The McPherson-McTavish Mystery

EARLY ONE DRIZZLY MORNING, as Thomas P. Stanwick was finishing breakfast at the White Lion Inn, the innkeeper told him he was wanted on the phone. This surprised him, since he was on the third day of a vacation in Dartmoor, England, and few people knew he was there.

“Mr. Stanwick? This is Inspector Carstairs,” said the voice on the phone.

“Oh, yes.” The amateur logician had met the inspector at the local pub two days earlier and had swapped crime stories with him. “What can I do for you?”

“Colonel Rogers was murdered in his library last evening. Since you’ve been helpful in other police investigations, I thought you might be interested in dropping by and having a look at this one.”

“Thank you, Carstairs, I’d be delighted.”

The Rogers estate was only two miles across the moor from the inn, so within an hour Stanwick had walked to the main house, scraped the sticky red clay of the moor from his feet, and joined Carstairs in the library. Colonel Rogers lay in front of his desk, shot in the chest at point-blank range.

Carstairs pointed to two grizzled, middle-aged men sitting sullenly nearby.

“That’s McTavish on the right and McPherson on the left. McTavish is a neighbor and McPherson is the groundskeeper here. McTavish says he saw McPherson bury the murder weapon, a shotgun, in the garden last evening.”

“That’s right, sir,” cried McTavish. “I had my telescope set up just a few miles away on a little knoll on the moor. Before lookin’ out at the stars, I swung it around the landscape a bit-to test it, you know. That’s when I saw him come out, look around, and bury the gun.”

“A rotten lie!” roared McPherson. “I was in my cottage all evening until the constable came knocking last night.”

“That’s enough!” Carstairs warned. “We dug up that shotgun last night from the spot in the garden that McTavish showed us. All indications are that it’s the murder weapon.”

Stanwick examined the dirty shotgun leaning against the wall. Beside the shotgun was a golf bag with a broken strap, scuffed along the bottom but otherwise unmarked. Inside, however, Stanwick found no clubs, but telescopic equipment instead.

“Is this your golf bag, Mr. McTavish?” he asked.

“Aye. Every week for months now, I’ve dragged that bag with my telescope from the village up to the knoll to look at the stars.”

“Wasn’t it too cloudy last night for that?”

“No, it rained a bit in the afternoon, but by dusk it had cleared some.”

“How could you see Mr. McPherson at night?”

“Oh, at dusk it was still light enough to see what he was doin’.”

Stanwick sat down in a nearby armchair and fingered the tip of his mustache. Mr. McPherson,” he asked, “did you hear a shot last night?”

“No, sir,” was the reply. “My cottage is some distance from the library.”

“Who called you, Carstairs?”

“I received a call from McTavish, who said he had just rushed back to the village. We picked him up with his equipment, came here, discovered the body, and found the gun where he said McPherson had buried it.”

“Any fingerprints?”

“None left on the gun, and only those of the colonel in the room. Also, the housekeeper tells me an ivoryhandled knife is missing from his desk.”

“Well, well.” Stanwick abruptly arose and faced McTavish. “I think you had better start telling the truth, Mr. McTavish. Your story is a lie!”

How does Stanwick know McTavish is lying? Scroll down for the solution.    

The McPherson-McTavish Mystery

McTavish’s golf bag is only scuffed. If he had dragged it across the moor to the knoll, as he claimed, it would also have had the moor’s sticky red clay adhering to it, as it had adhered to Stanwick’s shoes. The missing knife had nothing to do with the crime.

McTavish was convicted of murdering his neighbor over a land dispute and then attempting to frame McPherson.

The Case of the Forged Will

Stanwick and Bodwin both noticed that the writer of the slip of paper, who presumably was the forger, had written the date (the 11th of February, 2001, as stated in the forged will) in the Month/Day/Year format. A Briton, especially someone impersonating another Briton, would have written the date in the Day/Month/Year format, or 11/2/01. This eliminated Barbara Teti, the only British beneficiary, as a suspect.

The other two suspects were Americans, and the Month/Day/Year format is customary among most Americans. In the military, however, the Day/Month/Year format is the standard. The only beneficiary who would automatically use the Month/Day/Year format was therefore the non-military American: John Manning. Bodwin realized that the format implicated the American suspects, but Stanwick deduced that it implicated Manning specifically.

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