Crime Fiction Horror

Fascinating, but odd….you decide.

The first Friday of the month heralded my monthly dinner at my club with my great friend Henri. This little ritual had been going on for the last twenty years, always enjoyable. We were both Judges on Her Majesty’s Court. Our conversation and discussions tended to be about what had happened in the courts over the preceding month. I had a feeling tonight my story would integrity and fascinated Henri.

The dinner menu was excellent and during its consumption we spoke about the previous month's mundane court cases. I purposely keep telling my story until cigars, coffee and bandy.

Henri, excellent meal now for my story and cigars. You know Churchill once said a good meal deserves a good cigar, a bad meal jolly well needs one.

“The story is about the murder case that is all over the papers. It has landed in my court.. Scotland Yard is in a hurry to find the murderer. I have been given the preliminary investigation file. Let me give you the background. The man reported murdered is Becket Havelock by profession an artist. He was found late one morning by his daughter in his artist studio, crucified to a wooden cross carved with devilish figures over its surface. The crucifixion was in the Roman style with large nails implanted in his hands and feet, what is more odd he had been stripped naked and like Jesus Christ only wore a loincloth. A scene of horror to many, but I am told a scene of beauty to others. At the far end on the wall facing west was a huge painting of Christ on the cross being attacked by the devil. You should understand he was well known in certain circles as a talented painter of religious subjects. Havelock was a powerfully built man with his face covered by an extensive dark beard which highlighted his large nose and piercing blue eyes. It gave him the appearance of looking like an owl.

He was well known in the community as every month he would spend two days preaching the gospel through a megaphone. Sometimes his preachings were extremely radical and to many distasteful. This resulted in scuffles with the local police. His art sales and occasional lectures allowed him to live in a manor house of several rooms with his studio as a detached building situated in the large garden that surrounded the property. A winding stone path led to the building which was hidden from a view of the manor by several large trees. Havelock had the studio built to his specifications as a large barn structure with one side facing north made of reinforced glass. It was a sizable building equipped with all modern amenities. There he lay nailed to the carved cross lying in the middle of his workshop surrounded by religious pictures in various states of being finished. It is reported that he often had important commissions from various quarters of the religious world. It was a known fact that his work was turning more and more to the dark religious underworld. Two important considerations: According to the police there were on signs to his work shop of forced entry. Once an autopsy had been performed it was found he died instantly, without any pain, from poisoning.

The manor house is situated about three miles from a small charming village in Sussex called Bramber. The grounds also have a small chapel attached to one side of the manor. Apparently his wife, a mild, gentle woman spends most of her time in the chapel supposedly avoiding her husband. He is said to have a foul temper and is capable of outrageous fits of rage. He worked late into the night. To enter his work place one has to ring the bell as a large oak door is always locked”. Through a spyglass he can see anybody ringing the bell. It is interesting to speculate that someone must have previously entered the studio to create the cross. Of course it could have been Havelock.

I paused to take a few sips of Cognac and long puff on the cigar. I could sense my friend Henri was captivated by the tale.

“Now we come to the complicated part. Havelock had four children. Let me start with the eldest. Boris, I believe, he lives twenty miles away. He is married to a very ambitious American woman who is a sculptress. He has his own business that has some serious financial problems. It is rumored he has been pestering his father to help. So far to no avail.

The second son, I forgot his name lives in London. He is not married and lives in his own artist’s studio bought for him by his father. He is a reasonably successful portrait painter.

The the third son is more complicated character prone to period of depression. His name is Jerome. Several years ago he embarked on painting landscapes and still life settings in conjunct with his father. They started having a moderate success. Then one day quite out of the blue his father turned to religious paintings. There was an unholy row, his son walk out and left the country. After traveling around the world for a year he landed up in South America from where he barely survives by painting landscapes. The only contact he has with the family is through his sister. In the last few years he has never spoken to his father.

The last child is his daughter. Her name is Emma. I think I was told she is in her early twenties and has just left university. She lives at home deciding on what she wants from life. She is very close to her mother particularly after a major difference of opinion with her father over his religious paintings. It is said mother and daughter are often seen together in the chapel.

There are two priests that have a close and influential relationship with family and are frequent visitors. Father Benjamin and Father Benito. Benito is an outspoken man with radical religious opinions that have caused him occasional clashes with the local police. It is reported he was having more and more influence on Havelock.

The other people that know the property well are the staff. The manor house has a cook and two full time maids. Occasionally when requested meals are delivered to the studio. There is a full time gardener that lives not on the property but in the village. I understand there are in the village, possibly due to the gardener and maids, many rumors circulated about Becket Havelock.

Now we come to the various possible suspects assuming the police theory that it was an inside job. The police believe it is someone who knew the property well and had easy access to the key of the studio. Two empty glasses were found hidden in the studio. One contained traces of poison. It is reasonably certain that Havelock had invited the person in and no doubt offered him or her a drink. There are no signs of any struggle. Also to be noted is the curious history concerning the cross on which Havelock was found nail to. Two large planks of a rare tropical wood with ornate devilish carving on them were delivered to the manor about three weeks ago. The delivery note had no indication of the sender but it came from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Either Havelock or someone else had access to the studio to use the planks to create the cross. There was no trace that Havelock had ordered the planks. Amongst his affairs the studio where several recent letters addressed to him.

One from Jerome stating he was temporarily living in New York sometimes with friends, sometimes in the street. He felt depressed and blamed his father for ruining his life. He was also applauded by his father's latest paintings that he recently saw in an exposition in New York. He felt his father was falling into a world of darkness unknown to him. This letter appears to be the only communication between father and son that has taken place over the last few Years.

There was also a letter or two from Boris pleading with his father to come to his financial rescue. Father Benito had written Havelock a long letter about two weeks before his death concerning the underworld and dark side of the Christian belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. Havelock was surrounded by a lot of hate mail at the same time he had several fans. There was an even match between hate mails and fan mails. The police report told me the studio had been very carefully sanitized, not a finger print existed. This considerably complicated the investigation. Henri I think that sums up the present situation. What are your thoughts?

“Roger, before I answer a few questions. I assume Jerome came back for the funeral and was asked if he sent his father the carved wooden planks. Did the police check if he came back before his father’s death?

“Henri, you always have good questions. Yes apparently he sent the carved planks to his father. The carving was his work. There is no trace of him coming back before his father’s death, although two people in the village thought they saw him a few weeks before his father’s death. The family had difficulty in finding him in New York. When they finally did find him he arrived back just in time for the funeral.”

“”Did Becket Havelock leave a will?”

“Again a good question, the short answer is yes. According to his lawyer who I contacted it was an odd document recently updated two weeks before he died. His lawyer had a weird feeling Becket knew he was going to die. He apologizes to his children and says that they did not ask to be born and in the last few years he felt he had deeply mistreated them. He died a very wealthy man and was extremely generous to his family, the two priests and his domestic staff. He asked his lawyer to set up a trust for up and coming young painters to be administered by his daughter. One thing that stuck out in his will was that he left the studio to his son Jerome with all the contents.”

“Roger, I have my suspicions but there is so little evidence. It is a complicated case.”

“You know Henri I don’t think it will ever come to my court, but one never knows. Remorse and time could play its part in solving his murder.”

September 22, 2023 07:08

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Anna Mac
00:59 Sep 28, 2023

Hi David, What a wonderfully crafted 'locked room' mystery. Great character descriptions. It's interesting that the son Jerome was a landscape painter who was "appalled" by his father's dark religious work, yet he (Jerome) created "ornate devilish carving[s]" on planks and sending them to his father. Whodunit? Maybe you'll write another story and solve it for us. :) I had just a few notes below that may be helpful to you. Cheers, Anna Mac This is a wonderful line, so evocative -- A scene of horror to many, but I am told a scene of beauty t...


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Emilie Ocean
17:25 Sep 25, 2023

Fascinating story, David. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I has so many questions about the murder!


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