Mrs. Krenshaw’s Spare Key

“I hate to bother you, Mr. Holmes.”

Sherman’s neighbor, Mrs. Krenshaw, led him across the street from his house to hers, a tidy Victorian gem set in the pristine white of a recent snowfall. The elderly widow was remarkably self-sufficient and walked with a strong, confident gait.

Mrs. Krenshaw“I know I ought to go to the police,” she said in a fluttering voice. “But Hank and Edgar are both such good friends. If you could find some way of getting my vase back without calling in the authorities…” She pressed her hand into his. “You’re so very clever about these things.”

Sherman blushed and cleared his throat. “Tell me about the vase, Mrs. Krenshaw.”

She spoke eagerly. “You know that TV program, America’s Treasures, the one where people bring in antiques and the experts tell where they came from and how much they’re worth. Well, I had this old vase handed down to me by my mother. I took it over to the Armory yesterday, where they were filming the show. An expert appraised it at $20,000. It was all very exciting, being on TV and having such a rarity.  Of course, I would never sell it. Sentimental value.”

“And you think either Hank or Edgar broke into your house and stole it?”

“I don’t know what else to think. Look.”

Sherman looked. In the middle of the lawn sat a flowerpot on top of a stump. A single set of footprints crossed the snow-covered lawn to the stump then crossed away again toward the front door. Mrs. Krenshaw trampled through the snow to the stump.

“The house was unlocked when I got home from shopping a few minutes ago. I never leave it unlocked. Sure enough, the antique vase was gone. Then I saw these footprints out here. I came right over to you.” She lifted the flowerpot and pointed to a key hidden beneath it. “I know it’s stupid to leave a key out here like this, but everybody does it.”

“Both Edgar and Hank know where you keep your spare key?”

“Yes. And they knew about the vase. I just had to tell them my wonderful news.”

Once inside the house, Sherman telephoned Hank, Lyda Krenshaw’s next-door neighbor, and Edgar, a gentleman friend who lived two blocks away. Hank was the first to arrive.

“I’ve been home all morning,” Hank explained. He was a young, slight bachelor and didn’t seem outraged to be considered a suspect. “I was paying bills at my desk. It’s got a view of the street and I didn’t notice any cars stopping or people walking by. Of course, I wasn’t staring out the window every second.” Sherman checked the man’s shoes. They were wet from the snow, but his trouser legs appeared dry.

Edgar rang the bell a few minutes later. He seemed more annoyed by Sherman’s inquiries. “I took my dog for a walk this morning. I passed by this block, but I didn’t see anyone. And I certainly didn’t go into Lyda’s house.”

Sherman left the men and joined Mrs. Krenshaw in the kitchen. “I’m not sure I can help you,” he admitted. “Was the vase insured?”

She thought for a moment. “I suppose it’s covered by my homeowner’s policy. Does this mean you don’t know who took it?”

“Oh, I know who took it. I just don’t think you’ll like the answer.”

WHO STOLE THE VASE?

WHAT CLUE GAVE THE THIEF AWAY?

Mrs. Krenshaw was confused.  “Of course I won’t like the answer, Mr. Holmes.  It’s never nice to find out someone’s a thief.”

“Well, on that score you don’t have to worry.  Neither Hank nor Edgar stole the vase.  You did.”

“Me?”

Sherman nodded.  “I assume you did this as a dry run, to see if your little scheme would pass muster when you tell it to the police.  It won’t, dear lady.”

“What do you mean?  Why would I steal my own vase?”

“For the insurance money.  Since the vase was just appraised by an expert, your homeowner’s insurance would have to pay and you would still be able to keep your mother’s vase.”

The elderly woman scowled.  “All right.  Where did I screw up?  Did you see me from your window?”

“No.  Those foot prints in the snow gave you away.”

“How?” I wore a pair of my late husband’s shoes.”

“But there was only one set.  If the thief took the key, unlocked the door, and later returned the key to the flowerpot, then there would have been two sets of prints, one when he took the key and one when he returned it.  The thief – you – made those prints to throw suspicion on someone else.  Then you used your own key to get in and out.