hours were spent in his office on the fifth floor of the American Museum of Natural History, where he pored over scientific reports and studied fragments of the skeletons of long dead and forgotten human beings of strange races. He had traveled widely, especially in out-of-the-way regions and among primitive savages, and he had written numerous monographs on the results of his researches and studies. These had been undoubtedly of the greatest scientific interest and value, but were utterly unknown to the public at large; for that matter, neither was the Doctor himself.
For years the short-sighted, quiet, pleasant-faced little scientist had been striving to solve the age-old puzzle—the origin of man and the relationship of races. He had attacked the problem from every angle, and having at last reached the conclusion that it was impossible of solution from accepted viewpoints, it had occurred to him that greater progress might be made from the psychological standpoint.
From the very first his studies along this new line met with marked success. Men's bodies and bones, their lives and habits, their dialects and arts might be greatly influenced and altered through environment. But the mind, the psychology of the races, he theorized, would remain steadfast, and even if undergoing a change through external influences, would retain the ancestral characters and serve to connect the various races far more reliably than pigmentation of skin, dialects or other characteristics of the human race.
Moreover, so Doctor Thane reasoned, it would be in the psychological reactions of the more primitive and ignorant types of mankind, that valuable discoveries would be made. So, following his hypothesis, Doctor Thane turned his attention to the mental workings of the criminal classes. It was his belief and contention that crime, as defined by law and civilized standards, was merely the result of a psychological condition, a reversion to the ancestral type, a manifestation of our prehistoric ancestors' mental processes. Scientifically speaking, it was not crime at all; it was natural, and the criminal was no more responsible for it, than he or she is responsible for the color of his or her hair or eyes or the form ot the skull.
Assuming that this were so—and of this Dr. Thane was firmly convinced—then the study of crime and the analysis of criminals' minds were the paths to follow in his studies. Hence the mild mannered, spectacled little man of science at once interested himself in matters usually left to the police. And as he was a man who never did anything by halves, he made as deep a study of crime as he had of skeletons and shards in the past. The more involved, inexplicable and unsolvable a crime, the more it fascinated him. Looking, as he did, upon crime from an entirely new viewpoint, and being the possessor of a truly remarkable intellect, keen reasoning powers, deductive ability and a wonderful memory, and being thoroughly conversant with the habits, lives and points of view of nearly every savage and barbaric race, Dr. Thane soon proved himself a master mind at solving mysteries which utterly baffled the officials.
Personally, he cared not a jot whether a criminal was brought to justice or not. Rather, he would have preferred—for his purposes—to have the violators of the law turned over to him for study, instead of being summarily dealt with, or through the medium of the electric chair or a hangman's rope remove their mental processes forever from all possibility of scientific investigation.
As he was forced to cooperate with the police in order to carry on this most interesting research successfully, it naturally followed, as a rather regretable but unavoidable result, he thought, that his cooperation inevitably resulted in the removal of his subjects from his sphere of studies at a most inopportune time. Hence Dr. Thane could not be included in the category of a detective or criminologist. Though he had studied all available works on crime and the methods of world famous investigators, he had discarded all recognized and familiar lines of his predecessors, and went about his investigations in a totally new way.
For the detective heroes of fiction—Sherlock Holmes and similar characters—Dr. Thane had the greatest contempt. The mysteries of literature unravelled by these wonderful characters were very different from the real things. The author of the tale worked backwards, building up a series of incidents, of baffling puzzles and of misleading clues to fit a solution already prepared and known in advance. In actual practice, however, the investigator had to build up and find a solution from whatever fragmentary information he could obtain. But just as the famed hero of Sir Conan Doyle's stories was wont to deduce the truth through his miraculous knowledge of everything from the distinctive ashes of various tobaccos to the chemical properties and peculiarities of every ink and paper, so Dr. Thane proved himself able to deduce the truth through his even more marvelous knowledge of human minds and primitive psychology. Very often he could solve a seemingly insoluble mystery without moving from his comfortable study chair. Having absorbed the known facts, he would lean back, place the tips of his long fingers together, half close his eyes and concentrate his mind. Then, after a few moment's silence, he would mutter, something like this, half to himself:
"A clear case of reversion to nomadic, polygamous ancestral traits. Probably of Cro-Magnan affiliations influenced by Semitic fanaticism and inherited Mongol traits and tribal customs. Let me see. Ah, I think you will find that the crime was committed by a short, stocky, dark-haired man with a narrow receding chin, rather heavy projecting brows, a sloping forehead, high cheek bones, a prominent nose, thick lips and sparse beard. He will, I think, have restless, shifty eyes of uncertain hue. He will be quick and active for a man of his build; he will in all probability have bowed legs and long arms, and will be of a roving disposition. You will undoubtedly find that he has changed his residence frequently, has had a number of wives— very likely a bigamist—or at least has lived with several women coincidently; that he is a thief and a pickpocket, if not a burglar, and is, at least outwardly, very religious."
These, and many other details outlined by the scientist, would be proved as amazingly accurate as though Dr. Thane had been present when the crime had been committed.
Very carefully, too, he had recorded every minute detail of every crime he had studied, had tabulated the results, and had jotted down the deductions he had drawn from his analysis of each case. But he discovered, in studying these results, that there had been a lamentable lack of variety and originality in the crimes which had come under his observation. For more ready reference and comparison, he had divided the cases into groups, arranging them according to the psychological and racial facts drawn from them, and he found that many links in his chain of evidence were woefully lacking.
Most of the cases were, so to speak, negative. Many were so similar that they might be considered duplicate specimens in his collection. And, to his chagrin, he found that comparatively few races had taken part in the committing of acts against the community. To be sure, there were those baffling East side murders, which Dr. Thane had solved by tracing them to Ethiopian savagery actuated by an inherent belief in Obeah and devil worship. There were the almost equally inexplicable crimes of the Malay which had been cleared up by the scientist's deep knowledge of Malaysian beliefs and mental processes. And there were a number of Mongolian crimes. But the great majority were those committed by Europeans, by men or women of mixed ancestry and mental characteristics so involved, that even Dr. Thane despaired of drawing logical and unassailable conclusions from them.
Indeed, he had almost despaired of carrying to the end this most fascinating investigation, when he learned of the discovery of the body in the ash can.
CHAPTER III Dr. Thane Draws Some Conclusions
WHEN Dr. Thane first undertook to unravel criminal mysteries by means of psychological anthropology, he was laughed at by the police. Not that the officials of the department, or their underlings, openly ridiculed him, for Dr. Thane was far too prominent a man, and possessed far too many influential friends and sponsors to warrant that. But he was looked upon as a harmless crank, a "bug hunter" as the police put it, who had a nonsensical hobby, and many were the jokes and loud laughter at his expense when he was out of sight.
But time after time he proved the correctness of his hypotheses and the accuracy of his deductions, until even the most skeptical and hard-headed of the police force became convinced that there was "something in it."
And one of the strongest believers in Dr. Thane's powers was Detective Captain Haley. Openly, and even to the scientist, he pretended to have little faith in scientific methods. He had many a heated, though good-natured and friendly argument with Dr. Thane on the subject, yet invariably he sought the scientist's aid whenever he found himself baffled.
He had lost no time in acquainting Dr. Thane with the known facts regarding the body found in the ash can on 85th Street.
And as Dr. Thane listened, his eyes fairly glowed and his ruddy face beamed. Here at last was just the case he had longed for; just the case he had foreseen and had been expecting. This statement may need a few words of explanation, otherwise the fact that the scientist could foresee a certain crime before it was committed, sounds far too much like imaginative fiction.
With the thoroughness characteristic of Dr. Thane in all matters, he had approached his present hobby at every angle. Not content with merely tabulating results and facts, and forming conclusions therefrom, he had taken racial and psychological facts also and from them created hypothetical conditions. In other words, he had built up imaginary crimes as they were to he committed, theoretically, by certain types under the influence of certain mental processes.
And among these was one which, as far as he could judge by the meagre details imparted by Captain Haley, seemed the exact counterpart of the present mystery.
Therefore Dr. Thane was highly elated, and he hurried to the detective's office to secure further facts, and permission for full rein in carrying on his investigation.
This, of course, was immediately granted. Rubbing his hands and beaming through his glasses at this great opportunity, the scientist prepared to unravel the mystery revealed by a negro rubbish collector.
Doctor Thane at once proceeded to the morgue. Although he might unravel a mystery through psychological manifestations recognizable only to himself, still, as the key to these was usually to be found only in the visible results of the criminals' acts, an inspection of the murdered man's body was of first importance.
To be sure, the man's identity was unknown, but this really mattered little to the scientist. The nationality or rather the race of the victim, the manner in which he had been killed, and many other details were all links in the chain of reasoning followed by the scientist in his unique method of criminal investigation.
It may, at first thought, appear strange, that having invented a hypothetical case so similar to the one he was investigating, Dr. Thane should not have tried to solve the mystery by the purely imaginary incentives and racial characteristics which he had evolved. But it must be remembered that he was pre-eminently a scientist, a man who dealt in hard and fast facts. While, like other scientists, he might theorize and let his mind wander along the untrodden paths of his fancy, still he considered no point worthy of real consideration, and no hypothesis proven, until borne out by indisputable facts.
It would have been a simple matter to have remained in his office, and from the notes on his imaginary case, given the police a most vivid and detailed account of why and how the murder had been committed, of the race, personal appearance and characteristics of the murderer, and even of the conditions under which he had committed the crime. But he was anxious to prove that his theory was correct; that racial psychology could be depended upon; that it was possible to classify the affiliations of the various races through their mental reactions. And if direct investigation showed similar conditions, and disclosed a criminal such as he had imagined, then indeed would he be triumphant and his theory proven —at least in the present case.
But very soon Dr. Thane found to his chagrin and amazement, that aside from minor details and known facts, the "ash can murder" was not at all like his theoretical case, and that as far as his deductions were concerned, he was all at sea.
The body, as the police and press had already informed him, was that of a middle-aged man. A man of somewhat stocky build, under the average height, with well developed muscles and clean-shaven face of dark complexion. The hair was black, or very dark brown, slightly grayed over the temples. The eyes were of a peculiar hazel shade, and the teeth, with the exception of two molars which had been extracted, were perfect. The clothing consisted of a cotton union suit, gray lisle socks, a Madras shirt of blue and white stripes, soft collar, a dark blue bow tie, tan oxfords and a suit of mixed gray tweeds. No hat had been found, but from the marks on forehead and hair. Dr. Thane felt sure that the man had been accustomed to wearing a soft felt hat.
Having examined the body and the clothing, the scientist turned his attention to the wound, which had evidently caused the death of the murdered man. It was a deep, rather jagged wound just below the collar-bone on the left side, .and had severed the arteries. It was such a wound as might have been made by a broad-bladed knife, a knife, thought Dr. Thane, such as a sailor might have carried, although a butcher's knife, a hunting knife, a carving knife or even an ordinary kitchen knife might have served equally as well.
"Hmm," muttered Dr. Thane to himself. "Evidently not a premeditated crime. Whatever the weapon, it had not been prepared in readiness for the crime. It was a dull weapon, neither keen-edged nor particularly sharp-pointed."
In fact, as the scientist examined the wound more carefully, he discovered that the weapon had torn and punctured the skin and flesh rather than cut the tissues, and that fragments of the shirt and clothing had been carried into the wound, while the rent in the garments was ravelled and torn and not at all cleanly cut.
Dr. Thane, whose curiosity was now outweighing his scientific interest in the case, pondered. "Died of hemorrhage," he ruminated. "Death quick and probably painless. No signs of a struggle is indicated by condition of apparel. Hmm, must have had copious flow of blood, but little on clothing with exception of shirt and shoulder of coat."
"Strange," he continued, as he jotted down notes. "Odd that there should have been no struggle, no other wounds, no abrasions as of blows or scratches from finger nails. Very odd. Wound inflicted from in front. Hmm, either delivered by assailant who was in plain view, by a left-handed man from the rear, or while the victim slept."
The latter theory, however, was abandoned at once. It would have been impossible, the scientist assured himself, to have delivered the blow while the victim was reclining. Even if he had been resting on his back, or partly on his right side, it would have been a most difficult matter to have struck the blow without the hand of the assassin coming in contact with the bed or other object on which the victim was reposing. Moreover, the gush of blood which must have followed would have drenched the back of the murdered man's garments, whereas all the blood, and it was amazingly little for such a wound, was upon the front of the coat and shirt, as though the man had been lying face-down and with head lower than feet, or had been stooping or bending forward when he met his end. But how, wondered Dr. Thane, was it possible for a person to drive a dull weapon into a man's shoulder from the front if the victim were resting on his face or bending over? It was a physical impossibility, and the only explanation of the puzzle was that the man had slumped forward when the blow was delivered, and had remained in that attitude until the flow of blood had ceased. The other theories, that the blow might have been struck by a left-handed man from the rear, was also discarded. Even if the assailant had been left-handed—a right-handed assassin striking a man down from behind would naturally deliver blow on the right shoulder—he would scarcely have reached so far forward as to cause his weapon to enter the shoulder in front of the collar bone.
And even assuming that such an almost untenable condition had occurred, it would have required an enormously tall man to have accomplished the stroke.
Having thus mentally disposed of these two theories, there was nothing for Dr. Thane to do but assume that the blow had been delivered by some one standing face-to-face with the deceased. But here, again, the scientist ran against a snag.
Why had the murdered man stood there awaiting the blow that was to cause his death, apparently without the least resistance? Of course, meditated the scientist, there might have been a short struggle, the victim, not expecting the blow, would have had no time to grapple with his assailant.
Also, a man might struggle for a few moments without leaving visible evidences on his person or garments. Possibly, he thought, a minute examination of hands and finger nails might settle this question, might reveal hairs, a bit of skin or even fragments of clothing torn from the assassin.
With his powerful pocket lens, the scientist went over the hands and fingers of the corpse with the utmost care. The palms were free from callouses. It was evident that the dead man was not a sailor or laborer, and the nails were cut or bitten very short. But to Dr. Thane's surprise, the palms were grimy, and bits of earth and fine gravel were pressed into the skin.
“Ah!" he exclaimed. "My assumption in one respect was correct. He fell forward when wounded and his hands came forcibly in contact with the earth."
With his curiosity now thoroughly aroused, and more intent on solving the puzzle which confronted him than on proving his scientific theories, Dr. Thane carefully removed samples of the earth and sand from the dead man's hands and preserved them. Then washing the coating of grime from the palms of the corpse, he discovered a number of deep scratches.
“Ah ha!" he thought. "Now we are getting at matters, There was a struggle."
But the next moment he shook his head. The scratches had evidently been made by the contact of deceased's hands with the earth. Not until the scientist had once more gone over both hands with the utmost care did he discover anything of interest. Then, adhering to the edge of one of the scratches, he discovered several small hairs, and preserving these, he rose, a little more satisfied.
"Evidently he attempted to grasp his assailant and clutched at his head," he decided.
Next, he began an exhaustive search for possible clues to the man's identity. The outer garments bore the name of a tailoring firm—"Goldberg and Sons," but no address. The shirt and collar, as well as the tie, socks and undergarments, were all of well known makes and exact duplicates of countless thousands of others sold at department stores and haberdasheries throughout the world. The shoes were manufactured by an enormous company which maintained a chain of retail shoe stores, and there was not an initial, a laundry mark or any other distinguishing mark on any article of the dead man's apparel.
In the pockets, the only objects found by the police had been a plain handkerchief, a package of cigarettes, some loose change, a bill-fold containing a little over one hundred dollars in small bills, and a silver watch of Swiss make.
Very evidently, robbery had not been the motive for the crime, and Dr. Thane felt a little more content, he had not expected robbery. In his theoretical case robbery had had no place, and he began to think that the case might prove to confirm his theories after all, even though it presented unexpected aspects and unusual and puzzling details.
The police had already made a systematic, and very thorough attempt to establish the man's identity through the slender clues they possessed. They had tried every means of tracing the various garments, but without success. It was hopeless to attempt to trace the underwear, socks, shirt, tie or collar. With the exception of the shoes, the wearing apparel bore no numbers or marks which would enable the manufacturers to identify them or throw any light upon the purchaser.
The shoes, although bearing the makers' lot numbers, and the retailer's price and lot marks, could only be traced as far as the store where they had been bought, and not a store in New York had sold them. Throughout the country, in every town or city of any size, as well as in many foreign countries, the same make of shoes was on sale, and the manufacturers had supplied the police with a list of several hundred cities to which shoes of the same lot had been consigned. To follow up all of these would take weeks, and the police felt sure such an investigation would amount to nothing. There was not one chance in a million that the clerk who had sold the particular pair of shoes would remember to whom he had sold them, and still less chance that he would have known the purchaser's name.
The watch bore the mark of a jeweler who had repaired it; but so far the police had been unable to locate the man or firm who had done the work. The handkerchief was one of the sealpackerchief type, and was impossible to trace. There were no means of tracing currency, cigarettes or matches, of course, so only the bill-fold and pocket knife, and the tweed suit remained to furnish possible clues. The bill-fold bore the words: "Casa Leda," but no address. The knife might have been bought anywhere at any time, and there were hundreds of "Goldberg & Sons" in New York and elsewhere. Nevertheless, as this name seemed to be the most promising lead and only hope, a canvass was made of every "Goldberg & Sons" in New York. But each and every one of them disclaimed having made or sold the garments found on the dead man. Each and every "Goldberg & Sons" also informed the police, with many expostulations—as though anxious to avoid even a remote connection with the bloodstained garments—that there were "Goldberg & Sons" in every city in the United States; that tailors of that name were located in London, Paris, Havana, Porto Rico, Panama, and no doubt in every city of the universe. Hence further enquiries along that line were abandoned.
Meanwhile, of course, many people had visited the morgue to view the corpse in an attempt to identify it. Some were no doubt actuated merely by morbid curiosity, but many came with sad faces and tear-dimmed eyes, expecting and fearing they would find the body of some missing relative. Most of them brightened as they failed to recognize the dead man, and left the dismal place vastly relieved. A few were uncertain, not sure whether or not the deceased was some one they had known in life, and at least twenty individuals declared positively it was so-and-so, each naming a different person. It was soon proved, however, that they were all mistaken. In several instances the supposed victims were located, alive and well; but mostly some certain mark, scar or other peculiarity that would make identity certain, was missing.
Indeed, one of the most unusual and puzzling features of the case was that the dead man was absolutely free from any marks or peculiarities which might establish his identity. There was not a mole, wart, scar or birthmark on his entire body.
And the more Dr. Thane studied the case, the more he applied his theories and hypotheses, the more puzzled he became, for no matter at what angle he attacked the problem, he found himself checkmated and all his preconceived assumptions absolutely worthless.
CHAPTER IV Science Falters
HARDLY had the scientist commenced his investigations when he discovered that he could not hope to solve the mystery by psychological means alone.
For the first time since he had become interested in crime, he would be forced to resort to more conventional methods in order to gain some tangible starting point from which to reach what was to him, the utmost phase of the crime.
He had expected that the body would prove to be that of a Latin-American, probably with an admixture of Indian, and very likely some negro blood; that the murder would have been committed by a knife thrust; that the corpse would have been disposed of in some novel, rather conspicuous manner; that great cleverness would be exhibited by the murderer in covering his tracks; and that all means of identifying the victim would be destroyed. He had expected that the assassin, having enjoyed the notoriety of the crime and the fact that he had mystified the police and public, would, true to the Latin-American mixture of Indian and Spanish psychology, become theatrical and would send anonymous letters, or insert notices in the papers, dramatically challenging the authorities to find him, and, in the end, would betray himself by his own irresistible fondness for occupying the center of the stage.
All this, and many more minute details were embodied in Dr. Thane's imaginary case, which had been worked out theoretically from the scientist's knowledge of the Indian-Spanish mental characteristics, the conflict of the romance, dramatic egotism, quick temper and deadly fury of the Spaniard combined with the cunning, stealth, stoicism and fatalism of the Indian, plus the highly imaginative natures of both. And Dr. Thane's premises, the fact that he had selected such a crime with men of such a race, was due largely to the fact that no Latin-American crimes of a serious nature had come under his observation, despite the fact that the Latin-American population of New York was increasing at an amazing rate and that, inevitably, such a crime was bound to occur some day.
The disposal of the body was in exact accordance with what he had expected The fact that the victim had been stabbed also agreed with his theories; but there, figuratively speaking, he came against a stone wall.
In the first place, he was not at all sure that the dead man was a Latin-American or even of Spanish blood. He might have been of almost any European race or of almost any mixture of races. Aside from the bill-fold bearing the words "Casa Leda", there was not a shred of evidence to lend color to the assumption that the deceased was Latin. Even this evidence was negative and wholly circumstantial. The bill-fold might have been a gift; it might have been purchased at any one of the scores of little stationery shops conducted by men of Spanish blood in New York, or in some other American city, or the owner might have purchased it while traveling in Spanish America.
To be sure, the man had been stabbed; but no assassin, accustomed to using a knife or a dagger, would have used such a dull weapon, whereas no expert at stabbing would have dealt a blow in such a place and position.
Possibly, thought the scientist, an examination of the grit from the dead man's hands might throw light on the matter, for the material might, to a geologist's eyes, reveal peculiarities which would locate the scene of the crime. Then there were the hairs which had been found adhering to the abrasions on the man's hands.
These were, in fact, Dr. Thane's greatest hope. But he was doomed to disappointment when a microscopic examination of both hairs and grit had been made.
The hairs were fine, light reddish in color, and the zoologist to whom they were submitted declared they were the hairs of a dog and not of a human being.
An equally eminent geologist informed Dr. Thane that the minute bits of gravel were not from any spot within hundreds of miles from New York, and consisted of auriferous chromite sand.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Dr. Thane, losing all his accustomed calmness and equanimity. "You mean to say—why according to that, the body must have been carried, er—hundreds of miles from the spot where the crime was committed."
"The nearest locality where such auriferous chromite sand occurs is, as far as my knowledge goes, in Central America." replied the geologist. "Though, to be more exact, northern Colombia is a few hundred miles nearer New York."
"Fiddlesticks!" cried Dr. Thane impatiently. "Either one is impossible. The body had not been embalmed or frozen. It would have been an utter impossibility to have transported it otherwise for such a distance. Besides, the coroner assures me the man had not been dead longer than twenty-four hours."
"I do not pretend to be either a detective or a criminologist," replied the geologist with a tinge of sarcasm in his voice. "I might, however, suggest an airplane. Perhaps the machine flew low over the street and dropped the body into the ashcan. Why don't you search for some aviator who was a skilled bomber during the war?"
"And I would suggest that you devote your misplaced brain powers to studying the gravels in the vicinity of New York more carefully," retorted Dr. Thane, who always resented being jollied by his fellow scientists. "I'll wager there are chromitic gravels near here.”
"If so, and you can locate them, then you will have made a more useful discovery than solving the mystery of a murder," declared the other.
And Dr. Thane was almost as amazed and as indignant at the knowledge that the hairs he had counted upon were merely those of a dog.
"Impossible!" he snorted. "The man was not attacked by a dog. Why should he have grasped or clutched at the beast?"
The young biologist who had examined the hairs, and who dearly loved to tease the doctor, smiled. "That is not in my province to determine," he replied. "All that I can swear to is that the specimen, No. 23,657, submitted for examination and identification by Doctor Edmund Curtis Thane, consist of six fragments of hirstute growths from some undetermined variety of Canis familiaris; that the color is reddish-fawn, and that stains upon them, having been miscroscopically examined, prove to be dried human blood, perhaps from the abrasions upon the human hand from which, the note appended to the specimen states, the hairs were obtained."
Dr. Thane looked as if he was about to explode.
The other grinned. "Possibly, as a theory," he continued, "I might suggest that the deceased came to a violent end in a fight over the possession of a dog. Or again," he went on, not in the least perturbed by the other's contemptuous glare, "the deceased may have been a kindly disposed person who, in trying to protect a dumb animal from a brutal master, was struck down by the owner of the beast. That, Doctor, would account for the dead man bending or stooping forward. Why!" he cried, as though carried away with his idea, "perhaps the other fellow held some object—a stick, iron rod or something, in his hand. Perhaps he had been beating the pup with it, and your dead man, in his impetuosity, ran against it and punctured himself."
"Humph!" blurted Dr. Thane, thoroughly out of patience. "I suppose your rattle-brains will next suggest that the dog carried the body to Eighty-fifth. Street and dumped it into a rubbish can."
"One's as likely as the other," chortled the younger man, as Dr. Thane strode from the room.
But despite the scientist's chagrin, and the fact that he found his carefully worked-out theories tumbling about his ears, he was not one to abandon an idea or an effort easily. He still felt convinced that he was right, that even if the actualities did not dovetail with his theories in details, still he would triumph eventually. His next step, therefore, or I might better say, his procedure coincident with the other expert examinations, was to secure specimens of blood, hair and skin from the dead man.
In these, he felt, lay indisputable proofs of the murdered man's race. A very small proportion of African blood would, he knew, lend a peculiar form to the hair sections, this being brought about by the oval-shaped negro wool. Also, Dr. Anderson had recently startled the medical and scientific worlds by claiming that, by means of a newly discovered method, he could determine the race, the approximate age, the sex, and even the maladies of a subject from a specimen of blood. Even if these tests failed, or gave negative or contradictory results, the pigmentation of the skin should, Dr. Thane felt sure, determine whether the deceased were of white, negro and white, Indian and white, or any other distinctive racial blood.
So, having duly sent the specimens to the greatest authorities and experts in their respective lines, Dr. Thane impatiently awaited the reports.
The first to reach him was from the expert who had conducted the examination of the dead man's hair. As Dr. Thane perused the rather lengthy report, he became more and more puzzled and more and more incredulous. The hair, so the expert declared, showed a section distinctly unique. In fact, it was unlike anything described or figured in any work on the subject. The sections showed an irregular, somewhat pentagonal form, and to prove that he had made no mistake, he had forwarded a microscopic slide of the mounted specimens. Hence, he concluded, he was utterly unable to place the subject's race.
Following close on this, came the report from the great man who had devoted much of his valuable time to a most searching examination of blood specimens. But the report on these was just as negative as that of the hair specialist. The blood, he stated, showed that the subject was a male, between thirty and forty-five years of age, a strong man physically, in perfect health at the time of his death, although he had suffered from pernicious malaria in the past. There were, he continued, certain features of the specimens which he should say indicated a strain of Indian, and there were somewhat doubtful signs of both negro and Mongolian blood; but the most prominent characteristics were unquestionably Caucasian.
This was encouraging, despite the fact that most of the facts obtained were already known to Dr. Thane. If the deceased was, as the scientist had expected and had assumed, a Latin-American, then the blood specialist had been right; there would be traces of negro and Indian blood in the specimens submitted. And if, argued the scientist, the report on the pigmentation of the skin confirmed this, then he would have been proved correct, for the puzzling hair neither confirmed nor contradicted the other report. But when at last the report on the skin reached Dr. Thane, he was as far from making headway as ever. The skin, so the report stated, showed no traces of either African or Indian pigmentation, but was distinctly Caucasian, with some doubtful characteristics pointing toward a slight Mongolian strain.
"Hmm," mused Dr. Thane, "All this time wasted on these investigations and no definite results. I wonder what the fellow actually was. Let me see. To sum up: Assuming all the reports correct, we have—Caucasian, predominant; Mongolian, fairly certain, as reported both in skin and blood; possibility of African and Indian. Hump! By Jove!" suddenly alert. "That would be possible, yes, highly probable, for a Latin-American. But the hair! Freak, abnormal, an aberrant form of growth probably. Yes, I—"
Dr. Thane's thoughts were rudely interrupted by the jingle of his telephone bell.
"That you, Doctor?" came in familiar tones. "Yes, this is Haley speaking. Can you meet me at the morgue in twenty minutes? Have a man here who feels positive he can identify the body of the ash-can murder. What's that? Oh, yes. Just arrived in the city. Thought you'd be interested."
CHAPTER V Positive Identification
DR. THANE reached the morgue a few minutes before Captain Haley, who was accompanied by a rather good-looking man dressed in neat but inexpensive clothes. His face was deeply sunburned, and something in the expression of his gray eyes and his manner told the scientist that he was a member of the seafaring profession.
The detective introduced him as Captain Scarsdale, adding the information that he had arrived on his ship the preceding evening. Having seen the pictures of the murdered man in some old papers, and being sure that he had recognized the victim of the tragedy, he had lost no time in coming to identify the body.
"If you have no objections, Captain Scarsdale," said Dr. Thane, "I would like to ask you a few questions before you view the body. As, no doubt, Mr. Haley has told you, we have had many identifications, all of which have so far proved incorrect. Very often, I have found, a man's or a woman's mental processes play them false. Having once come to the conclusion that they know the deceased, they always see a resemblance in the cadaver's altered countenance and features which, in their rather excited psychological state, appears most striking and unmistakable. As a result, they feel positive that the body is that of the individual whom they have already, quite unconsciously, decided it to be!"
The mariner laughed. "Guess you won't find me much excited or making any mistake," he declared confidently. "But I see your point. Sort of autosuggestion, as the books call it. Folks make up their minds it's Tom, Dick or Harry, and jolly 'emselves into believing it is, eh?"
"Precisely," agreed Dr. Thane. "But if you will answer a few queries before viewing the murdered man, it may make identity more certain. Would you mind giving us a detailed description of the man whose body you surmise was found?"
"Not a bit," declared the captain. "Chap about five foot six; stocky build, black hair a bit gray on the sides; eyes grayish-brown—guess you'd call 'em hazel. Small black mustache; good teeth, and about forty-six years old. How does that fit?"
"Excellently, excellently," cried the scientist. "But not exactly. You say this man wore a small mustache. The body has a clean-shaven face and there are no signs of his having recently shaved off a mustache."
"I haven't seen him for six years." replied the seaman. "Very likely he'd given up his mustache long before he was killed."
"And can you—do you know anything about his teeth, whether any were crowned, filled or extracted?" asked Dr. Thane.
Captain Scarsdale hesitated for a moment, a puzzled frown on his forehead, as though he were trying to concentrate his memory. "Yes," he announced at last. He had two teeth missing. One double tooth on the lower jaw—starboard side, I think, and 'tother missing from port on upper jaw."
Dr. Thane beamed. "That exactly agrees with the teeth of the corpse," he declared. "Now, Captain Scarsdale, we'll view the body."
"That's him," announced the sea captain decisively, as he gazed, quite unmoved, at the gruesome exhibit. "Couldn't make a mistake after being shipmate with him nearly five years. Yes, sir, that's Peter Underdunk, and a right proper sailorman he was, too. Mighty sorry I am to see him come to this. But he always did have the devil of a temper and was forever getting into trouble."
"Underdunk, you say?" repeated the scientist "A Dutch name. Odd, I should not have thought the dead man a Dutchman."
"He wasn't," declared the captain, as the three turned away. "At least," he continued, "he wasn't a Hollander. He came from the Surinam Country, Dutch Guiana, you know. Reckon he had a lick of the tarbrush—most of the Surinam Dutch do."
Dr. Thane was mentally patting himself on the back. To be sure, the sea captain's identification had proved his theory of the Latin-American origin of the murdered man wrong, but, in a way, it had sustained his conclusions. He was South American, about as close to a Latin-American as was possible, and though the Caucasian blood was Dutch instead of Spanish, still, undoubtedly negro and Indian blood had flowed in the dead sailor's veins. And it was not unlikely that there had been a dash of Mongolian in addition. Moreover, and as this thought crossed his mind. Dr. Thane saw many puzzling matters made clear, Dutch Guiana's population included a very large number of East Indians, thousands of Javanese, and not a few individuals of Polynesian, Melanasian and Dyak blood.
For all anyone could say, all of these racial strains might have been mingled in the later Peter Underdunk's make-up. Hence, it was not surprising that the hair, skin and blood had mystified the experts who had examined them.
The detective's voice was now interrupting the train of mental reasoning flashing through Dr. Thane's brain.
"Mighty glad you've settled that, Captain." he was saying. "Now we may be able to get somewhere." Do you know anything about Underdunk's habits? Anything about his life? Where he's been, what he's been doing since he left you? Know anything of his family; who his friends were, or if he had any enemies, or if there was anything that might furnish a motive for his having been murdered?"
"I'm afraid I can't help you much," replied Captain Scarsdale. "Here's all I know. Peter shipped with me as second officer—I was chief—on the Wanderer, bark, when we were at Barbados. That was about eleven years ago; can't give the exact date, but it doesn't matter much. He stuck with me until I got my billet as master. Then he served as my first on the Eulalia, freighter, until he got a better berth on a fruit boat, where he had a chance of getting a master's papers. Last time I saw him alive was at Colon, six years ago. He'd been in a fracas there— some sort of mixup with the Spigs. Later, I heard he'd lost or given up his job and was doing shore duty at the Atlantic Company's docks over in Brooklyn. Don't think he had any folks; never married: but maybe he had relatives down in Poramaribo. Good chap, but hot-headed. Didn't drink over much, and I can't say who his friends were. You see, I went overseas during the war and lost track of him. I expect he had a bunch of enemies—most of us have— but I don't know who they'd be. Any Wop or Dago that he'd fired from a stevedore gang might have knifed him."
"If they had, they'd likely have taken his roll," commented the detective.
"You bet they would,” assented the other. "Guess that let's them out of it.”
"Might have had a row over a girl. Peter was nuts on the ladies."
"Would you object to stating how you happened to be so familiar with the exact condition of his teeth?" asked Dr. Thane, who had been mentally reviewing the details of the interview and identification.
"That's simple," laughed Captain "Scarsdale. "Peter had a bit of an argument with a hand from St. Thomas—big square-head chap—and in the mixup, Peter's teeth got knocked out. One was broke off and ached him like the devil, and he asked me to plug it for him until he could get the root hauled free by a dentist."
"I see," murmured the scientist. "But you say that Underdunk was a sailor. The palms of his hands and his fingers are free from callous spots. They do not look as if the deceased had performed manual labor recently."
"Probably hadn't," declared the captain. "Dock masters don't have to. But, look here. See any callouses on my paw?" As he spoke he spread his huge hands for the others to inspect.
"I guess that's all, Captain," said the detective, "unless there is something else that Dr. Thane would like to ask."
"No, I think Captain Scarsdale has identified the body beyond question. "But," added the scientist, as the mariner rose to go, "of course it would be preferable to secure a confirmatory identification. Do you know of anyone else who could swear the body is that of the man Underdunk?'
"Sure," replied the seaman. "Anyone in the Atlantic Company ought to. There's Captain Atwood. He's superintendent. Why not call him?"
Dr. Thane, highly elated because he found he had come so near hitting the mark in his surmises, and quite convinced that Captain Atwood would confirm the identification, hurried to his office. With scientific fervor, he began building up the details of the crime and criminal as he believed they should be according to psychological reasoning.
To him, now that he was aware of the race, occupation and character of the dead man, the whole matter was clear, and that very day he handed a copy of his findings to his friend, the detective.
"The crime," he wrote, "was not premeditated. The fatal blow was as unexpected and unforeseen to the deceased's companion as to himself. There was no real motive for the crime, at least not enough to warrant homicide. Fright at what had occurred, drove the responsible person to seek refuge in flight, probably to South America.
"In all probability he was at sea before the body was discovered. But in my opinion, he will have an irresistible impulse to return and learn all details of the mystery as known to the authorities. Impulsively as he acted at the time, he will, if I am not greatly mistaken, run true to psychological form and, of his own free will, will tell the entire story regardless of consequences. The dead man's assassin was undoubtedly a Latin-American, or at least, a Latin, with the chances in favor of his having a slight strain of primitive blood—probably Indian. He had been on friendly terms with the deceased up to the moment of the tragedy, the exact cause of which I do not feel qualified, from the meagre means of deduction at my disposal, to state definitely. But I feel quite confident that it was due to some discussion over property, and by this term I mean wages, money due, or any object, the ownership of which was in dispute. The murderer, however, was not one who would kill for personal gain, and he did not possess himself of the dead man's funds. The wound which produced death was, as has been already determined, made by a blunt, dull instrument not at all adapted to homicidal purposes. It was used without thought, the psychology of the user unconsciously urging him to strike with whatever happened to be in his grasp, exactly, I might say, as a snake might strike, even though it possessed no fangs. As a crime, it is somewhat unusual and presented mysteries not readily solved by ordinary means. As a study in psychology it has proved most interesting. Also, it has afforded me most desirable opportunities for proving my theories, and also for recording the racial peculiarities of the much-mixed natives of Surinam."
Rather pleased with himself, Dr. Thane was preparing to dismiss the case as closed, although still looking forward with anticipation to the day when the murderer would return as he had prophesied.
But he was destined to receive another surprise. Captain Atwood viewed the body and at once declared that it was not that of Peter Underdunk.
"No more like Underdunk than I am," he stated. "Underdunk was as gray as a badger and had a heavy mustache."
"But my dear Captain Atwood," protested Dr. Thane, "Captain Scarsdale was equally certain it is the body of Underdunk, and his description of the latter was quite at variance with yours."
"Naturally," explained the Atlantic Company's superintendent. "He hadn't seen Underdunk for six years. A man changes a lot in that time, especially at Underdunk's time of life. But if you doubt me, look on the dead man's shoulder. Underdunk had a peculiar double mole, a sort of dumb-bell-shaped mark."
"Which shoulder?" asked the scientist, as he approached the body.
"Left," replied Captain Atwood. "Close to the collar bone."
Dr. Thane bared the neck and shoulders of the corpse.
"By Judas!" exclaimed the other. ''That stab's right where the mole should be."
"Then we are no better off than before," declared Detective Haley. "It's the same old story—one fellow swears it's Underdunk, and the next swears it's not."
''But if Captain Atwood is correct, where is Underdunk!" demanded the scientist, who was loath to admit that the body might be that of some one else, and that his hypothesis had been built on false premises.
"Search me," replied Captain Atwood. "He got through with us three months ago. Said he was going on a vacation. Likely as not he went down to Surinam."
So, once again, the mystery seemed as deep as ever. Dr. Thane insisted the body was that of Underdunk, while the detective declared that there was just as good proof that it was not. And. incredible as it may seem, though the police used every effort to locate friends or acquaintances of the ex-sailor from Surinam, and found a number of them, yet, like the two sea captains, some vowed it was, and others insisted it was not Underdunk, whose body reposed in the morgue. The presence of the unusual mole appeared to be the only positive means of identification, and that, if it had existed on the dead man, had been utterly destroyed by the blow which had killed him.
Thus matters stood when Dr. Thane was once more summoned by Detective Haley.
As the scientist entered the detective's office, a man who stood with his back toward the door, turned.
And at sight of his face, Dr. Thane, matter-of-fact scientist though he was, felt a strange sensation, a psychological condition absolutely new to him.
There, alive and apparently in excellent health, sat the counterpart of the dead man in the morgue.
"Don't wonder you got a jolt. Doctor," grinned the detective. "I did myself when Mr. Underdunk walked in here."
"Then—then—" stammered the scientist.
"Yep," interrupted the detective. "Captain Scarsdale was wrong. This is the missing Peter Underdunk. He has just arrived from a visit to his native land. Quite alive, as you see. If you doubt his identity he will gladly show you the dumb-bell-shaped mole that Captain Atwood mentioned."
But Dr. Thane did not question the matter. His first surprise over, he realized that after all the living Peter Underdunk was not the perfect double of the dead man. His features, eyes, build and general appearance were the same, and no doubt a few years previously the resemblance would have been more striking. No one could blame Captain Scarsdale for swearing to the identity of the corpse. He had been correct even in his description of the teeth, although Underdunk remarked, as he opened his mouth for the scientist's inspection, there was not much similarity at the time. And Dr. Thane agreed that there was not, for Underdunk's missing molars had been replaced by artificial teeth.
Rather dejected, for all of his assumptions had been utterly knocked to bits by Underdunk's appearance on the scene. Dr. Thane betook himself to his study, almost ready to abandon his fascinating investigations of criminals' psychology.
CHAPTER VI Science Triumphant
SEVERAL weeks had passed since Peter Underdunk had so unexpectedly arrived to prove he was not dead, and, incidentally, knock Dr. Thane's carefully built-up report into bits. The corpse, whose identity still remained a secret, had been buried, and the case, as far as the police were concerned, had been relegated to the files of unsolved murders of the great city. Even Dr. Thane had, ostensibly, abandoned his efforts to unravel the mystery, and had turned his attention to other and more strictly scientific matters. But often his mind reverted to the case, and his thoughts were far from pleasant at memory of his failure to prove his pet theories and the good-natured ragging he had received from his friend, Haley.
Several times, in fact, he found himself mentally reviewing all the incidents, features and, details of the ash-can murder, and striving to find flaws in his reasoning. Of course there was the pre-eminent fact that he had built up his case on the supposition that the corpse had been that of Peter Underdunk; but the scientist could not convince himself that he had tripped up there. He was morally certain that, who ever the murdered man might have been, the crime was Latin-American, as in so many ways it had agreed so perfectly with his hypothetical case. Like most scientific men, he hated to admit that either his theories or his reasoning could be at variance with incontrovertible facts.
His subconscious mind was more or less occupied with such thoughts, although he was apparently giving all his attention to a most interesting collection of specimens from New Guinea, when he was interrupted by the bell of his desk telephone. Somewhat impatient at this interference with his studies, he lifted the receiver from its hook, and instantly was all attention as he recognized the voice of his friend, the detective.
"If you're not too busy. I'd like to have you run over here," said Captain Haley. "And." he added, "even if you are busy, I think you'll find it worth your while to drop what you're doing and come over. No," as Dr. Thane attempted to interrogate him, "I'm not giving you any tips over the phone. You'll have to come over to find out."
Curious to know why the detective had summoned him, and knowing Haley would not have called him up unless something highly important was afoot, Dr. Thane put aside his specimens and hurried to the detective's office.
Talking with the detective was a young man, fair-skinned, light-haired, tall and athletic in build, and with face burned red by sun and wind.
Dr. Thane's trained eyes took in every detail of the stranger's appearance at a glance, and, in his preeminently scientific mind, instantly identified, classified and labelled the young man as "Pure Nordic."
"I want you to meet Mr. Robert Hayden," exclaimed the detective, as the two turned at the scientist's entrance. "Draw up a chair, Dr. Thane, and let Mr. Hayden clear up the ash-can murder mystery for your benefit."
Dr. Thane gasped. What new development was this and who, he wondered, was this clean-looking young Hayden fellow.
The young man flushed under his sunburn, starting a bit nervously and confused, as if he did not know just how to begin. "Why," he said, "I have just been telling Captain Haley about it, and he wanted you to hear it, too. Of course I realize now I was foolish and shouldn't have gone off as I did. I ought to have told the police as soon as André was killed, and—"
"Pardon me," interrupted the scientist. "You speak of an André. Do you mean that the body found on Eighty-fifth Street was that of a man named André?"
"Yes, André Mission," replied Hayden. "He had some valuable mining properties, placers, and got me interested in them. I—"
"Pardon me for again breaking into your story," said Dr. Thane. "Where were these placer mines situated?”
"In Panama," replied the other.
Dr. Thane, seeing that whatever the solution of the mystery might be, it always pointed toward Latin-America, nodded and smiled.
“I was interested, as I said,” continued Hayden, "and I took an option from André. Of course, I wouldn't put much money into the proposition until I'd seen the properties, and I didn't really know anything about him. So—"
"Another question or two, if you do not mind," put in the scientist. "'Was this André Mission a native of Panama?"
"No," declared Hayden. "He had lived there; but he came originally from Madagascar. I remember that particularly, because I'd never met anyone from there, and it interested me. You see I'd always thought of Madagascans as negroes, and André was white. He was a queer fellow, too. He used to boast that he was a descendant of some old pirate named Mission, who once established a settlement out there and married a native. He seemed to be rather proud of it."
Dr. Thane was now fairly beaming. No wonder, he thought, the racial status of the dead man had proved so baffling; a mixture of Madagascan and Caucasian, with probably a bit of Arab and Moorish blood in addition. Well, he must make a mental note of that, and, later, endeavor to secure specimens of pure-blooded Madagascans' hair and blood. It would form material for an instructive monograph.
But young Hayden was continuing with his story, and the scientist gave all his attention to it.
“I had the documents." he was saying, "and to celebrate the deal, we started for the Greenfield Inn in my car. It's a roadster, or rather a racer, low and without doors, you know. No." as Dr. Thane started to frame another question. "We were neither of us drunk; hadn't taken a drop. I never drink and André was not a heavy drinker anyway. Well, as we reached that sharp hair-pin curve near Stanwich—perhaps you know the place—where a steep bank slopes to the river and they'd been clearing off the woods, we were talking of the mines and something was said that made André want to show me some new samples he had just received. They were in a paper in his pocket, and he half rose to reach them. Just at that instant a big collie dog jumped into the road, and, without stopping to think, I jammed on the brakes to avoid hitting him. And—God! I hate to think of it. André lost his balance and went hurtling from the car down the bank.
"When I reached him he was lying face down, with his head downhill toward the river, and," Hayden shuddered at the memory, "he was dead. He'd struck the sharp stub of a sapling and it had gone deep into his shoulder. I was so horrified and frightened and upset that I didn't know what to do. My first thought was to get André into the car and drive like mad and notify the police. Then I thought of the position I was in. I had been alone with André. I had an option that had not been paid for in my pocket. And he had been killed by a wound like a stab in the shoulder. Would the police believe my story? Wouldn't it look to them like murder? There was the motive—André's mines; there was no way to prove my story, and, even if I proved it, there would be rumors, suspicions, and I would be mixed up with a police case, and might be held.
"Of course, now I realize how I lost my head and how foolishly I acted. I could have led the police to the stub with André's blood on it, or I might have left him where he was until I called the police. And I had plenty of friends who could testify to my character and temperament. But I couldn’t see anything but a charge of murder and a lot of suspicious circumstances at the time.
"Anyway, I carried André's body to my car and started on, not knowing what to do. Then I saw a house and barn beside the road and drove in, thinking I might find a phone or might do something— really I don't know exactly what was on my mind. But there was no one there. Then I saw a piece of burlap, and with that I covered André's body so no one could see him when I drove into town, for by then I'd made up my mind to face the matter. But each minute, as I neared the city and thought of the incredible story I'd have to tell, I grew more and more nervous and frightened. Then, as I was passing through a side street, I saw a man come from a basement door and dump a big bundle into an ash can. I don't know why it should have given me the idea, but it did, and rolling André's body in the burlap. I stopped and put him in a can and drove away. The next morning I was nearly crazy. I realized I had made the case against myself so strong that I was hopelessly lost, and I took the boat that was sailing that day for Colon.
"But I couldn't rest easily. I was haunted, haunted by André's death, and haunted still more for fear some innocent person might be charged with the crime. I watched every paper with fear and trembling, always expecting to see my name, for I felt sure that somebody who knew I had been dealing with André would come forward and tell the police, and I couldn't understand why no one had identified him. I didn't even dare go to the mines and so, when the case quieted down and I realized what a fool I'd been—well, I came back to tell all I knew and to face the music. And here I am."
"And I guess that rather knocks out all your theories, eh. Doctor?" grinned the detective. "Not much like the crime you had doped out."
The scientist, utterly dumbfounded at Hayden's revelations and the totally unexpected yet simple solution of the mystery, sat staring, blinking through his glasses.
Then a smile crossed his features. "In some respects, yes," he admitted. "But I was correct in several details. The man Mission was killed by a blunt instrument, and the stroke was not premeditated. Moreover, the dead man's companion fled to South America, as I foresaw, and, as I stated would be the case, he returned and told his story of his own free will. Just read the first few paragraphs of my report, Haley."
The latter drew the document from a pigeon-hole and spread it before him.
"Here it is," he announced. " 'The crime was not premeditated,'" he read. " 'The fatal blow was as unexpected and as unforeseen by the deceased's companion as by himself. There was no real motive for the crime—at least not enough to warrant homicide. Fear of what had occurred drove the responsible party to seek refuge in flight—probably to Latin-America. In all probability he was at sea before the body was discovered. In my opinion, he will return— '"
"Yes, yes," exclaimed the detective. "I guess I'll have to take back a little of what I said just now. You seem to have hit the nail on the head in a good many ways. But you're a long way off in some respects, just the same. If you got your ideas by reasoning from the psychology of men, how the devil did you get this so near right when you say here the dead man's companion was a Latin-American? How do you square things up? It gets me how you doped this out by working on a basis of Latin-American temperament when, all along, Mr. Hayden was the fellow's companion."
Hayden, who had been listening in amazement as the detective read the report, now spoke. "Doctor Thane was right," he announced. ''I'm beginning to believe in this psychological stuff myself. You see my mother was a Chilean."
"Well, I'll be hanged!" ejaculated Captain Haley.
"Now who wins?" cried Dr. Thane. "Science, sir, is an exact thing. Though it may err slightly at times, Haley, it is always ultimately triumphant."
"Maybe you're right," somewhat grudgingly admitted the other, as he replaced the scientist's report. "But where did those dog's hairs and that chromite sand come in?"
Doctor Thane snorted. "Did not Mr. Hayden state that a dog crossed the road?" he demanded. "No doubt he left hairs on the ground which stuck to Mission's hand as he fell. And as for the auriferous gravel, he was reaching for a sample in his pocket when he was thrown from the car. That sample, Sir, was gold-bearing or in other words, auriferous gravel, and was unquestionably chromitic. It was, no doubt, clutched spasmodically in Mission's hand and was ground into the skin when he struck the earth." "Guess the cigars are on me," grinned Haley.