The Croyden Mystery  (1921) 
by William MacLeod Raine

Extracted from Popular magazine, 7 August 1921, pp. 152-158.

The Croyden Mystery

By William MacLeod Raine
Author of “Tangled Trails, “Wyoming,” Etc.

Even after the murderer of Hungerford was arrested Detective Evans had something coming to him—and he got it

EVANS on house duty at headquarters, finished his story and got the laugh he expected from the reporters and the other plain-clothes men present. Barney O'Hara joined in the mirth at his own expense. He was used to being the butt of the big detective's jokes, but he was a good sport. He did not mind being laughed at for a “rube,” but he objected silently to the way Evans did it. The man was a bully. He rode over his feelings roughshod with an ill-nature born of a churlish spirit.

The old desk sergeant read Barney better. He had noticed the boy's light, firm step, the steelly glint in the steady, blue-gray eyes.

“Better lay off the kid,” he had once told the plain-clothes man. “One o' these days he'll either knock you cold or show you up for a boob.”

The eyes of Evans had narrowed and grown chill. “Knock me cold! Show me up! Where d'you get that stuff, serg? I can take care of hayseeds like him fast as they come.”

“Take a good look at the way his shoulders fill that uniform, Give the eyes in that brown face the once over, Evans. I tell you he's got packed in his fists a kick like a mule. And he's nobody's fool. You've picked the wrong man to run on.”

The detective laughed without mirth, his gambler's eyes expressionless. “Have I? Well, it's my funeral, serg. I'll take a chance. See?”

Barney's red head, tanned face, and open, friendly eyes had come straight from the wide range to the city. He had jaywalked across the street corner to headquarters through the traffic, asked a few questions, studied for a week, taken the examination, and been measured for a blue uniform with brass buttons.

O'Hara was green. He knew it. But his superiors noticed that he never made the same mistake twice. He had a single-track mind that chewed on a problem till he had stripped the meat of it, as a terrier does at a bone. He listened to the reporters and the other men on the force, absorbing information in a silent, unobstrusive way he had. That was what he had been doing to-night when Evans had dragged him into the talk to jeer at him.

Pat with the ending of the big detective's story the telephone buzzed. The sergeant reached for the receiver.

“Yes.… Yes.” The sergeant's feet came down from the desk and hit the floor. He came rigidly to attention, not to miss a word. “Found him murdered, you say? Ten minutes ago?” Automatically the officer's eyes lifted to the clock on the wall and registered the time on his brain. It was less than a minute after ten o'clock. “Don't touch anything till the officers get there. Keep everybody outa the room. Understand?”

He hung up. His voice was crisp and businesslike. “J. Wilkes Hungerford found murdered in his rooms. O'Hara, step across and notify the captain if the operator hasn't got him yet. Evans, take charge of our end of it?

Within three minutes an ambulance with the police surgeon was clanging through the streets. At its heel was a police patrol in which sat Evans, two other detectives, three reporters, and two men in uniform. One of the two was Barney O'Hara.

The Croyden Apartments are on the edge of the business district, in that part of Denver where the old families used to live before they migrated toward the Country Club neighborhood. It is a marble-halled, expensive place where hothouse dwellers congregate because the problem of living is made easier for them there.

The news of the murder had already spread through the house. When Barney and the other officers stepped from the elevator at the fourth floor the hall was thronged with men and women, a fair sprinkling of them in evening dress. Apartment No. 47 was filled with people staring at the ghastly exhibit on the lounge, or gathered in groups in excited talk. Whoever had notified headquarters had failed to comply with the sergeant's orders to let nobody into the room until the arrival of the police.

Evans reduced to order the medley of confusion. He quickly cleared the rooms, after he had sifted out the late comers from those who had first seen the murdered man. Meanwhile he set guards at both the front and back entrances of the building to prevent any tenants, or the guests of any, from leaving before they had been examined. Barney admired the sheer brute efficiency with which he got results.

Hungerford had been found dead by Miss Helen Radway about six or seven minutes after ten o'clock. She had at once notified a party of friends who were playing bridge in the next apartment. Neither she nor any of the rest of this group knew who the man was that had called up the police.

A casual examination showed that Hungerford had been killed from behind. Death was due to a wound in the back of the neck. A small round jagged hole about the size of a bullet showed there.

“Shot from behind,” announced Evans to the officers in his dogmatic way. “Probably never knew who killed him. Fellow slipped in behind him through the open door. Hungerford was very deaf and wouldn't hear him come in. Had a Maxim silencer, I reckon. Accounts for nobody hearin' the shot. Crowd in No. 46 prob'ly laughin' and talkin' so loud they wouldn't 'a' heard, anyhow.”

Barney looked at the wound carefully. Around it, for a distance of about a half inch on each side, was a bruised discoloration of flesh.

“Where was the body when you saw it first?” he asked Miss Radway later.

A young man moved forward a trifle to answer. The policeman from the open range noticed that this man hovered close to Miss Radway and that she rather pointedly ignored his presence.

“Right here by the desk. He must have been sitting at it when the murderer came in by the open door behind,” the young man said.

“You were among those who got here first?” Barney asked.

“Yes. As soon as Miss Radway screamed I came running.”

“Did we get your name, sir?”

“My name's Belding—Roger Belding.”

He was a fattish man, full-faced, with eyes that had a trick of dodging. O'Hara's gaze traveled down his immaculate dress suit.

“He's right, is he—about where the body was lying?” Barney had turned to the young woman.

She nodded, silently. It was plain that her nerves were highly strung. What she had seen had shaken her composure, but she held herself with a tight rein. The girl was amazingly pretty. Of that there could be no doubt, even though the color had been driven from her soft cheeks and there was an expression of something very like terror in the deep violet eyes.

Evans, who had been making some measurements with a tape line, came forward. “If you don't mind I'll ask the questions, Mr. O'Hara,” he said with heavy sarcasm.

To himself Barney presently admitted that the detective cleared the decks with economy of words and action. Inside of twenty minutes he had pieced together a story of the evening's doings in apartment No. 46. Before the hour had died away he had triumphantly decided on the murderer, though he did not say so in as many words,

The Clarendons lived in apartment No. 46. Among their guests for the evening had been Miss Radway, Roger Belding, and J. Wilkes Hungerferd. It was rather an informal sort of affair. Wine and cocktails were on the sideboard and had been served now and then. Two or three had drifted in rather late and had cut in at one table or another. There had been a good deal of occasional hilarity between rubbers.

At about a quarter to ten Hungerford, who had brought Miss Radway in his car, excused himself on the plea of an engagement at his rooms. He had told two or three that he was going to meet his cousin Terry Haddon and expected to have a row with him. Soon after he had left the apartment Belding, who had shown evidence of being restive at not sitting at the same table with Miss Radway, maneuvered the girl into a curtained alcove French window. They sat there, in view of those at the card tables, until exactly ten o'clock. Then Helen Radway, a flame of anger burning in her cheeks, had stepped out of the alcove and joined those inside the room. Belding, bowing, had drawn the curtain back to let her pass. Two or three ladies smiled covertly. It was plain he had incensed the girl.

Belding himself, to recover his composure probably, retired behind the curtains for four or five minutes, then sauntered out smoking a cigarette and cut in at the nearest table. In the meantime, Miss Radway had shown signs of nervousness and had presently followed Hungerford with the excuse that there was something she wanted to tell him at once. She was a young woman of high spirit, given to following her impulses, and none of the party were much surprised when she went.

A moment later her scream of terror had lifted the card players to their feet and brought them flying into the hall. They had found her, colorless to the lips, clutching the back of an armchair and looking down at the dead body of J. Wilkes Hungerford.

This was the story that Evans pieced out from the testimony of a dozen witnesses. He bullied it out of them insolently, as though he suspected each one of the murder. Presently he dragged from the janitor a bit of information that looked like a clew. The man had met a young, well-dressed man hurrying down the stairs. He carried a cane, was gloved, and was plainly in a state of agitation. He had hurried past him without a word, The janitor described him as dark and slender, thin-faced, with eyes that told a story of a man shocked and startled into fear.

Evans whispered to one of his assistants, who presently disappeared quietly. Meanwhile he got Miss Radway alone into a room with the officers and put her through a searching quiz.

“You're holdin' back on me,” he said, setting his square jaw. “You know a lot you haven't told. Better come through, miss. No use trying to protect any one. It'll come out sure. The janitor must 'a' seen this fellow hurryin' away just about the time you reached Hungerford's rooms. You saw him, too. Who was he?”

The girl's hand, resting on the edge of the table, caught at it to steady her. “I—I didn't see any one,” she gasped.

Evans looked at her, snarling, with all the menace of a caged wolf. “Was it Terence Haddon you saw beatin' it?”

She swayed. For a moment Barney thought she was going to faint. But she crushed back the weakness. “I—I didn't see any one. What right have you to—to torment me like this?”

“Why did you follow Hungerford to his rooms?”

“I—wanted to see him—about a private matter.”

“What matter?”

“I prefer not to discuss that.”

“Were you engaged to be married to him?”


“To Mr. Belding?”

“No.” The answer came swiftly, with a scornful lift of the fine head.

“Do you know what Haddon's appointment with Hungerford was for?”

“No.” She added a word to that. “I presume about the settlement of their uncle's estate. They had been quarreling about it—differing I should say. Mr. Haddon was not satisfied with the way Mr. Hungerford represented him and his sister, Miss Marie Haddon.”

“Did Haddon tell you this?”

“It was common talk among those who knew both men.”

“Did Haddon tell you?” he reiterated.

“I don't know. I've heard him say things.”

“Heard him threaten Hungerford?”

“No-o.” But it was clear the young woman's heart was faint within her. Other witnesses had heard young Haddon's wild talk, too.

“You stick to it that you didn't meet Haddon to-night, either in Hungerford's rooms or in the hall outside?”

“I've already answered that,” the young woman said uneasily.

Evans, his bulldog jaw clamped, leaned forward and looked steadily at the girl. Presently he spoke, his eyes boring into hers. “Didn't you follow Hungerford to his rooms because you knew he had an appointment with Haddon and you were afraid there might be trouble?”

O'Hara saw her throat move as she swallowed her alarm. “I—don't have to answer all the impertinent questions you ask me,” she said, after a long silence in which her eyes fought with those of the detective.

“Was Haddon in love with you?” demanded Evans, his strident voice heavy and dominant.

“His business and mine, I think,” she answered quietly, color flooding her cheeks.

“Or you with him, miss?”

She turned and walked out of the room as though he had not been there.

O'Hara, at the door, moved aside to let her pass. His honest Irish heart resented the third-degree method of Evans. Yet the brown-faced policeman believed that in her lay the key to the mystery of who killed Hungerford. She might not know it, though he doubted her entire innocence of knowledge. She knew more than she had told. The detective had not touched the right spring to open her mouth.

There came presently a knock at the door. O'Hara opened it, to let in a plain-clothes man and a young fellow of medium height, dark and slender, whose eyes flashed round the room in apprehension. His glance fell upon the body lying on the divan, and he shuddered.

“You are Terence Haddon?” Evans asked harshly.


“You were in this room to-night, less than an hour ago. Don't deny it. There are witnesses.”

Haddon said nothing.

“There's evidence that you had an appointment with Hungerford to-night at his rooms, that you kept that appointment, and that you tried to slip out unseen by taking the stairway instead of the elevator. I want to know what passed between you and your cousin,” the detective demanded.

The dark young man gave a little resigned lift of his shoulder. “Nothing,” he answered.

“Wha'd you mean nothing?”

“I mean that I came to keep the appointment and found him lying dead on the floor.”

“Wha'd you do?”

“Nothing. I lost my nerve and bolted.”

“Was that when Miss Radway saw you?”

“Just as I started downstairs—yes.”

“Did you say anything to her?”

“No. I wasn't sure she saw me.”

“Why did you bolt, as you call it?”

“I had talked foolishly about what I would do if he tried to rob me and my sister of our share of the estate left by my uncle. I knew that if he died without a will we were his heirs. I was afraid I'd be accused of killing him. So I did a bolt.”

“Did you call up the police?”


“So your cousin was dead when you first saw him to-night?”

“Yes. I swear to Heaven he was,” Haddon cried.

“You'll probably get a chance to swear to it before a jury—and maybe they'll believe it,” jeered the detective. “Meantime, I reckon, I'll take you with me down to the chief, Mr. Haddon. He'd like to hear you tell what you know about this.”

Barney knew that Evans had already tried, convicted, and hanged Haddon in his mind. But there was something about the young man that the policeman liked. The evidence pointed straight to him, but sometimes signposts are not true.

After Evans had finished his examination of witnesses and of the apartment Barney was one of two officers left in charge of the rooms. He spent his time quartering over the ground and fitting together several bits of information he had picked up with his eyes. His investigation took him into apartment No. 46 and back again to Hungerford's rooms by an unusual but direct route.

The steelly eyes in the brown face were quick with life. He was thinking—thinking intensely, dovetailing facts and suspicions into a theory that would meet the evidence without doing violence to it. He knew that Evans had made at least one important mistake. Hungerford had not been shot at all. He had been stabbed with a sharp instrument—and O'Hara could put his fingers on the weapon any time he wanted to do so.

In his notebook he jotted down certain cryptic words and others less enigmatic.

H. left Apt. 46 at 9:45.

Notice of murder phoned headquarters few seconds after 10. Therefore H. was killed between 9:45 and 10. But—was he?

Neither Miss Radway nor Belding left 46 till after 10. Dozen witnesses to prove this. Therefore perfect alibi for both. Unless——.

Haddon in cousin's rooms between 9:45 and 10:05. Motive for crime established. Opportunity established. Subsequent guilty actions established. But—he didn't do it.

Show Cap knob. Also ledge. Finger prints.

See Miss R. soon as off duty.

Arrest murderer to-morrow morning.

Barney closed his notebook and put it into his pocket with a boyish grin. Over the telephone he got into touch with his captain and was relieved from duty at the Croyden. As soon as he reached headquarters he and the captain and the chief went into a conference of three. From it they emerged to be driven to the home of Miss Radway, after the chief had whispered instructions to a couple of plain-clothes men.

It was past midnight when Helen Radway and her father met the officers in the living room. The young woman was pale and trembling, racked by emotions she tried in vain to subdue and control. Inside of a few minutes she had broken down and told all she knew.

The chief of police liked the dramatics of his business. That was one of the reasons why he called a meeting at the Croyden next day instead of at his own office. When Terence Haddon was brought into the apartment of the Clarendons between two officers he found waiting there for him Miss Radway and her father, the Clarendons, Belding, the detective Evans, the chief of police, and the old sergeant of detectives who had received the news of the murder the night before. Barney O'Hara was one of the officers who came up with Haddon from the city hall.

The prisoner was pale, but no whiter than the young woman whose eyes flew to meet his the instant he came through the door.

The chief came briskly to business. He was an oldish man, lean and tough, with a leathery face touched sometimes by a sardonic smile.

“I'll say to begin with that we've got the man who killed Hungerford—got him roped and hog tied with evidence, as Barney would say. That right, Evans?” The chief cocked an inquiring eye at the plain-clothes man.

“Sure as I'm a foot high,” the detective answered promptly. “I had him inside of an hour behind the bars.”

Helen Radway made a little despairing movement of her hands toward Haddon. From her throat came a sound that was half a sob and half a moan.

“I'll just sum up,” the chief said. “We were notified at thirty seconds after ten o'clock that Hungerford had been killed ten minutes earlier. This gives an alibi to everybody at Mrs. Clarendon's party. Hungerford went to his own rooms about a quarter to ten. He said he was going to meet Terence Haddon, that they had had trouble, and that he expected more trouble. Haddon was seen to leave the building by the janitor and by Miss Radway, probably at about ten-five, or maybe two or three minutes later. He was trying to make a get-away by the stairs unnoticed. The janitor says he was white, 'like he'd seen a ghost.' Haddon says he found Hungerford lying dead on the floor and admits he did not call anybody or notify the police. It's believed Hungerford left no will. Therefore Haddon is one of the two who would benefit by his death. Are my facts right, Evans?”

The detective nodded. “It's a straight open and shut case, chief.”

The chief's sardonic grin came out for a moment and was gone. “Let's make sure of that.” He turned to the girl who sat on the lounge with her hand in her father's. “Miss Radway, you were the first to see Mr. Hungerford after his death—except the man who telephoned headquarters. Will you tell us what happened, from the time that Mr. Hungerford left the room?”'

The young woman's eyes met those of Haddon again before she spoke. It was as though they begged him to forgive her if anything she said might tell against him. Her voice was very low but clear.

“We finished the rubber, and I went with Mr. Belding into the alcove there. He asked me to marry him. It was not the first time. I had always refused him. Last night I told him I cared for another man. He jumped to the conclusion that it was Mr. Hungerford. He—said I had encouraged him—which isn't true—and that nobody else would marry me while he was alive to prevent it. He was greatly excited.”

“How do you know?”

“By his voice and his manner. His hand kept twisting the knob on the end of my chair back. It came off in his hand. I got up and left him. For a few minutes I watched a hand being played. I was troubled about something. I made up my mind impulsively that I must see some one. So I left the room.”

“Who did you want to see?”

She moistened her lip with the tip of her tongue before she answered almost in a murmur. 'Mr. Haddon. I—I wanted to tell him—something.”

“You wanted to tell him not to quarrel with his cousin.”


“You knew he was quick-tempered.”

“I don't know that at all,” she denied quickly. “I just didn't want them to quarrel. When I reached the door of Mr. Hungerford's apartment I found it open. The lights were on. He was lying on the floor near his desk. I ran in. Then I saw he was dead and I screamed.”

“Did you see Mr. Haddon at any time?”

“I saw some one going downstairs. It—it looked like him. I wasn't sure.”

“That cinches the case against Haddon,” Evans broke in vindictively. “He must 'a' just come outa Hungerford's rooms.”

“Yes. He admits that. The point is, did he kill his cousin or find him already dead?” The chief turned to Barney, again with the sardonic grin that expressed his attitude toward life. “O'Hara, we'll hear you now.”

The brown-faced officer stepped forward. “First off, chief, I noticed that Hungerford hadn't been shot. He had been stabbed. The wound was too jagged for a bullet hole and there was a bruise all round it where the handle of the weapon had crushed the flesh. Then, too, the direction of the wound was downward, just as it would have been if some one had struck from above while his victim was leaning forward. A bullet would have plowed straight ahead.”

The chief looked at Evans and chuckled. He had his own reasons for wanting the detective taken down a peg or two. “Sounds reasonable,” he said mildly.

“Seemed to me we oughtn't to jump at the conclusion Haddon had done this, not without covering the whole ground first,” Barney went on. “I had noticed one or two things; so soon as I got a chance I went into Mrs. Clarendon's apartment and kinda cast an eye around. O' course I went into the alcove. There was a little railed porch outside it and a ledge runnin' along the wall to the next apartment and beyond, a kinda narrow ledge, but wide enough for a man to walk on if he was careful. I followed that ledge to the next window, pushed it open, and stepped into a bedroom. There was a telephone in it. I knew now who had killed Hungerford and how he had done it.”

“Bunk,” sneered Evans. “What's the use o' tryin' to show Belding did this when he's got an A1 alibi. He didn't leave the room at Clarendon's till after ten.”

“And Hungerford's watch stopped when he fell from his chair. It stopped at exactly ten-four.”

“Then it must 'a' been wrong,” retorted Evans, his eyes sultry with anger. “We know this killin' was done before ten.”

“How do we know it?” asked Barney quietly.

“We know it because some one phoned up at ten and told us about it, you boob.”

“Yes, but we don't know he didn't phone before he killed Hungerford and not after. We don't know that he didn't phone just to fix up an alibi that would let him out on the time.”

“Where would he phone from, according to your fairy tale?” demanded the detective.

“He phoned from Hungerford's bedroom after he climbed in at the window.”

“With Hungerford sittin' at his desk not thirty feet from him?”

“You've said it. Hungerford was deaf as a post, almost. He wouldn't hear. Then the murderer stepped outa the bedroom, crept up behind him, and stabbed him like I said.”

O'Hara swung on his heel. A forefinger shot out straight at Roger Belding. The splendid supple body of the officer seemed to crouch as for a spring. His eyes flashed a menace at the fat-faced man who stood trembling before him. “Isn't that how you killed Hungerford, Belding?”

“I—I didn't kill him. I've got an alibi. I couldn't have done it. His watch must have been wrong.” Belding's flabby cheeks were chalky.

“It wasn't wrong. Earlier in the evening he compared it with those of Mr. Clarendon and another guest. It was right to a tick. We've got you, Belding. I suspected you first from your dress suit. Two of the buttons had brick dust on them where you brushed against the wall as you came along the ledge. One of 'em is frayed, and there are spurts of blood on one sleeve, though you sponged the stain off when you got home.”

“How do you know?” quavered Belding.

The chief pulled out a suit case from back of his chair and drew a dress coat into sight. Traces of the brick dust still showed on the buttons. The bloodstain could not be detected with the naked eye.

“That's not all,” Barney went on, implacable as the day of judgment. “There was blood on your hand. You noticed it as you crept back along the wall and you wiped it off on a brick. Your finger marks are written there for us to read. You used your handkerchief, too, but, of course, you destroyed that when you got home.”

“You've worked out everything else, ‘Mr. Sherlock Holmes,’” jeered Evans heavily. “What about a weapon? Have you found that, too?”

Barney stepped lightly forward to the alcove and dragged out a chair. It was a pretentious but cheaply made piece of furniture, an imitation of expensive hand-carved mahogany. Two round knobs decorated the top of the back, one at each end. He unscrewed one of these. With the knob as a handle was a very long pointed screw nail.

“Here's the weapon. There's blood on the screw and on the bottom of the wood. The lower part of the handle exactly fits the discolored bruise around the edge of the wound. The murderer took this with him, brought it back, screwed it into place, lit a cigarette, and stepped back from the alcove into the room. He hadn't been cut of the alcove more than four minutes on his errand.”

A queer, strangled gurgle interrupted O'Hara. The fat-faced man flung cut a hand wildly as though to ward off the fate closing in on him. His knees buckled under him, and he sank down on the floor unconscious. He had confessed guilt.

Helen Radway walked straight across the room to Terence Haddon and gave him her hand.

“I knew you didn't do it, Terry,” she told him, and her eyes flashed a message that went to his heart like water to the roots of a thirsty flower.

“I knew you knew it,” he said simply.

In later days, after they were married, both of them agreed that their engagement dated from that moment.

Barney and the old desk sergeant walked downtown together. Evans met them in the corridor that leads to the detective headquarters at city hall. Evidently he had been waiting there for them. His face was livid with anger. He knew the chief had used this raw patrolman as a weapon to rebuke him. His vanity and his egotism were outraged, for he was sure the whole department would laugh at him both publicly and privately.

“I got a word to say to you, O'Hara,” he said thickly, a threat in his voice. “Dirty work, I call it. Playin' your own hand and keepin' evidence from me.” He added a word that fighting men do not tolerate, and to the insult added a blow.

Barney paid his debt in full there and then. He thrashed the bully till Evans cried enough.

The old desk sergeant lingered a moment after the young fellow in uniform had gone.

“Didn't I tell you to lay off the kid, Evans, or he'd knock you cold or show you up for a sucker? He's done both. How d' you like yore own medicine, anyhow?”

He followed Barney into the office, grinning.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1954, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 68 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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