Art Lefkowitz, author of whodunit detective short story “It Doesn’t Make Sense”, has previously published short fiction at Foliate Oak Magazine and Dead Mule of Southern Literature.
Sal’s bar was cool, dark, and quiet. The waitress set the pitcher of beer between us. My best friend, Homicide detective Robert Canelli took a sip of his beer, leaned forward and told me about his most difficult homicide case he just finished.
“It was the coldest December on record. I had a week to go before vacation. Bitter cold temperatures and icy roads had me and everyone else holding onto cars and building as they walked through the parking lot. We held onto anything to keep from falling. The only thing that kept me going was the warm thoughts I played over in my mind picturing a forthcoming trip my family and I were taking to Disney Land.
As senior detective on the squad, I had seniority and claimed Christmas week for my vacation. The captain had the flu, so the squad was pretty much running on automatic without any major problems.
The victim was a twenty-six-year old, female, postgraduate student named Kelly Kern. She lived alone in a clean, modest walk-up. I found her lying on her back, in the middle of her bed, her hands at her sides.
Her head was lying on the neatly made bed; the pillow was alongside her head. Her crisp, white blouse was undisturbed, but the hem of her skirt was up around her waist, and her panties were pulled down to her knees. There were no signs of a break in, or anything taken. I saw no signs of sexual assault, cuts, gun wounds, or strangulation marks.
The victim was a twenty-six-year old, female, postgraduate student named Kelly Kern. She lived alone in a clean, modest walk-up. I found her lying on her back…
The victim was a twenty-six-year old, female, postgraduate student named Kelly Kern. She lived alone in a clean, modest walk-up. I found her lying on her back
The kitchen was unremarkable, except for a half a pot of coffee in the coffee maker but no cups, silverware, or anything else to drink it from. Nothing made sense. There was little for me to do until the lab processed the scene. It was late, and I was tired so I went home.
The next day, no lab results or phone tips were waiting for me. We always started our interviews with those closest to the victim and worked outward from there. This turned out to be easy. Her parents had passed away, no husband past or present, no fiancé, not much of a love life, a few boyfriends, and many friends.
“I thought, you quit,”…“I think I just did,” the detective replied.
I asked the university to provide a list of all the male students in her classes. A list of sexual offenders living in her neighborhood was already on my desk. I searched for matches in both lists, and found nothing. I spent the next few days interviewing friends and turned up nothing. Mary Poppins seemed to have a more scandalous life.
Detective Canelli lit up a cigarette, took a long, deep drag, and then started coughing explosively. His face turned red. His eyes bulged, and then started to water. I thought he was going to die, so I reached for my cell phone to call an ambulance, when he suddenly stopped coughing.
“I thought, you quit,”
“I think I just did,” the detective replied.
“Please continue,” I begged.
‘The victim spent most of her time studying. The lab report finally arrived and made everything even more confusing. The cause of death was suffocation. There were traces of a sedative, possibly Rohypnol in her system. The coroner further stated he found a condom underneath her body, but there were no signs of sexual activity.
The lab found no fibers, fingerprints, and the DNA extracted from the condom had no hits. I couldn’t understand why the pillow was alongside her head. How did a condom get under her body? Half a pot of coffee but no cups or spoons, that was strange.
The victim spent most of her time studying. The lab report finally arrived and made everything even more confusing.
If someone smothered her with her pillow, why did he drug her? No signs of a break in implied she knew her killer, but she seemed to have a minimal social life. Her killer was comfortable enough to hang around, clean the scene, and wash the dishes. I can’t figure out why the rapist left a condom, but he didn’t rape her? It doesn’t make sense.”
I got a call from a detective in the North district; they were holding a perp that may be tied to my case. He’d broken into a young woman’s apartment; made himself a sandwich, cleaned up the kitchen so well she was unaware anyone else was there. Then he hid in her closet till she went to bed.
As soon as she fell asleep, he attacked her. Too bad he didn’t look around the apartment a little more. All those trophies and plaques would have told him she was a personal trainer, body builder and a certified woman’s defense instructor. He was so badly beaten up he was happy to be arrested. I had to drop him as one of my suspects, because at the time of Kelly’s murder, he was in jail on a DUI charge
“This case is making me nuts. The more I investigate it, the more confusing it becomes. It doesn’t make sense. What kind of guy would enter a woman’s apartment, have coffee with her, drug her, partially undress her and not rape her, but leave a condom under her body?
“Artie, why do I get all these crap cases? Why can’t I get a simple suicide or jealous husband case?”
I got a call from a detective in the North district; they were holding a perp that may be tied to my case.
“Her computer had many completed and some partly finished eighteenth century English literature research papers she was preparing for her PHD. No relevant emails, but her phone records showed a large number of phone calls to the home and cell phone of Dr. Richard Vonner, who was a professor at Kelly’s college. The phone calls started about eighteen months ago and continued right up to the time of Kelly’s death.
There was no answer to his cell, so I called his home number and spoke to his wife, Ann Vonner. She said she didn’t know who Kelly was, but thought she might be one of her husband’s students. I gave Mrs. Vonner my phone number and asked her to have her husband call me. I interviewed a few more of Kelly’s classmates and friends and got nothing.
The next morning Richard Vonner called, and came in for an interview. The professor was slim, six-feet, three inches tall, and spoke in a deep, authoritative voice with a clipped, English accent. The professor always well dressed, greatly admired by the students, especially the female students.
“Yes, she was quite a nice girl. Good student. Her research was excellent,” Richard assured me.
The interview was a long one because he appeared to be co-operative, but never volunteered any information, so I had to ask for every detail. When I asked him for his alibi, he advised,
“Ah yes, I believe that was the day I went to Stanton, a hamlet about one hundred and twenty miles away to get an antique chest that was too heavy for my wife to move.
The professor was slim, six-feet, three inches tall, and spoke in a deep, authoritative voice with a clipped, English accent.
“You see, she is an antique collector. When I arrived at the seller’s house, no one was in so I returned to my home.”
That was a weak alibi, but his wife confirmed it later that day. I think the professor was holding back information. He was slick.
I had nothing, so I tried an old police trick; I asked Dr. Vonner for DNA and fingerprint samples. When a suspect refuses, it usually means he needs a closer look.
“Of course detective, he said, I will be happy to comply, but all this is taking more time than I thought. I hope you will wrap things up soon.”
I went to Kelly’s neighborhood and asked about her. I got nothing, but several people advised me to talk to Mrs. Nussbaum, who they described as the village ‘yenta’. A person who knows everyone’s business.
Mrs. Nussbaum was an eighty-five year old woman, with a thick Jewish-Brooklyn accent. Her stocky, four-feet-eleven inch frame was topped off with a mop of snow-white hair. She just happened to live directly across the street from Kelly.
Mrs. Nussbaum seemed anxious to talk to me, or perhaps anyone, but she refused to be interviewed until we had tea and Rugelach, a Jewish pastry. It tasted good. I was sure this was going to be a big waste of time, but I didn’t care, I had nothing else. She was a very knowledgeable insomniac. First, she told me about the drug dealer who lived next door. We’d been looking for him for a year.
Then Mrs. Nussbaum turned the conversation to Kelly in detail.
“What kind of girl was Kelly?”
“Oy, she voz such a nize girl, no boyfriends or hoodlums wid her.”
I described Richard Vonner to her, and asked if he visited Kelly the night of her murder, she said,
“Not, dat night, but many udders.”
I then asked if anyone visited Kelly that night and she said,
“I don’t know da goil in da red box car.”
What in the hell was she talking about? Nothing made sense. The more I investigated this case, the stranger it became. I thanked Mrs. Nussbaum and went home because I was annoyed and clueless.
The next afternoon the lab advised that the DNA in the condom matched Dr. Richard Vonner.
I requested an arrest warrant based on the DNA and the shaky alibi. I went to his workplace to question him. Even with the DNA match and the shaky alibi, I knew the case was weak. I couldn’t prove murder or rape. Nothing made sense. I interviewed him in a casual manner, hoping he might make an unguarded comment. Mr. Vonner was polite, but denied any knowledge of the murder. Less than twenty minutes into the interview, he apologetically and suddenly demanded a lawyer so I stopped the interview.
While Dr. Vonner waited for his lawyer I headed for his house to talk to his neighbors and wife. Just as I pulled into his driveway, the garage door opened and Ann Vonner backed out of the garage in her red Scion.
I grinned as I suddenly realized what Mrs. Nussbaum’s ‘red box car’ comment meant. Ann Vonner told me she was in a hurry, but I assured her this would only take a few minutes. We went back into the house and having no idea what to ask her. I put on my most serious expression, and told her we had a witness and that certain forensic material our labs couldn’t yet analyze was due to report in a few days.
Just as I pulled into his driveway, the garage door opened and Ann Vonner backed out of the garage in her red Scion.
Ann looked down at the carpet and didn’t say anything for a long time. I didn’t know what to say and then I noticed a tear form in the corner of her eye. She took a Kleenex from her purse and in almost a whisper she said,
“I was aware of that bastard’s many affairs. I killed Kelly to get rid of Richard, inherit his estate and life insurance. Then I would be free to start a new life. I took one of Richards’s condoms and put it in Kelly’s bedroom so the police would pin the murder on him. I originally placed the condom on Kelly’s stomach, but decided it looked too gross and too obvious, so I put it under Kelly.
I drugged Kelly’s coffee because she was very fit and I did not want to be in a struggle with her. I wiped down the kitchen, and then washed the silverware and cups. When I arrived home, I realized I’d forgotten to wash and put away the coffee pot.
I arrested her, and then I called my wife and advised “Get packed, and round up the kids, we’re going to Disneyland.”
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