Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Amateur Night for the Perfect Crime

THE PHRASE "the perfect crime" seems to be permanently embedded in world culture; as with many common expressions, usage sometimes broadens the original meaning (e.g., a "villain" used to be only a farmer), as well as preserving it in everyday language. In his introduction to Curious Trials and Criminal Cases: From Socrates to Scopes (1928; HERE), Edward Hale Bierstadt writes:

   "The perfect crime—that phrase so dear to the writers of detective fiction—must, I take it, fulfil two fundamental requirements: it must completely achieve its object, and the criminal must not even be suspected. One might go further, perhaps, and say that actual perfection demands that there shall not even be any suspicion that crime has been committed; the victim must appear to have met a natural death; the jewels must seem to have been lost, not stolen. If this be true, then it must also be true that the perfect crime will never be recorded—unless the criminal tactfully leave a signed confession to be read after his death . . ."

For some writers, depending on how they might feel that day, the perfect crime can be a murder, a theft, or just the way a gigolo manages to avoid commitment to marriage. Below are a few short stories whose authors were attending a private school, college, or university at the time they decided to try out their own unique takes on the perfect crime . . .

(1) "The Waters Will Never Tell."
By Francis McCarthy.
Saint Joseph's College, Collegeville, Indiana.
First appearance: The St. Joseph's Collegian, October 1935.

Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "Only one mistake did he make. It was fatal."
~ ~ ~
(2) "The Plan."
By George Burgess.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts.
First appearance: The Collegian Quarterly, Autumn 1947.

Short short short story (4 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "He smiled. He was going to get away with it. He planned it that way. This was the perfect crime."
~ ~ ~
(3) "Murder Solves a Mystery."
By Michael Neigoff.
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
First appearance: Purple Parrot, March 1942.

Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at Starts (HERE) and finishes (HERE).

     "The Perfect Crime. Every detective story has it to begin with but the villain has to make one slip so a lot of moronic readers and more stupid police can find him out."
~ ~ ~
(4) "The Perfect Crime."
By Nora Corley.
Trafalgar School for Girls, Montreal, Canada.
First appearance: Trafalgar Echoes, June 1946.

Short short short story (2 pages).
Online (HERE).

     "Having read little else in the last fifty years, I wondered how it would feel to have committed a perfect crime. I planned to find out."
~ ~ ~
(5) "The Deadly Claws."
By John L. Miraziz.
Baghdad College, Iraq.
First appearance: Al Iraqi 1960.

Short short short story (2 pages).
Online at (HERE).
(Note: Text faded.)

     ". . . I was able to arrange for her murder without even being present at the scene of the crime."
~ ~ ~
(6) "The Perfect Crime."
By Lance Buchanan.
Lee University, Cleveland, Tennessee.
First appearance: Lee Review, 2010/11.

Short play (7 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "One time in Knoxville I did something nobody thought I could . . ."
~ ~ ~
Now let's see how a professional writer, one who collected a paycheck for his story, handles the perfect murder theme:

"Slight Detail."
By David Morrison (?-?).
First appearance: Crack Detective Stories, January 1947.

Short short short story (3 pages).
Online at (HERE).

     "Yeah, I know all about the electric chair. That's why I spent three years thinking up a way to kill you without getting caught."
- Possibly the definitive screen treatment of the perfect crime (prior to the advent of Levinson and Link on TV) is Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954; HERE), based on Frederick Knott's stage play and written by him for the film. We have this little bit of foreshadowing in a conversation between mystery writer Mark Halliday, Margot Wendice, and her treacherous husband, Tony:

Margot: "Do you really believe in the perfect murder?"
Mark: "Mmm, yes, absolutely. On paper, that is. And I think I could, uh, plan one better than most people; but I doubt if I could carry it out."
Tony: "Oh? Why not?"
Mark: "Well, because in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to; and in real life they don't . . . always."
Tony: "Hmm."
"No, I'm afraid my murders would be something like my bridge: I'd make some stupid mistake and never realize it until I found everybody was looking at me."

WE PLAN to return to the perfect murder in the near future.

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