Too Many Detective Stories?

Sometimes I wonder if maybe I’m a little too obsessed with a good murder mystery. The mystery novel provides an intriguing puzzle, a deliberate tease to the brain: “You can’t solve this!” Therefore a good bit of the pleasure of the detective novel comes in trying, desperately, to solve it before the detective does.

But there is such a thing as going too far, and sometimes maybe I do that. The line is crossed when I start to “detect” real-life crimes.

I’ve only just read a story of a young woman (only a few years older than I am) who disappeared from her English flat. Here is the basic story: her boyfriend, who like her was an architect, left town for the weekend to visit his family. She went out Friday night to run a few errands, because she planned to bake mince pies for Christmas and needed some cooking materials. At 8 p.m. Friday, she stopped in at the local pub. At 8:40 p.m., she bought a frozen pizza at the supermarket. Shortly afterwards, she returned home, put the groceries away, and vanished.

Now, here’s the thing that turned on my detective radar. Police know she had finished her shopping because they found the receipt for the pizza and other goods on the kitchen countertop. They also found her phone, keys, coat, and purse. But the pizza was missing.

Don’t laugh. This is serious. She’s been missing for 6 days.

They even searched the trash. No box. No round cardboard thingy. No shrink wrap. No dirty dishes. No pizza. Now the police, lacking any other clues, are very sincerely asking the public if anybody has seen the pizza. They’ve even released, thanks to the receipt, a list of all the toppings.

So, to recapitulate: woman arrives home from shopping, with a pizza. Woman leaves flat without keys, purse, or coat, but with pizza. Abduction is suspected. The news article made no mention of forcible entry, or broken locks, or any clear indicator of foul play. Kidnapping is only suspected because, well, how else do you explain this?

My detective brain is going haywire. I’ve spent more than a little too much time thinking about this and can’t think of any scenario. Well, except for one. She went to the pub before buying a pizza; did she only get a drink, or have a proper meal, too? If she had the meal then she didn’t really need the pizza, except maybe for lunch the next day. Her boyfriend wasn’t around, so she could just heat up something frozen whenever it suited her. But then, why would the pizza disappear?

Maybe she was delivering the pizza to a neighbor. Maybe she dropped it off, said “Oh, no, you don’t need to pay me for that,” and went home to her fate. This could be established through interviews. On the other hand, if she was paid back there would probably be an equal amount of cash somewhere in the flat.

Then, probably, she was followed to her own flat, or it was in some way broken into. But if it had been obviously broken into, surely that would have been said. The one thing the media loves more than an ambiguous disappearance is an obvious abduction. So when I thought of the next thing, I realized that not only did it make a good deal of sense, but it demonstrated that my mind was too, too well-trained by Hercule Poirot, Adam Dalgliesh, Kurt Wallander and Lieutenant Columbo.

Maybe the neighbor killed her in the neighbor’s flat, before or after taking the pizza, and then lugged her purse, coat, and keys back to her own place to make it look as if she’d gotten home safely. It was staged to look like a totally natural “I’m home” scene, but without anyone at home. The pizza receipt was thoughtfully replaced and the pizza itself thoughtfully eaten.

The biggest hint that I am too addicted to detective novels came next.

What I should have thought was, “That’s absurd! Mentally you’re already accusing a ravenous neighbor of being a murderer, and very possibly a sexual predator of some kind, on the basis of absolutely no evidence and for absolutely no reason other than to enjoy a bit of a mystery!”

What I really thought was, “Hang on. If the murderer put the keys back on the counter, how did (s)he lock the door up again on the way out?”

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7 Comments

Filed under Reality

7 responses to “Too Many Detective Stories?

  1. Sorin

    Is it clear the door was locked ?

  2. Actually no, it’s not said that the door was locked. But I figured if the boyfriend found the door unlocked, the newspaper would have said so. I could totally be wrong in that assumption!

  3. Sorin

    You should call up Guy Noir, private eye from Minnesota.

  4. Ally

    Likewise, my problem-solving brain has been running overtime trying to work out what happened. Your theory is pretty strong. The locks: In the UK door looks are quite strange compared with US locks I’ve seen. There are often two locks, especially on older houses – normally a Yale lock and a mortice lock. You generally lock the mortice lock when you are out, and when it’s locked you can’t open the door from the inside or the outside without using the key. Then there’s the Yale lock. This can be opened from the inside with a handle but you need a key to open the door from the outside. The door locks when you shut the door. When you’re home people often leave the mortice lock unlocked, so it’s easy to open the door from the inside without a key using the handle. I’m probably teaching you to suck eggs if you’re English. If your theory is correct (and it seems pretty sound) then the person who abducted Jo could have unlocked her flat with the mortice key and Yale key, put back her stuff, and then left, locking the Yale lock simply by closing the door. BUT if after putting everything back and the leaving, there would have been no way to get back in if he’d forgotten to do something – like return the pizza. Your theory is supported by an interview Jo’s father gave to the Telegraph this morning which suggests that things were out of place when they arrived at the flat.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/majornews/8225193/Parents-of-missing-architect-Joanna-Yeates-we-knew-she-had-been-abducted.html

  5. Ally,

    Thanks for that explanation of the difference between UK and US locks. It wasn’t redundant either, since I’m from Texas.

    If you’re still reading – the Guardian has just reported that police think Yeates knew her murderer. They’re being very secretive about details (like whether she’d eaten the pizza, or who she was with in the pub, both apparently known) but the suspicion that she knew the killer has been leaked out. It looks like my hunch about a friend/neighbor is still in the running.

    It would be slightly reassuring if she were killed not in a random sex crime by a cruel stranger, but in something more mundane. Somehow (counterintuitively?), the two outcomes are not equally horrible.

  6. Ally,
    They’ve just arrested the landlord, who lived in the flat above Yeates’. I’m feeling a little smug. Surely they’ve g0t a lot better evidence than a pizza, though.

  7. Since I don’t have much to add to your awesome detective work, I just want to mention that I literally laughed out loud at “They’ve even released, thanks to the receipt, a list of all the toppings.”

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