The Left Handed Assassin

A Detective's Story

I was called down from London to Ipswich on an errand peculiar to one of my profession. I reached the Inn where I was to meet a fellow detective, who had expended both time and patience in attempting to ferret out a mysterious murder. But it appeared to be one of those singular cases that defy human detection, and which are generally abandoned by those appointed to discover the culprit, and left to divine vengeance.

I met Mr. Crofts, who [formally] resigned in my favor, and after taking a glass of rum punch with him, returned to the city while I prepared for my journey.

I will now state how matters stood.

Some three and a half miles from Ipswich stood a stone mansion, the property of Chas. Simmonds, a retired barrister.

He resigned his profession owing to a handsome legacy bequeathed to him by an only brother, who, after amassing a fortune in Australia, took it into his head to die. Charles was his sole heir. Mr. Simmonds had practiced law in Ipswich but his health had never been very robust, and soon after entering into his legacy, he purchased the mansion alluded to and retired from business, seeking the quiet and rest one in his station so greatly needed.

He married when young, but he made a great mistake in the selection of a partner for life. His wife was pretty (the snare that caught him), but wholly devoid of principle; illiterate and low in her tastes, she became the bane of his life.

She had a brother who occasionally visited the house, and who ingratiated himself in Mr. Simmonds’ favor by his amiable manners, genteel address, and the frequent brotherly lectures he read to Mrs. Clara Simmonds, his sister.

Morris Obdyke was always well dressed when he came to the house, and his conduct was unexceptionable, quite in contrast to that of his sister.

What his profession was could not be ascertained by Mr. Simmonds. When he asked his wife she replied she did not know, and he forbore questioning Mr. Obdyke himself, for the reason that the gentleman never spoke of having any business.

All that could be learned was that he resided in London, made periodical visits to Ipswich and remained there two or three days then left again, whither no one could tell or those who could would not.

When Mr. Simmonds retired from business and took possession of the mansion, Obdyke came more frequently, and his visits were more prolonged.

In spite of the lectures, he and his sister seemed to agree amazingly well, and to Mr. Simmonds’ great satisfaction, she grew more refined, or, more properly speaking, less vulgar every day. Refined she probably would never be, it was not in her nature to be so; but she managed by some means to render herself obnoxious to her husband, and he conducted himself towards her accordingly.

Matters stood thus five years, when Mrs. Clara Simmonds contracted a malignant fever and died in five days after the symptoms manifested themselves. This occurred during the absence of her brother, and she was interred before he knew even that she was sick.

When he came to learn of the sad event his rage was terrible to behold. He accused Charles Simmonds of the indirect cause of her death and insisted that the case be thoroughly investigated.

But probably ascertaining that his sister died from natural causes he suddenly disappeared from the neighborhood and came to visit Charles Simmonds no more.

There were no children born to Mr. Simmonds; hence in the event of his death, the estate would fall into the hands of distant relations who had gone to America years before.

One day, some two months after the death of his wife, Charles Simmonds examined her personal effects and was surprised to find among her papers a will with her signature attached to it. Rather amused at this discovery, he sat down to read it, and found that she had, in case of her death, bequeathed all her real and personal property to her brother, Morris Obdyke.

Her property? When she had none to bequeath? She was as poor as a church mouse (to use a homey but quite forcible phrase) when Charles Simmonds married her; where then, was her legacy to her brother to come from?

Thus reasoned the widower when he read the curious document; but presently the truth flashed upon his brain. This letter had been made in the expectation that she would survive him; then she and her brother would revel in his wealth, and after her death, all would be hers.

Was this a conspiracy against him? Was his mental question; had they calculated confidently on his demise? – if so, was it not probable that they meditated using means to accomplish this desired object? Horrible thought!

He turned to the will to see the date. It had been written six months previous to her death; the witness’s names were not familiar to him.

He communicated this discovery to his legal advisor, and mentioned the suspicions that had entered his breast. The attorney said it looked remarkably suspicious, yet still they might have meant no harm, the attorney added.

“If such a plot did exist, it does so no longer, at least it cannot effect you; for what would Morris Obdyke gain by your death?”

“True,” replied Simmonds, “I need not fear anything from him.”

Yet in two months after this conversation, Charles Simmonds was found sitting in his chair in the library, stone dead. He had been shot through the heart, the ball entering his back.

He must have been dead many hours before the servants discovered him, and the strangest part was that none of them heard the report of the pistol or gun.

He entered his library after supper, and as was his usual custom, sat there reading until the hour for retiring, which was eleven o’clock. They discovered his dead body in the morning, and at once gave the alarm.

All these particulars Mr. Croft related to me, and he had little faith in my ability to make any more out of the affair than what he had done.

I reached the mansion and at once entered upon the business that brought me there. I examined the room where the murder had been committed, and discovered that Mr. Simmonds had been sitting with his back towards the window at the time he was shot, and so true had been the aim that the ball sped through the heart, completely severing it in two, as was ascertained by a postmortem examination.

A broken pane of glass in the library window attested whence the shot came.

The library was on the second floor and situated in the north wing of the mansion. To gain access to this window, (the only one the room contained,) the murderer must have encountered great difficulty, unless he used a ladder to reach it. There was but one other way, which was to climb to the window by the leaden water spouts. I examined the ground beneath the window, and could see no sign of a ladder having been placed there; not a trace of footsteps was visible, and I came to the conclusion that resources was had to the spout.

I procured a ladder and placed it beside the water spout, and made a careful examination of it from the ground up to the library window.

I was soon assured that the murderer had made use of that means to reach the window. The lead was soft and yielding, and it bore the finger marks of the assassin, each finger had made an impression in the metal.

When I had finished this part of the examination I sat down and pondered well over the matter. I had made two very important discoveries: one was the assassin must have fired the weapon with his left hand, for I was perfectly convinced that no man could have held himself by the water spout with the left hand and reached the window with the right, so as to enable him to fire at an object in the middle of the room, where Mr. Simmonds invariably sat while reading, and where he was found seated when discovered in the morning. Now what could I deduce from this circumstance but that the assassin was left handed! My reason for this conviction was a good one. None but a left handed person could have made so fatal a shot from the position he must necessarily have occupied at this time, and that he knew how to use the weapon was also manifest, for no chance shot could have been so fatal in a thousand trials. This, then, was conclusive evidence, and though I made the discovery, I communicated it to no one.

The other discovery was no less important. The man who had climbed up the spout had but three fingers on the right hand. This was plainly seen by the finger marks on the metal; the spout was marked but in four places by the right hand – the thumb and three fingers, the index finger was gone.

I gave instructions not to allow anyone to meddle with the spout, and deputized a constable to see that my orders were strictly obeyed.

I next questioned the servants of the late Mr. Simmonds—four in number—and elicited the following information.

On the evening previous to the finding of the dead body of Mr. Simmonds, a female mendicant stopped at the mansion and requested permission to stop over night. The woman, a delicate looking creature, seemed much worn out by her tramp during the day, and the kind-hearted cook bade her stay, at the same time asking her to take a cup of tea and something to eat.

The poor creature was apparently half starved and ate ravenously, after satisfying her hunger, she laid down upon a bed the cook had prepared on the floor for her, and in a short time fell asleep.

The woman had a small black traveling valise with her, which she placed under her head before lying down.

Next morning the woman had gone before any one else had arisen, and, strange to say, she had left the black valise lying in some bushes in the rear of the house. It was not discovered until after the departure of Mr. Crofts, the detective.

I instantly asked to see the valise; It was produced, and I broke the lock without hesitation, hoping I might get some further clue to the perpetrators that this (probably pretended) mendicant was an accomplice.

The valise contained absolutely nothing – it was empty. I was on the point of throwing it aside, when I felt the rustling of the paper in the lining; I fished it from its hiding place; it proved to be a letter; its date was three weeks old. The envelope had no address on it, nor had the letter any signature. It ran thus:

IPSWICH, JUNE 3, 1859.

“Call on me, No. 33 Hollings Court, and ask for me. I have a fat job for you and your girl. Call between the hour of 9 and ten in the evening. Burn this letter after you have read it.”

This was all the letter contained; no names were mentioned. It was evident that the request to destroy the note had not been complied with – why, I could only conjecture. Either the recipient meant to keep it for further use, or it had been lost sight of; for when I found it, it was imbedded within the folds of the coarse lining of the valise in such a manner as almost to escape the notice of anyone, but that of a detective bent on getting every clue he possibly could to ferret out a murderer. The reader has seen how even I came very near throwing away this (perhaps) important document.

I made strict inquiries whether anything had been purloined by this woman, & was answered in the negative, at lease, they supposed not, for nothing had as yet been missed.

The kitchen door leading out into the yard, as well as the gate had been left unfastened by the woman. I followed the path she had probably taken when leaving the mansion, and came upon a clump of bushes, where were strewed some scraps of newspaper; these I examined, and saw they were pieces of a London paper.

While mechanically placing the pieces of newspaper in my pocket, I cast my eyes around the spot, and presently they alighted on a square cut-glass bottle of about four ounces capacity. I picked it up, the cork was in it, and the bottle contained a limpid liquid, perhaps two ounces. A label on it designated that it contained chloroform. I opened it, and was soon convinced that such was the case.

The label had on it the business place of an apothecary well known to me. I concluded to keep the bottle for the purpose of ascertaining who had purchased it and its contents.

I had no doubt now that the subtle drug had been used as a means to stupefy the inmates of the mansion while the murder was committed. The woman had probably put the servants to sleep, and her husband from the outside, committed the dastardly deed. The reason he did not enter the house, and do the deed while the servants were rendered insensible, was probably owing to the fact that Mr. Simmonds invariably barred the library door when he retired at night. The fact must have been known to the assassin, hence the mode he adopted to accomplish his object.

I obtained no further clue; in fact, I thought I had sufficient for my purpose. I came to the following conclusions and contemplated acting upon them:

Some intelligent person who desired revenge on Mr. Simmonds, had hired another person and his wife to do the deed he himself probably shrank from. I had every reason to suspect Morris Obdyke as the principal in this affair, and it was my object first to find out where he resided in London, and then to take measures to ferret out this left handed murderer.

The reason I wished to see Morris Obdyke, was to discover whether he was left handed, or whether he was minus a finger on the other hand. I forbore questioning the servants on this subject; probably they might have informed me correctly, but then servants will talk, and my secrets would have been thrown to the winds, which might have wafted my suspicions into the ears of the culprit. To avoid this contretemps, I held my tongue and started for London.

I called upon the apothecary, and handing him the bottle, I asked if he recollected to whom he had sold the chloroform. He at once replied in the affirmative, and gave me the name of Obdyke.

I was quite surprised at this information, and could not speak for a moment, so unexpected was it. I had only hoped to get a partial description of the purchaser, and intended to compare it with that of Obdyke, a description of whom I had obtained of the legal advisor of the late Charles Simmonds.

“Are you acquainted with Mr. Obdyke?”

“No sir.”

“How do you know it was he who purchased the drug?”

“Because, just as he paid for it, another gentleman entered the shop and called him by that name.”

I then made the apothecary describe the personal appearance of Obdyke, and it tallied with that given me by Mr. Yates, the attorney at Ipswich.

I had an advertisement inserted in the principal papers by which means I ascertained the residence of Morris Obdyke. He lived in fine style, and was presumed to be a gamester by vocation. He was unmarried, but entertained his acquaintances in a superb manner. He had some half dozen servants to minister to his wishes.

I managed to become acquainted with a person who had the entrée of his house, and had the satisfaction of accompanying him one day to one of Obdyke’s regal entertainment[s].

To all casual observers I entered on the enjoyments of the hour with great zest; but nevertheless I kept a keen [watch] upon all that passed around me.

I soon convinced myself that Obdyke was not left handed nor had he lost any of his fingers. It was, then, certain he was not the actual perpetrator of the deed.

I examined the hands of every guest but could not discover my man. One, it is true, I took to be left handed from the fact that he always took up the glass with his left hand, but then that was nothing, for I knew right handed folks to do the same thing.

I, however, looked at his right hand – the fingers were all there, or, at least appeared to be, for the man wore kid gloves. Suddenly a bright idea entered my brain, and I resolved to carry it out. I provided myself with a pin, and watched for an opportunity when he would lay his hand on a chair or table. In the mean time I had been introduced to him; he called himself David Jarrat, and was a married man.

The opportunity presented itself – he rested his right hand on the table, when I directed his attention to a distant part of the room, and while he looked I drove the pin into his index finger, just above the first joint. He never moved his hand! I withdrew the pin; it came out as easily as it entered. The substance it had entered was not flesh, but cotton. I beheld the assassin of Charles Simmonds – of that I was firmly convinced. But I was resolved to apply another test. – I had the letter found in the valise in my possession. I went home, took an exact copy of it, then sent the copy in an envelope to Obdyke by a boy, after which I returned to the saloon of my host, excusing myself for the temporary absence.

According to my instructions the lad entered the room and handed the envelope to Morris Obdyke. I had written nothing in it. I merely sent the copy. I wanted to see how it affected him.

The ruse was perfectly successful. As soon as he glanced at it he turned pale, and when he concluded it he cast a frightened glance around him, then leisurely sauntering toward the spot where Jarret sat playing cards, he handed him the note, then beckoned to him to follow.

Obdyke entered a side door, presently followed by his accomplice.

Now was the period for action. I had some half dozen of the boldest policemen stationed within hearing. I gave the signal, they entered, and in a very short time I had my birds caged.

It was subsequently ascertained that Mr. Simmonds had been robbed of a very large amount of gold and bank notes. So the assassin must have entered the house after dispatching his victim, and added the crime of robbery to that of murder.

I could now account for the splendid manner in which Mr. Morris Obdyke lived. He lived on his blood money. The evidence against the culprits was too strong to admit any doubt of their guilt.

They were duly arraigned, and their execution followed close upon their conviction. I gained two things by my participation in the affair that Crofts had abandoned in despair. The first was one thousand pounds, which was the reward offered for the apprehension of the assassin. The other was I gained a reputation of being the shrewdest detective in the entire force, a title Crofts envied me not a little.

Publishing Information

Published in

  • The Coshocton [OH] Democrat, November 2, 1864
  • The Caledonian [St. Johnsbury, VT], February 10, 1865
  • The Bloomfield Times [New Bloomfield, PA], June 10, 1873