Detective Shelly Hobbs Mystery 06
“Every mystery has its solution. It always lies there in perfect view if – and only if you know where to look.”
Hanging in the Sycamore
A familiar black Mercedes glinted in the sunlight as it was driven through the Norfolk countryside. It was one of those days where the mist rolled across the fields and yet the sun was still bright. At the wheel, Detective Shelley Hobbs was ready for a new case.
Spotting the sign for the Sycamore Farm Stables, she turned on to the yellow gravel track and drove between grassy fields with a few horses grazing in them. She followed the path to the cluster of buildings nestled in high sycamore and oak trees. She could see a cornfield away to her right and woodland on the left as she approached. The main farmhouse was an enormous white-walled building with large sash windows and three chimneys. Around it was three barns and an ageing stable block. Each, Shelly noticed, equipped with CCTV cameras. The only abnormal things were police vehicles, ambulance and the coroner’s car.
“Yup, here we go again!” Shelley parked by the house and alighted from the car. She noticed a few officers bustling about, one, in particular, made her give a wry smile as he approached her. “Hello, Jake. Why is it, whenever a dead body is found you’re always at the scene?”
Officer Jake Klass chuckled as he ran a hand over a short blonde hair. “What can I say? I guess I have a nose for these things?”
“Or you’re after my job,” Shelley looked about her. “So, what happened around here, then?”
“Detective Klass does sound good.” Jake grinned.
Shelly gave him a ‘Watch it!’ sort of look.
“Ha! Anyway, the farm is owned by the Hallett family. The wife Rosemary heard a commotion in the stables. She came out to see what was going on and found her husband Kenneth hanging in the barn. Rosemary immediately called us and I called you. We’ve collected the CCTV recordings and are processing the scene now.” Jake led the way toward the stables.
“Great work, Jake. Was anyone else on the farm?”
Jake looked to his notes, “Their son, Patrick, was apparently in the cornfield. And a farmhand called Roper was operating a watering machine on the south sugar beet field, so I’m told.”
“Right, let’s see what we got, then.” Shelley tightened her mahogany ponytail and pulled on some gloves as she entered the stables. She counted twelve stalls along each side of the central passage which led outside either end. The whole structure was made of wood, the floor covered in straw. At least half of the stalls was home to a horse. The others, Shelly assumed belonged to the horses in the fields.
In a stall about a third of the way along, police coroner Archie Hamilton knelt beside the body of Kenneth Hallett. Around him, the forensics team in blue overalls were photographing and analysing the scene.
Shelly noted a ball of string in the opposite stall as she approached him. She raised her eyes to the beams crisscrossing the roof. There was no sign of any rope. It appeared, he hanged himself on the thick power cable running the length of the building. A look at the floor revealed a smashed crate amid the straw. There was no ladders or stools and very little else. “Afternoon, Archie. Is this suicide or something else?”
“Good day, Detective Hobbs. The Spanish said ‘A horse is worth more than riches. However, should the stallion be tall enough to catch you in a noose; his value will only be a pain in the neck,” Archie said quite philosophically.
“No kidding! I don’t see a horse in this stall. So, that didn’t happen did it?” Shelly looked over Kenneth, taking in his tweed jacket, jodhpurs and boots. Here was a man who took great care of himself. She noticed the deep abrasions about his neck and again glanced at the power cable. Several cable ties had been torn out revealing it as the hangman’s noose.
“There was a black filly in here. I believe her innocent of the crime. All I could ascertain so far is that cable was looped about his neck and caused his death by strangulation. He has abrasions to his right knuckles, a possible sign of struggle. His liver temperature tells me he died two hours ago at about 1 PM.”
“Thanks, Archie,” Shelly noted scuff marks and splintered wood beneath the power cable on the stall. “You can take him away and complete your examinations. I’ll see what I can discover here.”
Rosemary Hallett was a trembling mess standing by her kitchen table. She had a man with a full blonde beard hugging her shoulders when Shelly entered the room with Jake. Patrick Hallett was sat at the table looking distraught.
“You must be the detective. You don’t think anybody murdered my father, do you?” Patrick asked.
“We’re in the process of determining what happened now. To help with that I need to ask you all a few questions.”
“Surely that can wait. The family had a hell of a shock,” replied the man caring for Rosemary.
“You are?” Shelly asked with her leather-bound notebook in hand.
“I’m Roper Bryce the farmhand. I’ve worked here for twenty years.”
“Hello, Roper. Rosemary, Patrick I’m sorry for your loss. I’m afraid my questions can’t wait. Can you tell me what happened?”
“I —I was washing up the lunch t-things. I heard the horses all w-whinnying. They seemed in a frenzy so I went to s-see what was wrong. I…” Rosemary faded off as she wept into a piece of kitchen roll. “I found my husband hanging in Delia’s stall. I called the police and summoned Roper back from the sugarbeet field to help out.”
“I arrived and got Kenneth down. It was already too late for him by then.” Roper put in.
“Thank you. Patrick, where were you at the time?” Shelly wrote everything down.
“I was shooting rats in the cornfield. They’re destroying the crop.” Patrick indicated his hunting rifle on the sideboard.
“Thank you. Kenneth was hung by way of the power cord. Do you know if it was damaged?”
“The bloody power was always going off in that stable,” Roper said with a grumble in his voice.
“I could see no ladder or anything. Would he usually climb the stall walls to fix it?”
“No chance. He had a hip replacement, a few months ago. He can’t even get in bed without a struggle.” Rosemary answered.
“Hmm, I think—”
“Excuse me, Detective. We have something here,” cut in a new voice.
Shelly looked to see the tall shape of forensic operative Matt Hemmingway ducking through the door. “Hello, Matt. What have you got?”
“One of the stalls is full of cabinetry. We checked it out as a matter of course and found this.” Matt handed her a piece of paper in an evidence bag.
“Thank you, Matt.” Shelly saw it was a life insurance certificate for Kenneth. “Mrs Hallett. I see your husband is worth several million to you with his life insurance.”
“What are you insinuating!” Roper yelled as she burst into tears again. “I mean come on! That certificate is worthless to Rosemary as he hanged. That’s not accidental is it?”
Shelly looked between him and Rosemary. Was this a fidelity issue? Did he kill Kenneth to have Rosemary for himself? “Wasn’t the hanging accidental?” she asked pointedly. “Did someone murder Kenneth?”
“How should I know! I was a mile away in the fields!” Roper sighed and looked furious.
“We were decorating some of the rooms here. That’s why the furniture is in the stables. My father’s insurances are not the reason he’s dead. I’m sure of it,” Patrick stated.
“Okay, thank you all for your help. I must await all the evidence and information from my team. I will return when I know more or have further questions.” Shelly excused herself and left the farm with a lot of queries to ponder and the need for a cup of coffee.
The following morning Shelly found herself in the glass-walled forensic labs. In particular the technology room. “What have we got, Matt?”
“We found hairs belonging to the beard of Roper Bryce in the stall where the deceased was hanged. History searches for him and the family reveal nothing untoward. The CCTV provided little to go on. Typically, the stable camera has water incursion damage and showed us nothing.
“Thank you. Is there anything on the other cameras?” Shelly asked, hoping for something.
“We’ve been through all the CCTV footage and found little. Here’s the footage from about the time of the accident up until the police arrived.” Matt played it through on the screen. The images were from the farmhouse camera facing the stables. “I think these prove Roper wasn’t in the barn when Kenneth died. They show he ran in to help Rosemary and I think he lost his beard hair then.”
“Agreed,” Shelly watched the recording twice. “Hold up! What was the noise before the horses can be heard whinnying?”
“Good ears, Shelly?” Matt grinned as he replayed and used his program to amplify the audio. A clear gunshot could be heard cracking through the quiet air.
“That proves Patrick was shooting but not in the cornfield as he said he was. That gunshot was too loud and too close.” Shelly thought back to all she saw yesterday as a scenario began to reveal itself. “That barn camera. Was there anything useful on it?”
“It stopped taking recordings a week ago. This was the last it recorded.” Matt switched feeds on the screen.
Shelly saw Rosemary walking a horse from the stable. She saw something else high in the barns beams and trusses too. “Gotcha!” she remarked with a triumphant smile. “Matt prepare this and all the other evidence and send it to me, please. Get me some stills from the barn feed too.”
“Will do, detective. I’ll have it ready this afternoon.”
Shelly waited for the still photographs and wasted no time driving her Mercedes back to the Sycamore Farm Stables. She called the family and Roper Bryce into the stables.
“Hallo, Detective. Did you find out what happened?” Roper asked.
“I’m afraid I did and we have two culprits. Patrick, we heard gunfire on the farm CCTV. You were shooting but you were not in the cornfield, were you?” Shelly began with her evidence folder in hand.
“No! Please, my Patrick wouldn’t kill his father!” Rosemary said tearfully.
“Its okay, mum. She knows that. Dad was hanged not shot.” Patrick looked at Shelly. “I moved from the cornfield to the woods behind the barns, just over there, when I found no rats.”
“Thank you, Patrick.” Shelly took out her photos. “This photograph from the CCTV camera up there told me what happened. It shows the power cable which hanged Kenneth was hung in a loop on the beam above this stall before yesterday. I suggest it was too long and looping it solved that problem. It must have gotten a little low.”
“Which proves what?” Roper asked.
“I believe it proves Kenneth took a crate into Delia the horses stall. He used that to reach and retie the cable with the string we found in the stall opposite. When you fired your gun, Patrick. You put the horses into a frenzy. Delia kicked out smashing the crate and causing Kenneth to fall, abrading his hand as he flailed into the cable. That’s how he hung himself. You and Delia unintentionally caused the accident, Patrick.”
“So, are you pressing charges?” Roper wanted to know.
“Please, don’t take my son away. I just lost my husband.” Rosemary added as Patrick hugged her.
Shelly smiled. “No. As far as I can ascertain there was no crime here. Just a terrible accident. I will make out my investigation reports as I’ve just told you.” the detective focused on Roper. “I did wonder about fidelity issues but I see you are a good but wrong man, Roper.”
“How so?” he asked while scratching his beard.
“This was an accident. That insurance claim is valid.” Shelly nodded to the family and walked away with her job done.
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