The Benson Murder Case - S.S. Van Dine - ebook

The Benson Murder Case ebook

S. S. Van Dine

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The Benson Case is the first case, the first detective from the Philo Vens series. Again, we are dealing with an amateur detective who has his own Watson and Lestrade, a first-person narrator who is present at all events and a good acquaintance of Vance, the New York City Police Attorney Markham. In this book, he still does not particularly believe in Vance’s ability to psychologically unwind potential victims of murder suspects.

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Contents

CHARACTERS OF THE BOOK

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHARACTERS OF THE BOOK

Philo Vance

John F.-X. Markham

District Attorney of New York County.

Alvin H. Benson

Well-known Wall Street broker and man-about-town, who was mysteriously murdered in his home.

Major Anthony Benson

Brother of the murdered man.

Mrs. Anna Platz

Housekeeper for Alvin Benson.

Muriel St. Clair

A young singer.

Captain Philip Leacock

Miss St. Clair’s fiancé.

Leander Pfyfe

Intimate friend of Alvin Benson’s.

Mrs. Paula Banning

A friend of Leander Pfyfe’s.

Elsie Hoffman

Secretary of the firm of Benson and Benson.

Colonel Bigsby Ostrander

A retired army officer.

William H. Moriarty

An alderman, Borough of the Bronx.

Jack Prisco

Elevator-boy at the Chatham Arms.

George G. Stitt

Of the firm of Stitt and McCoy, Public Accountants.

Maurice Dinwiddie

Assistant District Attorney.

Chief Inspector O’Brien

Of the Police Department of New York City.

William M. Moran

Commanding Officer of the Detective Bureau.

Ernest Heath

Sergeant of the Homicide Bureau.

Burke

Detective of the Homicide Bureau.

Snitkin

Detective of the Homicide Bureau.

Emery

Detective of the Homicide Bureau.

Ben Hanlon

Commanding Officer of Detectives assigned to District Attorney’s office.

Phelps

Detective assigned to District Attorney’s office.

Tracy

Detective assigned to District Attorney’s office.

Springer

Detective assigned to District Attorney’s office.

Higginbotham

Detective assigned to District Attorney’s office.

Captain Carl Hagedorn

Fire-arms expert.

Dr. Doremus

Medical Examiner.

Francis Swacker

Secretary to the District Attorney.

Currie

Vance’s valet.

CHAPTER I

PHILO VANCE AT HOME

(Friday, June 14; 8.30 a.m.)

It happened that, on the morning of the momentous June the fourteenth when the discovery of the murdered body of Alvin H. Benson created a sensation which, to this day, has not entirely died away, I had breakfasted with Philo Vance in his apartment. It was not unusual for me to share Vance’s luncheons and dinners, but to have breakfast with him was something of an occasion. He was a late riser, and it was his habit to remain incommunicado until his midday meal.

The reason for this early meeting was a matter of business–or, rather, of æsthetics. On the afternoon of the previous day Vance had attended a preview of Vollard’s collection of Cézanne water-colors at the Kessler Galleries, and having seen several pictures he particularly wanted, he had invited me to an early breakfast to give me instructions regarding their purchase.

A word concerning my relationship with Vance is necessary to clarify my rôle of narrator in this chronicle. The legal tradition is deeply imbedded in my family, and when my preparatory-school days were over, I was sent, almost as a matter of course, to Harvard to study law. It was there I met Vance, a reserved, cynical and caustic freshman who was the bane of his professors and the fear of his fellow-classmen. Why he should have chosen me, of all the students at the University, for his extra-scholastic association, I have never been able to understand fully. My own liking for Vance was simply explained: he fascinated and interested me, and supplied me with a novel kind of intellectual diversion. In his liking for me, however, no such basis of appeal was present. I was (and am now) a commonplace fellow, possessed of a conservative and rather conventional mind. But, at least, my mentality was not rigid, and the ponderosity of the legal procedure did not impress me greatly–which is why, no doubt, I had little taste for my inherited profession–; and it is possible that these traits found certain affinities in Vance’s unconscious mind. There is, to be sure, the less consoling explanation that I appealed to Vance as a kind of foil, or anchorage, and that he sensed in my nature a complementary antithesis to his own. But whatever the explanation, we were much together; and, as the years went by, that association ripened into an inseparable friendship.

Upon graduation I entered my father’s law firm–Van Dine and Davis–and after five years of dull apprenticeship I was taken into the firm as the junior partner. At present I am the second Van Dine of Van Dine, Davis and Van Dine, with offices at 120 Broadway. At about the time my name first appeared on the letter-heads of the firm, Vance returned from Europe, where he had been living during my legal novitiate, and, an aunt of his having died and made him her principal beneficiary, I was called upon to discharge the technical obligations involved in putting him in possession of his inherited property.

This work was the beginning of a new and somewhat unusual relationship between us. Vance had a strong distaste for any kind of business transaction, and in time I became the custodian of all his monetary interests and his agent at large. I found that his affairs were various enough to occupy as much of my time as I cared to give to legal matters, and as Vance was able to indulge the luxury of having a personal legal factotum, so to speak, I permanently closed my desk at the office, and devoted myself exclusively to his needs and whims.

If, up to the time when Vance summoned me to discuss the purchase of the Cézannes, I had harbored any secret or repressed regrets for having deprived the firm of Van Dine, Davis and Van Dine of my modest legal talents, they were permanently banished on that eventful morning; for, beginning with the notorious Benson murder, and extending over a period of nearly four years, it was my privilege to be a spectator of what I believe was the most amazing series of criminal cases that ever passed before the eyes of a young lawyer. Indeed, the grim dramas I witnessed during that period constitute one of the most astonishing secret documents in the police history of this country.

Of these dramas Vance was the central character. By an analytical and interpretative process which, as far as I know, has never before been applied to criminal activities, he succeeded in solving many of the important crimes on which both the police and the District Attorney’s office had hopelessly fallen down.

Due to my peculiar relations with Vance it happened that not only did I participate in all the cases with which he was connected, but I was also present at most of the informal discussions concerning them which took place between him and the District Attorney; and, being of methodical temperament, I kept a fairly complete record of them. In addition, I noted down (as accurately as memory permitted) Vance’s unique psychological methods of determining guilt, as he explained them from time to time. It is fortunate that I performed this gratuitous labor of accumulation and transcription, for now that circumstances have unexpectedly rendered possible my making the cases public, I am able to present them in full detail and with all their various side-lights and succeeding steps–a task that would be impossible were it not for my numerous clippings and adversaria.

Fortunately, too, the first case to draw Vance into its ramifications was that of Alvin Benson’s murder. Not only did it prove one of the most famous of New York’s causes célèbres, but it gave Vance an excellent opportunity of displaying his rare talents of deductive reasoning, and, by its nature and magnitude, aroused his interest in a branch of activity which heretofore had been alien to his temperamental promptings and habitual predilections.

The case intruded upon Vance’s life suddenly and unexpectedly, although he himself had, by a casual request made to the District Attorney over a month before, been the involuntary agent of this destruction of his normal routine. The thing, in fact, burst upon us before we had quite finished our breakfast on that mid-June morning, and put an end temporarily to all business connected with the purchase of the Cézanne paintings. When, later in the day, I visited the Kessler Galleries, two of the water-colors that Vance had particularly desired had been sold; and I am convinced that, despite his success in the unravelling of the Benson murder mystery and his saving of at least one innocent person from arrest, he has never to this day felt entirely compensated for the loss of those two little sketches on which he had set his heart.

As I was ushered into the living-room that morning by Currie, a rare old English servant who acted as Vance’s butler, valet, major-domo and, on occasions, specialty cook, Vance was sitting in a large armchair, attired in a surah silk dressing-gown and grey suède slippers, with Vollard’s book on Cézanne open across his knees.

“Forgive my not rising, Van,” he greeted me casually. “I have the whole weight of the modern evolution in art resting on my legs. Furthermore, this plebeian early rising fatigues me, y’ know.”

He riffled the pages of the volume, pausing here and there at a reproduction.

“This chap Vollard,” he remarked at length, “has been rather liberal with our art-fearing country. He has sent a really goodish collection of his Cézannes here. I viewed ’em yesterday with the proper reverence and, I might add, unconcern, for Kessler was watching me; and I’ve marked the ones I want you to buy for me as soon as the Gallery opens this morning.”

He handed me a small catalogue he had been using as a book-mark.

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