No Ordinary Murder by Col. Stoopnagle

            On July 14th, 1924, newspaper readers throughout the country were startled to pick up their morning papers and find headlines which read something like this: TRAMP FINDS TORSO IN UNDERBRUSH.  POLICE BELIEVE BODY TO BE THAT OF COLONEL LEMUEL Q. STOOPNAGLE BECAUSE OF PROMINENT MOLE ON VARICOSE VEIN.  DETECTIVE SERGEANT O'NERTZ BELIEVES STOOPNAGLE COMMITTED SUICIDE AND THEN SLICED SELF.

            No wonder the police forces of the entire nation were stirred to fever heat over the "incident," because Stoopnagle was not only one of the best-known stool-pigeons in the business, but also somewhat of a harbinger of spring.  And in 1924, you will perhaps remember, harbingers were scarce.

            Well, to make a long story short, it was finally discovered that not only did the torso not belong to Stoopnagle, but that he himself had not cut the body up.  In fact, even though it was proved that he was there at the time and was found wandering aimlessly about in the woods with a bloody knife in his hand, still the farmer jury couldn't get to believing that Stoopnagle could have killed himself and then cut himself up, and then, to cap the climax, have walked away single-handed.

            Now continue, but goodness knows why you should.

            Spring had come to Puckering Valley.  Robins, their pretty breasts bulging with earthworms, were seeking mates.  A faint breeze stirred the air and Detective-Sergeant O'Nertz stirred his fifteenth cup of steaming coffee.

            "You'd better hurry down to the station-house, me darlin'," exclaimed Mrs. O'Nertz, the little woman.  "I dreamt last night there's going to be a sensational murder case today, and you should be the one in on it if you ever want to get anywhere on the force."

            Paddy looked at her with a sort of sheepish grin, as if to say, "Go feather your nest, mama," and then finally turned to her and said that very thing.  Then he slowly rose from his sitting position, put on his coat and hat and badge and strolled out into the spring air.  And now the scene changes, thank goodness.

            Captain Timothy Thistledown, of station No. 8, Puckering Valley, sat at his desk.  And you must remember that the minute a captain of police sits at his desk the phone must ring.  Otherwise one would hardly know how to continue with the story.  Well, the phone  didn't miss in this case and Tim answered it.

            "Hello...yes...Thistledown, captain...oh, go on with the underbrush, eh...Well, well, well...yeh...I'll be right over."

            It was evident that the captain heard something of vital importance, for he jumped up, told the desk sergeant there was somewhat of a doings over near Jeckels' farm, and asked him to tell Detective-Sergeant O'Nertz to come right over the second he came in the station house.

            Three minutes later, daylight-saving-time, into the station came O'Nertz, whistling a jig-time tune and chewing on an old apple which he had bought from an unemployed fellow who was employed in selling apples.  But that is neither here nor there, and soon we must be getting into the story.  The gist of it all was that the detective-sergeant grabbed the police car and beat it to the murder scene.

            Yes, it was murder, even though you may not have been sure until right now.  Or was it suicide?

            When O'Nertz arrived on the scene not far from the Jeckel's farm, all was hustle and bustle.  Hot-dog stands had sprung up from nowhere, little wooden shacks to house the reporters had been thrown up hurriedly.  The vendors of pink lemonade were raucously calling out their wares.  In fact, the whole scene was one of holiday spirit as only the finding of a torso can muster up.

            Everyone of any importance in the surrounding townships was there.  Even quaint little Mrs. Herman, a -- well, the name escapes me for the moment.  But anyway, she wanted to know why there was so much fuss and fume about finding a plain, everyday torso, when, goodness knows, every bride must have one for going away on her honeymoon.  You see, she got torso and trousseau -- well, any jokes that I pull in this story you'll have to work out for yourselves, dear readers.

            And now for the actual story of the finding of the torso.  It seems that Edgeworth Hedges, one of the Puckering Valley youths, had been wandering along Pipper Road near Jeckel's farm that afternoon about milking time, and in looking for four-leaf clover had suddenly and much to his delight come upon what looked to be the torso of a man, hidden there in the undergrowth.

            He had often read in detective story magazines how farmer boys find murdered people and how much nice publicity they get out of it.  So naturally, in spite of the fact that your reaction and mine might be somewhat nauseating, Edgeworth was in ecstasy.

            He quickly covered the thing over with apple-blossoms and ran helter-skelter for town, to inform the police of his find.  Of course he was wise enough to tell them first that his picture must appear on the front page of the local 'Breeze' or else no information would be forthcoming.

            So here we are at the crucial point of the story -- that is, within an ace of it, because from now on things develop at a rapid pace and the devil take the hindmost.

            It seems that when Captain Timothy Thistledown arrived on the scene, the lively conversation came suddenly to a stop, for everyone wanted to watch the captain work.

            This was the first time in fifty years of work as a master murder-mystery clearer-up that the captain had actually been confronted with what looked like an out-and-out murder.  The condition of the torso led him to deduce at once that this was no ordinary suicide, although he had a few secret doubts which he didn't divulge to any one.

            What was the logical thing to do under the circumstances, thought he, stroking his long white whiskers and looking askance at the crowd, which by this time were looking somewhat askance themselves.  That is, the crowd, not the whiskers.  Well, many thoughts went through the captain's befuddled brain.  And just as the last one got through something happened.

            There was a shrill siren in the distance and up sped the detective-sergeant, O'Nertz by name, if you remember.  The siren, he left her in the car, fearing bad publicity, and stalked over to where the torso lay.  Saluting his superior in the accustomed manner, he said: "Well, Tim, old kid, I guess the old woman was right when she told me about her dream that there was going to be a murder today."

            The captain looked at his inferior a bit embarrassed and said: "What dream was that?"

            "Oh, I forgot to tell you, Tim," quoth O'Nertz, "this morning at Longchamps the wife said something about a dream she had."

            And while this interesting conversation was going on, the torso hadn't moved, but was lying there just as peacefully as though nothing had happened.  And then there was suddenly a shrill cry.  Everyone looked around and over near the edge of the wood stood the sergeant, looking down at something on the grass.  Everyone ran over to the spot and there, clear as day, was a huge calcimined cross, not ten feet from where the body (or the 3/4 part of the body) lay.

            Even the members of the police force were non-plussed at this sight, for never before in the criminal annals of Puckering Valley's history had a murder been committed where the X-marks-the-spot-where-the-body-was-found was right there so it wouldn't be necessary for the photographers to paint it in the pictures.

            Everyone seemed to have forgotten Edgeworth Hedges, the quaint farmer boy who had discovered the grim discovery.  But when the first blush of the discovery of the cross was partly subsided, the sergeant turned to Edgeworth and decided to question him.  The crowd quieted down perceptibly, as the questions got under way.

            Question:  Edgeworth Hedges.

            Answer:  That's me.

            Q:  Edgeworth, you say that you were walking along the road in quest of four-leaf clovers when you came upon this terrible torso.

            A:  Yeh.  I didn't find any four-leaf clovers, though.  But I know where I can get some, sergeant.

            Q:  Never mind about them now, Edgeworth.  And what was the first thing you did after you discovered the torso.

            A:  The first thing I done?  Well, I took my handkerchief out of my pocket and wiped my forehead and I says to myself, "Hully gee, if here ain't a torso!"

            Q:  Had you ever seen a torso before, Edgeworth?

            A:  Not since I cut up a guy back in 1918, sergeant.

            Q:  That was the only one you had seen before that?  Are you sure?

            A:  Practically.

            Q:  Edgeworth, look at me.  Right in the eye, Edgeworth.  Did you murder Colonel Stoopnagle?

            A:  Eh?

            Q:  I say 'Did you murder Colonel Stoopnagle?'

            A:  I refuse to answer for fear of having it used against me.

            Q:  Alright, Edgeworth.  That's all, I guess....Captain, I guess we are at a point where there's no use trying to pin this thing on Edgeworth.

            And that is how, in the open air of the Puckering Valley spring, the inquest was held.  Nothing could be done to shake Edgeworth's testimony.  They took the young fellow back to police headquarters, got him in a back room, tarred and feathered him, burned his feet, cut off one of his ears, but to no avail.

            And then, suddenly, the case took a strange turn.  Sergeant O'Nertz was sitting in Longchamps about four years later with Mrs. O'Nertz again.  The little woman seemed to have something on her mind, as evidenced by the deep furrows on her forehead and the method with which she had done her hair that morning, more or less helter-skelter.

            The sergeant turned to her quizzically (if one can turn to another that way) and averred: "Mama, you look puzzled about something.  Don't be after tellin' me that you've had another dream."

            "Yes, my darlin'," replied the little wife, "I had another dream, if you want to know it.  And I dreamt that Captain Timothy Thistledown was the fellow who murdered Colonel Stoopnagle."

            Well, you could have knocked the sergeant over with a coupling iron -- he was that shaky.  His own Captain committing such a deed!

            He jumped up, told his wife to pay the check (which was $3.27), and made a bee-line for the station house.  Running in, he looked at the back and there sat the captain, playing solitaire as though nothing had happened.  When the sergeant bounded in, the captain looked up, a bit startled, and then went back to playing solitaire.

            Here indeed was a funny sort of thing, thought O'Nertz.  How was he to approach the subject of the murder to his own captain?  Suppose his wife's dream weren't true and turned out to be just her own imagination!  He shuddered at the thought.  But the shudder was short lived, for the captain was playing Canfield and he got all the cards out.

            He arose suddenly and faced his sergeant.  "Sergeant," he began, "I know why you've come here.  You think I am the the one who committed the torso murder, don't you?"

            The sergeant sort of blinked at this sudden change in affairs and blurted out:  "Why, captain, sir, that is -- really -- why that is so preposterous!  How could I ever come to such a conclusion as that?"

            "Well, I could tell by the look in your eyes, sergeant.  And I might just as well tell you right here and now that I am the one who committed the crime."

            "Well, in that case, you're under arrest, sir," replied the sergeant, drawing himself up to his full five feet three, convulsively.

            "I'll go, sergeant," quoth the former captain of police with a certain deference.  "I'll go."

            And the thin line of marchers wended its way to the desk where the captain was booked as an undesirable and shipped to Ellis Island the next morning, which was a Wednesday.

            There are a number of things which I neglected to tell about during the course of the story, so now that it's over, I shall enumerate a few.  Of course, you have guessed that the captain murdered Colonel Stoopnagle, not because of any personal prejudice against his broadcasting, because he had never listened to the program, but simply because there hadn't been a major crime in Puckering Valley for many years -- in fact, there hadn't ever been one.  And so he committed it for the good of his force.

            Greater love hath no man than that he commit a torso murder for his force.  From then on, crime increased exceptionally in the sleepy town of Puckering Valley and the police force had their former captain, Timothy Thistledown, to thank for the increase in business.

[From The Illustrated Detective Magazine, April 1932]


Page created November 15, 2006.  Copyright 1998-2006 by Richard D. Squires.