Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Second Revolver
“No, Watson. It is the small details at a crime scene that are often the critical pieces of the solution to the crime.”
“But surely, Holmes, it is the eyewitness that is paramount in bringing the culprit to justice. After all, that is the most damning evidence of all.”
“Witnesses lie, Watson. Memories are fallible. We see what we expect to see, through a veil of our past experiences and personal prejudices. The physical evidence that is the hallmark of each crime is a more reliable witness, if it can be made to speak. Mark my words, my good fellow, it is the bloodstain that is not where it should be, the footprint going in the wrong direction, the smell of cigar smoke when no one on the premises smoked cigars. The successful detective will find the answers to all the inexplicable conundrums to bring the case to closure.”
It was a cold evening in the early spring, and we sat after dinner on either side of a cheery fire in our rooms in Baker Street. Our gas was lit and cast long shadows on the walls. I put a match to my postprandial pipe and relaxed into our companionable discussion.
Just as Holmes was about to elaborate on his thesis, we became aware of the jangling of the doorbell. Within minutes, the soft tread of Mrs. Hudson’s slippers on the stair presaged the good woman’s gentle knock.
“A message, Sir,” she said as she handed a folded piece of paper to Holmes. “Brought by a constable. He said he’ll await your reply and has a carriage waiting.”
Holmes glanced at the writing, then passed the slip to me. “Tell the policeman we’ll join him in a moment, Mrs. Hudson. Thank you.”
“We have an open and shut case against Lady Townsend,” the letter read.
but there are points that may be of interest to the amateur. We are at the Crofts, just off Baywater Close, if you care to join us.” It was signed by Inspector Gregson of Scotland Yard.
“You’ll go then,” I said.
“Gregson is the pick of the lot at Scotland Yard. He has brought me in on several cases, one or two of which you have canonized in your meretricious stories. His cases are always of some interest. Get your hat, Watson, I’d be lost without my Boswell.”
The Crofts was a rambling pile of the Georgian period, served by a curved gravel driveway set between rows of Plane trees, in the wealthy district of Baywater. Lights shown from all the windows on the ground floor, and we noted the moving lights from the bulls-eye lanterns of four or five constables searching the shrubbery and front lawn. A black police wagon was pulled up to the door, the breath of the dabbled horse visible in the cold air.
Gregson, who I had previously met, was tall with flaxen hair, blue eyes and a pale complexion. He greeted us with enthusiasm, shaking our hands in order.
“We have left everything untouched, Mr. Holmes. Lady Townsend has been sedated and is resting upstairs, but her guilt is all but certain.”
“She has confessed, then?” Holmes asked as we entered the foyer.
“Not as such, no,” Gregson admitted. “But she was found with the revolver in her hand in a room with no other entrance or exit. No one, other than the deceased, was present. And she has not denied her involvement.”
“Well, well. Who is the victim of this shooting, Inspector?”
“Her husband, the MP himself, Lord Phynotias Townsend. The body is in the library. This way, Sir.”
We were shown into a room lined on three walls with glass doored cabinets of books of all descriptions. On the fourth wall, with the oaken door half way along it, hung several colorful paintings of rural scenes of fox hunts and turkey shoots. The furniture was all of a heavy wooden nature, various chairs and a table or two, a fainting couch and a large fireplace framed by more books. The carpet was a thick Winston square, of a royal hue.
All this I noted later, for my attention was drawn to the body of an elderly man, fully dressed in brown suit and vest, laying on his back near the center of the room. He had a small wound in the center of his forehead, and blood which must have come from the exit wound, had soaked into the carpet.
“Dr. Tillson, who lives just across the common, came over and pronounced him dead. The doctor said Lord Townsend had died instantly, less than a half hour before Tillson made his examination,” Gregson said. “He’s barely stiff, even now. The shot was heard by several members of the household staff.”
“What are the particulars of the event, Inspector. And pray be precise as to details.”
Gregson opened his notebook and began his tale. “According to Jameson, the butler, the table in the dinning hall, just across the passage, had been set for dinner and the staff had assembled to wait on the couple. Such a row was heard coming from the library that Jameson hesitated to announce the meal, as he felt it importune to interrupt the altercation. The Master was heard to shout and call his wife a “slut”, and she returned the compliment with some invectives of her own.
Suddenly, a single shot rang out and the entire downstairs staff rushed to the door of the library, but found it locked from within. Jameson attempted to look through the keyhole, and found the key in the lock on the inside. Abruptly, the key was turned and Lady Townsend stood in the doorway holding a revolver. The body of the MP could be seen sprawled out on the floor.”
“Call the doctor,” was all Lady Townsend said. Jameson took the gun from the limp hand of his Mistress and sent the stable boy running for the physician. Dr. Tillson arrived within minutes and pronounced the squire dead. He then administered a bromide to Lady Townsend who retired to her bedroom.”
Holmes had walked around the room, seemingly randomly examining the bookcases, fireplace, and the carpet. He did a through examination of the body, checking the pockets of the suit coat, pants and vest, before moving to the table where the revolver lay.
“Is this the revolver the butler took from Lady Townsend?” he asked as he put it to his nose and sniffed the barrel.
“Yes. The pistol with which she shot her husband.”
Holmes smiled. “Lady Townsend may have indeed shot her husband, but not with this gun. It hasn’t been fired, probably in years. Sniff the barrel, Gregson, and check these loads. The weapon is loaded, but none of the cartridges have been discharged, although the slight smell of cordite is obvious in the room.”
“What?” Gregson exclaimed. He took the gun and smelled the barrel, then checked the loads. “By all the Saints, you’re right! I knew this case was quirky. That’s why I sent for you. It looked too pat. Lady Townsend is covering up for a paramour, and is innocent of the murder.”
“Steady, Inspector,” Holmes said with a chuckle. “If you propose a paramour as the shooter, you must also explain how he exited the crime scene through the only door, into a crowd of staff members. No, Gregson, no one was in the room except the dead gentleman and his wife.”
“We examined the room for secret passages and found none,” the Inspector added while slowly shaking his head. “And we’ve been over the room high and low and found no other gun. I even brought in the matron from the jail and searched the Lady before she went to her room. It’s true we weren’t looking for a revolver, but we found nothing of a suspicious nature. “
“And yet,” Holmes stated, “a second revolver is indeed missing.”
“No one exited this room after the body was discovered. No one,” Gregson said.
"One man did, Inspector, and only one man could have without anyone being the wiser.”
Gregson grew red in the face. “I resent your implications, Mr. Holmes. I did not purloin the murder weapon.” I noticed his highland brogue came out a bit more when he was upset.
Holmes again chuckled. “Not you, Inspector. I suggest you take a couple of men and search Dr. Tillson and his surgery. And it would be well to investigate the link between Lady Townsend and the good doctor. You may find there is more than a doctor/patient relationship.”
“Then it was a crime of passion,” the policeman said.
“No. It was a planned, cold blooded murder,” Holmes responded. “She used one gun for a ruse to delay the search, and the other to commit the deed, knowing Tillson would be sent for. After she fired the shot, she put the gun under the body, picked up the dummy weapon, and unlocked the door. Tillson, while examining the body, slipped the murder weapon into his medical bag and departed, no one the wiser.”
“She almost got away with it. If the prosecution had introduced the first revolver into evidence, her barrister would have proven the gun hadn’t been fired and the case would have been thrown out,” Gregson said.
“Yes, but I suggest you hurry to Tillson' s, for if he disposes of that revolver, you’ll have a difficult time proving your case,” Sherlock Holmes warned.
Later, Holmes and I again sat near the fireplace in Baker Street, pipes in hand.
“The revolver that hadn’t been fired made this a difficult case, Holmes,” I said.
“On the contrary, Watson. As I said earlier, it’s the details that are out of place that give a case a way in, once the puzzle of their presence is solved.”
“Nevertheless,” I said. “It was brilliant how you reasoned the existence of a second revolver.”
“Elementary, my dear Watson,” Sherlock Holmes said. “Elementary.”