A mystery mystery
June 5, 2011 11:40 AM Subscribe
I'm looking for a Dorothy Sayers essay about a real-life murder case, but I can't recall the name of the suspect and my google-fu is failing me. Details inside.
I read the essay years ago in a rather old, library-bound anthology of essays on crime and criminals. Thing is, i can't remember the name of the suspect and Sayers wrote so many books of political and theological essays I can't seem to sift through and find it.
The case happened in Britain, I believe in the 1930s. The reason it stuck in my mind --- and the subject of Sayer's essay --- was that it was a true mystery, near as one could get to a locked-room case in real life: The victim was an elderly housewife who was home alone at the time. There was no sign of forced entry and suspicion fell on her husband; he was pretty much the only suspect. As an alibi, he said he had received a mysterious note asking him to meet someone at a certain place --- I think a pub? --- and he went there and waited for a while but no one showed up, though he did receive or make a phone call while waiting.
The conundrum part came in that he was seen to wait at the location, and I think the phone call was successfully traced; but given the statements of other witnesses who had seen the victim alive there it would have been practically impossible for him to kill her and stage an alibi. On the other hand, the "note" excuse was so bizarre it seemed an obvious lie, to gin up an alibi.
As I recall, Sayer's essay was written after the trial and was an attempt to work through the evidence to come up with a satisfactory account of the case, very back and forth-y and detailed; I don't know if she reached a settled conclusion, since as I recall believing the man guilty just about required believing he could be in two places at once, while on the other hand believing him innocent required that there be some sort of vast conspiracy to murder a ordinary housewife of modest means and get her husband to swing for it.
If that rings any bells out there I'd appreciate it. Also I should say that it was some years ago that I read this; I'm about 95% sure it was written by Sayers, but there is a slim chance she wasn't the author.