Murder most foul, and unsolved
What follows is a true story. Only the names have been changed. The last chapter remains to be written. Perhaps you will be the one who writes it.
[quoteright]Jane Brewster was a graduate student in architecture at Ivytown U., which is situated in Ivytown, New England. She was
working on her master's degree and was due to complete it at the end of school year 1981-82. When the Thanksgiving holiday came, she flew down to New Guernsey, where her parents live, to spend some time with them.
Jane's father is a highly-placed executive in a major multinational concern, and for some years he was in the upper echelons of the Central intelligence Agency. Her mother was a philosophy major at King's College. Both parents are firmly rooted in the upper crust of East Coast society. They belong to that class of people who have a Velazquez hanging in the drawing room and take their vacations on Nantucket.
Jane told her parents that she had a big project due in class on the Monday following Thanksgiving, and so she had to cut short her stay with them. She flew back to Ivytown early in the evening of Thanksgiving Saturday. Before she left, Mr. Brewster gave her $200 in folding money. She took with her her purse, a suitcase, and a tote bag. The tote bag held books and phonograph records.
You have to be very intelligent and hard-driving to get into Ivytown U. You have to be even more so in order to get into graduate division there. Jane was the kind of person who could succeed in a hothouse like that. Her personality had been forged in a crucible of wealth, power and success. Besides having a good mind and drive, Jane was vivacious, attractive, and a lot of fun. Just by looking at her, you could tell that she enjoyed life to the fullest. She had everything to live for.
After deplaning at Ivytown International, Jane fought her way through the holiday crowd to the baggage carousel. She had checked her suitcase through at New Guernsey but had carried her purse and tote bag onto the plane. A couple of passengers had struck up conversations with her during the flight, and they remembered seeing her standing there at the carousel, waiting for her suitcase.
Only one person remembers seeing her after that, and his identity is unknown. At that point, Jane Brewster vanished from the face of the earth. She did not return to her dormitory. She did not contact her parents or any other friend or relative. There are no indications from the trip books of the taxi companies working Ivytown International that she was picked up there by a cabbie.
Two weeks after her return to Ivytown, Jane's wallet and purse were found by the side of a highway, about seven miles north of the airport. They were lying next to the southbound lane. Whoever had put them there was driving toward Ivytown and its airport at the time.
A month later, her suitcase turned up. It had been left in a long-term storage locker at the Greyhound bus terminal in the center of Ivytown. When the rental had expired, the locker had been opened and its contents examined, in order to identify the owner.
Effects of Jane's found in the suitcase had her name on them. And her name was well-known by this time. Her fellow students at Ivytown U. had mounted a major campaign to find out what had happened to her. They published posters, they went from door to door, they broadcast appeals on the television and radio. Jane's parents put up a $50,000 reward for information as to her whereabouts. The newspapers turned her disappearance into a major story.
The police checked out every lead, no matter how bizarre. They even dragged a pond where a Transcendentalist philosopher had lived for a while, on a tip from a psychic. Ivytown has a population, together with its environs, of about a million. The police turned it upside down. They interviewed taxi drivers, bus drivers, ticket sellers; they got passenger manifests for every flight within an hour before and after her arrival, into and out of the terminal where she was last seen. They contacted hundreds of people whose names appeared on those manifests, and they interviewed practically all of the passengers and crew on her flight. But apart from the witnesses who had remembered seeing her waiting at the baggage carousel, nobody had anything to contribute.
That was over two years ago. In the meantime, only one thing has happened that has any bearing on Jane Brewster's disappearance. Someone has confessed to abducting and murdering her.
Salvatore "the Lobster" Ragusa, who was in jail on suspicion of having murdered another woman, whose corpse was found out in the marsh near where Jane's wallet and purse were left, told his ceilmate that the murder he was about to be tried for was nothing compared with what he had done to "that Jane Brewster," whose lifeless body, he said, he had dumped from his fishing boat into Ivytown Harbor. At least, that's what the cellmate said Sally had said. The ceilmate was moved to another jail and took a polygraph test, which bore out that Ragusa had told him that. But there was no other evidence that Ragusa had had anything to do with her disappearance. Ragusa is now on trial for the other murder, but even though the police are convinced that he is also responsible for the death of Jane Brewster, they cannot bring charges.
The police are satisfied, but the Ragusa theory has a number of important defects. The first one is that the Jail-cell confession can easily be discounted as an act of self-aggrandizement on the part of a small-time ruffian. Such confessions are not uncommon with criminals who want to enhance their status with their peers by taking the credit for a celebrity crime. And he may not even have uttered the confession. The polygraph is far from infallible. At all events, there is reason on a couple of counts to be skeptical about the confession.
But the biggest defect of the now-prevalent theory is that everyone is agreed, on logical grounds, that the only way Jane Brewster could have left the airport was in a privately-owned automobile. She would have had to have reason to entrust her safety to the driver. It is difficult to imagine why this daughter of the Power Elite would have willingly gotten into a car with a bait salesman like Ragusa, who speaks incorrect English and may even have smelled of mackerel at the time. She had never met the man before. Why would she trust him not to harm her? And it seems unlikely that she could have been forcibly abducted from a crowded metropolitan airport in the middle of a holiday weekend, within view of hundreds of witnesses.
If Ragusa was responsible for Jane's disappearance, why did he not dispose of her effects all in the same place? Why did he dispose of the body and tote bag so effectively that two years of searching have failed to turn them up, but leave the wallet, purse, and suitcase where they were certain to be found? Why was the criminal heading back toward Ivytown when he threw the wallet and purse out of his car? For that matter, in order to do so, he either had to be driving around in New England in December with the passenger-side window rolled down, or he had an accomplice riding with him who did the throwing - or else, he pulled over to the side of the road and got out before depositing the wallet and purse. Why that particular location? And if he had some reason for leaving the suitcase at the Greyhound station, why didn't he just walk in, put the suitcase down, and then walk away from it? Why did he put it in a storage locker?
That's the mystery of Jane Brewster. Where once there was an attractive, Intelligent, vivacious young woman with a long and happy life ahead of her, there remains only a dubious, second-hand confession, and an enigmatic triangle on the map of Ivytown, defined by three points: wallet and purse, bus station, airline terminal, with an area of approximately twelve square miles. The rest has vanished into thin air.
[We would like to invite to readers to contribute sequels to this story, which, though true, is tantalizingly incomplete. The best solutions will be published in the Ecphorizer later ... Ed.]
Gareth Penn, among other pursuits, enjoys a good mystery and he considers it a challenge to dig into those like this issue's story.
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