The Psychological Solution – Chapter 3


by A. Hyatt Verrill
Author of “The Astounding Discoveries of Doctor Mentiroso,” etc.

Doctor Thane Draws Some Conclusions

WHEN Dr. Thane first undertook to unravel criminal mysteries by means of psychological anthropology, he was laughed at by the police. Not that the officials of the department, or their underlings, openly ridiculed him, for Dr. Thane was far too prominent a man, and possessed far too many influential friends and sponsors to warrant that. But he was looked upon as a harmless crank, a “bug hunter” as the police put it, who had a nonsensical hobby, and many were the jokes and loud laughter at his expense when he was out of sight.

But time after time he proved the correctness of his hypotheses and the accuracy of his deductions, until even the most skeptical and hard-headed of the police force became convinced that there was “something in it.”

And one of the strongest believers in Dr. Thane’s powers was Detective Captain Haley. Openly, and even the scientist, he pretended to have little faith in scientific methods. He had many a heated, though good-natured and friendly argument with Dr. Thane on the subject, yet invariably he sought the scientist’s aid whenever he found himself baffled.

He had lost no time in acquainting Dr. Thane with the known facts regarding the body found in the ash can on 85th Street.

And as Dr. Thane listened, his eyes fairly glowed and his ruddy face beamed. Here at last was just the case he had longed for ; just the case he had foreseen and had been expecting. This statement may need a few words of explanation, otherwise the fact that the scientist could foresee a certain crime before it was committed sounds far too much like imaginative fiction.

With the thoroughness characteristic of Dr. Thane in all matters, he had approached his present hobby at every angle. Not content with merely tabulating results and facts, and forming conclusions therefrom, he had taken racial and psychological facts also and from them created hypothetical conditions. In other words, he had built up imaginary crimes as the were to be committed, theoretically, by certain types under the influence of certain mental processes.

And among these was one which, as far as he could judge by the meagre details imparted by Captain Haley, seemed the exact counterpart of the present mystery.

Therefore Dr. Thane was highly elated, and he hurried to the detective’s office to secure further facts, and permission for full rein in carrying on his investigation.

This, of course, was immediately granted. Rubbing his hands and beaming through his glasses at the great opportunity, the scientist prepared to unravel the mystery revealed by a negro rubbish collector.

Doctor Thane at once proceeded to the morgue. Although he might unravel a mystery through psychological manifestations recognizable only to himself, still, as the key to these was usually to be found only in the visible results of the criminals’ acts, an inspection of the murdered man’s body was of fist importance.

To be sure, the man’s identity was unknown, but this really mattered little to the scientist. The nationality or rather the race of the victim, the manner in which he had been killed, and many other details were all links in the chain of reasoning followed by the scientist in his unique method of criminal investigation.

It may, at first thought, appear strange, that having invented a hypothetical case so similar to the one he was investigating, Dr. Thane should not have tried to solve the mystery by the purely imaginary incentive and racial characteristics which he had evolved. But it must be remembered that he was preeminently a scientist, a man who dealt in hard and fast facts. While, like other scientists, he might theorize and let his mind wander along the untrodden paths of his fancy, still he considered no point worthy of real consideration, and no hypothesis proven, until borne out by indisputable facts.

It would have been a simple matter to have remained in his office, and from the notes on his imaginary case, given the police a most vivid and detailed account of why and how the murder had been committed, of the race, personal appearance and characteristics of the murderer, and even of the conditions under which he had committed the crime. But he was anxious to prove that his theory was correct ; that racial psychology could be depended upon ; that it was possible to classify the affiliations of the various races through their mental reactions. And if direct investigation showed similar conditions, and disclosed a criminal such as he had imagined, then indeed would he be triumphant and his theory proven–at least in the present case.

But very soon Dr. Thane found to his chagrin and amazement, that aside from minor details and known facts, the “ash can murder” was not at all like his theoretical case, and that as far as his deductions were concerned, he was all at sea.

The body, as the police and press had already informed him, was that of a middle-aged man. A man of somewhat stocky build, under the average height, with well developed muscles and clean-shaven face of dark complexion. The hair was black, or very dark brown, slightly grayed over the temples. The eyes were of peculiar hazel shade, and the teeth, with the exception of two molars which had been extracted, were perfect. The clothing consisted of a cotton union suit, gray lisle socks, a Madras shirt of blue and white stripes, soft collar, a dark blue bow tie, tan oxfords and a suit of mixed gray tweeds. No hat had been found, but from the marks on forehead and hair, Dr. Thane felt sure that the man had been accustomed to wearing a soft felt hat.

Having examined the body and the clothing, the scientist turned his attention to the wound, which had evidently caused the death of the murdered man. It was a deep, rather jagged wound just below the collar-bone on the left side, and had severed the arteries. It was such a wound as might have been made by a broad-bladed knife, a knife, though Dr. Thane, such as a sailor might have carried, although a butcher’s knife, a hunting knife, a carving knife or even an ordinary kitchen knife might have served equally as well.

“Hmmm,” muttered Dr. Thane to himself. “Evidently not a premeditated crime. Whatever the weapon, it had not been prepared in readiness for the crime. It was a dull weapon, neither keen-edged nor particularly sharp-pointed.”

In fact, as the scientist examined the wound more carefully, he discovered that the weapon had torn and punctured the skin and flesh rather than cut the tissues, and that fragments of the shirt and clothing had been carried into the wound, while the rent in the garments was ravelled and torn and not at all cleanly cut.

Dr. Thane, whose curiosity was now outweighing his scientific interest in the case, pondered. “Died of hemmorhage,” he ruminated. “Death quick and probably painless. No signs of a struggle is indicated by condition of apparel. Hmm, must have had copious flow of blood, but little on clothing with exception of shirt and shoulder coat.”

“Strange,” he continued, as he jotted down notes. “Odd that there should have been no struggle, no other wounds, no abrasions as of blows or scratches from finger nails. Very odd. Wound inflicted from in front. Hmm, either delivered by assailant who was in plain view, by a left-handed man from the rear, or while the victim slept.”

The latter theory, however, was abandoned at once. It would have been impossible, the scientist assured himself, to have delivered the blow while the victim was reclining. Even if he had been resting on his back, or partly on his right side, it would have been a most difficult matter to have struck the blow without the hand of the assassin coming in contact with the bed or other object on which the victim was reposing. Moreover, the gush of blood which must have followed would have drenched the back of the murdered man’s garments, whereas all the blood, and it was amazingly little for such a wound, was upon the front of the coat and shirt, as though the man had been lying face-down and with head lower than feet, or had been stooping or bending forward when he met his end. But how, wondered Dr. Thane, was it possible for a person to drive a dull weapon into a man’s shoulder from the front if the victim were resting on his face or bending over? It was a physical impossibility, and the only explanation of the puzzle was that the man had slumped forward when the blow was delivered, and had remained in that attitude until the flow of blood had ceased. The other theories, that the blow might have been struck by a left-handed man from the rear, was also discarded. Even if the assailant had been left-handed–a right handed assassin striking a man down from behind would naturally deliver the blow on the right shoulder–he would scarcely have reached so far forward as to cause his weapon to enter the shoulder in front of the collar bone.

And even assuming that such an almost untenable condition had occurred, it would have required an enormously tall man to have accomplished the stroke.

Having thus mentally disposed of these two theories, there was nothing for Dr. Thane to do but assume that the blow had been delivered by some one standing face-to-face with the deceased. But here, again, the scientist ran against a snag.

Why had the murdered man stood there awaiting the blow that was to cause his death, apparently without the least resistance? Of course, meditated the scientist, there might have been a short struggle, or the victim, not expecting the blow, would have had no time to grapple with his assailant.

Also, a man might struggle for a few moments without leaving visible evidences on his person or his garments. Possibly, he thought, a minute examination of hands and finger nails might settle this question, might reveal hairs, a bit of skin or even fragments of clothing torn from the assassin.

With his powerful pocket lens, the scientist went over the hands and fingers of the corpse with the utmost care. The palms were free from callouses. It was evident that the dead man was not a sailor or laborer, and the nails were cut or bitten very short. But to Dr. Thane’s surprise, the palms were grimy, and bits of earth and fine grabel were pressed into the skin.

“Ah!” he exclaimed. “My assumption in one respect was correct. He fell forward when wounded and his hands came forcibly in contact with the earth.”

With his curiosity now thoroughly aroused, and more intent on solving the puzzle which confronted him than on proving his scientific theories, Dr. Thane carefully removed samples of the earth and sand from the dead man’s hands and preserved them. Then washing the coating of grime from the palms of the corpse, he discovered a number of deep scratches.

“Ah ha!” he thought. “Now we are getting at matters. There was a struggle.”

But the next moment he shook his head. The scratches had evidently been made by the contact of deceased’s hands with the earth. Not until the scientist had once more gone over both hands with the utmost care did he discover anything of interest. Then, adhering to the edge of one of the scratches, he discovered several small hairs, and preserving these, he rose, a little more satisfied.

“Evidently he attempted to grasp his assailant and clutched at his head,” he decided.

Next, he began an exhaustive search for possible clues to the man’s identity. The outer garments bore the name of a tailoring firm–“Goldberg and Sons,” but no address. The shirt and collar, as well as the tie, socks and undergarments, were all of well known makes and exact duplicates of countless thousands of others sold at department stores and haberdasheries throughout the world. The shoes were manufactured by an enormous company which maintained a chain of retail shoe stores, and there was not an initial, a laundry mark or any other distinguishing mark on any article of the dead man’s apparel.

In the pockets, the only objects found by the police had been a plain handkerchief, a package of cigarettes, some loose change, a bill-fold containing a little over one hundred dollars in small bills, and a silver watch of Swiss make.

Very evidently, robbery had not been the motive for the crime, and Dr. Thane felt a little more content. He had not expected robbery. In his theoretical case robbery had had no place, and he began to think that the case might prove to confirm his theories after all, even though it presented unexpected aspects and unusual and puzzling details.

The police had already made a systematic, and very thorough attempt to establish the man’s identity through the slender clues they possessed. They had tried every means of tracing the various garments, but without success. It was hopeless to attempt to trace the underwear, socks, shirt, tie or collar. With the exception of the shoes, the wearing apparel bore no numbers or marks which would enable the manufacturers to identify them or throw any light upon the purchaser.

The shoes, although bearing the makers’ lot numbers, and the retailer’s price and lot marks, could only be traced as far as the store where they had been bought, and not a store in New York had sold them. Throughout the country, in every town or city of any size, as well as in many foreign countries, the same make of shoes was on sale, and the manufacturers had supplied the police with a list of several hundred cities to which shoes of the same lot had been consigned. To follow up all of these would take weeks, and the police felt sure such an investigation would amount to nothing. There was not one chance in a million that the clerk who had sold the particular pair of shoes would remember to whom he had sold them, and still less chance that he would have known the purchaser’s name.

The watch bore the mark of a jeweler who had repaired it ; but so far the police had been unable to locate the man or firm who had done the work. The handkerchief was one of the sealpackerchief type, and was impossible to trace. There were no means of tracing currency, cigarettes or matches, of course, so only the bill-fold and pocket knife, and the tweed suit remained to furnish possible clues. The bill-fold bore the words: “Casa Leda,” but no address. The knife might have been bought anywhere at any time, and there were hundreds of “Goldberg & Sons” in New York and elsewhere. Nevertheless, as this name seemed to be the most promising lead and only hope, a canvass was made of every “Goldberg & Sons” in New York. But each and every one of them disclaimed having made or sold the garments found on the dead man. Each and every “Goldberg & Sons” also informed the police, with many expostulations–as though anxious to avoid even a remote connection with the bloodstained garments–that there were “Goldberg & Sons” in every city in the United States ; that tailors of that name were located in London, Paris, Havana, Porto Rico, Panama, and no doubt in every city of the universe. Hence further enquiries along that line were abandoned.

Meanwhile, of course, many people had visited the morgue to view the corpse in an attempt to identify it. Some were no doubt actuated merely by morbid curiosity, but many came with sad faces and tear-dimmed eyes, expecting and fearing they would find the body of some missing relative. Most of them brightened as they failed to recognize the dead man, and left the dismal place vastly relieved. A few were uncertain, not sure whether or not the deceased was some one they had known in life, and at least twenty individuals declared positively it was so-and-so, each naming a different person. It was soon proved, however, that they were all mistaken. In several instances the supposed victims were located alive and well ; but mostly some certain mark, scar or other peculiarity that would make identity certain, was missing.

Indeed, one of the most unusual and puzzling features of the case was that the dead man was absolutely free from any marks or peculiarities which might establish his identity. There was not a mole, wart, scar or birthmark on his entire body.

And the more Dr. Thane studied the case, the more he applied his theories and hypotheses, the more puzzled he became, for no matter at what angle he attacked the problem, he found himself checkmated and all his preconceived assumptions absolutely worthless.

Original Publication
Alpheus Hyatt Verill. “The Psychological Solution,” Amazing Stories, vol 2, no 2, Jan. 1928, pp. 946-957, pp. 971.

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