Mark of the Boot
By: Lawrence Kadzitche
Within fifteen minutes of being put on the case, Detective Painti arrived at the scene of murder.
Abiti Sitolo lay sprawled on her back in a pool of her own blood in her bedroom. Her body had been severely hacked as if the murderer was trying to cut her to pieces. The bedroom itself looked as if it had been hit by a cyclone. Mattress covers and pillows were ripped open, drawers and suitcases were opened and their contents dumped on the floor.
Detective Painti set to work immediately. Noting that all doors leading outside the house had been locked, he assumed that the intruder had entered and left the house through a window which he had smashed.
Painti examined the ground below the smashed window. The ground was very soft. The detective frowned. His eyes went up to the broken window. It was located high above the ground but there were no boot marks on the ground. How could the man have jumped out without leaving a mark?
With this question in mind and discovering no new clues, the detective questioned the servant who had reported the murder.
“I woke up early as usual. When I got into the kitchen I did not notice anything amiss. It was when I went into the sitting room and saw the broken window that I realized that someone had broken in. When I ran to the bedroom to wake Abiti Sitolo I was surprised to find the door open. I could see her lying in a pool of blood. I didn’t take a second look and ran in a daze to call the police,” the servant said, her voice quaking.
“What do you think the thief could have been looking for?” the detective inquired.
“I don’t know,” replied the servant. ‘Perhaps for money.”
Painti shook his head. “The thief was already in the house. It was just a matter of forcing the old woman to tell him where the money was. Abiti Sitolo was considerably rich. She could have given him the money. But it appears the thing the thief was looking for was so valuable to the old woman that she chose rather to die than tell the thief. Do you know of any valuable items the she had?”
The detective could see the servant’s mind working. “One day I overheard Mr. Chingwe, her nephew, say she had expensive jewels which she bought when she was working in South Africa which she stored in the house. I never saw them and she never told me about them.”
The detective fired several questions but could not get any valuable information from the servant. As he was about to leave, he heard a car pull outside. A thin man in a terrible state of grief entered the house.
“Excuse me. I am Chingwe, the old woman’s nephew. I just heard the sad news just as I was leaving home to see my aunt.”
“Take a seat, Mr Chingwe,” detective Painti said. “I am afraid you’ll have to answer some questions. I am a detective working on this case. Can you please tell me anything that can be of help in this case?”
“I live on the other side of the town. This morning I was supposed to see her on some family business. This has come as a surprise because as far as I know, she didn’t have any enemies. I definitely know she didn’t keep any valuable items in the house so I am very surprised that the thief ransacked the bedroom. I’m sorry, detective, I am of no help.”
Painti asked Chingwe more questions. He found out he was the old woman’s only close relative. She had brought him up like her own son.
The detective left the house with more questions than answers. When he arrived home he threw himself in an armchair, his mind refusing to leave the case.
The most obvious motive for the murder could be the jewels the old woman was rumoured to have. The thief had entered the house through the window, failed to make the old woman reveal where she hid the jewels, killed her and started looking for them. Whether he had found what he was looking for was not known.
But there was one big loophole. The old woman always locked the bedroom door. So how had the thief gained access into the bedroom without breaking the door?
A second theory formed in his mind. Perhaps the killer had hidden in the bedroom…but his brain quickly discarded this. What about the broken window?
He went to bed but sleep eluded him. He was missing something. What if the killer was somebody known to the woman? He could come and knock on the door and she would open for him. But if this was the case then he should have found out about where she store the jewels before killing her. No, he was thinking along the wrong angle.
Then another idea hit him. He had been limiting the motive of the robbery being the jewels, what if it was something else? What if the killer had another motive? What if the ransacking was a decoy to send investigators on a wild goose chase? In the maze of inferences and intuitions he saw it. His face lit up and minutes later he was asleep.
The following morning, he made inquiries. His suscipicions were confirmed and fitted together with his theory. He had found the killer. All because the murderer had overdone his part.
He went to see Chingwe. The young man was still nursing his grief. “Have you found the killer?”
“Yes, and I am talking to him right now,” Chingwe wanted to speak but the detective waved him to silence. “This is what happened. On the day of the murder, you came to see your aunt very late at night. You killed her and then ransacked the bedroom. After that you opened the window and smashed it with a blow from outside while you were still inside. Then you let yourself out with a key.”
Chingwe stared miserably at the detective.
“The killing was premeditated for I discovered that it was you who spread the rumour of jewels. To shake off suspicion off your tail, you killed your aunt brutally and ransacked the bedroom. That was cunning. But you made three terrible mistakes. One, you forgot to force open the bedroom door. Two, you forgot to jump out of the window you had smashed and instead walked out of the door. Thirdly, you said you did not know of any valuables that the woman had yet the servant said she overheard you say the woman had jewels which she hid in the house. Maybe you would have got away with those mistakes. But what finally led me to you was a slip of the tongue. You talked of Abiti Sitolo’s room being ransacked yet you had just arrived. That sealed your doom.”
The young man knew the game was over. “I was badly in debt and the loan sharks were threatening to kill me. So I thought of killing my aunt so that I could inherit her wealth. The rest occurred just as you have said.”
“Then I am afraid you’ll have to accompany me to the police station,” Detective Painti said producing handcuffs.