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Marks on the Wall by Neal James
The plain clothes detective sat in the lounge and looked around the room. He knew that Samuel North had killed his wife Susan. Everything was there. He had motive, opportunity, the weapon and there were enough people who knew that the marriage was going through serious problems to put the man firmly in the frame. Despite all this Marks had nothing concrete to place North at the scene during the period that the pathologist estimated to be the time of death. If they went to trial based on what evidence was currently available he may be acquitted – Hell the CPS may not even agree to go that far and even if they did, the Double Jeopardy law would rule out any re-trial on the same charge. Susan North had been shot, her body wrapped in plastic sheeting and dumped at the side of an isolated country road. According to the post mortem report she had been dead for at least two weeks.
North had married into money, becoming an essential part of his father-in-law’s business and inheriting a share of the company when the old man died. His wife Susan obtained controlling interest when her mother passed away and became the driving force with her sixty per cent share to his own forty. Their marriage, although happy enough at first, had never been one of undying love for each other, and when disputes over the future direction of the company became more prevalent it descended into purely a business relationship.
This suited Susan, leaving her free to explore her own social life whilst still keeping the brakes upon Samuel’s ambitions, but when he found out about her affair with the tennis coach at her country club their relations soured irreparably. Susan’s golfing partner, Abigail Marshall, reported her missing to the local police when she failed to appear for her regular twice weekly round without informing her. Susan had always been meticulous in her contacts with friends but when Abigail’s follow ups revealed little progress her next call was to another friend - the wife of the Chief Superintendent.
Dennis Marks received instructions from his boss to take a personal interest in the case and keep him informed of all developments. It was always frustrating when workloads were disrupted by requests from on high but sometimes you just had to get on with it, and this case had something about it which he just could not put his finger on. Based on forensic evidence leading back to North’s gun, a search warrant was obtained for the family home, and Samuel North was arrested on suspicion of murder.
The police team had been all over the house with a fine toothed comb but nothing else connecting the place with the murder had come to Marks’ attention – there was a loose end here somewhere, and he hated them. He decided to go home and review the case file in the morning. Picking up his coat he looked around once more – it had been done here, in this room he was sure of it and all he needed was the final piece of evidence to put North away.
He was in early the following morning and well into the case file when Peter Spencer made an appearance. The detective sergeant had been Marks’ right hand man for a few years and their ability to bounce ideas off each other had led to some successful prosecutions in difficult circumstances in the past. He fetched a coffee for them both and sat down opposite his boss.
“Anything new jump out at you?”
Marks leaned back in his chair and scratched the back of his head – it was a habit he had when the blindingly obvious seemed to be lurking just out of his reach.
“No, and I’ve been at this for over an hour now. As I see it we have a couple of suspects, the husband Samuel North and this tennis coach – what’s his name?”
“Mark Collingwood – but he has an alibi. At the time the pathologist says Susan was killed, he was in France with another one of his ‘pupils’ and they were there for a fortnight for some coaching. I crossed checked with the hotel manager where they were staying and he corroborates the story.”
“Well that just leaves us with North. The problem is we can’t tie him to the scene. We know from the autopsy report that Susan was killed by a bullet matching the type in his gun. The gun is licensed to him and is used at the local firing range so evidence that it was recently discharged doesn’t prove a thing, and his are the only fingerprints on it. Witnesses at the range place him there regularly during the period when she was killed but we can’t pin any of them down to a time, and no-one heard any shots coming from the home at the time of death. How long have we been holding North?”
“Forty-eight hours up to last night.” said Spencer “That gives us just one more day before we have to either charge or release him. What about bringing Collingwood in again? He may be able to tell us more about the Norths’ domestic situation”
“We could do, he may be holding something back. Let’s go back to the North house first – there’s something there that I’m missing and it’s driving me up the wall.”
The house was still sealed off from the press and public, with uniformed officers covering front and rear entrances. Marks and Spencer ‘walked’ the entire property for the third time during the case and sat down in the lounge where the DI was convinced that the murder took place.
“There’s something about this room that bothers me and I can’t make out what it is.” he said to Spencer “Take another walk around and see what you think.”
Spencer carried out his usual routine of starting at the door and walking the perimeter of the room before ending up in the middle. Every piece of furniture and each ornament were examined for evidence and when he sat down opposite Marks, his words grabbed the DI’s attention.
“Well I’d certainly sack the decorator”
“The decorator, anyone with the North’s money would be entitled to expect a better wallpapering job than that.” and he nodded over to the other side of the room.
Marks was out of his chair in an instant and at the place indicated by his sergeant. He looked back at Spencer with a broad smile on his face. The first time that had happened during the entire case.
“Look at that Peter.” He pointed to a join in the paper “Decorators start at one end of the room and work round to the other. They don’t work to the middle. Somebody’s replaced this whole drop but it’s just too wide and there’s an overlap. Get forensics back in here, I want that entire length removing in one piece – let’s see what’s behind it.”
They both sat with bated breath whilst the forensic team painstakingly removed the eight foot strip of wallpaper. One of the team turned to Marks.
“There’s something here you should see, sir.”
The lack of spatter had bothered Marks from the start of the investigation and now he knew why. Had Susan North been shot in the middle of the room, there would have been blood everywhere and it would have been almost impossible for her killer to clear up the mess.
“Peter. If I am pointing a gun at your head from about six feet away, where would you go?” He raised a finger to simulate the shot.
Spencer involuntarily took three steps backwards and as his boss approached, continued until his back came up against the wall.
“Now I’ve got you pinned, a shot from here would only stain the area immediately behind your head. Turn around.”
There, on the bare plaster was the trace of a blood stain which had been covered by a fresh piece of paper, and in the middle of the mark was a patch of filler covering a hole. An attempt had been made to clear the area of spatter and enough had been removed to ensure that there was nothing to soak through the fresh drop. Marks tapped on the wall and smiled once more.
“A studded wall. I reckon the bullet will be at the bottom of the partition.” He turned to the forensic team. “Let’s get this section of the wall removed.”
The team cut the entire area of plasterboard away for testing, and on the floor in between the studding was a blood-stained bullet. Marks put on his gloves and removed it with a pair of tweezers. Holding it up to the light he pointed out the blood and traces of flesh to Peter Spencer.
“He knew exactly what he was doing. Forcing her back to the wall reduced the spray of blood to the area immediately behind her head. He could have worked out that he would have to replace only one strip of wallpaper, or at worst two. What he failed to account for was the fact that the bullet would be lost in the partition wall, but he must have thought that filling the hole and covering the area with a fresh drop of wallpaper would conceal the facts.”
“Back to the lab then?” said Spencer
“Yes and if forensic tests show these traces to carry Susan’s DNA, North will have a hard job explaining it together with a match to his gun. We’ve now got him at the scene. Put that together with both her affair with Collingwood and control over the company and that’s motive for murder. Good job you spotted that wallpaper Peter.”
Samuel North’s solicitor was at the station when the two detectives returned late that afternoon. He was on the point of demanding they release or charge his client when Marks raised his hand and ushered him into an interview room. North was brought in from the police cells and smiled when he saw his lawyer. That disappeared rapidly from his face when Marks dropped a small polythene bag on the table. In the bag was the bullet removed from the wall in North’s lounge, and accompanying it were the forensic and ballistic reports matching it to his gun and Susan’s DNA. Marks inserted two new cassette tapes into the interview recorder and switched it on.
“This interview is timed at 16.05 on Thursday the 14th of July. Present are DI Marks, DS Spencer, Mr Samuel North and Mr Paul Firth his solicitor. Samuel North, I am charging you with the murder of Susan North. You have the right to remain silent; but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something that you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?”
Samuel North sat with his head in his hands and nodded very slowly – he knew that it would be a while before he tasted freedom again.