Solve-it #024 – Engineered Murder

by Henry Slesar



Papa Longworth, having retired from the police force , cherished the solitude of what he called his “log cabin” in Maine.

Actually, it was a lakeside bungalow with every modern convenience. And when an occasional visitor broke that “solitude,” Longworth was delighted. He just took pains not to show it, especially when the cop he called “Junior” Johnson showed up.

“Junior” was in this late forties now, the first black cop who ever took the oath in the town of North Addam. They had become fast friends as soon as they realized they were both avid readers, knitting their differently-colored brows over their favorite sub-genre: the locked room mystery. One day, they hoped to encounter one in real life, but the day never arrived.

“Well, it has now,” Junior said, almost as soon as he came through the door. “And it’s driving the department crazy!”

Longworth hid his excitement, and got them two beers.

“Murderee’s name is Philip Hillyer,” Junior said. “Came to North Addam two weeks ago, to visit an old friend. Maybe you know the guy? Name’s Reginald Leeds.”

“No,” Longworth said. “But I don’t know many of my neighbors.”

“If you can call a guy who lives ten miles away your ‘neighbor.’ Leeds was a hermit, just like you. Lived all alone in a broken-down house, didn’t have too many visitors.”

“But Philip Hillyer came to see him. Do you know why?”

“They were partners once,” Junior said. “Twenty years ago. They were mechanical engineers, had a little machine shop, until Hillyer hit upon one those screwy little inventions that make people millionaires…”

“So Hillyer is rich?”

“Millionaire-rich. Holds a patent on a device they use on lathes or something, and made a fortune. But there was one problem. It seems that Leeds thought he had invented the damned thing, and they had quite a court battle over it.”

“I can see why the partnership ended.”

“There were hard feelings,” Junior said. “But they must have made up, since Hillyer went to see Leeds… Or maybe Hillyer only thought the quarrel was over.”

“I’m beginning to get the picture,” Longworth said. “You think Leeds might have lured him out there? Pretended he wanted to bury the hatchet?”

“Yeah,” Junior said. “Right in his neck.”

“Is that the way he was killed?”

“Nope. He was bludgeoned to death. His head was battered and so was his rib cage. The only problem is, we can’t figure out how it happened!”

Longworth could no longer disguise his excitement. “Tell me, tell me!”

“According to Leeds,” Junior said, “they talked about old times well into the night. Then Leeds gave him his own ground floor bedroom. It’s a small room, but very ornate. High ceiling, thick carpeting, old furniture, a chandelier, a four-poster bed so big it took up most of the space… But despite the friendly way he was being treated, Hillyer was nervous. He locked himself in the bedroom, including a deadbolt, chain, everything…”

“How did you find out something was wrong?”

“Reginald Leeds called the police himself. Said he had knocked and knocked, but there was no answer. When we couldn’t get the door open, we called the Fire Department. Marshall McMahon had to chop the door open. That’s when we found Hillyer — dead!”

“And of course, Reginald Leeds says he’s innocent?”

“He’s acting as surprised as we are,” Junior said. “Says it must have been a freak accident. But I’m convinced it’s all an act! He’s probably hated the guy all these

twenty years. He didn’t invite him out to kiss and make up. He was going to kiss and kill!”

“It sure sounds like it. Sounds like he engineered the whole thing… You know, I wouldn’t mind having a look at that ‘locked room.'”

“You don’t have to leave your rocker,” Junior said. “I brought you photographs! You’ll see everything we saw, and unless you’ve gotten smarter than you used to be, you’ll be just as baffled.”

Papa Longworth opened the envelope Junior gave him, his hands trembling with anticipation. He stared at the photos, taken at every angle, the big, old-fashioned bedroom, built in a more sumptuous era, full of polished wood and heavy brass, and in the middle of it all, a dead body sprawled on an enormous bed…

Two minutes later, there were tears in his eyes.

“Junior, you just made me the happiest cop on earth. Ex-cop, anyway. Because I can see there’s only one way this murder could have happened!”

Can you solve the mystery?
  • Had Reginald Leeds plotted the murder when he invited his ex-partner to his home?
  • Why did Reginald Leeds give Philip Hillyer the first-floor bedroom that night?
  • How was this “impossible” murder committed?
    • Reginald Leeds Statement
      “I know everybody thinks I plotted poor Philip’s death, but I forgave him years ago for what happened. As to how he died, it’s easy enough to explain. The man was in an unfamiliar room. He woke up in the dark and couldn’t find the lamp switch. He got out of bed to go to the bathroom, and tripped. His head struck something, maybe one of the posts of the bed. He fell back and died. That’s all there is to it. You know there’s no such thing as a real ‘locked room’ murder!”
    • Fire Marshall Mcmahon Statement
      “The room was definitely locked and bolted when we arrived. It was a big heavy door, and it took us a good half hour to chop it open. There was only one window, and it was locked. And since it was on the ground floor, it was also barred. There was just no way for anyone to get into that bedroom.”
    • George “Junior” Johnson Statement
      “We can’t buy the ‘freak accident’ theory! We couldn’t find any blood on the bedpost, or anywhere else in the room except the bed itself. It was one heck of a blow that killed Philip Hillyer, but there was no weapon found. In a word, this crime was ‘impossible’!”


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