Copyright 2016 by Darryl Matter
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This is a work of fiction. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental
The year was 1921, and Sheriff Bill Brewester had a murder on his hands.
A respected businessman by the name of Thomas Smith had been discovered—shot to death. The sheriff determined that he’d been on his way from his business to the bank’s night depository drop-box with the day’s receipts, as was his usual custom, when someone had shot him and stolen the cash he was taking to the bank. His wallet and watch were missing as well, suggesting that robbery was the main motive for the crime.
Because it was late in the evening hours after most of the businesses were closed when Smith was killed, there were no witnesses. Furthermore, most of the townspeople were attending a baseball game on the other side of town that evening, and no one even reported hearing the gunshots.
Sheriff Brewester spent a great deal of time at the scene of the crime, looking for any evidence that might provide a lead to Smith’s killer. He could not find the bullets that had killed Smith, and there seemed to be nothing that would provide a clue to the person who killed the businessman.
The sheriff did the only thing he could do right then; he made a public appeal for help in identifying the killer. Smith’s wife provided the sheriff with a description of his wallet and watch, and the sheriff asked people to notify him if anyone saw or found those items. The bank provided the sheriff with a description of the bag in which Smith usually carried cash, and that information, too, was passed on to the public. This information was published in the local newspaper and posted on flyers around the community. “Keep your eyes and ears open,” the sheriff told everyone he had contact with, “because you just might see or hear something that would provide a clue to the person who killed Thomas Smith.”
The community was shocked at the murder. Although there was the usual amount of petty crime in the area, there were relatively few murders or other extremely serious crimes. Most of the citizens were eager to help Sheriff Brewester solve the murder and put the killer in prison before he struck again.
The coroner, Dr. Winslow Tegan, who performed an autopsy on Smith’s body, confirmed what the sheriff had suspected. The man had been shot twice at close range with a small caliber handgun. Neither bullet remained in the body, however, and the sheriff had not been able to locate either of them at the crime scene. Maybe it wouldn’t make any difference if he didn’t have the bullets, both the sheriff and the coroner reasoned, because the gun that fired them probably was in the river.
Max Forrest, one of the men who had helped found the community some sixty years ago, spent much of his time these days roaming the streets and alleys of the city. Some people referred to him as a recluse, but that was a little misleading. Mr. Forrest had worked hard all of his life, only to see his business burn to the ground about five years ago. Now, at the age of 85, there was little he could do except roam the streets and alleys. No way could he rebuild his business, and since his eyesight and memory were going, there was little he could do to help others with their businesses.
Mr. Forrest had lived in the back of his business building, so when it burned he not only lost his business but his home as well. Some of the townspeople got together and furnished a small apartment for him on the second floor of one of the local businesses. The business owner assured him he could live there as long as he wished. People wished they could have done better by Mr. Forrest, but times were hard.
As he roamed the streets and alleys, Mr. Forrest checked all of the trash cans, looking to see if there was anything he might sell to obtain a little money or use for himself. He’d made several lucky “finds” over the years, including an oil painting that he’d managed to sell for several dollars. Although Mr. Forrest did not realize it, some of the residents in the city placed things in the trash for him to find and sell or use himself. After all, most people reasoned, it wasn’t his fault that he was semi-impoverished.
It was while Mr. Forrest was checking the trash cans that he found a pair of coveralls that appeared to have been hastily shoved into the can. Although they appeared to be well worn, they just might be something he could wear. Yes! Clean them up and he could wear them. And then, as he held them up to judge the size, he noticed the dark stains on one of the legs. Mr. Forrest knew what those stains were—they were dried blood.
Max Forrest had heard about Thomas Smith’s murder. He’d known Mr. Smith for a long time, in fact, and he’d heard the sheriff ask for any help people in the community might be able to give him in finding Smith’s killer. Of course, Mr. Forrest couldn’t be absolutely certain that those stains were Smith’s blood, but he’d let the sheriff know what he’d found. It was only three blocks to the sheriff’s office. He would take the coveralls there right away.
Sheriff Brewester looked over the coveralls. The blood on them might be from an animal someone had shot, but most of the men he knew wouldn’t throw away good coveralls just because they had blood on them. Furthermore, the blood spatters on those coveralls were consistent with the way blood would have spattered from Smith’s gunshot wounds. Yes! He’d let Dr. Tegan take a look at those stains. After thanking Mr. Forrest for bringing the coveralls to him, the sheriff withdrew a silver dollar from his pocket and handed it to him. “You bring me anything else you find that looks suspicious,” he told Mr. Forrest.
Dr. Tegan carefully examined the coveralls. Although forensic science would be much more powerful in helping to solve crimes in the distant future, Tegan had taken courses in forensic science in medical school that might help them then and there. His first order of business would be to compare the blood type on those coveralls with Smith’s. Then, if it seemed likely that Smith’s blood was on those coveralls, he’d examine them to see what they might tell him about the person who wore them.
The blood stains on those coveralls proved to be type A. Smith’s blood was also type A. DNA testing was far in the future, so Dr. Tegan couldn’t be absolutely certain that it was Smith’s blood on those coveralls, but it was human blood and the same type as Smith’s blood. He and the sheriff agreed that those coveralls just might have been worn by the killer when he killed Thomas Smith. Dr. Tegan would carefully examine those coveralls for additional clues.
Dr. Tegan called Sheriff Brewester to his office a few days later. “I’ve got some more information for you,” he began.
“I’ll be right over,” the sheriff replied.
Less than ten minutes later, the coroner ushered Sheriff Brewester into his office.
“What do you have?” the sheriff asked, eager to hear anything that might help him with the murder investigation.
“First off,” the coroner said, “I agree with you regarding the way blood is spattered on those coveralls. It’s consistent with the way blood would have spattered from Thomas Smith’s wounds.”
“So the killer just might have worn those coveralls,” the sheriff mused. “Okay. So what can you tell me about the person who wore them?”
“I’ll tell you what I have,” the coroner began. “First of all, I measured those coveralls carefully. The person who wore those coveralls is about 5’-8” tall, and he weighs around 150 to 160 pounds.”
The sheriff wrote that information in his notebook.
“I found some brown hairs inside those coveralls,” Dr. Tegan continued. “They are the hairs from a relatively young man, maybe 25 to 35 years old.”
“Brown hairs, eh?” The sheriff noted this fact in his notebook.
“Yes, and from a relatively young man. Hair starts to grey when a man reaches middle age, and this hair was a solid brown color.” The coroner paused. “Now, Sheriff, are you ready for the good stuff?”
“It’s likely that the person who wore these coveralls is left handed.”
“Left handed, you say!” the sheriff exclaimed. “Now that is interesting. How did you determine that?”
Dr Tegan leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. “The pockets on the left side are much more worn than those on the right,” he began. “The left hip pocket is stretched and worn consistent with carrying a wallet there. It’s been unbuttoned and buttoned countless times, whereas the right hip pocket looks to have never been unbuttoned. Furthermore, the front left pocket shows a lot of wear, perhaps from carrying a heavy ring of keys or something like that.”
“So we’re looking for someone who’s left handed?”
“I’d say so,” the coroner replied, then added, “There’s still more that I can tell you about the person who wore these coveralls.”
“The chest pocket is about the right size and shape to hold a tobacco tin,” Dr. Tegan began. “The pocket has been stretched to accommodate one. So, I’d suggest that the person who wore those coveralls smokes a pipe. Or, it may be that he rolls his own cigarettes.”
The sheriff made note of that likelihood in his notebook. “Is there anything else?” he asked.
“One more thing, and this is an important one,” the coroner noted. He picked up a small enevelope from his desk and handed it to the sheriff. “Take a look,” he invited.
Inside that envelope were two small pieces of insulation that had been stripped from an electrical wire. The sheriff examined them, and then turned to the coroner. “Where did you find these?” he asked.
“In the cuffs.”
“So, do you think our man is an electrician?” the sheriff asked.
“Can’t be absolutely certain, but maybe,” the coroner responded. “I checked with a friend over at the hardware store, and he confirms my judgment that those are pieces of insulation. Our suspect may be an electrician, or he might work for a contractor, or he might just have been doing some work for himself. At any rate, he stripped the insulation off the ends of an electrical wire, probably so he could secure the wire to a switch or some other electrical device.”
Sheriff Brewester noted these findings in his notebook and then thought for a moment. “So, we’re looking for a relatively young man about 5’-8” tall and of average build. He’s left handed, probably smokes a pipe, and does electrical work. Am I reading you right?”
Dr. Tegan nodded. “That’s the best I can do,” he said.
Sheriff Brewester’s first stop after leaving the coroner’s office was the workshop of Miles Weatherbee, a carpenter by trade, where he found Weatherbee constructing cabinets for a house he was building. “I need to talk to you, Miles,” the sheriff began.
“Okay.” Weatherbee motioned for the sheriff to have a chair, then pulled over a stool for himself. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“You know most of the guys in the community who do electrical work, don’t you?” the sheriff asked.
“I’m going to describe a man to you who may be an electrician, and you tell me if you have an idea of who it might be?”
The sheriff opened his notebook. “He’s about 5’-8” tall and of medium build. A relatively young man, with brown hair. Left handed. Pipe smoker.”
Miles Weatherbee thought for a moment. Smiled. “Yeah, I think I know the man you’re talking about. At least, there’s only one man I know who matches that description, especially the left-handed part. What’s he done?”
“I want to question him about a murder,” Sheriff Brewester replied. “What’s his name and where can I find him?”
“His name is Tom Gregory, and right now he’s working with David Cutter’s construction crew,” Weatherbee replied. “They’re building a house over on Central Avenue. It’s on the corner of Central Avenue and Nineth Street.”
“Where does Gregory live?” the sheriff asked.
“He lives in a rooming house over on Main Street. It’s on the corner of Main and Tenth Avenue.”
Sheriff Brewester thanked Miles Weatherbee. “You keep our conversation under your hat, and I’ll be seeing you,” he said, as he left the workshop.
The sheriff’s next stop was to obtain a search warrant for Tom Gregory’s room. That accomplished, he sent one of his deputies to stand watch over that room. “Don’t let anybody in until I say so,” Sheriff Brewester said. With that said, he and another deputy were off to pay a visit to Tom Gregory.
As they pulled up to the construction site, Sheriff Brewester gave his deputy instructions: “Go around to the back of the house and make sure Gregory doesn’t run when he hears me ask to talk to him.”
While his deputy went around to the back of the house David Cutter’s cconstruction crew was building, the sheriff walked toward the front door. Just as he reached the door, Mr. Cutter saw him. “Hello sheriff. Can I help you?” he asked.
“Yes, Dave,” Sheriff Brewester replied. “I’d like to speak with one of your employees, Tom Gregory.”
“Sure,” Cutter responded, “I’ll call him.”
David Cutter turned and called out Gregory’s name, but there was no response. Another of Cutter’s employees came over. “Where’s Tom Gregory?” Cutter asked.
“I don’t know. He was in there just a few moments ago,” the man told them, motioning toward a room at the back of the house.
Just then the deputy who’d been assigned to watch the back of the house came around the house—with Tom Gregory shuffling along ahead of him. Gregory’s hands were in the air, and the deputy’s .45 Colt was in his hand. “This guy started to take a swing at me,” the deputy explained.
“Let’s go down to the station,” Sheriff Brewester invited Gregory, “‘cause you an’ me need to have a little talk.”
“By the way,” the deputy broke in, “take a look at this.” With that, he handed the sheriff the watch he’d taken from Tom Gregory. “The watch chain he was wearing looked like the description of the one that Smith’s wife gave us,” he explained, “so I politely asked Gregory here for a look at the watch he was carrying. Sure enough. The engraving on the back identifies it as the one taken from Thomas Smith.”
Tom Gregory bowed his head. “I . . . I didn’t . . . I didn’t mean to . . . to . . . to . . . to kill him,” he stammered.
“Put the cuffs on him,” Sheriff Brewester said.
It would be several days later when Tom Gregory, then in jail and awaiting trial for murder, asked Sheriff Brewester the question that had been on his mind ever since he’d seen the sheriff coming toward the house where he was working: “Just how did you know it was me who killed that guy?”
Sheriff Brewester smiled. “It was mostly those coveralls you discarded that told on you,” he replied. “They talked to a forensic scientist, and they told him what we needed to know about Thomas Smith’s killer.”