The Ohio Law Journal, Volume 1, Part 2 (Google Books)


Detective Norris Relates a Romance.

“Never condemn a person on circumstantial evidence, it is unreliable, even when the circumstances seem to fit into each other like a couple of cog-wheels,” said John T. Norris, who is an experienced detective of Springfield, Ohio.

“Give us the story, Uncle John.”

“Not long ago there resided in Franklin County a wealthy old maid. Miss Sabina Smith. By inheritance she was the possessor of a large farm, on which was an old-fashioned, though comfortable, dwelling-house. She was reputed to have a good square bank account.”

“How old is she?”

“Well, on the shady side of seventy, but she had a weekness, like all old maids, not for kittens, poodles or canaries, but for children. She had raised several orphan girls, who are now well settled in life. In 1865, she adopted a sixyear-old, black-eyed girl, bright as a button, named Mollie McCann, whose father had fallen in battle fighting for his flag and country, while her mother, crazed with grief, pined and faded away. Mollie soon learned to love her new mother, and from a prattling maid in short-clothes and pinafores she soon bloomed forth into a gushing school-girl, and at eighteen was the belle of every rustic gathering—the pretty Miss Mollie McCann, over whom the boys raved and the girls envied. To all her admirers she turned a deaf ear, and with a pretty toss of her head, and merry twinkle of her rougish eye, bade them ‘be off, and not bothering her.’

“Miss Smith was sensible; knew that Mollie would probably marry, and have a home of her own some day, so she neither discouraged her fondness for society nor harped upon the miseries of wedded life in the maiden’s ear, but when she came back from the State Fair at Columbus in 1878, and told her adopted mother about a young gentleman she had met, his attentions and good qualities, Miss Smith was not pleased, nor did she hesitate to frown her displeasu re,and ad vise her ward to turn a willing ear to the many suitors of the neighborhood, instead of seeking in far-off fields that which was nearer home.

“But Mollie was like many another, struck on a traveling man, and “she carried on a secret correspondence with him through a lady friend for a long time, until at last they were engaged.

“Miss Smith and Mollie were the sole occupants of the house. The bedrooms were four in number, two of which were used as spare rooms, one occupied by Miss Smith and containing two beds, Mollie occupying one, Miss Smith the other. The fourth bedroom was called Mollie’s but was only used by her when a lady friend was visiting her. In one of these spare bedrooms was an old-fashoned bureau and book-case combined, the top drawer of which could be converted into a a desk. The back part of the drawer was fitted u\ with small drawers. In the summer of 1879 th sum of $355 was missed from the drawer; in the summer of 1808 1290 mysteriously disappered, together with a small quantity of gold coins which had been in the family for over a century. On the 29th day of last May, Miss Smith loaned to a neighbor $500 giving him her check and he signing a note in her favor. Sickness prevented his presenting the check at the bank at Columbus, and, learning that Miss Smith was going to that city on the 30th, he requested her to get it cashed. She did so, and returned with Mollie about dark on that day, having the money all in one hundred-dollar bills.

“The house was all securely locked down stairs, and Miss Smith deposited the $500 in the secretary-drawer, closed the drawer, locking it and placing the key in the bureau-drawer Deneath. She then locked the room containing the bureau, and placed the key under some quilts that lay in a wardrobe in her bedroom. Before retiring she locked her bedroom door, and she and Mollie retired for the night in separate beds in the same room. The next morning, April 1, the neighbor who had borrowed the money, having a long journey to perform, during which he expected to make a payment on some land purchated, called as early as five o’clock, before Miss Smith and Mollie had arisen.

“Awakening Miss Smith, she took her key from the wardrobe, unlocked the bedroom, then taking the bureau-drawer key from the under drawer of the secretary, opened this to find the money gone. She went down stairs; every thing was locked and bolted as she had left it the night before.”

“Who took that money?”

“That was the question that confronted me. There were no signs of a burglary; no lock forced, windows and doors all right. No one else in the house but Miss Smith and Mollie. Of course, I at once examined the girl. She talked freely, said she always had a presentiment that the money would be stolen—in fact, had a presentiment that night, but feared to tell the old lady for fear of alarming her. I soon learned that Mollie had a key which fitted the bedroom containing the bureau, hence my suspicions were strengthened that Mollie had arisen in the night, either unlocked the door with her own key or taken the one in the wardrobe, and, securing the money, hid it either in or out of the house without awakening the old lady. I finally told Mollie that I should have to search her, and make a thorough examination of the house.

“‘ Well,’ she naively remarked,’if you do find any money about the home it won’t prove that I stole

“‘ It will be prima facie evidence,’ I said.

“I locked her up in her bedroom and began a thorough search; band-boxes pried into, bureaudrawers pulled out, cupboards ransacked, and finally went through her own room. Under the carpet under her bed I found in a compact wad twelve one hundred-dollar bills. Now the total amount known to be missing was only $1,045. where had the $155 come from? Where had the gold coins gone to? Was the bureau-drawer paying interest on its deposit?

“‘Now I’ve got you Mollie,’ as I confronted her.

“Mollie fainted.

“A bottle of camphor and a little cold water brought her speedily to, yet she sturdily proclaimed her innocence.

“‘ I didn’t take Miss Smith’s money; no I did not,’ she convulsively exclaimed between her sobs.

“Miss Smith, would hot allow me to take her to jail, where, I reasoned, confinement would soon compel her to confess.

“My work, however, was but partially done, for the gold coins had not turned up.

“I determined that those coins must be in the house and resolved upon a thorough search from cellar to garret. The cellar disclosed nothing, and at last I stumbled upon a small stairway leading to the garret, the door to which was a common trap-door securely fastened by padlock, to which was attached three links of a chain.

“‘ Give me the key,’ I said to Miss Smith, ‘to that trap-door up in the attic’

“‘ Oh, no use to look there, the keys have been lost for over five years, and no one has been up there since.’ There were cobwebs on the door, but I noticed that over the crack of the door’s edge they appeared to have been broken away, caused by the door having been recently opened. With an ax I speedily got the door open and saw large foot-prints in the dust. By the aid of a lamp I followed the course of the tracks over the boards which lay across the shaky rafters to the furthest part of the garret, where, over an old cross-beam, hung a pair of old-fashioned saddle-bags. The dust on the bags had been re? cently disturbed. In one of the pockets I found the five one hundred-dollar bills which disappeared on the night of the 30th of May, the $355 that was missed in the summer of 1879, the $290 that was lost in 1880, and, better than all, the rare old gold coins upon which Miss Smith set such store as an heirloom. I had found $1,200 too much. The mystery deepened. I resolved upon one thing, and that was that Mollie must know something about the money that was hid under the carpetbeneath her bed. I talked kindly to her, told her that Miss Smith’s money had all been found, and urged her to tell me how the $1,200 came under the carpet of her bed.

“1 You will not believe me if I tell you, but if Miss Smith will go out I will explain. I put that money there; it was my lovers. He had saved it out of his wages and given it to me to keep. I destroyed his letters, for fear my aunt would find it out. There’s the story.’

“‘ But how did the old lady’s money get into the garret?’

“‘ She carried it there herself. She was a som”nambulist, and walked in her sleep.’

“How did you prove it Mr. Norris^ Did the old lady let you occupy the bedroom and catch her?”

“Oh, no. I got the old lady to take of her shoe and stocking and place her No. 6 foot down on a sheet of white paper. With a lead pencil I marked out her foot on that sheet of paper. With a pair of scissors I carefully cut out the exact shape of the old lady’s foot, which fitted exactly in the tracks in the dust on the garret boards. Besides that Mollie’s foot was much smaller, she only wearing a No. 2£ shoe, and would not fit the track. I also on careful examination found traces of cobwebs in the frill of the old lady’s night-cap, while Mollie wore no night-cap. So you see I proved, it by both ends —the old lady’s head and by her feet. I explained all to the satisfaction of the old lady, she paid me my money, and I predict a wedding soon at the Smith mansion, with Mollie McCann as the bride.”

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