Helen Blain said good afternoon to Morty the doorman as she walked into the lobby and took the elevator up to her fifth-floor apartment. The time was 3:55.
At 4 p.m. sharp Morty’s telephone rang. “Help,” a man’s voice gurgled. “Stabbed. 503.” Then the weak voice fell silent. Apartment 503. That was Xavier Kuralt, the Lithuanian businessman.
Morty dialed 911, then hung up and waited. Seconds later, the tenant from 505 entered the building. “What’s the matter?” Alex Torful asked the visibly shaken doorman. Before Morty could answer, a siren’s wail announced the approach of a squad car.
The police found the body of Xavier Kuralt on his white living-room rug, the handle of a knife protruding from his chest. “A stab wound,” the senior officer said as he stepped around the single, isolated pool of blood, the only stain to mar the pristine carpet. “It must have cut an artery. I’ll bet some blood got on the killer, too.”
The junior officer moved in for a closer look and nearly tripped over a long telephone cord. The receiver was still in the dead man’s hand while the phone itself sat on a desk 15 feet away. The doorman was the first name listed on the telephone’s speed dial. “After the assailant left, the dying man must have staggered to the phone and pressed #1,” the junior officer said.
“The building has a fire exit,” Morty volunteered. “The killer could’ve left that way—without me seeing him.” But the police didn’t have to look outside the building to find suspects.
Helen Blain was Xavier’s next-door neighbor and his girlfriend. When the police knocked on her door, she was just coming out of the shower. “I got home a few minutes before four,” she testified. “I knocked on Xavier’s door, just for a chat. He didn’t seem to be in.”
Axel Torful was the victim’s other neighbor and his business partner. As far as the police could determine, these were the foreigner’s only friends and the only two with possible motives.
ON WHOM DO THE POLICE FOCUS THEIR INVESTIGATION? AND WHY?
Even though the knife had severed an artery, there was only one isolated pool of blood. So, how did the victim get 15 feet away from the telephone base without leaving a blood trail? He didn’t. Someone placed the receiver in the dead man’s hand, someone who needed an alibi.
The police concentrated on the suspect with the alibi. Alex Torful eventually confessed. He had killed Xavier in a fight over business. Alex put the phone receiver in Xavier’s hand, then went to his own apartment to change his bloody clothes. After leaving the building via the fire exit, Alex called the doorman from a pay phone, pretending to be the victim. When he walked into the building seconds later, he assumed he had a perfect alibi.