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Bradford Village – Summer, 2017
“Argh, there’s a body… a blooming body,” Melvyn shouted as he staggered backwards. His hard hat slipped off his head and his torch clattered to the floor.
The other men turned to look at their foreman who was now bent over and gasping for breath; he pointed shakily towards the hole in the brick wall next to the ornate fireplace. The workers had arrived on site only that morning, tasked with demolishing the house to make way for new flats.
A muscular worker, Jim, put down his tools and rushed over to take a look inside the cavity. It had only taken him one swing of his sledgehammer to shatter the bricks and reveal the hollow in the wall a few minutes earlier. As his eyes got used to the darkness inside, Jim recoiled in horror.
“Blimey, he’s right. There’s a body in ’ere,” he yelled.
Hearing Jim shout, the site went quiet. More men downed their tools and ran into the roofless living room to see what was going on.
“Someone call the police, now!” yelled Melvyn, still trying to catch his breath.
Detective Chief Inspector Crosbie, middle-aged with greying hair, and Detective Sergeant Stevens, in his late twenties, arrived by car. The demolition site, now a crime scene, was cordoned off with yellow tape. The afternoon sun brightly lit the exposed room and the two men walked towards it over the broken building material and plaster. Inside, a portion of the wall beside the fireplace was carefully being opened up, brick-by-brick, by the forensics team. Gradually, a mummified body was revealed, standing upright with its face at a downward angle.
Shortly after taking photographs, two forensics men wearing hazmat suits carefully shifted the body onto a stretcher. The dark, dusty clothes were remarkably preserved and strands of red hair were noticeable under the black cap and glasses.
“Probably mummified and preserved by the heat from the fireplace,” said Dr Harvey, the forensics pathologist.
“Like a smoked herring,” chuckled Stevens, which earnt him an angry look from Inspector Crosbie. Stevens quickly apologised.
“My guess is this body has been here for around fifty years,” said Dr Harvey.
“How do you know?” asked Stevens.
“From the clothes. The Nehru jacket was popular in the late 60s. I wore one myself.”
“I remember them too,” said Inspector Crosbie, smiling.
Stevens, his eyebrows raised, asked, “Any ID?”
One of the forensics men looked through the pockets and found a rope and a wallet; dusty, but still preserved. He laid them gently on a tray and then emptied the wallet. First there was some money and then a black-and-white photograph of a man, whom they assumed was the victim, with a middle-aged woman and a younger girl. He wiped off the driver’s license and read aloud, “Julian Alfred Higgins, from London.”
Inspector Crosbie shook his head and said, “Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“All right, boys, let’s take the body over to the lab,” said Dr Harvey. “Bag any evidence, including that rope.”
Inspector Crosbie and Stevens walked back to the car. As Crosbie passed by the workmen, he asked them, “Who did this house belong to?”
Melvyn stepped forward and said, “It first belonged to Simon Slocum. His son inherited it after. It’s been abandoned many years, ’til a developer bought it recently.”
Back at the police station, Inspector Crosbie and Stevens browsed through case files, accessed from a computer database.
After a while, Stevens looked at his boss and said, “Sir, seems that Julian Higgins’ car was found in the river a few miles from here. There was a storm on July tenth, 1968, and his car supposedly skidded off the road, into the river.”
“Who discovered the car?”
“Some blokes out fishing noticed the top of the car through the water. It was concluded that the body was probably swept away by the current, and that closed the case – an accident.”
“When was it found?”
Stevens looked at the screen and said, “Two weeks after the storm. His sister reported him missing on the morning of July eleventh.”
“What’s her name?”
“Sandra Higgins. I’ll put in a call to London and see if she’s still living at the same address listed on Julian’s license.”
“Nice work, Stevens. After your call, let’s head to the forensics lab. Dr Harvey should have some news for us.”
Dr Harvey was washing his hands when the detectives entered.
“I was just about to go home.”
“A few extra minutes won’t hurt,” said Inspector Crosbie.
Dr Harvey smiled, dried his hands and led them to a covered body. He pulled the green sheet all the way down to the waist. The body had been cleaned and autopsied. The eyes were closed, and the skin was greyish and shrivelled. Stevens winced when he saw it.
“Not a pretty sight, but let me tell you how he died. He was strangled with the rope we found with the body, and he was hit on the back of the head with a hard object, possibly a brick, fracturing his skull.”
“So the knock on the head killed him?” asked Stevens.
Dr Harvey shook his head. “No, he suffocated. He was still alive when whoever walled him up. I found particles of bricks and cement in his lungs. He bled from his head wound and probably passed out due to that or from being strangled, but he survived them. Let’s hope he was unconscious when he asphyxiated.”
“So that’s why his car had to be disposed in the river, because the killers needed everyone to think that it was an accident and his body was swept out to sea,” said Stevens.
“Yes. If his body had been in the car when they found it, they would’ve deduced he’d been murdered from the strangulation marks on his neck and the head wound,” said Inspector Crosbie.
The two detectives drove to a council housing estate, close to London’s East End. Stevens had discovered that Sandra Higgins, now Sandra Carter, still lived there. Sandra opened the run-down council flat’s door. She was in her early seventies, but looked younger. After introducing themselves and showing their badges, she brought the detectives inside. Sandra apologised for the flat being so cramped and asked them to sit on the sofa in the living room. She explained that after her husband had died a few years before, she had moved back into the flat where she was raised in order to help care for her nonagenarian mother.
The two men gazed around at the family photos on the walls and one particular picture caught their attention.
“That’s an old one of me with my mother and my older brother,” Sandra explained as she sat opposite them.
“Yes, we’re here to talk to you about your brother, Julian,” replied Inspector Crosbie. Sandra’s grey eyes immediately widened. He explained further.
“Impossible, his car was found at the bottom of the Thames. It can’t be him.”
“Obviously, we’ll have to use DNA or dental records, but we’re sure it’s him because he had that same black and white picture you have on that wall in his wallet.”
She looked behind at the picture and said, “That was taken just before my eighteenth birthday.” She looked at them, almost teary-eyed. “How do I tell Mum? She’ll be devastated again. She nearly had a breakdown when he went missing and the car was found.”
Stevens asked her why Julian was at Bradford Village that day. Sandra said that he worked near the London Docks and never mentioned anywhere else.
They bid her goodbye and left.
“Poor ladies, having to relive all that again, after fifty years,” said Stevens.
The detectives drove back to Bradford Village to where Cathy Slocum, now Harris, lived. She was in her mid-seventies, well dressed and still chic. The first thing she said when they introduced themselves was that she had been expecting them after hearing about the body being discovered at her former house.
“That place always gave me the creeps. I didn’t want to live there. Simon and I didn’t have a happy marriage. We stayed together until the children were old enough and then divorced. He didn’t want to leave that house, now I know why,” she said with raised eyebrows as she sat down on a sofa opposite them.
“When was that fireplace built?” asked Stevens.
Cathy thought for a second and said, “Summer of ’68. We’d planned a trip to the Isle of Wight with his friend and gambling and business partner, Hugh Morley, and his family. But, at the last minute, they said something had come up and told us to go by ourselves. Celia, that’s Hugh’s wife, and I thought it odd, but it turned out to be for the best. We had a marvellous time without our husbands. They gave us money and we spent it all. That wouldn’t have happened if our husbands were with us,” she smiled, winking at them.
“So, he decided to build the fireplace then?” asked Inspector Crosbie.
“He began building it a few days before we left for our trip, but hadn’t got far. When we returned, it was completed. He said it was to surprise me. Hugh surprised Celia by completing the fountain in their backyard. Strangely, after that trip, we started drifting apart.”
“How did he know the victim, Julian Higgins?”
“No idea, sorry. Never heard of him until now,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
“Not even when his car was fished out from the Thames a few miles from here?” asked Stevens.
“I vaguely remember the car being found in the Thames, but not the owner’s name. It’s been almost fifty years and one does tend to forget, you know. When you come to my age, you’ll see.”
Stevens pursed his lips and nodded.
“What happened to Simon’s business partner, Hugh Morley?” asked Inspector Crosbie.
“He still lives in the village, but at home with a nurse taking care of him. A gunshot wound while cleaning his gun made him lose his spleen and then he had a bad car accident a few years ago. He uses a wheelchair to get around now. His marriage was on the rocks too and his wife left him, taking the kids away.”
“How did your husband die?” asked Stevens.
“Ex-husband… Well, he was fixing part of the house and some loose bricks hit his head. He lingered for a few days, but even in his delirium he kept on about keeping the house. That was nearly fifteen years ago. He left the house to our son. I convinced him to sell it to this developer since none of us wanted to live there.”
As they entered the car, Stevens asked if they would interview Hugh Morley.
“Not yet,” Inspector Crosbie replied. “We need to know what connection Hugh and Simon had with Julian. Once we figure that out, things will be clearer.”
Back at the station, the detectives looked through the case files from 1968 and earlier on their computers. They came up with nothing relevant in Bradford and the surrounding areas. They then looked through files of crimes that took place in London.
“Look, Inspector, I found this file on a robbery that occurred on the day Julian Higgins supposedly had his accident. Two men robbed a bank in London and, while escaping, one of them shot the guard. The robbers were never found, neither was the money. The getaway car was burnt and abandoned in the quarry near here. It was stolen from someone in London, a few days before the robbery. There’s a £15,000 reward for information,” said Stevens with a big smile.
“Good work. Let me take a look.” Inspector Crosbie perused through the file on the computer screen and read aloud, “…the robbers got away in a car, driven by a man who wore glasses and dark clothing. One of the eye witnesses said that she thinks he had red hair under the cap he wore.”
Inspector Crosbie looked at Stevens. “My dear boy, I think we’ve found the key to the mystery.”
“Now we know why they sent their families on holiday that week… but, do you think he’ll admit to the whole thing, sir?” asked Stevens as they drove.
“Not sure, unless he still has a guilty conscience. I called the London Met and the detective assigned to that case passed away a few years ago. They emailed me the entire file, which said the men wore ski masks, entered the bank and held the guard at gunpoint. One forced the bank staff and the two customers to sit on the floor. The other forced the manager to give him all the money they had. They got away with £80,000.”
Stevens whistled. “That was a lot back then.”
“You bet. While escaping, the guard tried to fight them and one of them shot him. The two men ran out, got into the getaway car and drove away before anyone could react.”
“Did the guard have a family?”
“Yes, a wife and three kids…”
The nurse let them in when they showed their badges. As she led them to the backyard where Hugh Morley was, she explained that he had dyspnoea and was on oxygen. His days were numbered because he now had cancer.
They found a gaunt man in a wheelchair staring at a fountain. When they showed Hugh their badges, he said, “I’ve been expecting you.”
The two detectives looked at each other. Hugh said, with difficulty, “I read in the papers about the body found in Simon’s house and knew it was only a matter of time until the coppers would pay me a visit.”
They sat in front of him as Hugh struggled to breathe.
“Now, Mr Morley, let’s start at the very beginning. I know it’s been many decades, but it’s time the truth came out,” said Inspector Crosbie.
Hanging his head in shame, Hugh nodded and said, “I agree…”
“I gather that the truth has finally come out?” Sandra asked as Inspector Crosbie and Stevens entered her flat.
“Finally, after fifty years,” said Inspector Crosbie. “And the stolen money has been recovered. Hugh buried it in his garden under the fountain.”
“Strange. Why didn’t they spend it?” asked Sandra.
“They read in the papers that the bills were marked and the police asked for the public to look out for such bills. So they didn’t spend their ill-gotten wealth for fear of getting caught,” replied Stevens.
“But why kill Julian? How did he get mixed up in all this?”
“According to what Hugh told us, Simon met Julian at a pub near the London Docks when he came to London to get supplies for his hardware business,” explained Inspector Crosbie. “Julian mentioned that he needed money to send you to college and to move you all to a better flat. Simon and Hugh had been planning on robbing the bank for a long time because they both had gambling debts. They needed someone who could drive the getaway car, which Hugh had stolen a few days before. He told Julian about it and he agreed to do it.”
Sandra looked upset. “So, he did it for us? He was always looking out for Mum and me, ever since Dad died when we were little…”
“Didn’t Julian get in trouble as a teenager?” asked Inspector Crosbie.
“Yes, he stole some cans from a grocery store. Mum went and talked to the police, who agreed to let him go. They warned him about sending him to a Borstal next time. Mum was horrified and made him promise to always do the right thing… But, Inspector, why did they kill him?”
Before Inspector Crosbie could answer, the living room door opened and an elderly woman wearing a nightdress, and supporting herself with a cane, walked towards them.
“Mum, what are you doing out of—”
“Sit down, Sandie,” said Mrs Higgins, “I want to hear this.”
She stood in front of the two men and said, “Now, Inspector, I want you to tell me the truth. No matter how hard it is, I want to hear it. Think of me like your mother; you wouldn’t lie to your mother, would you?” Her grey eyes stared at Inspector Crosbie sternly.
“No, Mrs Higgins,” answered Inspector Crosbie slowly and he cleared his throat.
“Good, then let’s hear it,” Mrs Higgins replied.
“According to Hugh, Julian was only to be the getaway driver. He was to wait opposite the bank in the car and drive them out of London as soon as Hugh and Simon came out. Because Julian knew the roads in London, he was important to them.
“While driving towards Bradford Village, they heard on the radio that the guard whom Hugh shot was dead, and he had left behind a wife and three young children. That upset Julian because he remembered the difficulties your family endured when his father died. They exchanged the getaway car for Julian’s near the abandoned quarry and set it on fire.
“When they reached Simon’s house, Julian wanted to go to the police and confess. Simon and Hugh tried to deter him, but he was adamant. Then Simon hit him with a brick that he picked up from the living room floor where he was building a fireplace, and Hugh strangled him with a piece of rope.”
Sandra looked horrified, but her mother stood expressionless and asked the Inspector to continue. He told them that Simon and Hugh agreed to hide Julian’s body behind the wall and so they walled him up, standing, and built the fireplace next to it the same night. Under the cover of darkness, they then disposed of his car in the river, making it look like he had skidded off the road and into the river due to the rain.
“So, Julian tried to do the right thing, which he promised me he would,” said Mrs Higgins, tears welling up in her eyes. “Those two men got to live their lives, while my Julian didn’t.”
“If it helps, they didn’t have good lives,” said Stevens. “They both had failed marriages and they lost their business because they had to pay off their debts. Simon was so terrified someone would unearth what he’d done, that he refused to move even when the house needed repairs. His guilt made that house his prison and refuge. He was seriously injured when some bricks fell on him and, as he lay dying, he was only concerned about his family keeping the house.
“Hugh didn’t escape either. He injured himself while cleaning his gun. He’s unable to walk due to a horrible car accident, and he struggles to breathe due to lung cancer. His days are numbered.”
“So, it’s poetic justice,” said Mrs Higgins. “They have both suffered in similar ways to what they inflicted on my poor Julian – bricks to the head, slowly suffocating, imprisoned by brick walls, a car accident, and losing their family. Not to mention one of them shooting himself – was he the one who shot the guard?
The two men nodded.
“The mills of the gods grind slowly. Justice has been done to those who’ve been wronged,” Mrs Higgins said as she wiped away the tears. “Thank you, detectives. You’ve both made an old woman very happy. I can spend my last days knowing that at least Julian died wanting to do the right thing. Good day, gentlemen.” She smiled, then turned and walked out of the room.
“Thank you for sugar-coating the truth a bit for Mum’s sake. She can be at peace now,” said Sandra as they stood by the front door.
“I didn’t sugar-coat any of it, Mrs Carter,” said Inspector Crosbie. “Mrs Higgins asked me to tell her the truth and I did. You can also be proud that your brother died wanting to do the right thing.”
“Thank you, Inspector.”
“Oh, one more thing,” said the Inspector. “The reward for recovering the money; I asked that a part of it be given to you and the rest to the family of the murdered guard.”
“But why?” asked Sandra, bewildered. “We did nothing to help.”
“Because it was only due to Julian’s body being discovered that led us to his killers’ identities and the recovery of the stolen money. You and your mother can now move to a better place, like Julian wanted.”
Sandra smiled and thanked him.
As they walked to the car, Stevens said, “Too bad we don’t get the reward for solving the case.”
“But we get paid for that,” replied Inspector Crosbie as he handed Stevens the car keys. “Now, you can drive us back to Bradford Village while I get some shut-eye.”
Find out more about author Trevor D’Silva here.
Joining the CRA is FREE. There are no lengthy forms to fill out and we need nothing but your email. You will receive a regular newsletter but no spam.