murder mystery, crime, & detective fiction

The Case of the Malacca Cane


A Dixon Hawke Mystery

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Dixon Hawke Casebook | Spring 1940 | No. 4

Est. Read Time: 20 mins

Can Dixon Hawke prove Jim Hardy is not guilty of a brutal murder?




"Now, Mrs. Hardy, you go home and try not to worry about it." Dixon Hawke placed a hand on the old lady's shoulder, and smiled encouragingly. "If Jim is such a good lad as you say, it's not very likely that he has been guilty of a brutal murder. Leave it to me, and I'll do my best to help you both."

Hawke ushered his visitor to the door, and gave her a reassuring handshake as he bade her good-bye.

"I say, sir," exclaimed Tommy Burke when they were alone again, "it looks mighty black against young Hardy, don't it? According to his own story, he hears a cry for help, and finds the door locked. When he 'phones for the police, and they get in, they find a man with his head bashed in, Hardy's cap on the floor under the table, and his finger-prints on the weapon. Sounds a mighty thin tale, and I don't wonder they pinched him so quick."

"Certainly the circumstantial evidence is all against the lad," agreed Hawke, "but his finger-prints may have got on the stick in half-a-dozen different ways. That remains to be seen."

The detective pulled out his watch.

"Ten o'clock," he announced. "The crime was committed at six or six-fifteen, and Hardy arrested an hour ago. His mother rushed right around here as soon as she knew the police had taken him. Quick work all the way. Well, lad, we'll slip along to Clare Street and see Forbes."

The pair left Dover Street and walked rapidly down to Clare Street Police Station, where they found Inspector Forbes still on duty. He was an old acquaintance of Dixon Hawke, and he shook his head when the detective explained his mission.

"You're on a dud thing, Hawke," he said. "The evidence is plain enough to convince the most bone-headed jury alive. That young ruffian did the job, and he'll swing for it."

"Looks black," Hawke agreed, "but I'd like to see the body, and have a talk with the lad, if I may."

The inspector considered the request for a minute before he answered.

"All right, Hawke. I don't know if I'm acting right in letting you do it, but I'll take the risk.

"The murdered man is Ezra Walker, of Walker & Goldman, the diamond assessors, of Shaftesbury Avenue. He was knocked out with a loaded cane, but up to the moment we don't know if anything was stolen. His partner seems to be out of town. Come on, then; the body is in the mortuary."

Dixon Hawke and Tommy Burke followed the inspector through the office and across the yard to the mortuary, where Forbes drew back the sheet covering the dead man.

Tommy came nearer as his chief began to make a rapid examination, and it was not long before he knew that the detective had noted points of more than usual interest.



When Hawke finally completed his examination there was a curious gleam in his grey eyes which Tommy did not miss.

"Finished?" asked Forbes. "Like to see the weapon?"

Hawke nodded, and they went back to the office, where the inspector produced a heavy cane carefully clamped in a stand to preserve the fingerprints upon it.

Pulling on his gloves, Hawke subjected the cane to a long and detailed examination through his powerful pocket magnifying-lens. Presently he straightened up.

"Welt, Forbes," he said quietly, "whatever killed Ezra Walker, it was not this cane."

"What!" exploded the inspector incredulously. "Look at the blood, and then again there's Hardy's fingerprints on it, as plain as daylight!"

"All the same," answered Hawke, "this was not the weapon. There is blood on it, as you say. There is too much and too little blood."

"What do you mean?" demanded Forbes irritably.

"Just this. There is blood smeared thickly along some four inches of the cane, but there is not a particle on the undersides of the joints of the cane.

"If the cane had struck the blows, and only two were struck, the blood would be in two distinct patches or in one not more than an inch and a half or two inches at the outside. The force of the blow's would have squashed the blood into every crevice of the cane, yet we find here that this is not so."

"Well, what about that?" demanded the puzzled inspector.

"Seems clear enough to me," broke in Tommy Burke. "The cane was rubbed on the dead man's head after his skull had been cracked open with some other weapon. That's why none of the blood got into the joints; it was only smeared on the outside curve."

"Quite, Tommy," nodded Hawke. "And what is more, there are no signs of anything but blood; some fragments of skin or hair should also be adhering.

"In addition, the weapon which struck down Ezra Walker was a very heavy, short-handled, blunt-edged instrument — at a guess, I'd say a big spanner; and it was used by a left-handed man, not above average height. The position of the wounds show that."

"And he had pink eyes and blue teeth!" said Forbes sarcastically.

"Perhaps he did," Hawke grinned. "Now, I'd like to have a word with the prisoner."



They found Jim Hardy sitting on the hard bed looking the picture of misery, but when Hawke introduced himself he brightened up at once.

"Tell me your story as briefly as possible, but don't leave out the smallest detail, however unimportant it may seem to you," said Hawke. Hardy leaned against the wall.

"Then, Mr. Hawke, it's like this. I'm the lift-attendant at the Shaftesbury Avenue building in which Walker & Goldman have an office on the top floor.

"I finish at 6.30, and the lift is locked up until I come on duty again at eight next morning. Tonight I took a gentleman up about 6.5, or perhaps 6.10, to the fourth floor, and went up to the top floor after I'd seen him out.

"When I got there the cleaner, Mr. Harris, asked me to nip down and get an evening paper. I went down in the lift and got it from the boy who sells them just outside the building. Back on the top floor, the cleaner had started on the offices at the other end of the corridor, so I went along and gave him the paper.

"As I came back and was passing Walker & Goldman's, I heard a sort of thud, and then a cry of 'Help!' half-strangled and not very loud. I immediately seized the handle, but the door was locked, and, though I hammered on the door for a minute or two, I got no answer. I knew that Mr. Walker was still there, and I got the wind up about him.

"I rushed into the room Harris was cleaning and told him what I'd heard, but as he's a bit deaf and the cry was low, he had not heard a thing. We decided to 'phone for the police, and when they came and went in through Mr. Goldman's office, which has a separate door from the main office, they found Mr. Walker dead."

Jim Hardy paused, and Hawke asked a question.

"Why did you not think of going in through the other door yourself?"

"Because it was locked, sir. I tried it, as Harris can prove."

Hawke frowned.

"And yet the police found it open only a few minutes after," he remarked. "Very strange, Hardy. How do you account for it?"

Hardy shook his head in despair.

"I can't, sir," he replied. "Same as I can't account for my hat being in the room, and my finger-prints being on the stick."

"Where do you keep your hat when you are on duty?"

"In the little cupboard at the end of the top-floor corridor, sir."

Hawke fingered his long chin as he stared thoughtfully at the ceiling.

"Who was this man you took up about five minutes past six?" he demanded presently. "Did you know him?"

"No, sir; never set eyes on him before. He was a thick-set gentleman, not so tall as me, with a heavy black beard and dark glasses. He wanted the Premier Insurance Company, and when I told him that they closed at sharp six, he said they were expecting him."

"H'm! What sort of a stick was he carrying?" Dixon Hawke shot the question at Hardy like a pistol crack, and the young man blinked as if he had been struck. But suddenly a light of understanding dawned in his eyes.

"By Jove, sir, I remember now! It was a cane, and what's more, he dropped it on the lift floor, and I picked it up for him."

Inspector Forbes sniffed, and Dixon Hawke smiled.

"Well, that's about all, Hardy. Cheer up, lad," he said kindly. "Things are not as black as they seem."

He clapped the young lift-attendant encouragingly on the shoulder as he rose to leave the cell with the others; and Jim Hardy's smile was quite spontaneous as he replied:

"Thank you, sir. I feel a lot better now that I know you've got the case in hand."

"Do you really believe that yarn, Hawke?" asked Forbes, when they were back in the inspector's room. "Black beard and dark glasses, and picking up the stick — which last little bit accounts for that young blackguard's prints being on it. Bah! Hawke, it's a chunk of fiction he's invented while cooling his heels in the cell."

"Truth is sometimes more difficult to believe than fiction," retorted the detective. I'll admit it sounds fishy, but it remains to be proved. In the meantime I'd like to view the scene of the crime."

"You're wasting your time, Hawke," said Forbes, "but if you like doing it, I ain't going to stop you. Hang on a minute and I'll give you a permit."



With the police inspector's note in his pocket, Dixon Hawke set out for Shaftesbury Avenue.

The constable on duty admitted them to Walker's office, and watched with interest as Hawke commenced operations.

Hawke stood in the middle of the room and subjected the place to a swift survey; then he walked over to the desk at which Ezra Walker had been sitting when he was struck down.

On a blotting-pad in front of the armchair lay a half-finished letter, and Hawke leaned over and examined it.

"What do you make of that, Tommy?" he asked, indicating the sheet of paper.

Tommy scrutinised it.

"An ordinary business letter, half-finished, sir," he replied. "Walker must have looked up at his murderer, or else the last word would have been wonky. It's neatly written, like the others, so he could not have been writing it when he was coshed."

Hawke nodded approvingly.

"Well reasoned out, Tommy!" he said. "And it proves that whoever did it was well known to Walker, and a frequent visitor to this room. If he had been a stranger, it is extremely unlikely that Walker would have sat here quietly writing while the other walked right up to him and struck him down. No, lad, we must look for the murderer in a person perfectly at home in this office."

Tommy frowned.

"That don't make it any better for Jim Hardy," he remarked. "Walker would have known him well enough."

Dixon Hawke did not reply, but turned away from the desk and glanced about the room. His eyes alighted on a big cupboard near the fireplace, and he crossed over to it.

Tommy watched him as he opened the door, and a moment later he saw his chief pick something off the wood. It was a short, black hair, which had become caught in a tiny splinter. Hawke gave a little exclamation of satisfaction as he placed the hair in an envelope and put it into his wallet. Then, bending down, he examined the floor.

The cupboard did not appear to have ever been used, and the dust was thick. Tommy noticed obvious footmarks, but so ploughed about as to be useless for identification purposes. Only one thing Hawke troubled about, and that was a small lump of mud which he found just inside the door.

This he carefully picked up and laid on a sheet of paper. Tommy saw that it was a cake of mud from the instep of a man's boot, and must have dropped off from boots either placed in the cupboard or from the feet of someone standing inside.



Hawke carefully prodded the mud until it fell apart, and then Tommy saw what his boss was after — a tiny piece of dried-up leaf. For several minutes the famous detective studied it under the magnifying-lens, and then he turned to his young assistant.

"It's a piece of hop leaf, lad," he announced, "and the mud itself is from the light, hop-country soil." Tommy looked puzzled.

"What about it, guv'nor?" he asked. "I don't see that it helps any."

"The inside of the cake is still wet," replied Hawke quietly.

"I see what you mean, sir," exclaimed Tommy excitedly. "Someone stood in that cupboard only a few hours ago, and left the mud there, mud which belongs to hop-country soil, and ain't found anywhere else. Then it follows that whoever it was had been in the hop country of Kent just before coming here."

"Quite right," smiled Hawke. "And that person was the murderer of Ezra Walker."

"Then it can't have been Jim Hardy," exclaimed Tommy.

Dixon Hawke shook his head.

"The man who did the deed was a left-handed man, as I told Forbes; Jim Hardy is right-handed."

When he had finished his examination of the mud cake, Hawke strolled across to a door leading to another room, which the policeman informed him was Mr. Goldman's office.

"Bit of a shock for Goldman when he comes back," remarked Tommy, as they came into the partner's room. "Wonder where he is?"

"Forbes said he was down in the country on business," said Hawke. "He will first learn the news from the newspapers, I expect, unless the police got in touch with him before. Hullo, more mud!"

The traces of mud which the keen eyes of the detective had spotted were small, but a brief examination convinced Hawke that it was the same type of Kent hop soil as the original lump he had found in the cupboard.



Hawke did not bother to make any further observation of the room, but crossed to the door and looked out. From the doorway it was impossible to see either the lift or the main door of the Walker & Goldman offices, as the corridor took a right-angled bend.

"Well, that's pretty clear," murmured Hawke, half to himself.

"What is, sir?" asked Tommy, who had overheard the remark.

"That the murderer let himself out of this door while Jim Hardy and the cleaner, Harris, were 'phoning the police, and escaped quietly down the back stairs into the courtyard at the rear."

"How did Hardy's cap get into the room, then?" asked Tommy.

"The murderer brought it with him, young 'un. What he did was this: he got off the lift on the floor below, nipped up the back stairs, took the cap from the cupboard in the corridor, and entered the offices through Goldman's door here."

"But," objected Tommy, "Ezra Walker would be suspicious of a client who came in through his partner's private door; and how do you account for the main door being locked from the inside? Remember that Jim Hardy was hammering on it mighty soon after the first blow was struck."

Hawke smiled at his young assistant's puzzled expression. "Probably Walker always kept that door locked when he had an extra valuable packet of diamonds on the premises for valuation. Or the murderer may have suggested that it would be better if the door was locked, in which case it only goes to prove that he was a great friend of Walker's.

"When Hardy started to hammer on the door, he got the wind up, and dived into a cupboard. When they went off to 'phone, he made his getaway."

"Yes, I see that, sir," said Tommy a bit doubtfully, "but I reckon Walker must have been pretty thick with his client to have been such an easy mark. Blokes who deal in diamonds ain't usually the sort that gets caught napping."

"How do you know it was a client?" snapped Hawke as he turned away.

Tommy Burke's eyes narrowed as he stared at the broad back of his chief. He knew now who Hawke had marked down as the murderer, but he knew also that it was going to be a hard task for them to prove it.



They left the Shaftesbury Avenue offices about ten minutes later, and went back to Dover Street, where Hawke made straight for his laboratory. Taking the black hair he had found on the door from his wallet, he laid it on a specially prepared slide and put it under an extremely powerful lens of the microscope.

Tommy heard him give a little exclamation of surprise, and then the detective turned to him with a broad grin on his face.

"It's a goat's hair, Tommy," he announced. "Have a look."

When Tommy looked through the microscope at the strand of hair, he realised that Hawke had spoken nothing more or less than the truth. The hair of a goat grows with a root of unique shape, and may be easily recognised in consequence. In addition, the hair is very broad at the root and tip, but narrow in the middle.

"What docs it signify, sir?" asked Tommy.

"It rather proves that Hardy's tale of the man with the black beard and dark glasses is absolutely true," answered the detective. "But the beard was a false one, and made of dyed goat's hair, the best hair for the purpose, as it is so broad at the root, and looks like real human hair that has been trimmed a lot.

"Next thing to do is to find out where it was bought, and as Clevering's is so close to Shaftesbury Avenue, we'll try there first thing in the morning. Most of the theatrical people get their make-up gear from Jack Clevering."



Ten o'clock next morning saw Tommy Burke off to interview the manager of the theatrical store, and he touched lucky first time.

The manager remembered selling just such a beard as Tommy described to a gentleman a minute or two before closing time on the previous evening.

He had an idea that he had seen this gentleman in the neighbourhood quite a lot. In fact, he believed that he was in business somewhere close by, but he did not know his name.

Every word the outfitter said fitted in with Hawke's theory, and in Tommy's mind made it a stonewall certainty.

"Good lad!" was all Hawke said when his assistant told him the result of his inquiry. "Now we'll get along to Clare Street, and hear any further news Forbes may care to tell us."

Inspector Forbes grinned when he saw them.

"Found the bloke with the pink eyes and blue teeth yet, Hawke?" he gibed.

"Have you found Goldman yet?" Hawke countered.

Forbes nodded.

"Yes; he's been staying the night at Tonbridge. Car broke down, so he hung on overnight. He 'phoned us a couple of hours ago. Saw the news of his partner's murder in the paper this morning, and is coming right here as soon as he arrives in town. Ah, this looks like the man coming in now."

Hawke turned to see a thick-set Jewish-looking man pushing open the door of the police office.

"I'm Goldman," announced the newcomer as soon as he was inside. "Jove! Inspector, this is a terrible affair. Is it true the lift-boy has been arrested?"

"Quite true, Mr. Goldman," replied Forbes.

Goldman took off his bowler hat and wiped his forehead.

Hawke suddenly bent down and whispered in Tommy's ear, and the youngster slid quietly out of the police station.

"So Hardy did it, eh?" went on Goldman. "Must have found out somehow that we were expecting a valuable packet of diamonds."

"I know all about the packet of diamonds," put in Forbes. "Murdock's 'phoned a description of each stone comprising the parcel as soon as they heard of the murder. They sent the stones to Walker to assess their value."



All this time Hawke had been standing by; now he asked a question.

"Did you ever possess a thick malacca cane, Mr. Goldman?"

Goldman swung round on the detective, and for the fraction of a second a look of fear flashed into his eyes.

"A malacca cane?" he said. "No, but my partner used to have one, which he kept in the office. Why?"

"Because a malacca cane was faked to look like the weapon which murdered your partner," replied Hawke. "A cane which bore the finger-prints of Hardy upon it."

"Faked!" gasped Goldman. "Fingerprints on it! Why, sir, if Hardy's prints were on the weapon, surely he must have committed the murder?"

"The man who committed the crime," said Hawke, slowly and impressively, "dropped the stick on his way upstairs in the lift and got Hardy to pick it up. That's how the lad's finger-prints came to be on it.

"The man was a close friend of Ezra Walker; he hid in the cupboard, and left traces of mud which showed that he had very recently been in Kent, say near Tonbridge, Mr. Goldman. That's in the hop country. The man was wearing a false beard, composed of hair identical with the one I see now upon the shoulder of your coat, Mr. Goldman."

With that Hawke's hand flashed out and plucked a black hair from Goldman's coat.

Tommy Burke, coming in at the door at that moment, screamed a warning.

"Look out, sir; he's pulling a gun!"

But Dixon Hawke had seen the movement, and before the gun was half out of Goldman's pocket he was upon him. There came the crack of the pistol, but the bullet bit into the floor by Hawke's feet, and then Forbes was lending a hand.

Goldman fought like a maniac, but, strong as he was, the combined weight of Hawke, Forbes and two constables bore him down, and while he was still on the floor Tommy Burke nipped in and seized his boot heels.

With a hefty twist he wrenched at them, and both came away in his hands.

A small packet wrapped in tissue paper was inside each of the hollow heels.

Sobbing with fear and rage, Goldman was handcuffed, and held tightly by the constables while Forbes cautioned him and then charged him with the murder of Walker.

"And here's the spanner he did it with," chipped in Tommy as the inspector finished.

Hawke took the tool, wrapped up in a piece of oily rag, and, after a quick look at it, handed it to Forbes.

"Tommy is right," he said. "Goldman wiped the blood from the spanner with this cloth, and you'll see there a hail or two which will be found to correspond with the dead man's hair.

"I sent Tommy out to search the toolbox of Goldman's car, and he was smart enough to find what was wanted."

"Look here, Hawke," said Forbes when the prisoner had been taken away. "I owe you about as big an apology as a man can make. You've caught the right man; you've got back the diamonds which he parked in those faked heels, and you've saved my bacon all the way round.

"But what still puzzles me is how Goldman managed to fake such a perfect alibi. He can prove without a shadow of a doubt that he was in Tonbridge when the murder was committed. How did he do it?"

"Like this," explained Hawke with a smile. "He had a sham breakdown near Tonbridge, put his car into a garage, booked up at a hotel, and then pretended that he was going back to the garage. Instead he walked into Tonbridge, caught a fast train to London, bought the beard, and worked the finger-prints stunt on Hardy, who failed to recognise him in the disguise, and was quite taken in by the story that he was calling on the insurance company on the fourth floor.

"After the murder he slipped away, caught the 6.35 back to Tonbridge, and turned up at the hotel in time for a late dinner, telling the hotel people that he had been at the garage all the time, or some such yarn.

"He stayed the night there, and any member of the staff would have been ready to swear that Mr. Goldman was in Tonbridge all the afternoon and evening. It was a clever and well-planned murder, but it came unstuck."