The Unbelievable by J. B. Hawley
Professional Sleuth

The Unbelievable

by J. B. Hawley


"Then how," the coroner leaned over the desk to ask the question, "do you account for the undeniable fact that your fingerprints are on the handle of the dagger?"


Table of Contents
  1. The Inquest
  2. The Plea
  3. THE Evidence
  4. The Proof

Chapter 1

The Inquest

During his world tour, undertaken at the behest and at the expense of the Chinese Government, Song Kee found much to admire. In this country, for example, he was impressed by a multitude of our ways and customs. And he frankly admitted their superiority over the Chinese equivalent or substitute of much that is distinctly American. In one respect, however, he contended that America was deficient in comparison with his own country. This was in the detection of crime.

“The Occidental detective,” he stated one night in his precise, smoothly-spoken English, “is quite competent to deal with crime of the ordinary variety. It is when he approaches the unusual, the delicately subtle, that he is lost.”

“And his inability,” he went on, “to handle successfully the extraordinary crime is due for the most part, I think, to his inability to believe in the unbelievable.”

Police Commissioner Oglethorpe, who was one of the half dozen men lounging in the smoking room of the Travelers, smiled.

“It would seem to me,” he said, and his voice was mildly sarcastic, “that detection of crime depends less upon the detective’s powers of belief than upon his powers of observation and his ability to uncover facts.”

Song Kee shrugged his shoulders.

“Facts, my dear Commissioner,” he replied, “are the bane of your Western civilization. You are a very young people. It will be several centuries before you learn that facts are not necessarily truths. Had I a secret, I would hide it —not under a bushel of lies—but under a bushel of facts.”

The Commissioner turned away.

“Yet Judges and juries have an odd predilection for facts,” he murmured.

“Which they, too, often mistake as sign posts towards Truth,” was Song Kee’s parting shot.

It was some weeks later that New York was startled by the murder of Irene Grenville. She was an actress who had attained an unusual prominence partly because of her real histrionic ability and partly because of the strange tales of her private life which circulated throughout the city.

Always there had been stories about her. Even in her early days, when she had played small parts in an uptown stock company, whispers about her wildness and depravity had crept to the ears of those who knew her. As she climbed higher on the professional ladder the whispers had become louder and reached a greater audience. When at last she reached stardom she was known from the Battery to the Bronx as the wickedest woman on Broadway, that street popularly supposed to be a cesspool of iniquity.

Now she had been found dead in the public hall of the hotel she had called home. A knife had been thrust into her lovely bosom. And all New York clamored to know the identity of her murderer.

The essential facts brought out at the coroner’s inquest were as follows:

Sophie Mallory, a chambermaid in the Ralston Hotel, where the deceased had lived, stated that at seven-fifteen on the night of the murder she had been standing at one end of the public hallway on the fourth floor. She was occupied at the time with the sorting of soiled linen, preparatory to sending it downstairs to the laundry. She had seen Miss Grenville leave her rooms. Closing the door of her sitting-room, which was near the end of the hall where the deponent was working, the actress walked rapidly down the hall toward the elevator.

Question by the Coroner:—Except for yourself, was the deceased alone in the hall.

Witness:—No, sir. A man was coming toward her from the other end of the hall.

Question:—How far apart were they when you last saw them?

Witness:—About five or six feet apart, sir.

Question:—At that time had the man reached or passed the deceased?

Witness:—Neither, sir.

Question by the Foreman of the Jury:—Did you recognize the man?

Witness:—No, sir. Not then.

The chambermaid went on with her story. This was to the effect that she had resumed her task of sorting the linen, turning her back on the hall where Miss Grenville and the man were walking. But hardly had she turned and started her work before she had been startled by a shriek of agony. Terror-stricken, she had turned back to the hall. There she saw the deceased lying on the floor. The man was bending over her. She had run to them and found Miss Grenville dead—stabbed through the heart. And the man bending over the body she had recognized as Mr. George Grover, a young man who had a suite on the floor above.

Question:—Did Mr. Grover say anything to you ?

Witness:—No, sir. Not to me directly, sir. But he kept repeating over and over, “Good God! She’s dead! She’s dead!”

Sophie Mallory was excused. The next witness was Detective Sergeant Delaney of the Branch Detective Bureau.

Delaney spoke in the calm, unemotional tone of a man to whom giving testimony in court is an ordinary occurrence. He stated that he had gone to the Ralston Hotel on the night of the murder in response to a telephone call from the management. He had found Irene Grenville dead. She had been stabbed through the heart. The dagger was still sticking in the body. Among the people gathered around the dead woman he had spoken to Sophie Mallory and to George Grover. After he had heard the chambermaid’s story, he had arrested Grover on suspicion.

“And besides,” he volunteered, “the man looked like he had done the trick. He was white and shaking like a leaf.”

Further he testified that with the permission of the coroner he had removed from the body of the deceased the fatal dagger and taken it to headquarters to be examined for fingerprints.

Question:—Were there fingerprints on the dagger?

Witness:—There were.

Question:—Can you state whose?

Witness:—I can. They were the finger-prints of George Grover.

The next witness was Marie Thibault, an excitable Frenchwoman who for many years had been maid to Miss Grenville. All that she had to tell was that George Grover had been acquainted with her mistress and that there had been some bad feeling between them.

“I cannot say what was the matter,” she said. “All I know is that the last time Monsieur brought Mad’moiselle home from the theatre, Mad’moiselle, she say to me, ‘Marie, nevaire let me see that crazy man some more’.”

A hush fell over the court-room when, accompanied by a uniformed policeman, George Grover entered. He was a young man of rather pleasing demeanor, carefully but quietly dressed. In normal circumstances he would have passed anywhere without causing remark. Now his face was pale and his eyes gleamed with a feverish excitement. His suppressed emotion gave to his not distinctive features an expression interesting and at the same time provocative of sympathy. As he took the witness stand a woman in the rear of the court-room cried out faintly.

He gave his testimony in a quiet, subdued manner, speaking without emphasis or intonation like a man talking in his sleep. After answering the usual formal questions as to name, address and occupation, which last he gave as student of Oriental languages, he said that on the night of Miss Grenville’s murder he had gone down the stairs from the fifth floor to the fourth of the hotel to keep an appointment he had had in the apartment of Mr. Sito Okawa, an attaché of the Japanese embassy. Mr. Okawa had promised to lend him a book on certain Japanese myths. Yes, he had seen Miss Grenville and had bowed to her.

“What happened then?” the coroner asked.

“I passed her.”

The coroner smiled incredulously.

“You passed her?”

“Yes, I passed her. I had just taken a step or two when she cried out. Before I could turn she had fallen to the floor. She was dead.”

The coroner hesitated a moment, regarding Grover steadily before he asked his next question.

“Did you touch the dagger with which she was stabbed?”

Grover shuddered.

“I did not,” he stated in the most impressive tone he had used thus far.

“Then how,” the coroner leaned far over the desk to ask the question, “do you account for the undeniable fact that your finger-prints are on the handle of the dagger?”

With bated breath the occupants of the court-room awaited his reply. It came in a low, despairing voice.

“I cannot account for it,” the witness answered.

The coroner leaned back in his chair. When he spoke again it was almost indifferently, as though he were asking the question as a matter of form.

“Had you and the deceased quarreled?”

The witness shook his head.

“Quarreled, no,” he answered. “Once I ventured to suggest to Miss Grenville that she was ruining herself by the kind of life she was leading. She resented what she called my interference and told me that she did not want to see me again.”

Slowly, almost languidly, he left the witness stand.

One more witness remained to be examined. This was the Mr. Sito Okawa with whom Grover claimed to have had an appointment. He was a short, dapper Japanese of the extremely intelligent type, suave, polite to the verge of the ridiculous.

After bowing low to the court and to the jury he took the witness stand. He stated that on the night of the murder he had indeed had an appointment with Mr. Grover. To the best of his belief, however, the time when they were to have met in his rooms had been eight-fifteen rather than seven-fifteen.

Then the coroner sent the jury to their deliberations. These did not consume a great deal of time. In less than five minutes, the twelve men were back in their places, the foreman ready to recite their verdict. It was what everyone had expected. Irene Grenville had come to her death from the blow of a dagger driven into her heart by one George Srover, whom they recommended should be held to await action by the Grand Jury.

Two days later the Grand Jury indicted the unfortunate young man. He was taken to the Tombs to await trial. And after a week or so New York forgot all about him, being concerned with matters of newer and greater importance. The baseball season opened—and a quite scandalous performance, the work of a degenerate French playwright, was being run at one of the largest theatres.

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Table of Contents
  1. The Inquest
  2. The Plea
  3. THE Evidence
  4. The Proof