Death of a Diva

By Hy Conrad

With his plastic gloves on, Sergeant Wilson lifted the victim’s head from the make-up table and gently turned it. “Was she from India?” he asked, a note of confusion in his voice. Pressed into the middle of the woman’s forehead was a glittering red dot.

Sherman Holmes examined the dot. “No.” He almost chuckled. “That’s a sequin.” And he pointed to the red-sequined costume on a hanger in the corner.

The police detective and his amateur assistant were in a private dressing room, backstage at the newly built Melody Dinner Theater on Highway 11. The victim was Leona Hempsted, a bleached blonde matron carrying a few too many pounds and wrinkles. According to Tommy Burton, the theater owner, Leona had been cast as the star of his first show, Broadway Spangles. She was also his biggest investor. The detectives exited the dressing room, only to face a herd of actors and technicians gathered in the hall.

“Who discovered the body?” Wilson asked.

The theater owner stepped forward. “Tonight was our first dress rehearsal,” Tommy said. “I arrived late with the costumes, around 7 p.m. I went right to the dressing rooms in the basement and handed them out. The actors tried them on. They loved them. Then I came up here with Jake, my nephew.” He pointed out a fifteen-year-old boy dressed in a blue-sequined jumpsuit. “Leona has the only dressing room on the stage level. We knocked. When there was no answer, we came in and found her body. We didn’t touch a thing.”

Wilson nodded then said, “Looks like there was a fight,” which was something of an understatement. The dressing room was in shambles, with a broken mirror, scattered flowers and shattered vases. The red from a gash on Leona’s head matched the red on the seat of a stool that lay cracked on the bloody carpet.

“Leona had a temper,” Tommy admitted. “She never let us forget whose money paid the bills.”



“Excuse me? Tommy?” A young woman in a red-sequined costume raised her hand. “Does this mean I get the lead, now that she’s dead?” Her name, they soon learned, was Diane Walsh, and she didn’t even pretend to be upset by the murder. “Leona was a terrible singer and a worse human being. She fought with everyone.”

“Did you fight with her?” asked Sherman.

“Not today. I got here around 6:30. Leona was in the lot, parked in a handicap space. She was unloading flowers—from admirers, she said, although I’m sure she sent them herself. I helped carry them to her dressing room. Then I went downstairs. I was there with the other girls in our crowded little dressing room until Tommy and his nephew came back down with the news.”

“Did anyone hear the fight?” asked Sergeant Wilson.

A tall, nervous-looking man stepped forward. “I’m Ollie Reese, the director. I got here at 6:30, too. I saw Leona and Diane in the parking lot with the flowers. I went directly backstage and started working on light cues. I did hear Leona screaming at someone and glass breaking. But that wasn’t unusual. To be honest, I didn’t want to get in the middle of another fight, so I ignored it.”

“When did you hear this fight?” asked Sherman.

“Just a few minutes before seven.”

Everyone else, it turned out, had been in the basement or too far away, so there was no one to support Ollie Reese’s estimate of the murder time.

Wilson took his friend aside. “It could have been anyone in the building. We’ve got a long night ahead of us, Sherm.”

“Not necessarily,” Sherman said. “We’ve only talked to three people and I already know one of them is lying.”

Which suspect is lying?

How did Sherman know?

Sergeant   Wilson   had   been   half-prepared   for   Sherman’s announcement. “I knew you’d solve this one,” he laughed. “It’s got something to do with the sequin on her forehead?”

“Correct.” Sherman was impressed.

“It’s that actress, Diane, the one with the sequins on her costume.”

“Not correct.” Sherman felt bad for him. “But a good guess. It was Tommy Burton, the theater owner.”

Wilson scratched his head. “What does he have to do with sequins?”

“Tommy’s the person who brought sequins into her dressing room—when he brought her the costume. The theater is new, so it couldn’t have been there from a previous show. My guess is she hated the costume and made her usual threats about pulling out her money. They fought and she got killed.

“After the murder, Tommy took the costume, along with the others, and visited the dressing rooms in the basement. Then he brought back his nephew as a witness and ‘discovered’ the body.”

“You mean it couldn’t have been Diane?”

“Afraid not. Diane didn’t receive her costume until Tommy gave it to her. From that moment on, she was with other people. No, the only person who could have gotten a red sequin into Leona’s dressing room before the murder was Tommy.”