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A solve-it-yourself mini-mystery
Be detective in this 5-minute mystery!

"The Lawyer's Will" by Hy Conrad

Solve-it #326 - January 2015

Previously published Nov. 1998

Previous Solve-it

The Wembly Kidnapping

Wink Wembly is missing. Who's lying?

Oliver Cornwall sat at his library desk and signed his will with a flourish. "Thank you for coming over," he said to Mary Mackey, his next door neighbor. "Since this new will still gives a little something to my son and daughter, they can't legally act as witnesses. You and cousin Eric will have to do the honors. You don't have to read it. Just sign that you've witnessed my signature." Being an estate lawyer, Oliver knew his way around wills. This was his second such document in a year and he had drafted it himself.

Jerry, the son, stood by, saying nothing, leaving his sister, Glenda, to speak for them both. "Why don't you just disinherit us completely and get it over with, you pompous goat?" Cursing violently, the twenty-year-old stormed out of the house, jumped on her motorcycle and rode off into the night.

As always, Oliver pretended that nothing had happened. "Eric? Mary? If you'll sign here..."

Mary and Eric added their names to the bottom of the document, then said good night. Oliver let them out, locking the door behind them.

The two stood on the front porch, halfway between Mary's house and the Cornwalls' guest cottage that Eric had taken over ever since he'd lost his last dead-end job. "Looks like snow," Oliver's young cousin said, glancing up at the sky. "Maybe I'll go skiing tomorrow."

By morning, there was a blanket of snow on the ground, a bright blue sky overhead... and a gruesome murder inside.

When the police arrived on the scene, the first thing they noticed were the two distinct sets of footprints, one set leading from the Mackey house, the other from the guest cottage in the opposite direction. The two sets converged at the Cornwalls' front door. No other impressions marred the pristine surface. Adding their own footprints to the mix, the officers entered the house and found Mary and Eric in the hall, standing over Oliver Cornwall's body.

"I'm the one who called," Mary Mackey volunteered. "I was having my morning coffee when I heard a shot. It was followed a second later by a sound, like a strangled cry. Somehow I just knew it came from here. I grabbed a key-- the emergency key Oliver had given me-- then threw on my coat and raced outside. It couldn't have taken me more than 15 seconds.

"Eric had already arrived on the porch, not even wearing a coat. He started pounding on the door. When I got to the porch, Eric took my key and unlocked the door. We went in together and found Oliver right here in the hall, shot to death. The gun..." She pointed to the weapon, lying about ten feet from the body.

Eric confirmed Mary's story. He had also heard the shot and the cry. Or had it been a loud moan? "No other house is that close, so I knew it had to have come from here. As far as we know, no one has come in or gone out."

"Who else is in the house?" asked the homicide captain.

"Glenda, the daughter, doesn't live here anymore," Eric answered. "But Jerry should be in his room. He probably doesn't have a clue what's going on. You see, Jerry's a deaf-mute."

The police found the teenager in his second floor bedroom, playing a video game on his soundless TV. Jerry was proficient enough in lip-reading to understand what they had to say. The police asked him questions and he wrote down his responses.

Meanwhile, back on the ground floor, another discovery had been made. Bending down over the victim, an officer opened the dead man's fist and removed a torn scrap of paper. "Last Will and... That's all that's left. The killer must have taken the rest of it." The officer stood up. "Did Mr. Cornwall recently rewrite his will?"

"Yes," Mary replied. "Last night. As far as I know, there was only that one copy. No one knows exactly what was in it, although Oliver did hint that he was reducing his children's inheritance."

"Are you through with us?" Eric asked the officer impatiently. "I'd love to get some cross country skiing in."

The police reluctantly released Eric and Mary and watched as they retrieved their coats from the coat rack and headed back out into the snow.

"An inside job," the officer whispered. "When we got here, there were only two sets of footprints in the snow, both accounted for. And the house was locked up tight."

"It could be an inside job," the captain said as came down the stairs from his interview with Jerry. "But maybe not. Let's wait until we see all the evidence."

Who killed Oliver Cornwall?

Mary Mackey, next door neighbor
Eric Cornwall, his cousin
Jerry Cornwall, his son
Glenda Cornwall, his daughter

What was the motive? What clue in the story itself points to the killer?