Friday, July 19, 2019

"He Was a Man with No More Substance Than a Shadow on a Screen"

THE REAL-LIFE MYSTERIOUS death of Isadore [variously spelled] Fink in a locked 
room in 1929, a case unsolved to this day, set journalist-screenwriter Ben Hecht's 
authorial antennae aquiver strongly enough to produce . . .

"The Mystery of the Fabulous Laundryman."
By Ben Hecht (1893-1964).

First appearance: Liberty, October 31, 1931.
Reprinted in Avon Modern Short Story Monthly No. 11, 1943; Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 1954; EQMM (U.K.), June 1954; EQMM (Australia), August 1954; Ellery Queen's Anthology #19 (1970); and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, April 1971. [FictionMags data.]
Collected in Actor's Blood (1936).
Short story (10 pages).
Online at (HERE).
     ". . . a deliberately rococo chronicle of little Meyer Nobody, who was most foully slain in a locked room and whose identity was a deep, dark secret . . ."

To be murdered is a bad enough fate, but the victim probably never imagined he'd be the proximate cause of so much controversy among the living . . .

~ Unnamed narrator:
  "I will write this story out as it was told to me with the hope that you will believe it, as 
did I . . ."
~ Dick McCarey:
  ". . . when I looked down on this dead laundryman I saw a cross in his left hand."
~ Monsoor Gavin:
  ". . . a toad among toads, a snake and a varlet whom it will give me great pleasure 
to betray. Foully."
~ Meyer:
  ". . . died on a hot night a month ago, shot through the head twice. And his right hand 
chopped off at the wrist, for good measure."
~ Mrs. Maum:
  "This foul dinosaur . . . Cupid bombarding this hippogriff with a battering ram . . . mark 
you, there was a woman scorned and roundly."
~ Lieutenant Neidlinger:
  "There was some wretched mystery about the business that filled this pretzel-headed 
police official full of confusion and alarm. . . . All these nuances were rattling around 
inside that vast, empty policeman's skull on this hot night."

- Ben Hecht (Wikipedia; HERE) wasn't the only writer to use this case as the basis for a story; another author, William March, produced one for EQMM, which we featured (HERE) several days ago.
- You'll find this short account of Fink's murder under "Locked-room mystery—Real-life examples" on Wikipedia (HERE):

  "According to a report in The New York Times, March 10 and 11, 1929, Isidore Fink, of 4 East 132nd Street, New York City, was in his Fifth Avenue laundry on the night of March 9, 1929, with the windows closed and door of the room bolted. A neighbor heard screams and the sound of blows (but no shots), and called the police, who were unable to get in. A young boy was lifted through the transom and was able to unbolt the door. On the floor lay Fink with two bullet wounds in his chest and one in his left wrist. He was dead. There was money in his pockets, and the cash register had not been touched. No weapon was found. There was a theory that the murderer had crawled through the transom, but to do so he or she would had to have been no bigger than a small child and would have had to leave the same way, as the door was bolted. Another theory had the murderer firing through the transom, but Fink's wrist was powder-burned, indicating that he had not been fired at from a distance. More than two years later, Police Commissioner Mulrooney, in a radio talk, called this murder in a closed room an 'insoluble mystery'."

- Other online coverage of the Isadore Fink locked room murder:
  Historic Mysteries (HERE) - The Lineup (HERE) - Morbidology (HERE) - Strange Company (HERE) - P. J. Bergman's The Locked Room (HERE; Note: Story SPOILERS for "The Mystery of the Fabulous Laundryman" and "The Bird House").

- CRYPTIC ALLUSIONS: When someone sarcastically says, "Hello, how's Parnell?" the individual being alluded to would be the Irish nationalist politico Charles Stewart Parnell (HERE; Wikipedia), who by the time of our story has been in the grave going on forty years; as for the reference to "your thirty pieces of silver," it too is made with great sarcasm (HERE); a victim is said to be "Dead and under a slab in Potter's Field," meaning (THIS); and "Nikolai the Second" refers to no less a personage than "the Czar of all the Russias" (HERE).
- Several years ago we focused on a trio of crime-related stories (not whodunits) by Ben Hecht, "Miracle of the Fifteen Murderers," "Café Sinister," and "Swindler's Luck" (collected HERE). (Note: The link to "Swindler's Luck" has changed to THIS; PDF.)

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