Murder in Brixton
The letter stated that the circumstances of the murder were very strange. A policeman had seen a light in a house that he knew was empty. The front door was open. The policeman went in and discovered the body of a man on the floor of the empty room. The man was well dressed and had a business card in his pocket with the name ‘Enoch Drebber, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.’ written on it. Nothing was stolen from the man and, although there were marks of blood in the room, there was no injury on the body. It was a mystery how he had died.
The letter was from a Mr Gregson, who was a detective for Scotland Yard. He wanted Sherlock Holmes to visit the scene of the crime and help him solve the mysterious murder.
Sherlock Holmes seemed calm after I had read the letter to him.
‘Shall I order you a cab?’ I asked.
‘I’m not sure if I’ll go,’ he said. ‘Gregson and Lestrade, another detective, are working on the case. They need me to help them solve it, but then they’ll get all the approval for it. But let’s go. I can solve the mystery and laugh at Gregson and Lestrade, if nothing else.’
A minute later we were in a cab on our way to the murder scene.
The murder had taken place in Brixton Road. There was something extremely unpleasant about the house when we arrived there. No one lived in it and the windows looked empty and sad. The garden was small and untidy, and full of mud because it had rained the night before.
We stopped about a hundred yards before the house. Sherlock Holmes walked slowly down the pavement, looking at the area around us. He continued walking down the garden path, looking carefully at the ground. He stopped twice and seemed pleased about something, but I could see nothing except a lot of footprints. Mr Gregson met us at the door.
‘Did you come here in a cab?’ Holmes asked him.
‘Then let’s go into the room.’
The room seemed very large because there was no furniture in it. The wallpaper was old and torn. There was one window but it was so dirty it made the light look grey, like the dust that covered everything. Everything except the motionless body which lay on the floor, its eyes staring at the ceiling. It was the body of a man about forty-three years old. On his face there was an expression of horror and, it seemed to me, of hatred. I have never seen such an ugly and frightening corpse.
Sherlock Holmes examined the body, which was surrounded by many splashes of blood.
‘Are you sure there’s no injury?’ he asked.
‘Positive!’ said both the detectives.
‘Then the blood must belong to a second person, probably the murderer.’
Sherlock Holmes continued to examine the body closely. Finally he sniffed the dead man’s lips.
‘I’ve finished. Take the body away,’ he said.
When the body was lifted, a ring fell from it and rolled across the floor.
Lestrade grabbed it, saying, ‘A woman’s been here, it’s a woman’s wedding ring!’
‘What else did you find in his pockets?’ asked Holmes.
‘A gold watch and two letters, one addressed to E. J. Drebber and one to Joseph Stangerson, both at the American Exchange, Strand. They are from a steamship company, tickets for boats from Liverpool to New York.’
‘Have you made inquiries about this Stangerson?’
‘Yes, but we’ve heard nothing yet,’ said Gregson.
At this moment Lestrade appeared, looking pleased.
‘I’ve made a very important discovery. Come with me.’
He took us back into the room.
‘Look at that!’ he said, pointing to the wall. In blood red letters, a single word was written: RACHE.
‘The murderer has written this in his or her own blood. The writer was going to write the female name ‘Rachel’ but he or she didn’t have time to finish it. You can laugh, Mr Holmes, but when this case is solved, I’m sure we’ll find that a woman named Rachel had something to do with it.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Holmes, who had offended Lestrade by laughing at his deductions. ‘I haven’t examined the room myself. Can I examine it now?’
Holmes moved around the room with a measuring tape and a magnifying glass. In one place he picked up a little pile of grey dust, which he put into an envelope. He examined the word on the wall with his magnifying glass. Then he put the tape and the glass back in his pocket.
‘What do you think of it, sir?’ the two detectives asked.
‘You don’t need me, you two are doing very well on your own,’ he said. ‘I want to talk to the policeman who found the body. Can you tell me where to find him?’
Lestrade gave him the name and address.
‘Come, Doctor Watson. I’ll tell you one thing which may help,’ he said to the two detectives. ‘The murderer is a man. He’s a tall man, he has small feet, and he smokes cigars. He came here in a cab with his victim. He has a red face and long fingernails on his right hand.’
‘But how was he murdered?’ asked Lestrade, confused.
‘Poison,’ said Sherlock Holmes. ‘One other thing: Rache is the German word for ‘revenge’, so don’t waste your time looking for Miss Rachel. Goodbye.’
We left, leaving the two detectives lost for words behind us.