The mystery of the hot house
The neighbours were complaining of the heat. The top floor apartment of the modest Forbes building was owned by Herman P. Herman and he wasn’t answering his door. It was agreed by the other occupants that the caretaker should be called. While they waited, the heat was getting worse.
The caretaker arrived with a spare set of keys. He inserted them in the lock. He did not need to turn them in the slot.
“The door’s not locked.” he said. “It must be locked from the inside. I’m going to call the police.”
Inspector MacLeod had been having a quiet few weeks. The murder rate was down and all he had on the go was following up on cold cases from the past. When the call came in for the police to knock down the door on old Herman’s house, Macleod decided to go with the two policemen to the scene. A change of scenery might stimulate him.
A crowd had gathered outside Herman’s door. After ascertaining that the mortise on the door was locked from within as the caretaker had said, Macleod told the neighbours to back away. The two policemen had come armed with a ram. They battered at the door and splintered the inside frame. Fragments of wood lay on the carpet beside a u-shaped hinge that was the distaff of the species to the long bolt that was nailed to the door.
The heat hit them immediately. A boiling radiator was close to the front door. In a few seconds the law enforcement men were drenched in sweat. They began a sweep of the room. One of the policeman found the central heating controls and switched it off, though it would be some time before room temperature was recovered. From the bedroom, the other policemen shouted.
“There’s a body in here.”
Lying peaceful on the bed was Herman P. Herman. Dead. MacLeod felt for Herman’s pulse. There wasn’t one. Herman was very warm but stone cold dead.
* * * * *
Back at headquarters Macleod was baffled by the mystery. The door was locked, apparently from the inside, the heating was on for God knows how long and Herman was dead. Next of kin had to be informed and after investigation it appeared that Herman P. Herman had a grandson. The grandson’s parents, the father of which was Herman’s son, had died in a car accident. The grandson was the only living heir and he stood to make a fortune. The thrifty Herman P. Herman was a very rich man.
Autopsy reports came back that showed old Herman had been suffocated. Time of death was hard to pinpoint because of the stifling heat in the apartment but the pathologist had evidence -bruising under the dermis- that a felony had been committed. The murder weapon could have been a pillow. it wouldn’t have taken much to kill the old man especially if he was sleeping.
MacLeod set out to interview the grandson, Rufus T. Herman. Rufus had already been told of his grandfather’s death through the regular police protocol. He wasn’t expecting an inspector to call. Macleod knocked at the door of the modest apartment that Rufus resided at. Rufus answered the door. A badge was flashed.
“Inspector Macleod. Homicide. Can I ask you some questions regarding your grandfather’s murder?”
“Of course you can, Inspector. Come on in. I could not believe it when I heard Grand had been murdered and did not die of natural causes.”
“This is purely routine, sir, but can I ask you where you were on the night of the murder?”
“I was right here. Watching TV.”
“Thanks. You know this case is unique for me. Your grandfather was killed. Of that we have no doubt. This little thing about the door being locked from the inside puzzles me. How could the murderer have committed the crime and locked the door?”
“To be honest with you Inspector I didn’t visit Grand much. We weren’t that close and I did not have keys to his house. Does anyone have a spare set of keys to his house?”
“The caretaker of the building had a set. Why?”
“I don’t know just a silly hunch, I guess. Is it possible the caretaker, through careful practise, could manipulate the bolt to lock by a certain way he manoeuvred the door? I mean I’ve watched super criminals on TV doing all sorts of dodges.”
“I don’t see that being the case, sir.”
“For one there doesn’t seem to be any motive for the caretaker to kill your grandfather and I was there when we banged down the door. I’d swear on the bible that this man did not do this crime. He was as shocked as all the residents when we told them the old man was dead. The caretaker is a no-no.”
MacLeod continued his questioning, asking if Rufus had anyone to verify he was at home on the fateful night. He didn’t, he lived alone. Rufus T. Herman told the Inspector that Herman didn’t have any enemies as far as he knew. Macleod also found out Rufus had no computer or means of going online. In this technological age this struck him as odd. With no further questions to ask, Rufus said.
“Oh well, good luck with your investigation, Inspector.”
The two men shook hands and Macleod noticed the grimace on Rufus’s face. This was strange. Not being one of those forceful alpha males like others in The Force, Macleod had a neutral handshake. It was compact rather than firm. The obvious hurt on Rufus intrigued him but he did not say anything.
* * * * *
The heat bothered him. MacLeod pondered on the big detail of why the apartment was so hot? Further medical reports said that it was almost certain that Herman P. Herman was asleep when he was killed. there didn’t seem to be much of a struggle going on. This seemed to rule out the old man leaving the heating on. Therefore, the killer put the heating on. Why? Was the killer cold? Why would the killer hang around and warm himself up? Ramping up the temperature to outfox the medics didn’t seem plausible. Without disposing of the body, the cleverest of villains would know time of death would eventually be solved.
Rufus with no one to back up his alibi also bothered him. It stood to reason that Rufus would be the main beneficiary in Herman’s will. Rufus had a motive. MacLeod would have liked the tech boys to have a look at Rufus’ computer. Most criminals will leave some kind of trace, even miniscule, on their hard drive that could link them to the crime. The problem was Rufus didn’t have a computer or laptop or phone that could surf the internet. MacLeod wished he could see a list of the TV programmes that the telly addicted Rufus watched.
And what about that handshake? Rufus was of average build yet he was in pain when the men shook hands. There was something that MacLeod had missed. Something that was easily overlooked. The door. The door had to be checked.
The lab boys had the door frame in their workshop and MacLeod went back to the scene of the crime. MacLeod was on his hands and knees feeling his way through the fibres of the carpet at the front of Herman P. Herman’s apartment. Young Cole, the lab technician, interrupted MacLeod’s search just as MacLeod had hit pay dirt.
“Got something for you boss.”
“I’ve got something for you too, Cole. You go first.”
“This is the latch for the barrel bolt. As you can see it is still in perfect shape. If this were on the frame when the door was knocked down it should have some kind of mark on the metal because of the force used. It doesn’t have any blemishes whatsoever. We also analysed the door frame and we have conclusively found out that frame was tampered with.”
“In what way?”
“Results have shown that the wood on the frame had been damaged before it was shattered by the ram. There was a slight check chiselled into the frame at the place where the bolt and latch meet.”
“Well done, Cole. Now I have just found a splinter that was embedded deep in the carpet. This will be one of the fragments that had been chiselled. Take this to the lab and get me proof that this slice of wood is part of the same frame. This could be a vital part of evidence.”
* * * * *
Macleod went back to see Rufus. Rufus was watching the Discovery channel.
“Good evening Inspector. What can I do for you? Have you found the man that killed my Grand?”
Macleod grabbed Rufus by the hand, shaking it firmly. Rufus let out a cry.
“Do your walls ever make a sound during the night?” MacLeod asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Walls. They creak. It’s all about cooling and heating. You must know about that. What with all those documentaries you watch.” MacLeod indicated to the TV. “You see, somebody took the latch off your grandfather’s door and then chiselled a little bit of the frame. Just enough for the barrel bolt to fit into.”
Rufus’s face hung. The high life Rufus T. Herman wanted would never be his. Rufus was lowlife, MacLeod knew it and Macleod knew he had his man.
“By putting the heating on at full blast before he left, the murderer knew the bolt would meld into the hole in the warping wood, leaving the impression that the door was locked from inside. Almost a perfect murder. How can a murdered man lock a door?
“You have nothing on me.” protested Rufus. MacLeod grabbed Rufus’ hand again. This time he gripped it violently. Rufus was close to tears.
“You’ve got a splinter in your palm you can’t get out, haven’t you? You should have got that seen to but don’t worry I’ve got a Police doctor outside who will take it out for you. Let’s see if it matches the wood on your grandfather’s door.”