Title: Perfect crime
By Author: John M. Floyd
Tag line: James figured he was too clever to get caught…but he never figured on Mrs. Potts!
Police characters: Sheriff Jones and his deputy. And Mrs. Potts.
The gist: It was a snowy night. James drove to his office, a law firm, which was located outside of the city limits on a piece of remote land, parked in the empty lot, took a bolt cutter and crowbar from his car, stomped through the snow, used the crow bar to splinter the front door and entered. He used a flashlight to get to the door marked Private and pried that door open as well. Within a short time he cut the padlock on the safe and took out bundles of cash from within. He could now finally pay off his gambling debts.
Then he phoned the police and said he was calling from an office that had been burglarized at his firm’s building. He hurried back to the car, stripped off his gloves and stowed them and the tools in his trunk. He covered them, along with the bundles of cash, with a blanket. Then he went back inside to wait for the police. To his surprise a gray-haired lady showed up with Sheriff Jones and his deputy. Sheriff Jones asked if James had touched anything in the office. James said no. Was anything missing except the contents of the safe? James said he didn’t know and that no one ever uses that office. Mrs. Potts asked James why he had come into work on a bad weather night. James said he often works nights and weekends. Sheriff noted that not too many people keep a padlock on a safe these days and that the burglar must have known that because a bolt cutter had been used. (Frankly, the only real clue in my eyes.) The deputy swept the room that had been broken into for fingerprints and only found a few on the filing cabinet. James said they were probably from the secretary.
Mrs. Potts asked why there were two sets of footprints going and coming from James’s car to the office. James said he keeps files in his trunk and he went out to get them for the corporate phone number as he was going to call their main office next to report the crime. Mrs. Potts asked James “Mind if we check your car trunk”” and “We could get a warrant if he’d like”. James asked, “Why, because I left footprints in the snow?” Mrs. Potts said it was because of something he didn’t leave.
Crime scene: James’s place of work.
Clues: Snow footprints. Padlock on a safe. No gloves on a winter night.
Suspects: James or some random burglar.
Red herrings: None.
Solution: James had left his gloves on when he used the office phone to call the sheriff. His fingerprints should have been on the receiver.
My two cents: James could have come in the building with his gloves on (it was a cold night), saw the signs of a break-in, called the cops, went back to his car to get the phone number of the corporate office from the files in his trunk (although I don’t know why he wouldn’t have the corporate office phone number in his own office inside the building), took off his gloves to shuffle through the paperwork, and then left his gloves in the car at that point. I don’t know why he didn’t just put them in his coat pocket instead of stashing them in the trunk. It was winter after all. People wear gloves. It’s not a sign of guilt.
It always cracks me up when Mrs. Potts threatens to get a search warrant. You have to have strong probable cause, write up a sworn affidavit, convince a judge that there is probable cause to do the search, and have him/her sign off on it before the search can be done. This all takes time. You can’t invade people’s property and step on their rights to go on a fishing expedition, or for a hunch. She could have been trying to gauge his reaction when she threatened him with that, but the story didn’t make that clear. This guy worked in a law firm. Even if he isn’t a lawyer, he’d pick up through his daily work with the other employees that it’s not easy to get search warrants. Lawyers file petitions and motions to suppress and fight search warrants all the time in court. The sheriff can’t hold him there and can’t impound his car. He was free to leave. He should have known that. Had I written the story, I would have made it some other type of business.
It was night. It was winter and cold out. She’s old. Potts should have been in bed. It must frost the deputy’s cookies that the sheriff let’s her ride with them.