A Halloween Homicide

Sherman loved Halloween. It gave him a chance to dress up as Sherlock Holmes and still seem normal. The pudgy detective was in his usual costume, escorting a squadron of children down Elm Street, when he noticed a crowd gathering in front of old Miss Cleghorn’s house. “She must be up to her usual,” chortled Sherman. “Putting on some horrific mask and scaring the kids at the door.”

Miss Cleghorn was indeed scaring the kids, but not intentionally. Inside the open door, Sherman could see her frail body lying in the entry hall, wearing a monster mask, her head surrounded by blood. A plastic bowl lay nearby, its contents of wrapped candy strewn everywhere.

Sergeant Wilson stood beside the body. He glanced over at the man with the calabash pipe and deerstalker cap. “Is that a costume, Holmes? With you it’s hard to tell.”

“What happened, my respectable partner in crime?”

“It’s an accident. It took us a while to reconstruct what happened.” Wilson pointed up to where a strand of large pearls lay centered at the top of the steps. “She was upstairs when the first trick-or-treaters rang the bell. She put on the mask and grabbed the bowl. She must have slipped on the pearls and tumbled down the stairs.”

Two cars pulled up at the curb, one behind the other. Sherman recognized Miss Cleghorn’s niece and nephew, Emma and Bobby, as they got out of the cars and approached the front door, both dressed for a night out and seemingly unaware of the tragedy.

“Aunt Rita,” Bobby gasped.

“Your aunt had an accident,” Sergeant Wilson told them. “She’s dead. The kids had been coming up to the door for half an hour or so and getting no answer. One of them finally looked through the window and saw her.”

Bobby noticed the spilled candy and the mask. “What’s she doing wearing a mask?”

“She was obviously doing her Halloween thing,” Emma said.

“She promised she wouldn’t this year. We were taking her out to dinner.”

“Well, obviously she changed her mind,” Emma said, shaking her head. “I don’t know how many times I told her not to wear a mask on the stairs.”

“When did you last see your aunt?” asked Sherman.

Bobby stared at the rather overage trick-or-treater. “Uh, I dropped by this morning. My daughter left her skateboard here. Aunt Rita made me coffee and we chatted.”

Sergeant Wilson grabbed Sherman by the collar and dragged him aside. “Don’t try to make this a murder. The neighbors say there were no visitors since this morning.”

“Someone could have driven up the back alley and come in that way,” argued Sherman. “Believe me, friend, this was murder.”

WHY COULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN ACCIDENTAL?

WHOM DOES SHERMAN SUSPECT AND WHY?

“The accident was definitely staged,” Sherman whispered to his friend. “Someone came in the back way, probably bringing the mask and candy, too. Miss Cleghorn was pushed down the stairs and the scene was set. You were meant to come to the exact conclusion you came to.”

“Get off it,” Wilson growled. “Every death isn’t a murder.”

“Those pearls at the top of the stairs? You try slipping on them and see if they stay in place. In a real accident, the string would break. At the very least, the pearls would have slid out from under her feet.”

“Oh.” Wilson took a deep breath. “I see your point.”

“If I were you, I’d question Emma. We never mentioned that Miss Wilson had fallen down the stairs, and yet she instantly assumed it.”