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4 - Mrs. Goodge and the Hindu Student

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Author Topic: 4 - Mrs. Goodge and the Hindu Student  (Read 20 times)
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« on: August 23, 2023, 08:42:45 am »

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I HAD scarcely read---I ought to say scarcely glanced at---these headlines when a sharp exclamation from Chaney made me aware that some similar announcement confronted him in his newspaper.

‘Good God, Camberwell!’ he said in startled tones. ‘That caretaker woman at Little Custom Street’s been murdered! And, at the same time, a Hindu chap who had a flat there---Number 10. What on earth----’

But I was searching my paper. There it was. Mrs. Goodge---yes. Mr. Mehta---yes. Both killed by blows on the head from some heavy, blunt weapon! Just as Hannington and Mrs. Crowther had been killed.

Chaney and I stared at each other in silence for a moment. Here we were, face to face with murder again. And----

‘No use speculating, Camberwell!’ said Chaney, suddenly. ‘We’d better get the facts into our heads. This is a full report of the coroner’s inquest, held to-day, and I see, eventually adjourned for a fortnight at the request of the police. We’ve got this compartment to ourselves,’ he added, as the train moved off, ‘and two hours before us, ere we reach London, so we’d best get to know what it’s all about. Full account in yours? Get through it, then, carefully, and we’ll discuss it later.’

The report of the proceedings before the coroner was practically verbatim in my evening newspaper; later, I cut it out and had it pasted up in our casebook, and I now abbreviate it from that repository of criminal history, as it gives a pretty comprehensive account of what had happened:---

The inquest on the dead bodies of Mrs. Anne Goodge, a caretaker of Minerva House, Little Custom Street, W.1, and Mr. Rao Mehta, a young Hindu gentleman, of the same address, who were found dead under circumstances which point to wilful murder, about midnight, on Thursday last, was opened by Mr. A. B. Cardyke, the coroner for Westminster, at 9.30 this morning. The coroner sat with a jury, and the Home Office was represented by Mr. Meredith Tankersley, and the relatives of Mr. Mehta (a law student) by H. C. Wellerman. There was a crowded attendance of the general public, the interest in the case being heightened by the fact that a previous murder---that of Mrs. Clayton---on similar lines took place at the same address and under similar mysterious circumstances quite recently.

The coroner in addressing the jury referred to this as soon as he took his seat. There was a little doubt, he said, that the two persons, Mrs. Goodge and Mr. Mehta, into the cause of whose deaths they were about to enquire, were murdered at about the same time and in all probability by the same hand, and it was impossible to avoid remembering that only a short time before a woman, at first unknown, but afterwards believed to be a Mrs. Clayton, had met her death under similar circumstances in the same house. It would also be remembered that on the same night on which Mrs. Clayton met her death, Mr. Hannington, editor of the Morning Sentinel, whom she had visited at his office that afternoon, met his in Lord Cheverdale’s grounds in Regent’s Park. All these four people, Mr. Hannington, Mrs. Clayton, Mrs. Goodge, and Mr. Mehta, had been murdered in the same way---by blows on the head from some heavy, blunt instrument, and it was impossible not to suspect that the murders had been committed by the same hand. As regards the deaths of Mrs. Goodge and Mr. Mehta, the facts appeared to be these: Mrs. Goodge was caretaker of Minerva House, Little Custom Street, which was divided into twelve flats. One of these flats, Number 10, had been for some little time tenanted by two young Hindu gentlemen, Mr. Rao Mehta, and Mr. Ayyar Ghose, who were studying law in London. Last Thursday night Mr. Mehta and Mr. Ghose went to a theatre together, and did not return to the house in Little Custom Street until about half-past-eleven o’clock. For a certain reason, they wanted breakfast at an unusually early hour next morning, so Mr. Mehta, on entering the flats, went down to the basement, where Mrs. Goodge lived, to speak to her about it. Mr. Ghose went upstairs to their flat, Number 10, expecting Mr. Mehta to follow him in a few minutes. Mr. Mehta, however, did not come. Mr. Ghose waited until nearly midnight, and then went down to see what had become of his friend. And at the foot of the stairs leading to the basement, he found Mr. Mehta lying dead, while inside the kitchen, or living-room, he found Mrs. Goodge, also dead. He hurried out of the house, found a policeman, and telephoned for a doctor, who turned out to be the same medical man that had been called to the dead body of Mrs. Clayton. This gentleman would tell them that in each case---these of Mrs. Goodge and Mr. Mehta---the cause of death was precisely that which he had found in the case of Mrs. Clayton: blows on the head from some heavy, blunt weapon and that death, in each instance, had been instantaneous. It would appear impossible, from the evidence which would be called, to avoid coming to the conclusion that Mrs. Goodge had somewhere seen and recognized the man whom she had seen leaving the flats on the night of Mrs. Clayton’s murder: that she had accosted and accused him (there would be some evidence on this point): that he had accompanied her to her basement probably on the pretext of buying her silence (there was some evidence on that point, too): that he had there murdered her, and that Mr. Mehta, coming in as the murderer was still in his victim’s living-room, had suffered the same fate. Up to that moment, he concluded, the police had not been able to find any clue and the identity of the murderer was still a matter of mystery.

Evidence of identification having been given, in Mrs. Goodge’s case by her daughter, and in Mr. Mehta’s case by his brother, Mr. N. P. Mehta, a medical student, of King’s College Hospital.

Mr. Ayyar Ghose, in answer to the coroner, said he was a law student, at present reading in the chambers of Mr. Cyril Partmore, Lincoln’s Inn. Mr. Rao Mehta was reading in the same chambers. They had both gone to Mr. Partmore at the same time and had become friends. When they first knew each other, each had rooms of his own, but soon after their acquaintance began they decided to share a flat, and for some time before Mr. Mehta’s death they had lived in Flat Number 10 at Minerva House, Little Custom Street. They only took breakfast there; all their other meals were taken outside. Mrs. Goodge acted as bedmaker for them and prepared breakfast. They were in residence at their flat when Mrs. Clayton was murdered in Number 12. Number 12 was exactly above Number 10. They never heard any disturbance in Number 12 on the night of Mrs. Clayton’s murder; they never knew anything about it until the evening of the next day, when Mrs. Goodge told them of it on their return home. Coming to the murders of Mrs. Goodge and Mr. Mehta, Mr. Ghose said that on the evening of the Thursday previous to the inquest, he and Mr. Mehta after dining at their favourite restaurant went to the Haymarket Theatre. They went straight home after leaving the theatre. The street door of the house in Little Custom Street was open, as usual. He never remembered it being closed. He had heard, since the death of Mrs. Clayton, that it was Mrs. Goodge’s duty to close it at a certain time every night; people who lived in the flats, coming in after that, were expected to use their latch-keys. But he had never known Mrs. Goodge to carry out these instructions, either before Mrs. Clayton’s death, or since. He and Mr. Mehta were often out till between twelve and one o’clock, and the street-door was always open. Proceeding, Mr. Ghose said that on entering the house, on this particular Thursday night, he and Mr. Mehta went straight up to their flat. They did not hear anything going on downstairs; no sound of a scuffle or anything; the whole place was quite still. Just as they reached the landing of their flat, Mehta suddenly remembered that they had arranged to spend next day in the country; they were going to witness a meet of foxhounds in Buckinghamshire, something they had never seen, and, accordingly should want breakfast earlier than usual. Mehta therefore went downstairs again to see Mrs. Goodge and tell her to let them have breakfast at half-past seven next morning. He, witness, let himself into the flat. He expected Mehta to return in a few minutes. Mehta, however, did not return. Some time passed. At last, after waiting half-an-hour he went downstairs himself to see what Mehta was doing. Everything was absolutely quiet as he went down. He neither saw nor heard anything between his landing and the entrance hall, and did not meet anyone on the stairs. On descending the two short flights of stairs into the basement, however, he saw Mehta’s body lying at the foot of the last one. He hurried to it, called Mehta by name, and shook his shoulder. There was no response, and he saw that Mehta was dead. There was a light---the usual electric light---full on in the lobby at the foot of the stairs leading to the basement, and the door of Mrs. Goodge’s living-room was wide open, and the electric light was on there. He went into the living-room and then saw Mrs. Goodge’s body. She was lying in front of a cupboard that stood in a recess on one side of the fireplace: the cupboard door was half-open. He saw that she was dead, too. He did not touch her, but he noticed that in one hand, the right hand, stretched out before her, she was holding something that looked like scraps of twisted paper. Feeling certain that she and Mehta were both dead, and had been attacked and murdered, he ran up the stairs and out of the house, to look for a policeman. He found a sergeant and a constable at the corner of Little Custom Street, and they immediately went back with him.

Mr. Tankersley asked Mr. Ghose a few questions.

‘You have known Mr. Rao Mehta intimately since you and he first met at Mr. Partmore’s chambers, I believe?’

‘Yes---very intimately indeed.’

‘He gave you his full confidence?’

‘Oh, yes, I think so. We were close friends.’

‘Do you know if he had any enemies?’

‘Oh, no, I think not. I am sure not. He was very quiet---gentle.’

‘Do you know if he had much money on him on the night we are dealing with?’

‘Oh, I don’t think so. Perhaps like myself---a few pounds.’

‘Had he been robbed of whatever he had on him?’

‘I think not. The police examined his clothing.’

‘We will leave that question for the police, then. When you found Mehta, where was he lying?’

‘In the little lobby at the foot of the stair leading to the basement.’

‘In what attitude?’

‘Well, one arm was under his face----’

‘He lay face downwards?’

‘Yes---face downwards. One arm was under his face---that is, his head rested on that arm. The other arm, his right arm, was stretched out---so!’

‘Well, now, Mr. Ghose, a most important question. The door of the living-room, you have already told us, was open. Was Mr. Mehta lying with his head towards the door or away from it?’

‘Away from it. His head was towards the foot of the stairs.’

‘Did you deduce anything from that, Mr. Ghose?’

‘Not then---I was too much upset. I did afterwards.’

‘What, now?’

‘That Mehta had gone within the living-room, found Mrs. Goodge just struck down, and the assailant there, had immediately turned to flee, and had been followed and struck down in his turn, in the lobby outside.’

‘Here is a plan of the lobby, Mr. Ghose. Just indicate to the jury exactly where Mr. Mehta’s body lay when you found it.’

The witness made two pencil marks on the plan showing that Mehta’s head lay just beneath the first step of the stairs and that his feet were in the direction of the door of the living-room.

‘Here is another plan---of the living-room, with all the pieces of furniture and their arrangement indicated. Just show us where Mrs. Goodge’s body lay.’

The witness marked this plan, too.

‘Mrs. Goodge, then, lay with her head pointing to the cupboard, and her feet towards this central table?’

‘Yes---as I have indicated.’

‘You felt quite sure, when you found them, that both Mr. Mehta and Mrs. Goodge were dead?’

‘Oh, yes, I was quite sure of that. They were both dead.’

Mr. Wellerman had no questions to ask and the next witness was called.

Charles Arthur Swinford said he was a sergeant of the Metropolitan Police Force. He was in conversation with Police-Constable Knottingley, X.A.C. 55,231, about 12.15 a.m. on the morning of Friday last, at the corner of Little Custom Street and North Pontington Street, when the last witness ran up to them and told them that there had been a double murder at Minerva House, Little Custom Street. He remembered that as the house where the unknown woman, after known as Mrs. Clayton, had been murdered. He and Knottingley immediately went with Mr. Ghose to the house and down to the basement. At the foot of the stair they found Mr. Mehta’s dead body in the position just described by Mr. Ghose: in the living-room, Mrs. Goodge’s. Mr. Ghose hurriedly told them how he had found both. He sent Knottingley for assistance; it came very quickly. By direction of the inspector he made an examination of the clothing of Mr. Mehta. There was nothing to show that robbery had been a motive. Mr. Mehta had a sum of between six and seven pounds in his pockets: a gold watch and chain and a ring of some value were untouched. As regards Mrs. Goodge, she was holding very tightly in her right hand five five-pound Bank of England notes. He and the inspector after looking round, came to the conclusion that Mrs. Goodge, when she was struck down, was about to put these notes away in the cupboard, the door of which was slightly open.

‘What made you arrive at that conclusion?’ asked the coroner.

‘It was in consequence of a search, sir. Near the dead woman’s left hand we found a bunch of small keys. On the top shelf of the cupboard, thrust far back in a corner, we found an old-fashioned tea-caddy. One of the keys on the bunch fitted the lock. Inside the tea-caddy there were three compartments. In the centre one there were several Treasury notes---pound notes, ten shilling notes: some sixteen or seventeen pounds in all. We came to the conclusion that that was where Mrs. Goodge kept her savings, or her money, and that she was about to put the Bank of England notes, which we had found tightly gripped in her right hand, there, when she was struck down from behind.’

‘You found the body of Mrs. Goodge in the position indicated by the last witness?’

‘Exactly sir. She lay with her head within a foot or two of the cupboard door, and her feet near the centre table. I observed that the attitude in which she lay was almost precisely the same as that in the case of the man outside in the lobby. Each lay with the left arm under the head and the right arm stretched out and up.’

‘They were both dead when you reached them?’

‘Oh, yes, sir. From some experience in these matters I should say they had been dead between half and three-quarters of an hour.’

Mr. Tankersley asked the sergeant a question or two.

‘Were there any signs of a struggle in Mrs. Goodge’s living-room?’

‘None whatever, sir.’

‘No chairs knocked over, or anything of that sort?’

‘Nothing of that sort, sir. The room was in apple-pie order. Neat---tidy.’

‘Did any of you---you, or the inspector, or the detectives who came---examine the room for papers, fingermarks, and so on?’

‘The detectives saw to the finger-print business, sir. By direction of my inspector I examined all the likely places for anything in the shape of documents and letters, but without result.’

‘Now I want you to give me a very careful answer to this question---Have you made any enquiries in the neighbourhood since these murders on this point?---Has Mrs. Goodge, since the murder of Mrs. Clayton, been known to be in possession of more money than had been usual with her?’

‘What is the point, Mr. Tankersley?’ asked the coroner.

‘The point, sir,’ replied Mr. Tankersley, ‘is that there is a rumour in the neighbourhood that Mrs. Goodge, since the murder of Mrs. Clayton, has been receiving hush-money from some interested person. I want to know from the witness if he has collected any evidence to the effect that Mrs. Goodge has of late had more money than usually the case?’

‘I have made a good deal of enquiry,’ said the witness. ‘So have the detectives. We can’t find any evidence that Mrs. Goodge was flush of money. No-one in the neighbourhood has any proof of that.’

‘You say you found sixteen or seventeen pounds in the tea-caddy?’

‘The exact sum was sixteen pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence. The twelve-and-sixpence was in silver, in another compartment.’

‘And there were five Bank of England notes for five pounds each tightly grasped in her right hand?’

‘Yes!’

‘Where are these notes?’

‘The detective took charge of them.’

‘Do you know if they’re doing anything about tracing them by their numbers?’

‘I can’t say. They can answer that.’

‘Just one more question, sergeant. You have made, I suppose, the most careful and exhaustive enquiries as to whether any suspicious person was seen to enter number----Little Custom Street that night, or to leave it? Have you had any success?’

‘Not the slightest, sir! We have made most careful investigations and have heard nothing. No one that we can find or hear of actually saw Mrs. Goodge come in that night. It is known that she was out about 10.30 or 10.45, but we can’t find anybody who saw her actually enter the house. And no one in the flats above even heard any sound from her rooms.’

Joseph Knottingley, a police-constable, corroborated the evidence of the last witness. There was nothing new in what he had to say, but the interest and excitement in the court increased when the next witness was called into the box. This was the police-surgeon who had been called to Little Custom Street on the discovery of the dead body of Mrs. Clayton.

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