The next day, the newspapers were full of stories about the ‘Brixton mystery’. Many of the newspapers thought that there was a political motive for the murder, because of the word written on the wall, and because there seemed to be no other explanation. The dead man was an American who was staying in London for a few weeks. He was staying at a small hotel owned by a Madame Charpentier, with his private secretary, Mr Joseph Stangerson.
The two men left the hotel on Tuesday to go to Euston Station to catch the train to Liverpool. They were seen on the platform at the station, but not again until Mr Drebber’s body was found in the house in Brixton Road, a long way from Euston. The report in the Daily News read: ‘The secretary, Mr Stangerson, has not been seen since and no one has heard from him. It is very important to find him.’
Holmes and I were reading the newspapers while we ate breakfast. Suddenly, I heard the sound of many steps in the hall and six street children ran into the room. They lined up in front of Holmes.
‘Have you found it, Wiggins?’ Holmes asked one of them.
‘No sir, we haven’t,’ he said.
‘Keep trying until you do. Here’s your money.’ He gave them all a coin each. ‘Now off you go.’ They ran down the stairs.
‘They’re better than the police force at finding things out,’ Holmes said to me. ‘They go everywhere and hear everything. There’s one thing I need to know to help with this case. They’ll find it soon. Look, here’s Gregson coming down the road.’
A few seconds later, Gregson was in our living room, smiling contentedly.
‘I’ve solved the case!’ he announced. ‘We have the murderer locked away!’
‘And what’s his name?’
‘Arthur Charpentier, an officer in the Royal Navy.’
Holmes seemed relieved. ‘Sit down and tell us all about it,’ he said, giving Gregson a cigar and a drink.
‘The funny thing is that Lestrade has got it completely wrong. He’s been looking for the secretary, Mr Stangerson, who has nothing to do with the crime!’ Gregson laughed. ‘I’ll tell you what happened.’
Gregson had found out that Drebber was staying at Charpentier’s hotel before he was murdered. Gregson had gone to speak to Madame Charpentier and her daughter. They both looked very upset. Gregson asked at what time Drebber left to catch the train and if that was the last time they saw him. The mother said yes it was, but then her daughter, Alice, stopped her, saying, ‘No good comes from lying, Mother. We did see Mr Drebber again. You must tell him everything.’ So she did.
Madame Charpentier did not like Mr Drebber; he was rude and often drunk. He also tried to grab Alice and embrace her. Madame Charpentier told him to leave and was very pleased when he finally left.
She did not tell her son Arthur about Mr Drebber’s actions. If she told him, he would become angry and maybe violent. But Mr Drebber returned to the house. He had missed the train and was drunk. He grabbed Alice’s arm and wanted her to leave with him to become his wife. He was trying to pull her out of the door when Arthur came back. He stopped Drebber and took him outside. Then he came back with a stick in his hand.
‘I don’t think he’ll trouble us again,’ he said. ‘I’ll just follow him to see where he goes.’ The next day they heard about Mr Drebber’s death.
‘I then asked her at what time her son returned,’ said Gregson, ‘but she didn’t know. I questioned her again and again until she told me that Arthur Charpentier had been away for maybe four or five hours and she didn’t know where he was. So of course I arrested him. He was still carrying the heavy stick. He must be guilty!’
‘So, what’s your theory?’ asked Holmes.
‘Well, I think he followed Drebber as far as Brixton Road and hit him in the stomach with the stick, to kill him without leaving any mark. Charpentier pulled the body into the empty house. The blood, the ring and the writing on the wall were all tricks to give the police the wrong idea.’
Just then, Lestrade walked into the room. He had come upstairs while we were talking. He looked unhappy.
‘This is a most extraordinary case,’ he said. ‘I can’t understand it.’
‘Really, Mr Lestrade?’ said Gregson, looking pleased. ‘Did you find the secretary, Mr Stangerson?’
‘The secretary, Mr Stangerson,’ said Lestrade seriously, ‘was murdered at Halliday’s Hotel about six o’clock this morning.’