The Four Just Men (1920)/PART 1/Chapter 12
A NEWSPAPER CUTTING
The Court was again crowded to-day in anticipation of the evidence of the assistant-commissioner of police and Sir Francis Katling, the famous surgeon.
Before the proceedings recommenced the coroner remarked that he had received a great number of letters from all kinds of people containing theories, some of them peculiarly fantastic, as to the cause of Sir Philip Ramon’s death.
“The police inform me that they are eager to receive suggestions,” said the Coroner, “and will welcome any view however bizarre.”
The assistant-commissioner of Police was the first witness called, and gave in detail the story of the events that had led up to the finding of the late secretary’s dead body. He then went on to describe the appearance of the room. Heavy bookcases filled two sides of the room, the third or south- west was pierced with three windows, the fourth was occupied by a case containing maps arranged on the roller principle.
Were the windows fastened?—Yes.
And adequately protected?—Yes; by wooden folding shutters sheathed with steel.
Was there any indication that these had been tampered with?—None whatever.
Did you institute a search of the room?—Yes; a minute search.
By the foreman of the jury: Immediately?—Yes: after the body was removed every article of furniture was taken out of the room, the carpets were taken up, and the walls and ceilings stripped.
And nothing was found?—Nothing.
Is there a fireplace in the room?—Yes.
Was there any possibility of any person effecting an entrance by that method?—Absolutely none.
You have seen the newspapers?—Yes; some of them.
You have seen the suggestion put forward that the deceased was slain by the introduction of a deadly gas?—Yes.
Was that possible?—I hardly think so.
By the foreman: Did you find any means by which such a gas could be introduced?—(The witness hesitated.) None, except an old disused gaspipe that had an opening above the desk. (Sensation.)
Was there any indication of the presence of such a gas? —Absolutely none.
No smell?—None whatever.
But there are gases which are at once deadly and scentless—carbon dioxide, for example?—Yes; there are.
By the Foreman: Did you test the atmosphere for the presence of such a gas?—No; but I entered the room before it would have had time to dissipate; I should have noticed it.
Was the room disarranged in any way?—Except for the table there was no disarrangement.
Did you find the contents of the table disturbed?—Yes.
Will you describe exactly the appearance of the table? —One or two heavy articles of table furniture, such as the silver candlesticks, etc., alone remained in their positions. On the floor were a number of papers, the inkstand, a pen, and (here the witness drew a notecase from his pocket and extracted a small black shrivelled object) a smashed flower bowl and a number of roses.
Did you find anything in the dead man’s hand?—Yes, I found this.
The detective held up a withered rosebud, and a thrill of horror ran through the court.
That is a rose?—Yes.
The coroner consulted the commissioner’s written report.
Did you notice anything peculiar about the hand?—Yes, where the flower had been there was a round black stain. (Sensation.)
Can you account for that?—No.
By the foreman: What steps did you take when you discovered this?—I had the flowers carefully collected and as much of the water as was possible absorbed by clean blotting-paper: these were sent to the Home Office for analysis.
Do you know the result of that analysis?—So far as I know, it has revealed nothing.
Did the analysis include leaves from the rose you have in your possession?—Yes.
The assistant-commissioner then went on to give details of the police arrangements for the day. It was impossible, he emphatically stated, for any person to have entered or left 44 Downing Street without being observed. Immediately after the murder the police on duty were ordered to stand fast. Most of the men, said the witness, were on duty for twenty-six hours at a stretch.
At this stage there was revealed the most sensational feature of the inquiry. It came with dramatic suddenness, and was the result of a question put by the coroner, who constantly referred to the commissioner’s signed statement that lay before him.
You know of a man called Thery?—Yes.
He was one of a band calling themselves “The Four Just Men?”—I believe so.
A reward was offered for his apprehension?—Yes.
He was suspected of complicity in the plot to murder Sir Philip Ramon?—Yes.
Has he been found?—Yes.
This monosyllabic reply drew a spontaneous cry of surprise from the crowded court.
When was he found?—This morning.
Where?—On Romney Marshes.
Was he dead?—Yes. (Sensation.)
Was there anything peculiar about the body? (The whole court waited for the answer with bated breath.)—Yes; on his right palm was a stain similar to that found on the hand of Sir Philip Ramon!
A shiver ran through the crowd of listeners.
Was a rose found in his hand also?—No.
By the foreman: Was there any indication how Thery came to be where he was found?—None.
The witness added that no papers or documents of any kind were found upon the man.
Sir Francis Katling was the next witness.
He was sworn and was accorded permission to give his evidence from the solicitor’s table, on which he had spread the voluminous notes of his observations. For half an hour he devoted himself to a purely technical record of his examinations. There were three possible causes of death. It might have been natural: the man’s weak heart was sufficient to cause such; it might have been by asphyxiation; it might have been the result of a blow that by some extraordinary means left no contusion.
There were no traces of poison?—None.
You have heard the evidence of the last witness?—Yes.
And that portion of the evidence that dealt with a black stain?— Yes.
Did you examine that stain?—Yes.
Have you formed any theories regarding it?—Yes; it seems to me as if it were formed by an acid.
Carbolic acid, for instance?—Yes; but there was no indication of any of the acids of commerce.
You saw the man Thery’s hand?—Yes.
Was the stain of a similar character?—Yes, but larger and more irregular.
Were there any signs of acid?—None.
By the foreman: You have seen many of the fantastic theories put forward by the Press and public?—Yes; I have paid careful attention to them.
And you see nothing in them that would lead you to believe that the deceased met his end by the method suggested?—No.
Gas?—Impossible; it must have been immediately detected.
The introduction into the room of some subtle poison that would asphyxiate and leave no trace?—Such a drug is unknown to medical science.
You have seen the rose found in Sir Philip’s hand?—Yes.
How do you account for that?—I cannot account for it.
Nor for the stain?—No.
By the foreman: You have formed no definite opinion regarding the cause of death?—No; I merely submit one of the three suggestions I have offered.
Are you a believer in hypnotism?—Yes, to a certain extent.
In hypnotic suggestion?—Again, to a certain extent.
Is it possible that the suggestion of death coming at a certain hour so persistently threatened might have led to death?—I do not quite understand you.
Is it possible that the deceased is a victim to hypnotic suggestion?—I do not believe it possible.
By the foreman: You speak of a blow leaving no contusion. In your experience have you ever seen such a case?—Yes; twice.
But a blow sufficient to cause death?—Yes.
Without leaving a bruise or any mark whatever?—Yes; I saw a case in Japan where a man by exerting a peculiar pressure on the throat produced instant death.
Is that ordinary?—No; it is very unordinary; sufficiently so to create a considerable stir in medical circles. The case was recorded in the British Medical Journal in 1896.
And there was no contusion or bruise?—Absolutely none whatever.
The famous surgeon then read a long extract from the British Medical Journal bearing out this statement.
Would you say that the deceased died in this way?—It is possible.
By the Foreman: Do you advance that as a serious possibility?—Yes.
With a few more questions of a technical character the examination closed.
As the great surgeon left the box there was a hum of conversation, and keen disappointment was felt on all sides. It had been hoped that the evidence of the medical expert would have thrown light into dark places, but it left the mystery of Sir Philip Ramon’s death as far from explanation as ever.
Superintendent Falmouth was the next witness called.
The detective, who gave his evidence in clear tones, was evidently speaking under stress of very great emotion. He seemed to appreciate very keenly the failure of the police to safeguard the life of the dead Minister. It is an open secret that immediately after the tragedy both the officer and the assistant-commissioner tendered their resignations, which, at the express instruction of the prime minister, were not accepted.
Mr Falmouth repeated a great deal of the evidence already given by the Commissioner, and told the story of how he had stood on duty outside the Foreign Secretary’s door at the moment of the tragedy. As he detailed the events of that evening a deathly silence came upon the court.
You say you heard a noise proceeding from the study?—Yes.
What sort of a noise?—Well, it is hard to describe what I heard; it was one of those indefinite noises that sounded like a chair being pulled across a soft surface.
Would it be a noise like the sliding of a door or panel?—Yes. (Sensation.)
That is the noise as you described it in your report?—Yes.
Was any panel discovered?—No.
Or any sliding door?—No.
Would it have been possible for a person to have secreted himself in any of the bureaux or bookcases?—No; these were examined.
What happened next?—I heard a click and a cry from Sir Philip, and endeavoured to burst open the door.
By the foreman: It was locked?—Yes.
And Sir Philip was alone?—Yes; it was by his wish: a wish expressed earlier in the day.
After the tragedy did you make a systematic search both inside and outside the house?—Yes.
Did you make any discovery?—None, except that I made a discovery curious in itself, but having no possible bearing on the case now.
What was this?—Well, it was the presence on the window-sill of the room of two dead sparrows.
Were these examined?—Yes; but the surgeon who dissected them gave the opinion that they died from exposure and had fallen from the parapet above.
Was there any trace of poison in these birds?—None that could be discovered.
At this point Sir Francis Katling was recalled. He had seen the birds. He could find no trace of poison.
Granted the possibility of such a gas as we have already spoken of—a deadly gas with the property of rapid dissipation—might not the escape of a minute quantity of such a fume bring about the death of these birds?—Yes, if they were resting on the window-sill.
By the foreman: Do you connect these birds with the tragedy?—I do not, replied the witness emphatically.
Superintendent Falmouth resumed his evidence.
Were there any other curious features that struck you?—None.
The Coroner proceeded to question the witness concerning the relations of Marks with the police.
Was the stain found on Sir Philip’s hand, and on the hand of the man Thery, found also on Marks?—No.
It was as the court was dispersing, and little groups of men stood discussing the most extraordinary verdict ever given by a coroner’s jury, “Death from some unknown cause, and wilful murder against some person or persons unknown,” that the Coroner himself met on the threshold of the court a familiar face.
“Hullo, Carson!” he said in surprise, “you here too; I should have thought that your bankrupts kept you busy—even on a day like this—extraordinary case.”
“Extraordinary,” agreed the other.
“Were you there all the time?”
“Yes,” replied the spectator.
“Did you notice what a bright foreman we had?”
“Yes; I think he would make a smarter lawyer than a company promoter.”
“You know him, then?”
“Yes,” yawned the Official Receiver; “poor devil, he thought he was going to set the Thames on fire, floated a company to reproduce photogravures and things—took Etherington’s off our hands, but it’s back again.”
“Has he failed?” asked the Coroner in surprise.
“Not exactly failed. He’s just given it up, says the climate doesn’t suit him—what is his name again?”
“Manfred,” said the coroner.