Plaything as a Clue

How Scotland Yard Landed Murderers by Strange Ruse.

JOSEPH GOLLOMB February 15 1921

Plaything as a Clue

How Scotland Yard Landed Murderers by Strange Ruse.

JOSEPH GOLLOMB February 15 1921

Plaything as a Clue

How Scotland Yard Landed Murderers by Strange Ruse.


IN AN intensely interesting article on

the detective methods of different countries, in the Strand Magazine, Joseph Gollomb relates the following exploit of Scotland Yard in bringing two murderers to justice. The story of this case is just another illustration of the doggedness and patience with which the great British detective organization works.

"In a half-asleep residential section of East London there is a neglected threestorey private dwelling with heavy shutters and doors, inconspicuous and unattractive. It was just the kind of house for which an old man, who called himself Smithers, had been looking. For twenty years he had been accumulating money by buying all kinds of objects and no questions asked. He could drive a shrewd bargain, and his business associates usually acceded to his terms, though not without many a curse and often more or less impressive threats. Smithers did not mind the former; but as he grew more and more rich, he worried about the threats. He knew his customers. So he tried to hide his riches, lived penuriously, whined about every penny, and, from assuming the miser, he with the years became one. Fear of being murdered and robbed drove him from his business to a retreat. The house, by reason of its inconspicuousness and strong doors and windows attracted him and he bought it.

“He secured every possible entrance into the house with bars and double locks and, with an expensive knowledge of burglar alarms, he had his home wired so that nobody could touch a door-knob, windowsash, or grating without setting an electric bell ringing. In addition, he arranged it so that if anyone detected the wiring and cut it, the loosened wire, dragged down by a leaden weight, would fall on a cartridge, and, exploding it, would give as effective notice of danger as the electric bell. He lived by himself, received no one, and attracted as little attention as he could.

“Nevertheless, one day tradesmen began to wonder why he did not take in off the front steps the articles he had ordered to be delivered. The police were notified, an entrance was forced. Smithers was found murdered. The burglar alarm had been cut, and under the fallen leaden weight was found a pad of cloth and the cartridge unexploded. A strong box had been rifled. Whoever had done the business was no novice. There was not a finger-print to be found, the work having obviously been done in gloves. The only clue for the police to work on was a small dark lantern, a child’s toy without a doubt, which had been left contemptuously behind by the burglars.

“Scotland yard went to work on the case. With only the child’s lantern to work on as a clue to the murder mystery the problem became at first mere drudgery. A tedious round of manufacturers and_toy-shops followed, to determine, if possible, where that lantern was bought. In this search team-work was everything, individual cleverness availed nothing. Finally it seemed probable that the lantern was such as a mother in one

of many tenement districts in London would buy for a seven-year-old child to play with. >

“Another council was held and a simple plan devised as the next phase of the hunt. A detective who had a seven-year-old son was assigned to an exceedingly easy task. He was told to allow his boy to play with the lantern in the streets of the quarter from which it may have come and to see what happened. For a week nothing at all happened, and father and son were asked to do the same in the adjoining district. Here the simple device brought no better results, and again they were assigned new territory. This happened several times, until it began to look as though nothing at all would come of it.

“But with the doggedness of the race, Scotland Yard hung on to the trail, if trail it was. Then one day a little boy of the quarter edged up to the policeman’s son, looked sharply at the lantern with which the youngster was languidly playing, and set up a wail:—

“ ‘I want my lantern!’

“ ‘ ’Taint your lantern!’ the detective’s son retorted, indignantly.

“‘Yes, it is. I know it is!’

“The detective came forward.

“ ‘Are you sure?’ he asked, gently. “ ‘Because my son has had it for many weeks, you know.’

“ “Ere, I’ll prove it’s mine,’ the strange boy said. ‘When my wick burned out I cut off a little piece of my sister’s flannel petticoat for a new wiek.’

“The detective opened the lantern and, examining the wick, found it to be of flannel as the boy had said.

“ ‘We’ll have to ask your mother about this,’ the detective said. ‘If you’re telling the truth you shall have your lantern

“The three went to the boy’s mother, a widow, who kept lodgers. The woman, honest and hard-working, confirmed her son’s claim. The detective kept his word, returned the lantern, but questioning the widow further, found out that the boy missed the lantern at about the same time that two of her lodgers had left without paying their bills. One had told her that he was an electrician, the other a plumber’s apprentice, and she remembered seeing tools of their trade, or what she thought were such, in their room.

“Then followed another series of weary searches by the men of Scotland Yard: searches among young plumbers and among electricians; in the underworld for two young fellows answering to the descriptions the widow gave; in the files of criminal records in Scotland Yard; in more expensive lodging-houses, and in dance-resorts. Nothing short of a big organization imbued with team-work and bulldog perseverance could have accomplished that search. But at last two young men were found whom the widow, unknown to them, identified as her former lodgers.

“The police had as yet nothing more serious against them than unpaid bills. So they secretly kept them under observation. It was thus they learned that the young men were fond of target-shooting with a revolver at trees in the country.

The bullets extracted from the trees proved to be of the same exceptionally large size as that found in the murdered miser’s brain.

“Tactfully, patiently, a corps of detectives searched into the past of the two men, each finding out some seemingly unimportant item. But the whole was becoming a net into which one day the two men found themselves inextricably fast on the charge of the murder and robbery of Smithers.

“How fast they were caught they did not know until the trial. Then the smaller of the two defendants, suddenly losing

courage, cried out that he would turn King’s evidence against, his accomplice. Before he could blurt out another word the other leaped at his throat and almost succeeded in killing him before they could be separated.

“ ‘FU stand a free man and watch you

hang, you----!' the little man sobbed.

‘Listen to me, my Lord! If you promise to let me go free

“But he was gently informed that, the case for the Crown needed no help from him—as it proved.’’