Sounds like something @Simon would do
Hooray, the dastardly evil-doer was unmasked and the case was solved!
But as any mystery reader knows, the first proposed solution is never the true answer to the problem. So just for fun, let’s revisit the case one more time.
(Spoilerama to follow.)
In our solution, Clara turned out to be the villain, cold-bloodedly slaying both the doctor and the shrink while attempting to muddy the waters and place the blame on somebody else’s shoulders, in particular Lady Wintercrest’s. We have plenty of corroborating evidence, including Lord Kendrickson’s admission to moving the good doctor’s corpse at his daughter’s request. Case closed, right?
But not so fast.
If Clara truly wanted to set Lady Wintercrest up for a trip to the gallows, would she have:
a) Smashed the doctor’s head in with a blunt object, making it seem as if Lady Wintercrest’s blow - or the resulting fall - had been fatal? Note that we know that Clara had plenty of time to procure appropriate tools, and that there was little danger of forensics foiling the plan in an age where medical wisdom was along the lines of “Constipated? Take strychnine!” Had she done this, presumably even Lady W. would have believed that she had accidentally killed the victim.
b) Killed the doctor with a different weapon, involved her father, moved the body across several floors, along a path where there was a very real chance of being seen, and setting into motion events which culminated in her engaging in major home renovation, with no clear scapegoat?
Option b seems rather far-fetched, doesn’t it? Yet we know that Clara did move the body. But why?
There’s only one reasonable explanation: Clara was trying to protect somebody else. This also seems more in character for an intelligent, carefree 14-year-old. But who was she covering for?
The obvious answer is her father, but that theory won’t hold water for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that she would have discovered her mistake as soon as she went running to daddy for help. The loyal family butler, perhaps? Yet while Clara might hold affection for Lancaster, there is absolutely nothing to suggest he was involved in the crime. No opportunity, no motive … Lancaster is as clean as his starched collar.
That leaves just one person: Lady Wintercrest herself. Having overheard the conversations regarding her heritage, she put two and two together and realized that Lady W. must be her mother. And having seen Lady W. exit the bathroom not long before discovering the body, she was determined not to lose her mother yet again after finally being reunited. Knowing her devoted father would do anything to protect her, she falsely confessed to the crime in order to enlist his aid, and off they went to hide the corpse.
This also satisfactorily explains the use of the sword, which Clara employed to make the wound larger than the one left by her mother’s slim dagger.
In other words … it was Lady Wintercrest all along. The doctor was already dead as a doornail when Clara found him. And so cold-hearted is Lady W. that she would even let her own daughter face the consequences for her mother’s crimes.
But as any mystery reader knows, the second solution presented also isn’t always the real answer. And while much of the solution above hinges on speculation, there is one unassailable fact that invalidates our previous thinking and puts an entirely different spin on the case …
To be continued!
A Matter of Degrees
“And yet,” continued the detective, stifling an outburst by Lady Wintercrest, "I still wasn’t satisfied. Something about this case bothered me.
"For one thing, Lady Wintercrest’s actions seemed oddly out of character. Could I see the lady hitting Dr. Henry with the statuette in a fit of rage? Absolutely. But it is much harder to picture her pulling out a dagger and finishing the job in cold blood - especially since, if she wanted to prove herself to be Clara’s mother and perhaps regain custody of her daughter, it would be to her benefit if both Dr. Henry and Dr. Schwarz, the two witnesses to the deception, were still alive.
"People don’t, however, always act rationally, especially in times of extreme stress, and stranger things have most certainly happened. No, it was something else that frittered away at the back of my mind, some minor detail …
"But no matter how often I reviewed the facts of the murder, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Every element of the case fit into place perfectly.
"And then it struck me. What a fool I had been! Yes, every detail of the murder fit together perfectly - but there had been two other crimes committed that day, and one of them could not possibly have happened the way we believed. For no matter how clever our culprit - and make no mistake, we are dealing with one of cleverest criminal minds I have ever encountered - he or she cannot change the unassailable laws of physics!
"Like a bumbling amateur, I had dismissed the thefts by Lord Ham and the household’s chef from my mind once those two gentlemen admitted their crimes. But once I turned my attention to those larcenies once again, the missing detail that had been vexing me for so long hit me like a falling chest full of ice.
"We assumed, because of the water stains on the library floor, that the ice in the chest had melted and seeped out through a hole caused by the fall. But Ice simply does not melt that quickly!
"As an experiment, I purloined a few pieces of ice from one of the ice buckets at the party, and left them on a plate in the library. Two hours later, it still had not melted completely.
"Now imagine a fifty kilo block of ice, sealed in a heavy chest, no less. Even under near-optimal conditions, with above-average room temperature, thin walls of the chest, etc., that ice isn’t melting for a long, long time - far longer than our scenario allows for. Yet we all saw the water, quite a large amount of water, an the floor.
"This can mean only one thing: When the chest fell from the upstairs office, it was already filled with water, not ice.
"And that means that the temperature of the office was above freezing.
"Yet the office was cold. We all felt the chill. It couldn’t have been much warmer then eight or ten decrees, a small difference indeed. Nonetheless, any theory we developed of the events of the day had to be able to explain even the most seemingly insgnificant facts, including this one.
“Who had raised the room’s temperature? And above all, why? What difference could those few degrees possibly make?”
The detective brushed his fingers through his bushy mustache and surveyed the gathered suspects. Clara’s eyes were wide now, while her father still seemed to be suffering from shock. Lord Ham was watching the others closely, whereas Lady Wintercrest seemed oddly withdrawn. Howard was following the detective’s words closely, his sharp mind in high gear. The chef looked as if he was about to burst from his chair and make a run for the door. Lancaster appeared impassive as always, yet a thin veneer of sweat had appeared on his forehead.
"Unfortunately, absolutely anybody have altered the room’s temperature. The members of the household obviously had access, and it would have been a simple matter for somebody else to bribe - or perhaps blackmail - a maid into laying on a bit more warmth. We therefore have to turn our attention to why anybody should wish to do so.
"I confess that this puzzle stumped me for the longest time. At first I believed the motive was to turn the ice in the chest back to water, but nobody seemed to have any possible reason for doing so. In addition, as far as we know, only the chef knew that the chest was full of ice in the first place. No, there had to be some other, as yet hidden, reason. But what?
"To conceal the time of death, perhaps? But that too seemed laughable. Those few degrees would not noticeably change any estimate. Besides, nobody seemed to be falling over themselves to produce an alibi that depended on mere minutes. This motive could also be excluded.
"And yet the thought that it might be connected to the autopsy remained in my mind.
"It was then that I remembered another detail that didn’t quite ring true. The rope suspending Dr. Schwarz’s body had been cut. But why? If the killer had wanted to place blame on the psychiatrist, surely cutting him down was an unnecessary, risky step. Surely leaving him suspended would have left all of us believing without a doubt that Dr. Schwarz had indeed committed suicide.
"So why sever the rope? For that matter, why does anybody cut the rope of a hanging man? To better examine the corpse? To attempt to save the man?
“And that was when I knew.”
To be continued!
“Yes, I knew,” continued the detective. “Everything fell into place, and I could see the murder in my mind’s eye as clearly as if I had been in the same room myself.”
"The murder? Yes. There was only one murder in this house today.
"But what about Dr. Schwarz, you ask? Was his death actually suicide? Well, in one sense, you could call it that. But more to the point, his death wasn’t … a death!
"You see, we only had young Dr. Henry’s word that Dr. Schwarz lay dead. Nobody else examined the body. But in actuality, the blackmailing psychiatrist was merely unconscious.
“This was the reason the rope had been cut. Dr. Schwarz never dangled from the roofbeam. He merely wanted to disappear, not die. And Dr. Henry was only too eager to come to his aid and sign the certificate of death … in exchange for the death of his father!”
All eyes now turned to Howard, who, while looking rather uneasy, still managed to hold the detective’s gaze.
"I had begun to suspect young Dr. Henry as soon as I noticed the incongruency of the room’s temperature. Because if the slight increase in warmth was related to the murder, that meant, of course, that the killing was premeditated, This could be no spontaneous act of revenge by Lady Wintercrest, no hastily improvised plan to shield Clara’s mother. No, this was a coldly planned and ruthlessly executed crime. And who would benefit the most from Dr. Henry’s death? Why, his son and heir, of course.
"I imagine the story went something like this: Dr. Schwarz, having bitten off a bit more than he could chew in his blackmailing endeavors, needed to disappear. So he approached young Dr. Henry, probably asking whether he could somehow alter his appearance in such a way that he would no longer be recognized. But Dr. Henry made him an even better offer: he would make the world believe that Dr. Schwarz had gone to meet his maker … all for the price of his father’s death.
"The senior Dr. Henry had recently made plans to sell the clinic that Henry had always expected to inherit. Therefore, Henry decided that his best course of action was to move the date of that inheritance forward and take control of the lucrative clinic himself. Dr. Schwarz was a welcome cat’s paw.
"We may never know all the details of this transaction. Perhaps Henry also needed to prevent the sale of the clinic for other reasons, for example to conceal embezzlement or malpractice which would be revealed once the clinic’s books were reviewed in the course of the sale. But the essence is clear: In exchange for a new life free of those breathing down Dr. Schwarz’s neck, the psychiatrist agreed to end the life of the man standing in Henry’s way.
"And so today’s events were set into motion. Lady Wintercrest angrily knocked Dr. Henry unconscious with the statuette, and then beat a hasty retreat. Then, Dr. Schwarz, who had been watching Dr. Henry closely, slipped into the bathroom to fulfill his end of the bargain. Imagine his delight when he found his victim already lying on the floor before him, and a weapon close at hand. How simple to finish the job!
"And this also explains why the killer didn’t strike with a blunt object, making it seem as though Lady Wintercrest’s blow had been fatal. Dr. Schwarz wanted it to appear as if the murderer were another, thereby justifying his distraught suicide.
"After the crime, Dr. Schwarz calmly rejoined the party, and later slipped upstairs to prepare his apparent death, throwing in a confrontation with Lord Kendrickson on the staircase for good measure.
"Fate, however, intervened in the form of Clara, who was determined to do everything she could to protect her mother and had moved the body upstairs. I can only wonder what Dr. Schwarz may have thought upon finding the body he had left in a pool of blood two stories below lying in the upstairs office. Was his first thought that he was already being haunted by ´Dr. Henry’s corpse?
"But Dr. Schwarz was far too cool a customer to let such an event thwart his plans. In fact, he took the opportunity to improvise a creative flourish. He had probably originally planned to slit his own skin, thus drawing the fresh blood that would make him lose consciousness thanks to his old weakness. Yet now, after slipping the noose around his neck, he reached for the sword adorning the room and plunged it straight into Dr. Henry’s wound, fainting to the floor immediately.
"All that remained was for Henry to conduct an examination of the ‘body,’ and declare Dr. Schwarz dead by hanging. (Remeber how adequate Henry was about this point.) And this fiendish duo would have succeeded, too, if it hadn’t been for just a few degrees of temperature. Once again, the most difficult case wound up hinging on the most minor of details.
“What’s that you ask? Why had the culprits made sure that the room was slightly warmer than it usually was? Why, if they hadn’t, it wouldn’t have made a difference how corpse-like Dr. Schwarz appeared as he lay unconscious on the floor. We all would have seen the wisps of condensation from his breath as he exhaled. And that they could not allow!”