(from Positively Puzzling Mysteries, Xerox Education Publications, 1979)
It had been two days since Lieutenant Lanzi and Captain Tom Reilly had rescued Sgt. Ann Gerritts from a terrorist gang, and Gerritts was glad to be back at work. The case Reilly had her working on involved the death of murder mystery writer Herb Michaels.
“It all adds up to suicide, Chief,” Gerritts said to Reilly. “Except–”
“Yes, I know,” replied Reilly. “Except how? How did Herb Michaels hang himself?”
Reilly stared down at the open file on his desk. “The report indicates that no chair, stool, or support of any kind was found below or near the spot where Herb Michaels’ body was hanging. So how did he do it?”
“Where was he found, Chief?” Gerritts wanted to know. “I know it was somewhere in his living room, but exactly where?”
“His body was hanging from a rope that had been looped over a beam in the ceiling,” Reilly replied, getting up to pace around his desk. “The beam was next to the brick fireplace wall.”
“Hmm,” said Gerritts. “And he’d been dead how long?”
“The coroner says about 12 hours,” Reilly replied. “And the ashes in the fireplace were still slightly warm, which makes it seem that he made a fire right before the act.”
“Well, it just doesn’t make sense,” sighed Gerritts. “I mean if it was murder, why didn’t the murderer make it look like suicide? Why didn’t he or she leave a chair or something under the body?”
“And if it was suicide,” said Reilly, “what did Michaels stand on? Let’s look at the photos again.”
“OK,” said Gerritts. She leaned over to get a closer look. “I don’t see anything unusual,” she said, “except for that darkish stain on the carpet. What is it, Chief?”
“According to the lab reports, it’s a big water stain,” said Reilly.
“Oh? Well, there has been a lot of rain lately,” said Gerritts. “Maybe Michaels’ roof leaks.”
“Maybe,” said Reilly, getting a sudden thought. “But I don’t think so. No, I think Herb Michaels killed himself in a very clever way. I’m not sure why he did it, except to stump us. He was a mystery writer, after all. But I think I know how.”
How does Reilly think Michaels may have committed suicide?
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