BOB HARDlNG LOOKED worried as he opened his front door late one Saturday afternoon and let in Stanwick and Baskerville police chief William Ryan. Stanwick had been chatting with Ryan when Harding’s call carne in.

“Here in the basement,” said Harding as the three descended the wooden steps. Harding, a lean, tall man with salt-and-pepper hair and a thin beard, was a retired automotive engineer. 

“I had $75,000 in bearer bonds in my safe yesterday, and now they’re gone. The thief replaced the padlock, too. I had to saw it off.”

Ryan peered closely at the small safe, now open, which rested on a steel shelf about six feet up and was bolted to the wall. It contained a passport and a clutter of papers. “You’re sure the bonds were here yesterday?”

“Positive,” Harding replied. “I’m thinking of taking a trip to France, and last night I checked my passport. The bonds were still here then. I’m a light sleeper and heard nothing during the nighttime, so I’ m sure they were taken today.”

“You were away, then,” said Stanwick.

“Yes, at an estate auction in Littleton. I bought a letter signed by Charles Dawes, who was vice president under Coolidge. I got home about four-thirty and brought it down here for temporary safekeeping. When I couldn’t work the padlock combination, I discovered that the lock wasn’t mine, so I had to saw it. Only the bonds are missing.”

The three men returned upstairs to the kitchen. Ryan excused himself for a few minutes to check the doors and windows.

“No forcible entry,” he said when he returned. “Who has a key to this place?”

“Just me,” replied Harding, “but I keep a spare under a flagstone in back.”

“And who knew about the key and the bonds?”

“Only two friends of mine, Pat Greeley and Joe Fabiano, knew of both. One or the other usually waters my plant when I’m away. They also knew I would be away today. Our model car club met last Wednesday night, and I mentioned the auction.”

“I didn’t know you went to estate auctions, Bob,” Stanwick remarked with a smile.

“It’s a hobby, Tom. Usually I buy books, though, not documents.”

“Did Greeley or Fabiano know the combination to your safe’s padlock?” asked Ryan.

Harding shook his head. “Only I knew that. The thief must have sawn off the lock.”

Ryan scratched the stubble on his chino ‘TU need to talk to your friends.”

“Thought you would,” said Harding as the doorbell rang. “Right after I called you, I called them, told them of the theft, and asked them to come over. Sounds like one of them is here now.”

They both were. All five men were soon seated in Harding’s living room. Greeley, a real estate agent, was slightly taller than Harding and had thin, sandy hair, bright freckles, and aviator glasses. Fabiano, a small man with tufts of hair around his ears, peered defiantly at Ryan through thick glasses. Ryan politely asked each where he had been that day.

“I was in Royston all morning,” said Greeley. “At the Ganterbridge Mall, getting a jump on my Christmas shopping. After lunch I showed two houses. Got home just before your call, Bob.”

“I spent the morning doing chores,” said Fabiano. “Taking the trash to the dump, buying groceries. Then I took my wife out for a long lunch at that new Malaysian place in Tewksbury.”

“Do you have any idea who might have committed this theft?” asked Ryan.

Both men shook their heads. “Real shame about the bonds, Bob,” Fabiano added.

“Thank you both,” said Ryan as he stood up. Be sure to let me know where you can be reached.”

Two days later, Stanwick dropped by Ryan’s office at headquarter so “Anything new on the Harding theft, Bill?”

“Well, we found footmarks between the woods and his house,” said Ryan, leaning back and lacing his fingers behind his head. “Probably the thief’s, but we couldn’t determine the size. The key was under the flagstone, but not in its usual position, according to Harding. No fingerprints. The thief probably wore gloves.”

“It’s a pretty sparsely furnished place for someone who goes to estate auctions,” remarked Stanwick. “Hardly anything in the basement but screens, shelves of model cars, and a furnace, and just books and big, clumsy furniture upstairs.”

“Bob scaled back a lot after his wife died,” said Ryan. “I verified that Greeley did conduct those house tours Saturday afternoon, and a supermarket clerk thinks he remembers seeing Fabiano in the store that morning. I haven’t traced the replacement padlock yet, and frankly don’t know why the thief bothered.”

“He probably hoped to delay the discovery of the theft,” Stanwick said. “He knew that Harding usually buys books at estate auctions, and could hardly have known that Harding had checked the safe just the night before. It was the thief’s bad luck that Harding was able to pinpoint the day of the theft.” Ryan nodded.

“Not bad investigating for a one-horse department, though,” continued Stanwick with a grin. “You’ll need to do some more before you can make an arrest, I think, but at least we know who the thief is.”

Whom does Stanwick suspect as the thief?

Scroll down for the answer.

Mini Mystery Solution:

Stanwick and the Stolen Bonds 

The thief had to know about the bonds and the hidden key, which restricts the suspect list to GreeIey and Fabiano. Fabiano, a small man, could not have reached the six-foot shelf easily enough to saw off the padlock and reach inside. Nor was there any furniture in the basement, or small, moveable furniture upstairs, that he could have used to stand on. Greeley was the thief. The thief was therefore Greeley. He had stolen the bonds before going to the mall that day.

Stan Smith was the author of three books of Stanwick mini-mysteries that have been published in nine languages and sold over 120,000 copies.

By Stan Smith