Authors: Hulbert Footner
Who Killed the Husband?
Harper & Brothers Publishers
New York and London
First Edition, 1941
How Amos Lee Mappin Was Snared into an Interview by an Engaging Young Reporter
Mr. Amos Lee Mappin was breakfasting by the fire in the immense living room of his apartment. With the steam heat, a fire was not in the least necessary, but he enjoyed it. The date was November 4th. During the pleasant fall days it was Lee's habit to turn off the steam, open the windows and toast himself in front of the cheerful blaze. "I am a primitive creature," he would say, which was one of his innocent affectations. Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
He was wearing a crimson damask dressing gown with a blue silk scarf around his throat and blue morocco slippers. His taste in dress ran to such flamboyant effects but, conscious that they sat rather comically on his little, roly-poly figure, he sported them only in the privacy of the home. He nibbled his grilled kidney and sipped his coffee in great peace of mind. His big book, "The Psychology of Murder," was progressing well. He was revolving the day's work in his mind while he ate, and occasionally put down his knife and fork to make a note in his little pocketbook.
Since he had become famous, somebody was always trying to engage his services in this case or that. Being as fastidious as a cat, he hated to soil his paws with the actual investigation of crime; his job, as he told himself over and over, was to study crime in the privacy of the library a long time after it had been committed. So he refused all offers, however tempting the fee; he didn't need the money; nevertheless, every now and then such pressure was brought upon him that he was forced to take a case. When he had solved the mystery he always drew a sigh of relief and vowed that it should be the last. At the moment there was no important criminal case to agitate the public mind and he envisioned a long succession of serene days to be devoted to his philosophical treatise.
His servant, Jermyn, tall, lean, leathery and correct, entered bringing the
, which he placed folded upon the table beside the breakfast tray. Jermyn did not speak, but he had been working for Mr. Mappin for a long time, and his master could read him like a printed page. It was evident from Jermyn's overcasual air that there was something in the morning's paper that he considered it important his master should see. He left the room.
Opening the paper, Mr. Mappin saw at once what it was. Jules Gartrey, the prominent banker, president of the famous Hasbrouck firm, had been found shot dead in his apartment and the police were looking for young Alastair Yohe, society's pet photographer. Mrs. Gartrey, whom they called "the most beautiful woman in New York," was said to be "prostrated."
Mr. Mappin threw the paper aside pettishly. The vulgarest of crimes! He was annoyed that Jermyn should have supposed he would be interested. Of course, it would cause a terrific sensation because of the conspicuousness of the principals. Mappin hated empty sensationalism. He disdained to read the details.
Putting it out of mind, he finished eating and went out on the balcony to bask in the morning sun while he smoked a cigarette. The East River sparkled far below; it was pleasant to think of the fascinating, baffling problems of human conduct that formed the subject matter of his book. Not this commonplace killing. Afterwards he went to his room to dress. For the street he affected a modified early nineteenth-century style. With his bald head, his polished glasses, his round belly under a white waistcoat, his neat legs encased in tightish pants, he looked like Mr. Pickwick as Cruikshank drew him, and gloried in it. He couldn't go all the way with Mr. Pickwick's costume; that would have made him too conspicuous. He hated to be stared at.
When he arrived at his office on Murray Hill the heads of both his assistants, blonde Fanny Parran and brunette Judy Bowles, were bent over newspapers, and that annoyed him afresh. No need to ask what they were reading. The girls were so absorbed that their greeting was perfunctory; "Morning, Pop," they said without looking up. He went on into his private office.
Presently Fanny came in bearing the newspaper. "Have you read this?" she asked.
"The headlines," he answered.
"This is the biggest case since Cain killed Abel!" said Fanny solemnly. "Fancy, Jules Gartrey shot in his own house!"
"Humph!" snorted Mr. Mappin. "Husband comes home unexpectedly; finds a younger man there; probably attacks him and gets shot for his pains. It happens every day somewhere."
"Not to the Jules Gartreys of this world," said Fanny. "We've got to get in this case, Pop."
"Get in it!" cried Mr. Mappin, now thoroughly exasperated. "For heaven's sake, what is there in it for us?"
"Useless for you to talk that way," said Fanny coolly. "A man as prominent as you simply can't be left out of a case as big as this. You'll see."
"All the police have got to do is catch the killer."
She shook her head. "Not so simple as all that. There's a lot that's unexplained. Sure, Al Yohe and Mrs. Gartrey have been running around together, but that doesn't prove anything. You're thinking in the terms of mellerdrammer, Pop. Modern people don't act like that--not
lot, anyhow. There's something back of it...Do you know Al Yohe?" she asked suddenly.
"Haven't that pleasure," said Lee stiffly. "I've seen him, of course. Couldn't very well avoid it."
"He's not the type," said Fanny. "If he was caught by a husband he would laugh."
"You seem to know him pretty well!"
"Oh, I've met him at the Sourabaya; it's his job to greet everybody who comes there. If you were to judge by what the newspapers say, he is just a common sort of Casanova who goes around rolling his eyes at women and trying to hypnotize them. But that's not the truth, Pop. He's an American boy, full of jokes, laughing all the time. It's true that women fall for him right and left--Mrs. Gartrey is mad about him; I've seen it--but that's because he tells them the truth about themselves. No woman can resist it, Pop--not when the man is so darned good-looking."
With that she left him. Lee was sufficiently impressed by her earnestness to pick up the newspaper and read the Gartrey story from beginning to end. It was meager as to fact and voluminous in innuendo.
The Gartreys lived in a magnificent apartment on Fifth Avenue overlooking the Park. Gartrey had had two wives before marrying the present Mrs. Gartrey, one dead, one divorced, and this one was thirty years younger than her husband. Alastair Yohe had called at three o'clock on the previous afternoon and was still there when the husband came home half an hour or so later. This was earlier than his usual hour, the house elevator boy testified. Gartrey had let himself in with a key instead of ringing; consequently nobody was aware of his return until the shot was heard. He was found lying in the entrance foyer, shot through the temple. The butler, Robert Hawkins, found him.
Oddly enough, the gun was lying on the floor near by. But the absence of powder burns in the dead man's flesh precluded the idea of suicide. There were no fingerprints on the gun. Mr. Gartrey was still holding his latchkey between thumb and forefinger, proving that he must have been shot down at the moment of entering. There could be no question of the killer's having acted in self-defense. Mr. Gartrey was not armed. The elevator boy and the boys on duty in the hall of the apartment house, all testified that, saving Alastair Yohe, no other person had been taken to the Gartrey apartment previous to the shooting.
The stories told by the inmates of the apartment were contradictory. Mrs. Gartrey, upon the advice of her husband's principal business associate, George Coler, talked fully to the police. Both she and her maid Eliza Young asserted that Mr. Yohe had taken his departure five minutes or more before the shot was heard. The maid added that she had opened the front door for him herself. Both women, of course, were anxious to divert any suspicion of scandal and were obviously desirous of clearing the young man. The maid's story was seriously damaged by the front elevator boy, who swore that he had not taken Mr. Yohe down in his car. Whereupon the maid pointed out that Yohe had several other friends in the apartment house and might have gone to call on one of them by the stairs. After the murder, so many people came and went that the elevator boy could give no account of them.
However, the maid's story was altogether destroyed by the butler, Hawkins, who testified very reluctantly that immediately after the shot was fired Mr. Yohe had come back into the rear entry of the apartment and had left by the service door. He had not said anything. He looked very disturbed. The other servants were in their rooms and had not seen him. The boy on the service elevator testified that he had not carried Yohe down, but there was a service stairway. The maid Eliza intimated that the butler had a grudge against Mr. Yohe and was lying. The most damning fact, however, was that Yohe had run away. The police promised an arrest within twenty-four hours.
Having digested the facts, Lee skimmed over the columns and columns of fluff that were considered due the occasion. In the minds of the newspaper writers, Yohe was already convicted of murder. They played up the romance of his career for all there was in it. The poor boy who had come to New York with nothing to recommend him but a certain skill in camera portraiture, plus remarkable good looks and charm of manner. It had been sufficient. Within five years he found himself publicity agent, official photographer and all-round hurrah boy at La Sourabaya, the smartest and most popular night club of the time. Al Yohe had made the place what it was. Not to be a friend of Al's was to argue yourself unknown around town.
In this short space of time, Yohe had become one of the most conspicuous social figures in New York. Men and women alike courted him--millionaires, actresses, authors, even scientists--not for himself but for the publicity that his wicked camera commanded. Not only was he the lord of La Sourabaya (the Oriental proprietors kept themselves discreetly in the background); gifts were showered on him by the smartest shops in town; he was never expected to pay for anything anywhere; he was besieged with invitations to the best houses. In respect to his amatory adventures, the writers had to be a little more careful. They managed, however, to convey very clearly that Don Juan of Sevila was a piker compared to Al Yohe of New York.
In order to build up Al, it was necessary to suggest that the unfortunate Jules Gartrey was an unpleasant sort of man, hard and unrelenting, unpopular alike in business and society. All the lush adjectives in the reportorial vocabulary were used in referring to Agnes Gartrey's beauty. The newspaper story actually managed to suggest, without laying itself open to libel, that she had had lovers before Al Yohe. The name of Rulon Innes, a well-known glamour boy, was brought in.
Lee Mappin tossed the newspaper aside. "Vicious!" he muttered; "this attempt to make a hero out of a common murderer!"
Fanny, who had been watching him through the open door out of the tail of her eye, came in with the morning's mail. "Well, what do you think of it, Pop?" she asked casually.