American Crime Mystery

Word count: 1,140 words


Elizabeth and Maggie, twins, were two old ladies who lived next door when I was growing up. At the instigation of my mother, I used to bring them handmade birthday cards, on the 4th of July, their birthday.

“Now, Maggie,” Elizabeth would say when I visited them as a kid, “our young neighbor was kind enough to drop by with birthday cards, so let me talk. I always was the most sensible of the two of us. You just hush up and keep quiet, and I’ll do the talking.”

Elizabeth certainly dominated Maggie. They grew roses in their garden and sat out there during the summer months. They watched Billy Graham religious specials on TV, and gave some of their skimpy income to our church, for they were very religious. They had both been housemaids when they were young, and the former owner of their old Victorian house, Mrs. Canberra, had left it to them when she died.  

They used to call my mother to ask if my brothers could pull empty cans of beer that passersby had tossed into their shrubs, and put the cans in the trash, because they didn’t want anyone thinking they were alcoholics.  

But one night Maggie was murdered, and some said Elizabeth herself had done it.

I never believed it. There had been one other murder in our neighborhood, by an intruder who robbed $20,000 from a family safe, and I thought he was the one who did it. It was said that Elizabeth and Maggie kept proof of bonds they held, in a cabinet in their living room, and I thought that’s why Maggie had been murdered - she woke in the night and went downstairs and accosted the intruder, who attacked her with a knife and drove a blow into her chest so powerful that she died on the spot.

My mother wasn’t so sure about what happened.

“Elizabeth always ruled Maggie with an iron fist,” said my mother. “Never let her have the last word. You must have noticed, whenever you visited, that Elizabeth always controlled the conversations.” And it was true, Maggie had always been the timid one of the two of them. I thought my mother was too judgmental of Elizabeth, a woman who I couldn’t imagine had killed her own twin sister.  But my mother added that she’d once seen Elizabeth wield the rose-cutting shears in aggravation at Maggie in the garden, one summer afternoon. And it’s true, Maggie had mentioned once to me in private that, years before, she’d had a boyfriend Elizabeth was interested in, but the man much preferred Maggie. I always figured they’d worked it out between them.

The bonds remained in the living room in a cabinet - the police found them later. I assumed the intruder had been scared off by Maggie’s appearance and forgot his dastardly mission.

There was a trial, which I went to. Elizabeth, decrepit and feeble on the stand, her voice shaking, described to the judge and jury how she had found her twin the next morning, covered in blood, lying on the living room floor.

I was a character witness for Elizabeth.

“Look, she was old,” I said when I took my turn on the stand. “She and Maggie were close. And even though Elizabeth was the dominant one of the twins, she never could have committed the murder of her own sister! Look at her - she’s in her 90s. And they were devoted to each other. They gave money to the church and followed sermons and tended their garden outside, which was full of flowers. How could Elizabeth, an old and respectable woman, have ever done such a thing?”

Elizabeth was finally, after three months, released from her cell in jail - I don’t know how she survived the experience - and she was absolved from any guilt. But my mother still thought she had done the deed, and when Elizabeth called in the future on summer days to ask for my brothers to remove beer cans from her shrubs, my mother refused to let them do it. She never trusted Elizabeth again. The empty beer cans remained in the shrubs.

But I knew better than my mother. Elizabeth still watched Billy Graham every week on TV and was a devout Protestant. I couldn’t believe she’d ever have killed her sister. She was too religious and frail for that - and what kind of woman would murder her own twin? It was only owing to circumstances that she was arrested and put on trial, because the intruder escaped in a hurry, leaving Elizabeth to look guilty.  

Several years later, after Elizabeth had turned 100, she died. I think her heart must have failed her. She never went into a nursing home, but kept living next door to us. My mother was always suspicious of her and seemed glad Elizabeth had finally “met her Maker.”

“But Mom - she couldn’t have murdered her sister,” I kept saying in defense of Elizabeth. “She was too fragile to wield a knife. And besides, she believed in God and Heaven and Salvation. She was innocent. Remember how the two of them used to give me a rose from their garden on my own birthdays? They were kind, and sweet, and Elizabeth was too devoted to Maggie to do anything so evil.”

But my mother was staunch. And after Elizabeth died, at the age of 100, we went through her house with the real estate agent, who was from the neighborhood so knew the town gossip, to see if there was anything of value to be sold at auction. My mother did think we should at least help out this much.

There were mice under the stove - we saw them scurrying around. And the conscientious real estate agent shoved the stove away from the wall, trying to scare the mice off.

And what we witnessed was amazing. Beneath the stove was a blood-covered knife! It had been there for years, apparently, because the blood on it was dried and crusty.

We stood there, the three of us - the real estate agent, and my mother, and me - staring at the knife. Slowly, the real estate agent picked up the knife and threw it into the trash barrel in the corner of the room.

“No use going over ancient history,” he said, thoughtfully, and ushered my mother and me out of the house. “No point in recriminations now. What’s done is done.”

My mother still thinks Elizabeth killed Maggie. But I don’t. What could a lover of Billy Graham’s sermons, and a charitable giver to our church, and a tender of a rose garden, have done to her sister with a knife? It never happened. I have faith in my neighbors. And I’ll go to my grave believing Elizabeth was innocent.  


July 10, 2021 03:27

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