Solve-it #030 – Terminated Servant

by Hy Conrad



“Dinsmore, you’re fired.” The middle-aged matron paused, then managed to spoil the dramatic moment with a sneeze. “Hazel told me how you’ve been toying with her affections. I’ll have none of that.”

The sullen groundskeeper glared from across the over decorated library. “It was Mr. Mellon who hired me, not you.”

“Well, it’s my house, not Mr. Mellon’s. Besides, I already talked to him. He’s on his way home now.” Ellen Mellon opened her checkbook and began writing. “Here’s your severance, Dinsmore. I want you off the property tonight.”

Several hours later, Mr. and Mrs. Mellon sat on the verandah enjoying a cocktail as they gazed out on the manicured lawns. “I hope I did the right thing. Dinsmore was a good worker groundskeeper but I always suspected him of petty pilfering. And now with this Hazel business…”

“You were quite justified,” Kingsley Mellon assured his wife. “You know…” He was interrupted by the tinny wail of a car horn. “Sounds like Dinsmore’s clunker. I thought he’d be gone by now.” When the wail refused to cease, Kingsley took one more sip of scotch and walked off in the direction of the groundskeeper’s cottage.

The old car sat idling in front of the locked-up cottage. Behind the wheel was the large, bulky form of Stanley Dinsmore, his head pressing against the horn bar as he convulsed in the final throes of an agonizing death.

A patrol car drove through the gates of Mellon Manor. No siren. The upscale Connecticut county was full of old money and the police knew how to be discreet. When the medical examiner expressed a suspicion of poison, the captain in charge sent the body off in an unmarked car then set about taking statements. Discreetly.

Ellen Mellon described her afternoon. “Kingsley telephoned me from the airport. He gave his approval to dismiss Dinsmore and said he would be home within the hour. I asked him to pick up another bottle of cold medicine. After firing Dinsmore, I looked out the window. He was walking back toward his cottage. That’s the last I saw of him. I talked to Hazel about dinner then went up to my room for a nap. I’m trying to shake this cold. An hour and a half later, I woke up and called Kingsley on the intercom. He was in the poolhouse, swimming laps. I asked him to join me for cocktails on the verandah. We were sitting there together when the car horn started up.”

Kingsley Mellon was younger than his wife, handsome and thin. “I had just come home from a business trip to Chicago. Got in around five. Ellen was in her bedroom napping. I went up to my own room, changed out of my suit, then went down to the pool. I was almost through my regular series of laps when Ellen called on the intercom. I got dressed in the poolhouse then joined her on the verandah.”

“So, you never saw Stanley Dinsmore today.” The captain checked his notes. “You got off the plane, talked to your wife on the phone, bought some cold medicine and drove straight home.”

Kingsley seemed confused. “I didn’t buy any cold medicine.”

“Your wife says she asked you to pick some up.”

“No, she didn’t. Maybe she meant to ask, but she didn’t.”

Neither Kingsley Mellon nor his wife were officially suspects and the captain had no search warrant. But when he twice complained of a headache, both Ellen Mellon and her husband looked through their medicine cabinets for aspirin. The captain observed that there were no cold remedies at all in Kingsley’s cabinet while Ellen’s cabinet contained a half-filled bottle of liquid medication.

The maid, Hazel, had been the only other person on the estate and her story meshed nicely with the others’. “Mrs. Mellon and I discussed the menu. She went upstairs and I began dinner. A half-hour later Mr. Mellon drove up. A little after that I heard him in the poolhouse; it’s right next to the kitchen. Neither of them went out, at least I don’t think so.”

The captain glanced out the kitchen window to a view of the sprawling lawn. “Did you see anyone out there while you were making dinner?”

“Well,” Hazel hemmed. “I took a break once to bring Mr. Mellon a towel. When I came back, I happened to look out. I thought I saw Stan, Mr. Dinsmore, walking back toward his cottage.”

While the captain was still at Mellon Manor, a call came in from the medical examiner. “Captain? Found it in the stomach and muscle fibers. N-oxystrychnine acid. Strychnine. Probably taken 1/2 to one hour before death. Painful, too. Cramps and spasms. Someone wanted this Dinsmore to suffer.”

The captain went out for a walk and a think. “Painful? Then why didn’t the poor fool call for help?” As he wandered down to the cottage, the detective tried to piece the case together. “The man has just been fired and is about to go away forever. A low-paid servant. Yet someone goes to all the trouble to poison him. Why? And how?”

Can you solve the mystery?
  • Who killed Stan Dinsmore?
  • How was the murder committed?
  • And why?

      The one-bedroom cottage is nearly completely stripped, including bedsheets and towels belonging to Mellon Manor. All that’s left are the bed, lamps, furnishings and a telephone. In a bathroom wastebasket are found a disposable razor, 22 used tissues, the box for liquid cold medicine and the page of instructions that came packed in the box. No medicine bottle is found, nor is any safety seal.


      In trunk: Three suitcases filled with Stan Dinsmore’s possessions including towels and bedsheets. The locks on two of the suitcases have been broken, probably with a small crowbar also found in the trunk.

      In glove compartment: a small man’s diamond ring with a large stone; the deceased’s wallet. In the wallet is $424 in cash and a severance check signed by Mrs. Mellon.


      On the victim’s ring finger is a gold-plated ring with a chipped onyx stone. On his wrist is an expensive watch. Across the leather band, two holes above the clasp, is a deep horizontal crease. The watch appears to be in good working order, however the time is wrong. It reports the time as one hour earlier than it actually is.


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