Monday, January 30, 2017

"She's a Woman of the World and Will Bear Watching"

"The 'Double Thirteen'."
By Norman J. Bonney (?-?).
First appearance: Adventure Magazine, February 28, 1922.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"I'm off chess for life."
Ordinarily the cruise from Yokohama to San Francisco aboard the Isota Maru is uneventful, and so it is up until the moment when Frank Blodwen, awakening from a drugged stupor, discovers that the valuable necklace (the "Double Thirteen"), which he acquired in Japan, has gone missing. Blodwen is certain he knows who took the necklace and appeals to the ship's captain and the Customs Service officials to detain and search a woman named Mrs. Mere-dith, but for reasons that will become clear later they refuse. By story's end, Frank Blodwen will have good reason to lament ever agreeing to teach a beginner how to play chess . . .

Comment: If you figure this one out before the last page, then hasten to submit your appli-cation for Mensa membership.

- The only thing we could find out about Norman J. Bonney (credited with only eight stories, one of them SFnal) comes from FictionMags: "Bank clerk. Probably from Boston, Massa-chusetts."

The bottom line: "Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs."
Malcolm Forbes

Sunday, January 29, 2017

"It'll Be Like It Never Happened"

"Dark Interlude."
By Mack Reynolds (1917-83) and Fredric Brown (1906-72).
First appearance: Galaxy, January 1951.
Reprinted many times (HERE).
Short short story (8 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Possibly objectionable language in common use then.)
"Justifiable homicide is a solidly established point of law, but the justification for murder depends on where the killer lives . . . and when!"
Whether we like it or not, the future is coming. In the case of Lou Allenby and his sister Susan, when the future does arrive, bringing with it a truth they both find absolutely unacceptable, there's only one way Lou can think of to deal with it—murder . . .
- We wonder if Reynolds and Brown were influenced by Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi's Practical Idealism (1925; HERE); since then, however, the opposite has been proposed (HERE).
- Wikipedia has an article about Zeno's paradoxes of motion (HERE).
- We've previously encountered SFF maestro Mack Reynolds (HERE) and, in his capacity as a crime fiction writer, Fredric Brown (HERE).

The bottom line:
   I pray you, in your letters,
   When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
   Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
   Nor set down aught in malice: then, must you speak
   Of one that lov'd not wisely but too well . . .
   — The Moor

Friday, January 27, 2017

"It Is Possible to Cover Up a Crime Too Well"

"The Seventh Man."
By William Byron Mowery (1899-1957).
First appearance: Adventure Magazine, October 30, 1923.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"There were but two ways of finding out the murderer."
Even in the Great White North, closer to the Arctic Circle than most people will ever dream 
of going, if there's a murder there has to be an investigation. When a fur trapper named Nascaupee Neilson—"the most jovial and likable mixture of French and Scotch on the Koksoak"—is found dead, Bent Avery takes it upon himself to determine which one out 
of dozens of roughneck trappers, prospectors, and fishermen committed the crime.

Through a careful process of elimination, Avery has narrowed his suspect pool down to just seven men, and because the victim was so well-liked he has decided to present his case to the world at large, in this instance everybody at Fort Chimo, knowing full well that when he finally fingers the murderer there's almost certainly going to be a full-scale riot, which is why he keeps his Mannlicher–Schönauer carbine handy:
"First [he tells them], understand I am bossing this affair from beginning to end. I know what some of you have been saying and wanting to do. All your spruce-limb parties couldn't find out for sure who killed Nascaupee Neilson. I've taken the affair into my hands and I'll enforce order—and protect the murderer—with this, if necessary." He tapped the magazine of his rifle. There was a growl of surliness in the crowd.
While everyone else was out running around trying to track the killer down, Avery himself made an important discovery—and a deduction:
"I said there was not one positive clue in the cabin of Nascaupee Neilson. There was a clue, of a sort. It was left behind to cover up the crime, to throw the blame upon an innocent person. That is the sole clue I had to work with."
The clue he's talking about is the murder weapon itself. An odd thing about that clue, though—there's another one so much like it that it's almost impossible to tell them apart . . . almost . . .

- Our author, William Byron Mowery, was actively writing from the 1920s all the way into the '50s, mostly outdoor adventure stories; FictionMags describes him thus: "Teacher, naturalist and novelist. Born in Adelphia, Ohio; on faculty at University of Illinois, then became full time writer, with more than 450 published stories, screenwriter." PulpFlakes also has a short article about him (HERE).

The bottom line:
   An ugly knife lay buried
   In the heart of 'Mad' Carew ...
   'Twas the vengeance of the little yellow god.
   — John Milton Hayes

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Top 5 in December

DECEMBER 2016 SAW record pageviews for the ONTOS weblog, and for that we're very grateful to you, our Faithful Readers. Among the most popular: Fredric Brown's ingenious mashup of science fiction and detective story; a fatal miscalculation; a four-handed killer; a locked-room author abstaining from same; and a lady sleuth going in circles.

We've also included the Top 5 in the months of December 2013-2014-2015.

~ December 2016 ~
(1) "There May Be Something Even More Sinister Than Murder Behind It" - (HERE)
(2) "He Didn't Bother to Check His Work" - (HERE)
(3) "Sometimes I Think He's Really Alien to This World at Heart" - (HERE)
(4) "You Won't Be Able to Talk—Not When You're a Corpse!" - (HERE)
(5) "She Has Been Stealing from Me Little by Little for the Last Six Months" - (HERE)

~ December 2013 ~
(1) The Dilettante Sleuth Par Excellence - (HERE)
(2) Anthony Wynne — "One of the Lesser Golden Age Writers" - (HERE)
(3) Mark Twain's Anti-detective Fiction - (HERE)
(4) "A Strange Medley of Stage Realism, Fantasy, Farce, and Tragedy" - (HERE)
(5) "The American Equivalent of the English Drawing Room Murder Mystery" - (HERE)

~ December 2014 ~
(1) "A Brilliant Bit of Investigation and Deduction" - (HERE)
(2) John and Mary and Sherlock and Nick - (HERE)
(3) Defending the Detective Story - (HERE)
(4) "The Only Kind of Story to Which the Strict Laws of Logic Are in Some Sense Applicable" - (HERE)
(5) Poe on the Couch - (HERE)

~ December 2015 ~
(1) "I Like My Detective Stories Pretty Plain—A Mystery, Its Solution, and Its Development": Reviews from THE BOOKMAN III - (HERE)
(2) OLD-TIME DETECTION, Autumn 2015 - (HERE)
(3) Three Adventures with John Dyce, Blind Detective (and One Without Him) - (HERE)
(4) "This Was a Curious Thing — The Whole Crux to the Mystery Lay in It" - (HERE)
(5) "Man Likes to Break Laws, and I Suspect That Secretly His Heart Goes with the Daring Villain Who Breaks the Law and Escapes the Penalty": Reviews from THE BOOKMAN IV - (HERE)

Monday, January 23, 2017

"A Kiss Had Created a Trap—and the Trap Was Ready to Spring"

"Coffin of Life and Death."
By Robert Wade (Robert Allison Wade, 1920-2012).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, April 1948.
Short story (15 pages).
Online at (HERE) and SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF).
(Note: The illustration, while eye-catching, doesn't fit with the story.)
"Living on Mars was easy, but dying was a different matter because the dead often came back from the grave alive — due to a peculiar type of coffin."
Space pilot Blake Wallace has this thing for Gloria Williams, Peter Shad's granddaughter, but he has to put his feelings on the back burner when he answers an add placed in the Martian Space News by Shad, who's in failing health, for a charter run to Earth, the cargo ostensibly being a sarcophagus containing a robot far in advance of the ones in current use. Blake will soon find out, however, that what's really in the sarcophagus represents something far more valuable than a machine—hope.

Comment: An unusually upbeat story with a bittersweet finish.
Typos: "the astroid belt"; "Spleen Johnson"; "the lense"
Very deceptive
- Robert Wade is usually better well-known to crime fiction fans under his other aliases, Whit Masterson and Wade Miller (the latter two being used with collaborator Bill Miller; see HERE); if you're curious, there are plenty of data at Wikipedia (HERE), Mystery*File (HERE), the IMDb (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE).
- In SFF, a coffin doesn't necessarily signify the end; one example is (HERE).

The bottom line: 
"A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin."
   — The Sage of Baltimore

Sunday, January 22, 2017

"Politicians Usually Go to Their Own Funerals"

WALTON DWIGHT, wounded war veteran and pillar of his community, became in his time a kind of one-man Flying Dutchman, a mysterious and elusive legend that refused to die even though, as far as the world knew, he overdosed (or did he hang himself?) during the Hayes administration—or, maybe not . . .

"His Honor Is Missing."
By Theodore Roscoe (1906-92).
First appearance: Argosy, March 15, 1941.
Novelette (19 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"Over a floodtide darker and more terrible than the River Styx, ferried by a babbling broken-down Charon, two young people sought a fabulous diamond—and the key to a seventy-year-old mystery. What they found was the gateway to madness."
Chapter I: "Long Live the Corpse!"
Chapter II: "Man Out of Darkness"
Chapter III: "Charon's Ferry"
Chapter IV: "The Five"
Chapter V: "The Black Dog Howls"
Chapter VI: "The Colonel's Face"
Chapter VII: "End of the Line"
Chapter VIII: "Monster of the Flood"
Chapter IX: "Medwick's Mill"
Chapter X: "Cream of the Jest"

"This is the mystery story," we're told . . .
". . . of a mayor who committed suicide and then, after he was buried and the grave-diggers went home, the insurance companies said it wasn't the mayor at all; that some stooge had been buried in the mayor's place.
"And the question then, naturally, was where was the mayor? Whose funeral was it? Good citizens wondered if His Honor was so honorable after all.
"How could the mayor of an American city disappear? Why? Was it kidnaping—a traction scandal—politics—an insurance gag—a case of cherchez la femme?"
Tenacious newspaper reporter Edith Johnwell is in pursuit of a hot lead in what is indeed a very cold case, the baffling disappearance back in seventy-nine (that's eighteen seventy-nine) of a major public official, along with all of the confusing speculation that inevitably comes in its wake. The vanishing whiskers, the full-length portrait, the old dark house on an island (haunted, they say), a mysterious woman in black, and five men who've died searching for a diamond worth at least thirty grand—but especially that diamond—have all piqued Edith's interest:
"If a man [she says] were going bankrupt and planning a vanishing act, a diamond would be a handy thing to vanish with."
But then comes that dark and stormy night in a rain-sluiced, rocking boat on a swollen, raging river with a man who claims he sees ghosts, carries a huge gun, and maintains he's not as dumb as people think even if he has been kicked in the head by a horse, which is why everybody calls him "Crazy"; and that dog's howl coming through the dank gloom; and a pair of pants and a shirt with nobody in them; and a canine skeleton with a bullet hole in its skull; and . . .
. . . and if you think any of that's going to scare Edith away, you have another think coming 
. . .

Main characters:
~ Edith Johnwell:
   "I'm looking for the mayor of Binghamton. He's very much missing. And his disappearance is causing me a lot of worry."
~ Charlie, the narrator:
   "I'd never been able to entice her on my knee in more comfortable circumstances, and I'll admit it was another reason for my joining the expedition."
~ Clyde Burlap:
   "Pa was right there at th' grave-side when th' coffin was reopened fer th' autopsy. Pa said it wasn't th' colonel, an' he knowed for sure it wasn't the colonel. On account of th' hair."
~ The man in the lobby:
   "I supposed he was the president of the local Go-Getters Association and resented us as New York slickers until I saw him expectorate a cud of tobacco into a convenient brass gaboon."

Comment: A lot of fun, this one, perfect for Halloween. Theodore Roscoe's expert authorial abilities are on display, as in this example of descriptive writing used to establish mood:
"Moonlight only exaggerated the blackness of underbrush and trees. Twisting like a snake, the foot trail wound through the dripping boscage; the rain had raised a dank vapor, and the soaked night steamed. Through the trees at the left we could see the river sliding by like a great tide of coffee. Coasting along the bank, it tore at bushes, slapped the roots of willows and made a sound like a vast gurgling in a cemetery."
Typos: "he didn't give a hang about th' give a hang about"; quotation marks missing or misplaced several times
- It's been over a year since we last touched base with Theodore Roscoe; go (HERE) to see what he was doing last time.
- Edith is engaged in researching other famous disappearances as well: Elizabeth Canning (HERE), Charlie Ross (HERE), and perhaps the most well-known disappearer of all, Ambrose Bierce (HERE).
- There really was a Walton Dwight (1837-78) (see HERE), who has been compared to Donald Trump (HERE). According to the historical account—The 149th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Unit in the Civil War (1994; HERE), which he commanded—Lieutenant-Colonel Walton Dwight . . .
". . . was elected mayor of the city of Binghamton, New York. Within three years he became the foremost developer of real estate in the area, creating housing developments with paved streets and sewers — modern conveniences for that day. Walton Dwight died under mysterious circumstances (possibly suicide) at the early age of 40."
Another source (Famous Mysteries: Curious and Fantastic Riddles of Human Life That Have Never Been Solved, 1919; online HERE) goes into some detail about Dwight's controverted death, including the gelsemium:
 "Although this mysterious drug was almost unknown to the physicians of Dwight's day, there were some who learned that its effect was to paralyze the motor nerves without the loss of consciousness and to thus produce temporar-ily an absolute simulation of death. Medico-legal authorities, considering the possibility of Juliet's suspended animation in the tomb where Romeo found her, have held that 'gelsemium' would have produced her deathlike trance [leading to the speculative theory that Dwight faked his death and funeral to collect on the insurance]." (HERE)
The bottom line: "When avarice takes the lead in a state, it is commonly the forerunner of its fall."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"When He Entered the Vault He Found That Its Contents, a Billion Dollars' Worth of Perfect, Flawless Diamonds, Had Completely Disappeared"

OUR STORY TODAY, his second to be published, was written by Charles Cloukey, whom FictionMags credits with only ten stories in four short years, due to his premature death 
(see "Resources" below).

By Charles Cloukey (1912-31).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, July 1928.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at SFFAudio (HERE) (PDF).
"Here is a scientifiction story that bristles with good science, and at the same time provides you with a goodly number of thrills."
In the long and never-ending war between the criminal and the law, sometimes the criminal gains a technological advantage. In the late 21st century, a "super-criminal" known only as "M. W." has achieved that edge with . . .
". . . a mechanism [that] reduces an object to its constituent atoms. It then changes—transmutes—these atoms into a certain class of waves, which are transmitted through space to his receiver, where an intricate process, the inverse of the first, restores them to their original form."
With this gizmo, stolen from a radio engineer who has suddenly gone missing, M. W. has misappropriated a fortune in precious stones; but fortunately Dr. David Harris, "perhaps the most famous detective in the world at the present time," is on the case, and with the help of pilot-adventurer Richard Brown and a small but capable assault team will eventually track down M. W. and Co. to their remote lair, get involved in some shootouts, and—mirabile 
dictu—aviator Brown will even get the chance to retrieve a lost love.

Comment: Of course no one speaks English like these characters; Amazing's editor Hugo Gernsback, a rabid technophile, couldn't have cared less, because it was the ideas that mattered to him, and author Cloukey has just enough of them to excuse his awkward 
writing. At least by 2072 they've got the border situation under control.
Typo: "n such a way"
- The SFE (HERE) tells us that . . .
. . . "[Charles Cloukey's] death at the age of 19 robbed the field of a precocious talent. Cloukey's first sale was made when he was only fifteen . . . Cloukey entered Haverford College in 1931, where he won first honours as a freshman in the intelligence test, studying to become a chemical engineer. Alas, a few months later he died from typhoid fever. One can only wonder what he might have achieved in later years."
- Getting from here to there in the wink of an eye is a major plot element in a story we featured just the other day (HERE).

The bottom line:
(Click on image to enlarge.)

Friday, January 20, 2017

"Inheritance, with a Little Prodding, Was a Much Easier and Quicker Way to His Desired Riches"

IT WAS THE MEDIA SENSATION of its day, a double murder for gain with a steamy side order of marital infidelity. It was . . .

"The Case of the Greedy Groom."
By Lawrence G. Blochman (1900-75).
First appearance: Unknown publication (1952).
Reprinted in Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine, October 1955.
True crime account (7 pages).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"Arthur Warren Waite was a young man from Michigan with a particular interest in gold. Natural, you'd say, in a dentist. Unfortunately, Waite was not satisfied with the small amounts of gold he encountered in his profession, and to acquire more, he embarked on an involved and unsavory scheme. The complications and denouement were so amazing, that Lawrence G. Blochman, well known book and magazine author, calls this his favorite murder case."
Handsome and debonair but also ruthless and mercenary, a liar, an adulterer, and a murderer: Arthur Warren Waite seems to have stepped right out of a Patricia Highsmith novel:
Arthur Warren Waite [writes Blochman] was a good-looking young man from Michigan with an overweening love of money and a ruthless determination to get lots of it in a hurry. Skill and hard work had no place on his impatient timetable.
As we've learned from fiction and real life, however, sooner or later a killer is very likely to make a mistake; in Waite's case it was his characteristic impatience whenever his clever, carefully laid plans weren't coming to fruition:
"In desperation [wrote Charles Fort] he lost all standing in the annals of distinctive crimes, and went common . . ."
. . . the result being his spectacular downfall.
Arthur Warren Waite, handsomely homicidal
- Our author, Lawrence G. Blochman, got our attention as a detective fiction writer last June (HERE).
- After you've read Blochman's account, you can find more information about the Arthur Warren Waite case at Murderpedia (HERE), from which we quote:
"When the body of a possible murder victim is given a post-mortem to determine the cause of death, one of the first signs examiners look for is the presence of any known poisons. But what happens when the lethal ingredients that led to the victim's demise are not chemical poisons, but germs spread by diseases, some of which can prove fatal through natural misfortune rather than murderous intent? If a murderer could harness these germs and bacteria as an effective murder weapon, how could investigators possibly determine whether a victim had died from natural causes or purposefully been exposed to the deadly germs by a human assailant?
"This was the line of thought that influenced Dr. Arthur Warren Waite, a dentist in New York who shared his luxury apartment on Riverside Drive with his wife's retired parents. His father-in-law, John Peck, had built up a sizeable fortune after a career as a pharmacist in the Middle West, and Waite longed to inherit as much of the money as possible. The problem was that neither parent seemed in poor health . . ."
See also Wikipedia (HERE).
- Twenty years later, the Chicago Sunday Tribune ran a well-illustrated article about the Peck Murders; go (HERE) and use the "+" function.
- Arthur Warren Waite isn't unique, inasmuch as there seem to have been quite a few homicidal dentists throughout history, as you'll see (HERE).

The bottom line: "All the motives for murder are covered by four Ls: Love, Lust, Lucre and Loathing."
P. D. James

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"She Wanted Him To Be Ready, Not Only in Ways of Avoiding Their Traps ... but Ready with a Heart Full of Hate"

By Bill Doede (?-?).
First appearance: Galaxy, December 1960.
Short story (13 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).
"A Konv cylinder was the key to space—but there was one power it could not match!"
Fear can move people to do terrible things, but as a motive hatred sometimes leads to far worse outcomes. Mrs. Jamieson and her son Earl, both of them Konvs, have been living in a kind of self-imposed witness protection program, on the run from Agents who have been known to kill Konvs just for being Konvs. Mrs. Jamieson and Earl are among a select few who have a special implant that gives them abilities no one else on Earth has, abilities that have frightened governments into hunting them down.

To her dismay, Mrs. Jamieson gradually comes to realize that she and her son don't share the same goal, to kill any Agent they can as revenge for her husband's death, and it looks as if Earl might actually be feeling sympathy for their pursuers; with or without Earl's help, however, she won't be deterred from exacting her revenge. Like Captain Ahab, though, she will finally discover in her last moments that the rewards of vengeance are few and sudden and nasty . . .
- The ISFDb has an entry for Bill Doede (HERE).
- Winchell Chung discusses at length ideas that relate to the Konvs' special abilities on his Atomic Rockets website (HERE) and, of course, TV Tropes covers all the bases (HERE).

The bottom line: "Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven."
Lord Saye

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"And We All Played Ring-Around-a-Rosy Until Right Now"

"EDWARD RONNS" is probably not a name you might be familiar with, but if you ever spent much time in any now-defunct used book stores (a respectful moment of silence, please) then you probably couldn't help seeing a shelf or two bulging with copies of his CIA spy Sam Durell "Assignment" series published under his real name, Edward S. Aarons. Before he hit the Big Time with Durell, though, he served an apprenticeship toiling in the pulps, learning how to keep a narrative moving, always moving . . .
"Doom Offshore."
By Edward Ronns (Edward S. Aarons, 1916-75).
First appearance: Popular Detective, October 1941.
Short story (10 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).
"Death Stalks in the Wake of a Northeaster As Toby Waters Pilots Killers to a Fatal Trap!"
Kidnapping a fellow's girlfriend is one thing, but stealing a tugboat and a bunch of barges, that's something else . . .

Comment: Good descriptive writing with plenty of atmospherics, set during the Neutrality Acts days just before Pearl Harbor.
Typos: "a crash from behind as is the first"; "every lime a northeaster blows"
~ ~ ~
"Case of the Promiscuous Corpses."
By Edward Ronns (Edward S. Aarons, 1916-75).
First appearance: Detective Short Stories, November 1941.
Short story (11 pages).
Online at Comic Book Plus (HERE; select page 40).
(Caution: Violence against animals as well as people.)
"Johnson straightened with a deep sigh from his examination of the two corpses on the floor—the man and the gamecock. Johnson wiped his mouth and said: 'It's plain as the nose on your face, Bill. Potassium cyanide. Both of them'."
A double murder—one a man, the other a domestic fowl—but the same motive killed them both . . .
Comment: The title makes no sense.
Typos: "Seputy-Sheriff Dooly"; "Morton's voice came cauitously"; "he laughed, bareing even"; "Since Lassiter nad Morton"; "Claney did the spur"; "but Carig was"
~ ~ ~
"Murder Buys a Hat."
By Edward Ronns (Edward S. Aarons, 1916-75).
First appearance: Thrilling Detective, July 1942.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online at Pulpgen.
"Rookie Crown Gets the Lowdown on a 'Suicide' When Georgie Puts Her Wits to Work for Him!"
We featured this story once before (HERE).
~ ~ ~
"Death on the Meter."
By Edward Ronns (Edward S. Aarons, 1916-75).
First appearance: Thrilling Detective, January 1945.
Novelette (19 pages).
Online at Pulpgen (HERE).
"Detective Dolliver of Homicide Runs a Chase With Doom on the Trail of a Killer—and Learns That the Female of the Gun Racket Species Can Be More Deadly Than the Male!"
Chapter I: "Big Man in the Shadows"
Chapter II: "Letters and Pearls"
Chapter III: "Fatal Rendezvous"
Chapter IV: "Two Shots"
Chapter V: "Gun Woman"

Juicy love letters revealing an illicit affair and a couple of missing pearls kickstart 
a trifecta of mayhem and murder, with only a clear-thinking police lieutenant and 
a felonious Scandinavian standing in the killer's way . . .
Comment: The Chandler influence is evident in this one, with shiftiness, shenanigans, and slayings amongst the hoi oligoi and a plot that's been "borrowed" many times since for TV crime shows.
Typo: "Did you ever head of"

- Edward S. Aarons is still popular, so if you experience an information overload consulting these sources don't blame us: Wikipedia (HERE), the GAD Wiki (HERE), Mystery*File (HERE) and (HERE); about the Sam Durell spy series: Mystery*File (HERE), Stop You're Killing Me (HERE), Spy Guys and Gals (HERE), Goodreads (HERE), and Existential Ennui (HERE).

The bottom line: "He who would search for pearls must dive below."
John Dryden

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"He'd Been Shot, Twice, at Point-Blank Range, and the Bullets Had Flattened Against His Skin"

"The Invincible Crime-Buster."
By Henry Gade (Raymond A. Palmer, 1910-77).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, July 1941.
Novelette (26 pages).
Online at (HERE).
"It's a pretty rotten break to be thrust into the role of superman when your invincibility is only skin deep."
Chapter I: "Why—that would mean—oh heavens! Battleships plated with such a metal would be indestructible!"
Chapter II: "Marie Gets an Idea"
Chapter III: "John Doe, Enemy of Crime"
Chapter IV: "The Crime-Buster in Action"
Chapter V: "Trouble for Marie"
Chapter VI: "Hands Off!"

When the Bard penned these words—"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them"—he certainly didn't have Daniel Ovid Ellsworth in mind; but thanks to a freaky laboratory accident and a fireball female reporter, Daniel Ovid Ellsworth is going to be great whether he wants it or not. Move over, Lamont Cranston; 
stand aside, Doc Savage; here comes John Doe, The Crime-Buster, fearsome Scourge of 
the Underworld—as long as he doesn't get a tummy ache . . .

Major characters:
~ Dr. Edgar Cramer, a research scientist:
   "I've simply got to find a solution to that boy's difficulty! That girl's going to be too much for him!"
~ Marie Gerling, reporter for the Herald and Lois Lane wannabe:
   "The great Dr. Edgar Cramer wouldn't really send a poor little reporter-girl away without a science story, would he? Just one teeny-weeny Sunday Supplement article . . ."
~ Daniel Ovid Ellsworth, reluctant hero:
   "I told you I wasn't a scientist. It's been that way every time I tried to do something. Even my own experiments go wrong because I'm so clumsy."
~ Dawson, editor of the Herald:
   "It's a contract. And it's also a release. We contract to buy your stories, and give you a by-line, at a stipulated salary. You release us from any responsibility for personal damage to your pretty physique—which you'll no doubt get, monkeying around with the crime ring in this city!"
~ Burke, Dawson's assistant:
   "I was one of the victims. Mr. John Doe, the Enemy of Crime, saved my weekly stipend for me."
~ Mrs. Schaeffer, the landlady:
   "Oh, Mr. Ellsworth! I'm so proud of you. It was simply wonderful. To think that one of my boarders is famous!"
~ Kelly, a cop:
   "Mike, you clean up this mess. I wanta rest. I been reading too many of them fantastic adventures!"

Comment: If a screwball comedy should mate with an off-the-wall science fantasy, the result might bear a strong resemblance to this story.
- "Henry Gade" was one of the aliases used by Ray Palmer (not the TV character), who we think was serious when he championed the idea that flying saucers originated in an under-ground civilization—but with Palmer, who could tell? See Wikipedia (HERE), the SFE (HERE), and the ISFDb (HERE) for the scoop on him.

The bottom line: "The police officer who puts their life on the line with no superpowers, no X-ray vision, no super-strength, no ability to fly, and above all no invulnerability to bullets, reveals far greater virtue than Superman—who is only a mere superhero."
Eliezer Yudkowsky

Monday, January 16, 2017

"If He Didn't Take the Life of—a Woman—He Took Mine—and He's Got What Was Coming to Him"

Just the other day we highlighted a story (HERE), a true one according to the author, about 
a terrible miscarriage of justice in which an innocent man was executed based purely on circumstantial evidence. In those days, of course, systematic scientific fingerprint analysis still lay in the distant future, but it's just possible it could have cleared the poor man. There has always been a persistent skepticism about fingerprints, however, one which today's author, a popular playwright in his day, exploits to the fullest in a melodrama entitled . . .

By Augustus Thomas (1857-1934).
First appearance: Everybody's Magazine, July 1921.
Play (greatly condensed to 6 pages). First performed on Broadway: April-May 1921, 56 performances. Producer: George M. Cohan.
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
"Would You Take a Man's Life on Finger-Print Evidence?"
The editor of Everybody's Magazine explains the raison d'être for "Nemesis":
ACCORDING to the police, the finger-print system is invaluable in the detection and identification of criminals and for years the public has looked upon it as being well-nigh infallible. But is it? Augustus Thomas, the playwright, thinks not, and he has written a play called "Nemesis" to prove his point.
The play opens in the library of the Kallans, Ben and Marcia. There has been a dinner party and cards are to follow. . . .
- The Broadway League's Internet Broadway Database has the basic data about "Nemesis" (HERE). Britannica (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE) have much more about Augustus Thomas; we encountered George M. Cohan a couple of years ago (HERE) in regard to his production of Seven Keys to Baldpate.
- Some theater-goers weren't too enchanted with this play, including this critic who seems to have it in for Sigmund Freud:
"For two interminable acts, 'Nemesis' rumbles slowly along amid a jargon of half-baked Freudian chatter. . . In the third act, the husband [does something that is] theatrically ingenious, and the audience comes to life. The next act shows the sculptor being tried for the crime; and for some time Mr. Thomas forgets his dignity of automat erudition and gives us a murder-trial with all the realism of a careful reporter. . . After all, Pudd'nhead Wilson knew something about finger-prints, but nothing at all about Dr. Freud. We rather liked him so."
— Walter Prichard Eaton, "The Theatre: Mr. Thomas Discovers Dr. Freud," The Freeman, 20 April 1921 (go HERE for full review).

The bottom line:
   "Must everybody tell everything?"
   "Oh, yes—everybody does somehow—somewhere—everybody."
   — Marcia and Dr. Simpson

Saturday, January 14, 2017

"One Fact Was Linked to Another in Curious Coincidence, Until the Chain of Corroborating Circumstances Seemed Irresistibly Conclusive"

"Cirumstantial Evidence: A Tale Founded on Fact."
By Emillion (?-?).
First appearance: The Southern Literary Messenger, December 1834.
Short short story (7 pages).
Online (HERE) or you can read it (BELOW).
"I am a plain man, but I know what's right. It 'aint fair to hang no man on suspicion . . ."
When the time comes for the state to execute a prisoner, it should be very, very, VERY sure that it has proven his guilt—beyond a reasonable doubt . . .

~ ~ ~


The circumstances which I am about to relate, are familiar to many now living. In some particulars I have varied from the truth; but if in the relation of an event which excited 
intense interest, at the time of its occurrence, I shall succeed in impressing upon any 
one, the delusive character of circumstantial evidence, my object will be attained.

Beneath the magnificent sycamores which bordered a lovely stream in the southwest part of Kentucky, a company of emigrants had pitched their encampment, for the night. The tents were set up, the night-fire threw its gleam upon the water, the weary horses were feeding, the evening repast was over, and preparations were made for repose. The party consisted of three brothers, with their families, who were wending their way to the new lands of the distant Missouri. On their visages, where the ague had left the sallow traces of its touch, few of the nobler traits of the human character were visible. Accustomed to reside upon the outskirts of society, little versed in its forms, and as little accustomed to the restraints of law, or the duties of morality, they were the fit pioneers of civilization, because their frames were prepared for the utmost endurance of fatigue, and society was purified by their removal. Theirs were not the fearless independence, and frank demeanor which marks the honest backwoodsman of our country; but the untamed license, and the wiley deportment of violent men, who loved not the salutary influence of the law, nor mingled of choice with the virtuous of their own species.

As they stirred the expiring fires, the column of light, mingled with the smoke and cinder, that rose towards the clear sky of the mild May night, revealed two travellers of a different appearance, who had encamped on the margin of the same stream. One was a man of thirty. Several years passed in the laborious practice of medicine, in a southern climate, had destroyed his constitution, and he had come to breathe the bracing air of a higher latitude. The wing of health had fanned into new vigor the waning fires of life, and he was now returning to the home of his adoption with a renovated frame. The young man who sat by him, was a friend, to whom he had paid a visit, and who was now attending him, a short distance, on his journey. They had missed their way, and reluctantly accepted a sullen permission of the emigrants to share their coarse fare, rather than wander in the dark, through unknown forests. Hamilton, the younger of the two, was, perhaps, twenty-seven years of age—and was a young gentleman of prepossessing appearance, of cultivated mind, and of a chivalrous and sensitive disposition. His parents were indigent, and he had, by the energy of his own talents and industry, redeemed them from poverty, and placed them in easy circumstances. In one of his commercial expeditions down the Mississippi, he had met with Saunders, the physician. An intimacy ensued, which though brief, had already ripened into mature friendship.

'Affection knoweth nought of time,
     It riseth like the vernal flowers;
 The heart pulse is its only chime,
     And feelings are its hours.'

Together they had hunted over the flowery barrens, and through the majestic forests of their native state—had scaled the precipice, and swam the torrent—had explored the cavern, and visited whatever was wonderful or curious in the region around them; and both looked forward, with painful feelings, to the termination of an intercourse which had been pleasing and instructive.—As they were to separate in the morning, the evening was spent in conver-sation—in that copious and involuntary flow of kindness and confidence which the heart pours out at the moment when friends are about to sever, when the past is recalled and the future anticipated, and friendship no longer silent, nor motionless, displays itself like the beauty of the ocean wave, which is most obvious at the moment of its dissolution.

Early in the morning, the two friends prepared to pursue their journey. As they were about to depart, one of the emigrants advanced towards them, and remarked:

'I reckon, strangers, you allow to encamp at Scottville to-night?'

'Yes,' said Saunders, 'I do.'

'Well, then, I can tell you a chute, that's a heap shorter than the road you talk of taking—and at the forks of Rushing river, there's a smart chance of blue clay, that's miry like, and it's right scary crossing at times.'

Supposing they had found a nearer and better road, and one by which a dangerous ford would be avoided, they thanked their informant, and proceeded on their journey.

In some previous conversations, Saunders had learned, that his friend had recently experi-enced some heavy losses, and was at this time much pressed for money, and wishing to offer him assistance, had from time to time deferred it, from the difficulty of approaching so delicate a subject. As the time of parting approached, however, he drew the conversation to that point, and was informed that the sum of five hundred dollars, would relieve his friend from embarrassment. Having a large sum in his possession, he generously tendered him the amount required, and Hamilton, after some hesitation, accepted the loan, and proposed to give his note for its repayment, which Saunders declined, under the plea that the whole transaction was a matter of friendship, and that no such formality was requisite. When they were about to part, Hamilton unclasped his breast-pin, and presented it to his friend. 'Let this,' said he, 'remind you sometimes of Kentucky—I trust, that when I visit you next year, I shall not see it adorning the person of some favored fair one.' 'I have not so much confi-dence in you,' laughingly returned the other; and, handing him a silver-hafted penknife curiously embossed, 'I am told that knives and scissors are not acceptable presents to the fair, as they are supposed to cut love, so I have no fear that Almira will get this—and I know that no other human being would cause you to forget your friend.' They then parted.

As Hamilton was riding slowly homeward, engaged in thought, and holding his bridle loosely, a deer sprang suddenly from a thicket, and fell in the road, before his horse, 
who started and threw him to the ground. In examining the deer, which had been mortally wounded, and was still struggling, some of the blood was sprinkled on his dress, which had been otherwise soiled by his fall. Paying little attention to these circumstances, he returned home.

Though his absence had been brief, many hands grasped his in cordial welcome, many eyes met his own in love, for few of the young men of the county were so universally beloved, and so much respected as Hamilton. But to none was his return so acceptable as to Almira ——. She had been his playmate in infancy, his schoolmate in childhood, in maturer years their intimacy had ripened into love, and they were soon to be united in the holiest and dearest of ties. But the visions of hope were soon to pass from before them, as the mirage of the desert, that mocks the eye of the thirsty traveller, and then leaves him a death-devoted wanderer on the arid waste.

A vague report was brought to the village, that the body of a murdered man was found near Scottville. It was first mentioned by a traveller, in a company where Hamilton was present; and he instantly exclaimed, 'no doubt it is Saunders—how unfortunate that I left him!' and then retired under great excitement. His manner and expressions awakened suspicion, which was unhappily corroborated by a variety of circumstances, that were cautiously whispered by those, who dared not openly arraign a person whose whole conduct through life had been honest, frank, and manly. He had ridden away with Saunders, who was known to have been in possession of a large sum of money. Since his return, he had paid off debts to a consider-able amount. The penknife of Saunders was recognized in his hands—yet none were willing, on mere surmise, to hazard a direct accusation.

The effect of the intelligence upon Hamilton was marked. The sudden death of a dear friend is hard to be supported—but when one who is loved and esteemed, is cut off by the dastardly hand of the assassin, the pang of bereavement becomes doubly great, and in this instance, the feelings of deep gratitude which Hamilton felt towards his benefactor, caused him to mourn over the catastrophe, with a melancholy anguish. He would sit for hours in a state of abstraction, from which even the smile of love could not awaken him.

The elections were at hand; and Hamilton was a candidate for the legislature. In the progress of the canvass, the foul charge was openly made, and propagated with the remorseless spirit of party animosity. Yet he heard it not, until one evening as he sate with Almira, in her father's house. They were conversing in low accents, when the sound of an approaching footstep interrupted them, and the father of Almira entered the room. 'Mr. Hamilton,' said he, 'I am a frank man—I consented to your union with my daughter, believing your character to be unstained—but I regret to hear that a charge has been made against you, which, if true, must render you amenable to the laws of your country. I believe it to be a fabrication of your enemies—but, until it shall be disproved, and your character as a man of honor, placed above suspicion, you must be sensible that the proposed union cannot take place, and that your visits to my house must be discontinued.'

'What does my father mean?' inquired the young lady, anxiously, as her indignant parent retired.

'I do not know,' replied the lover, 'it is some electioneering story, no doubt, which I can easily explain. I only regret that it should give him, or you, a moment's uneasiness.'

'It shall cause me none,' replied the confiding girl: 'I cannot believe any evil of you.'

He retired—sought out the nature of the charge, and to his inexpressible astonishment and horror, learned that he was accused of the murder and robbery of his friend! In a state little short of distraction, he retired to his room, recalled with painful minuteness all the circum-stances connected with the melancholy catastrophe, and for the first time, saw the dangerous ground on which he stood. But proud in conscious innocence, he felt that to withdraw at that stage of the canvass, might be construed into a confession of guilt. He remained a candidate, and was beaten. Now, for the first time, did he feel the wretchedness of a condemned and degraded man. The tribunal of public opinion had pronounced against him the sentence of conviction; and even his friends, as the excitement of the party struggle subsided, became cold in his defence, and wavering in their belief of his innocence. Conscious that the eye of suspicion was open, and satisfied that nothing short of a public investigation could restore him to honor, the unhappy young man surrendered himself to the civil authority, and demanded a trial. Ah! little did he know the malignity of man, or the fatal energy of popular delusion! He reflected not that when the public mind is imbued with prejudice, even truth itself ceases to be mighty. Many believed him guilty, and those who, during the canvass, had industriously circulated the report, now labored with untiring diligence to collect and accumulate the evidence which should sustain their previous assertions. But arrayed in the panoply of innocence, he stood firm, and confident of acquittal. The best counsel had been engaged—and on the day of trial, Hamilton stood before the assembled county—an arraigned culprit in the presence of those before whom he had walked in honor from childhood.

As the trial proceeded, the confidence of his friends diminished, and those who had doubted, became confirmed in the belief of the prisoner's guilt. Trifles light as air became confirma-tions strong as proofs of Holy Writ to the jealous minds of the audience, and one fact was linked to another in curious coincidence, until the chain of corroborating circumstances seemed irresistibly conclusive. His recent intimacy with the deceased, and even the atten-tions which friendship and hospitality had dictated, were ingeniously insisted upon as evidences of a deliberate plan of wickedness—long formed and gradually developed. The facts, that he had accompanied the deceased on his way—that he had lost the path in a country with which he was supposed to be familiar—his conduct on hearing of the death of his friend—the money—the knife—caused the most incredulous to tremble for his fate. But when the breast-pin of Hamilton, found near the body of the murdered man, was produced—and a pistol, known to have been that of the prisoner, was proved to have been picked up near the same spot—but little room was left, even for charity to indulge a benevolent doubt. Nor was this all—the prosecution had still another witness—the pale girl who sate by him, clasping his hand in hers, was unexpectedly called upon to rise and give testimony. She shrunk from the unfeeling call, and buried her face in her brother's bosom. That blow was not anticipated—for none but the cunning myrmidons of party vengeance, who had even violated the sanctuary of family confidence, in search of evidence, dreamed that any criminating circumstance was in the possession of this young lady. At the mandate of the court, she arose, laid aside her veil, and disclosed a face haggard with anxiety and terror. In low tremulous accents, broken with sobs, she reluctantly deposed, that the clothes worn by her brother, on his return from that fatal journey, were torn, soiled with earth, and bloody! An audible murmur ran through the crowd, who were listening in breathless silence—the prison-er bowed his head in mute despair—the witness was borne away insensible—the argument proceeded, and after an eloquent, but vain defence, the jury brought in a verdict of guilty! The sentence of death was passed.
              *               *               *               *               *
The summer had passed away. The hand of autumn had begun to tinge with mellow hues the magnificent scenery of the forest. It was evening, and the clear moonbeams were shining through the grates of the prisoner's cell. The unhappy man, haggard, attenuated, and heart-broken, was lying upon his wretched pallet, reflecting alternately upon the early wreck of his bright hopes, the hour of ignominy that was just approaching, and the dread futurity into which he should soon be plunged. It was the season at which his marriage with Almira was to have been solemnized. With what pride and joy had he looked forward to this hour! And now, instead of the wedding festivities, the lovely bride, and the train of congratulating friends, so often pictured in fancy, he realized fetters, a dungeon, and a disgraceful death! The well-known tread of the jailer interrupted the bitter train of thought. The door opened, and as the light streamed from a lantern across the cell, he saw a female form timidly approaching. In a moment Almira had sunk on her knees beside him, and their hands were silently clasped together. There are occasions when the heart spurns all constraint, and acts up to its own dictates, careless of public opinion, or prescribed forms—when love becomes the absorbing and overruling passion—and when that which under other circumstances would be mere unlicensed impulse, becomes a hallowed and imperious duty. That noble-hearted girl had believed to the last, that her lover would be honorably acquitted. The intelligence of his condemnation, while it blighted her hopes, and withered her health, never disturbed for one moment her conviction of his innocence. There is an union of hearts which is indestructible, which marriage may sanction, and nourish, and hallow, but which separa-tion cannot destroy—a love that endures while life remains, or until its object shall prove faithless or unworthy. Such was the affection of Almira; and she held her promise to love and honor him, whose fidelity to her was unspotted, and whose character she considered honor-able, to be as sacred, as if they had been united in marriage. When all others forsook, she resolved never to forsake him. She had come to visit him in his desolation, and to risk all, to save one who was dear and innocent in her estimation, though guilty in the eyes of the world.

The jailer, a blunt, though humane man, briefly disclosed a plan, which he, with Almira, had devised, for the escape of Hamilton. He had consented to allow the prisoner to escape, in female dress, while she was to remain in his stead, so that the whole contrivance should seem to be her own. 'I am a plain man,' concluded the jailer, 'but I know what's right. It 'aint fair to hang no man on suspicion—and more than that, I am not agoing to stand in no man's way—especially a friend who has done me favors, as you have. I go in for giving every fellow a fair chance. The track's clear, Mr. Hamilton, and the quicker you put out, the better.'

To his surprise, the prisoner peremptorily refused the offer.

'I am innocent,' said he; 'but I would suffer a thousand deaths rather than injure the fair fame of this confiding girl.'

'Go, Dudley—my dear Dudley,' she sobbed: 'for my sake, for the sake of your broken-hearted father and sister—'

'Do not tempt me—my dear Almira. I will not do that which would expose you to disgrace.'

'Oh, who would blame me?'

'The world—the uncharitable world—they who believe me a murderer, and have tortured the most innocent actions into proofs of deliberate villainy, will not hesitate to brand you as the victim of a cold-blooded felon. And why should I fly? to live a wretched wanderer, with the brand of Cain on my forehead, and a character stamped with infamy?'—

He would have said more—but the form, that during this brief dialogue, had sunk into his arms, was lying lifeless on his bosom. He kissed her cold lips, and passionately repeated her name—but she heard him not—her pure spirit had gently disengaged itself, and was flown forever. Her heart was broken. She had watched, and wept, and prayed, in hopeless grief, until the physical energies of a delicate frame were exhausted: and the excitement of the last scene had snapped the attenuated thread of life.

Hamilton did not survive her long. His health was already shattered by long confinement, 
and the chaffing of a proud spirit. Almira had died for him—and his own mother—oh! how cautiously did they whisper the sad truth, when he asked why she who loved him better than her own life, had forsaken him in the hour of affliction—she, too, had sunk under the dreadful blow. His father lived a withered, melancholy man, crushed in spirit; and as his sister hung like a guardian angel over his death-bed, and he gazed at her pale, emaciated, sorrow-stricken countenance, he saw that she, too, would soon be numbered among the victims of this melancholy persecution. When, with his last breath, he suggested that they would soon meet, she replied: 'I trust that God will spare me to see your innocence estab-lished, and then will I die contented.' And her confidence was rewarded—for God does not disappoint those who put their trust in him. About a year afterwards, a wretch, who was executed at Natchez, and who was one of the three persons named in the commencement of this narrative, confessed that he had murdered Saunders, with a pistol which he had found at the place where the two friends had slept. 'I knew it would be so,'—was the only reply of the fast declining sister—and soon after she was buried by the side of Dudley and Almira.—Reader, this is not fiction—nor are the decisions of God unjust—but his ways are above our comprehension.

- A true story, we're told, and because it's been known to happen in real life, we'll take the author's word for it. As for who "Emillion" was, we haven't a clue; could it have been Edgar Poe? Be careful: "In the absence of facts, myth rushes in, the kudzu of history." — Stacy Schiff