THE OWL CLOCK MURDER
By Peter DiChellis
Detective Janessa Ann Harley was the last of the investigative team to arrive. She surveyed the murder scene, a suburban living room. A lifeless woman lay sprawled beside an overturned end table. Blood soiled the victim’s blond hair and dark knit dress, and soaked the tan carpet. A coroner and two crime scene technicians gathered evidence. A bronze owl statuette lying near the corpse seemed to return Harley’s gaze. Her junior partner, Detective Brandon Druckett, glanced at his wristwatch and beckoned her over.
“If any of you Westside early-birds need a midnight snack,” Harley quipped, “a jackknifed tractor-trailer spilled a truckload of microwave burritos onto Highway 211 right after rush hour. Everything northbound is jammed, including side streets. Took me forever to get here, even with a siren and flashers.”
Druckett nodded toward the dead woman. “She didn’t mind waiting,” he said.
Killed by a vicious wallop to her head, the woman rested inches from the murder weapon, a compact but hefty table clock shaped like an owl, its eyes still fixed on Harley. The end table had a discolored section on top, revealing where the owl clock had been before the killer turned it to murderous use.
“Family?” Harley asked.
“Husband’s grieving in the kitchen,” Druckett told her. “No kids.”
“Time of death?”
“Sounds precise,” Harley said.
“The busted-up clock stopped at 10:04,” Druckett explained. “And we know the time wasn’t tampered with. The glass clock face is cracked, but sealed tight. We found bloody smears on the bronze surface, but nothing on the stem or inside clockworks.”
“Definitely. The body’s not showing rigor mortis, so 10pm works.”
“Any sign of forced entry into the home?” Harley asked.
“No. It looks like she let the murderer in. He must have let himself out.”
“A neighborhood busybody gave us three excellent suspects, all men. The husband, a gardener, and a former co-worker who lives down the street.”
“Busybody see any of them tonight?”
“No,” Druckett said.
“Any witnesses at all?”
“Fingerprints?” Harley continued.
“The owl clock was wiped. The smears we found indicate the killer wiped away his bloody prints. But we’re finding prints everyplace else. We’ll run identification tests tomorrow.”
“Nothing else wiped? End table, faucets, door knobs, anything?”
“For all three suspects,” Druckett said. “The victim threatened to divorce her husband, bankrupt him.”
“The other two?”
“The busybody neighbor heard the gardener and victim quarrelling this morning, loud and nasty. Gardener must have a blistering temper. She also said the victim got the co-worker fired yesterday. We confirmed it, called the company manager at home.”
“The busybody likes to point fingers,” Harley said.
“She’s clean, just snoopy. Sweet lady, solid alibi. And she’s tiny, almost frail. No way she smashed open a skull.”
“Alibis for the three suspects?”
“The husband was next door watching a football game on TV. A beer bash with four buddies. Called 911 when he got back home. The gardener had just left a hardware-nursery center on the south side. Co-worker was home, talking on the phone with his mother.”
“His mother? Really?”
“Time of the call?” Harley asked.
“He and his mother agree he called about 9:45pm. He claims they talked until 10:30. But his mother said they finished before 10:15. We’ll get phone records in the morning.”
Harley paused, wondering how much her next question mattered. “Was the co-worker on a landline or cell?”
“Cell phone,” Druckett said. “We’ll track the call to the nearest tower. But the same tower serves the co-worker’s home, the victim’s home, the whole neighborhood. So the co-worker could have been here, not home.”
“Gardener buy anything at the hardware-nursery center?”
“Two fifty-pound bags of slow-release fertilizer and a dozen lavender chrysanthemums. The cop I sent to his house saw a receipt time-stamped 9:36pm. The gardener might have gotten here by 10pm if he hustled.”
“Sounds like a lot of fertilizer.”
“He told the cop you can never have enough.”
“And the football game?”
“Started at 7pm, ended about 10:30,” Druckett said. “Husband stayed for the post-game show. Another twenty minutes.”
“Quite a fan.”
“It was a good game.”
Harley weighed the evidence again. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s make an arrest.”
* * *
The killer sat handcuffed in the back of a patrol car. He’d confessed, broken down and bawled the whole story, two minutes after Harley braced him.
Harley and Druckett lingered outside, savoring the crisp night air. Hours of paperwork awaited them.
“How’d you know it was him?” Druckett asked.
“He made a mistake. And the other two suspects were easy enough to eliminate.”
“Easy to eliminate? The gardener’s receipt was time-stamped 9:36.”
“Yeah, but like you said, he’d have to hustle to get here by ten,” Harley said. “With northbound traffic jammed, I barely crawled here using a siren and flashers. He couldn’t have driven from the south side in half an hour.”
“How’d you know the co-worker used his cell from home, not here?”
“Easy enough. I just figured he didn’t beat somebody to death while talking on the phone with his mother.”
Druckett eyed the weeping man handcuffed inside the patrol car. “So you eliminated everybody but the dear hubby. The guy with the best alibi.”
“And he made a mistake,” Harley said. “Pointed the finger at himself. Big time.”
She grinned at the hint she’d given Druckett.
“Only the husband,” Harley continued “would have wiped his bloody fingerprints from the murder weapon but not needed to wipe his prints anywhere else in the house.”
“Because there’s nothing suspicious if we find his prints in his own home.”
“Exactly. But he couldn’t leave them in blood on the clock.”
“And the four-hour beer bash . . .”
“. . . was right next door. He easily could have sneaked home from a bathroom break. And that’s what he did. The telltale clue wasn’t the time on the clock, it was the discrepancy of the smeared clock and the clean prints.”
“Case closed,” Druckett said. “He’ll get nothing but jail time now.”
Copyright © 2014 Peter DiChellis. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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