The Old Man in the Corner HTML version

XXIX. The Motive
"Now at first sight the murder in the Regent's Park appeared both to police and public as
one of those silly, clumsy crimes, obviously the work of a novice, and absolutely
purposeless, seeing that it could but inevitably lead its perpetrators, without any
difficulty, to the gallows.
"You see, a motive had been established. 'Seek him whom the crime benefits,' say our
French _confrères_. But there was something more than that.
"Constable James Funnell, on his beat, turned from Portland Place into Park Crescent a
few minutes after he had heard the clock at Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone, strike half-
past two. The fog at that moment was perhaps not quite so dense as it was later on in the
morning, and the policeman saw two gentlemen in overcoats and top-hats leaning arm in
arm against the railings of the Square, close to the gate. He could not, of course,
distinguish their faces because of the fog, but he heard one of them saying to the other:
"'It is but a question of time, Mr. Cohen. I know my father will pay the money for me,
and you will lose nothing by waiting.'
"To this the other apparently made no reply, and the constable passed on; when he
returned to the same spot, after having walked over his beat, the two gentlemen had gone,
but later on it was near this very gate that the two keys referred to at the inquest had been
"Another interesting fact," added the man in the corner, with one of those sarcastic smiles
of his which Polly could not quite explain, "was the finding of the revolver upon the
scene of the crime. That revolver, shown to Mr. Ashley's valet, was sworn to by him as
being the property of his master.
"All these facts made, of course, a very remarkable, so far quite unbroken, chain of
circumstantial evidence against Mr. John Ashley. No wonder, therefore, that the police,
thoroughly satisfied with Mr. Fisher's work and their own, applied for a warrant against
the young man, and arrested him in his rooms in Clarges Street exactly a week after the
committal of the crime.
"As a matter of fact, you know, experience has invariably taught me that when a
murderer seems particularly foolish and clumsy, and proofs against him seem particularly
damning, that is the time when the police should be most guarded against pitfalls.
"Now in this case, if John Ashley had indeed committed the murder in Regent's Park in
the manner suggested by the police, he would have been a criminal in more senses than
one, for idiocy of that kind is to my mind worse than many crimes.