Excerpts from the case notes of DSGRuth E. Hook
Jake Shelby called me this evening with a sudden death connected witha case he was working on. Well, that's not exactly surprising, but thiswasn't a violent death. The victim was elderly, started feeling ill justafter dinner, fell into convulsions, and died before medical help couldarrive. Jake was actually there, undercover, working on a case himself. He says the 76-year-old dead woman was running one of the biggest drugorganizations in the midwest (!). We're waiting on the coroner's report,but Jake thinks we may be looking at a homicide. Poison, maybe. He wasable to preserve the scene, mostly, though he's trying to keep his coverup as long as he can. I was able to get there about an hour and a halfafter the call; I had sent some guys in earlier to relieve Jake.
We found a few unusual things in the guest rooms. Beatrice and Simon Miller had some chemicals sitting out in a bag in their room, of which we took samples. One of the curtain tiebacks from Jake's room was missing, but he says it's been gone since he got there so perhaps that isn't related. Margaret McLean Rochester has a very large collection of art supplies and solvents with her, including some things like gasoline that seem a little unusual for me. The trashcan in Margaret and George Edward's room was quite full of papers and tissues. An unlabeled bottle of what looks like an inorganic metal salt was found in Deborah Irene Forsythe's dressing table.
So, we don't have a whole lot so far. I'm still trying to figure outa vector for the poison. The last food the victim ate was a piece of birthdaycake, cut at the table from a sheet cake made at a local bakery. A littleof her piece of cake remained on the plate, and about three quarters ofthe sheet cake remained intact. None of the other guests reported feelingill in any way.
All present seemed upset about their hostess's death, and as it is nearlymidnight I decided to leave the real interviews for tomorrow. We took asample of the cake. Nothing remained of the other food, which was eatensome space of time before dessert anyway. I packed up some of the dirtyplates, but if the murderer used a quick-acting drug (which seems likely)I expect that we won't find anything on the plates. Have to wait for theautopsy for an ID on the poison (if it was poison) before we know for surewhat we're looking for at the house. We didn't see anything that lookedsuspicious in or around the house; I doubt there was an intruder.
I sent all the houseguests and the young woman who lived with the victimto a local motel for the night. I hope no one bolts. Jake promised tosend me some background on the victim (Julia Rochester) and the people stayingat the house tomorrow.
4:30 am, November 3
Another call from Jake: a serious fire that could have taken the lives of all of the suspects started around 3 am at the motel. According to Jake, the Rochesters got out first and alerted the Millers. Ms. Forsythe got out just before the smoke became overpowering. All were lucky to be alive. There was damage to all three rooms, particularly to the wall between the Rochesters' and Ms. Forsythe's rooms. I talked to the fire chief and he confirmed that it was probably arson. We took carpet samples from each of the burned rooms to check for accelerants, and we're going through all three of the rooms and bagging everything we can. I don't know how much of it will prove to be useful, but I'd hate to miss any evidence. One of the men found a half melted tube of red liquid under the bed in the room of Beatrice and Simon Miller. There was no evidence of forced entry to any of the rooms.
Jake promised me his report by eight o'clock. I'll start interviewingwitnesses at nine.
11:00 am, November3
Before we could start taking statements this morning Deborah Forsytheasked permission to return to the house to recover Julia Rochester's will. She said nothing of the will being in the house yesterday. I asked herabout that and she said the shock had made it slip her mind. She told methe will is kept in a concealed safe in the pantry. As we missed it completelylast night it is very well hidden indeed.
I agreed to take her to the house with me, on the condition that I wasto be with her at all times and she was to touch nothing but the safe. When we got there she uncovered the safe and opened it with no trouble atall. (I did check it for marks and fingerprints first.) I watched overher shoulder. Inside were a number of papers, including the will, and sometraces of white powder. DF tensed up when she saw the powder-I'm sure shewas hoping I didn't see it. I asked her about it, and she denied knowingwhat it was. I suspect it may have leaked out of some larger package. I collected it to have an analysis done. Could we have found the poison?
Apparently there is some confusion about the will, now. Deborah claims that it is not correct. According to her, Julia Rochester left almost her entire estate to a certain drug rehabilitation program which she founded during her lifetime. The will we removed from the safe leaves very large sums of money to family members George Edward Rochester and Beatrice Annabelle Miller and to Deborah Forsythe herself. Deborah is contesting the will, and it has been submitted to the crime lab as a questioned document. This adds a new twist to the case.
The will we removed from the safe was sealed with ribbon and wax and is completely handwritten. However, it appears to be properly witnessed and otherwise in order, so, unless Deborah Forsythe is correct about the tampering, it should stand up in court. If the will is in fact falsified then that implies a motive for the murder, but all the suspects received financial benefit from the will as it stands so it doesn't point to any one person.
Now proceeding with the statements.
7:00 pm, November 3
Inquiries this afternoon led to another possible source for the poison in the shape of Beatrice Miller. Her nephew claims his Aunt Julia frequently became ill during her sister's visits. The metal salt (apparently) found in Ms. Forsythe's bedroom will have to be tested as well. I've sent word to the coroner's office to have a hair test done on the victim to see if there's any evidence of chronic metal exposure.
We've also gathered sample pens from the victim's house and guests inan attempt to find the one used to write the will. I also noticed thatthe ribbon around the will bears a striking resemblance to the remainingcurtain tieback in Jake Shelby's room at the Rochester house. When I realizedthat, I started a house-wide search for similar ribbons. There's some tiedaround the neck of Beatrice's poor stuffed ostrich chick, and a short, frayingbookmark in one of Margaret Rochester's books. The only other ribbon wefound was the ordinary papery gift-wrap kind.