(Rover Homepage)


Special complete story, taken from The Rover issue: 1363 July 28th 1951.

The Missing Burglar.

It was just eleven o’clock. The cinemas and theatres had recently closed, and the street was filled with people making their way home. In a telephone-booth outside a post-office, a man was talking earnestly into the instrument. There was nothing about him to distinguish him from the passers-by. But in fact, despite his commonplace appearance, he was a man far above the ordinary. He was John Martin, a member of Scotland Yard’s Ghost Squad, and he was reporting on his day’s work. John Martin was the greatest authority on missing persons in the country, a detective who worked independently as much as possible, and whose name and rank were known to only a handful of men at the Yard. Just now he was talking to one of these men in room 77. “…I think that’s about all. It closes that matter satisfactorily, and unless you have any fresh instructions for me now, I’ll look for them in the usual place to-morrow morning.” “Nothing new at the moment,” came the reply over the wire. “If anything comes in during the night you will find your instructions as usual. Hold on! Here’s something that might concern you.” There was a pause during which Martin heard the sound of rustling paper, then the Yard man went on: “I’ve just received a message. Where did you say you were speaking from?” “Dulwich.” “Then maybe you can handle this. A few minutes ago, Enquiries received a phone call from Forest Hill, which is not far from where you are. It was from someone who would not give his name. He said he and his mate went to burgle Carrickly House, Thornton Street, over two hours ago, and his mate entered through a window while he kept watch outside. Since then, there has been no sign of the man who went into the house, and his mate is worried that something has happened to him. It’s a new one on me, but he seemed genuinely alarmed and said we ought to investigate, as his mate only intended to stay ten minutes to pick up the silver. If a burglar calls in the police you can reckon there’s something queer. Can you run over and look into this? It’s hardly a matter for uniformed branch as yet.” “Repeat the address,” said Martin, and made a mental note of it. “Do you have the name of the occupant?” “Yes, the man who phoned referred to him as Old Hinton. There’s been no time as yet to check. Men have rushed to the phone box to try and grab our informant, but there isn’t much hope of catching him.” “I’ll get over to Forest Hill at once,” declared John Martin. “I can see a bus coming now, so I’ll sprint for it.” A few moments later John Martin was seated on the top of a double-decker bus. It was not a long run, and the bus conductor was able to direct him to Thornton Street, which turned out to be a wide, badly-lit avenue over-shadowed by old lime trees and by the trees in the front gardens of the large but somewhat shabby houses. Carrickly House was on a corner, and was in complete darkness. It was so dark under trees in the garden that anyone could stand there without being observed from the road. Opposite the house was a telephone booth, and the detective imagined it was from here that the frightened accomplice had phoned the Yard when the burglar had not reappeared after two hours. John Martin made a cautious survey of the windows on the ground-floor, fully expecting to find that one of them would open to the touch. “No such thing happened. Every one remained firmly closed. John Martin produced a tiny pencil-torch and began to examine the fastenings of each window in turn. One window showed signs of having been recently forced from the outside. On the bare earth below the window were the footprints of the burglar who had made an entry there, and there was a little earth on the sill which must have been scraped from his shoes as he climbed inside. The size of the footprints told Martin that the house-breaker had been a small, lightly built man. Again Martin tried the window, then shone his torch to light up the snib. The snib was firmly in its socket. The window might have been forced a couple of hours earlier, but since then someone had refastened it from the inside. The detective stepped back. There was something queer about this affair. The burglar would not have relatched the window after entering. Martin decided to take direct action. He walked to the front door, and banged the knocker loudly. The hollow hammering resounded through the house, and after a minute or so he repeated his effort. This time there was a sound of movement, then a light showed through the upper part of the doorway, and bolts and chains could be heard being moved. The door opened a foot, and was held there by a claw-like hand which belonged to a man who kept well back, and who appeared to be holding a lighted candle in his other hand. “What do you want?” was the sharp enquiry. “I am from the police. We had a report that your house has been burgled. “Then I know nothing about it. You must have come to the wrong place.” He would have slammed the door if John Martin had not pushed out his foot and blocked the door. “You didn’t find a window open and refasten it earlier this evening?” “Certainly not!” was the answer. “Then possibly one of your servants did so?” persisted John Martin. “I have no servants. There is no one in the house but myself. I tell you there is no trouble here of any kind. Now will you go away. John Martin withdrew his foot. He had no choice. The door was slammed, and he heard the bolts and chains being replaced. He turned and went down the steps. The man known as Hinton, had lied, but why? Someone had certainly refastened that window after it had been forced. It could not have been the burglar. What possible motive could Hinton have for refusing any information, or for refusing to make any complaint about a burglary? John Martin crossed the road to the call-box, and dialed the number which gave him room 77 at Scotland Yard. He made his report, and finished by saying: “…There is little else I can do at the moment. I cannot compel Hinton to admit me. No magistrate would issue a search warrant under these circumstances, although I’m certain his house was broken into this evening.” “It’s a difficult situation, and we can give you no official help,” came the voice from the other end. “But only five minutes ago, another message came through from the unknown informant, from a different part of London. He wanted to know if there was news of his friend. He is so certain that his friend is in danger, that he has given us the name. It is Jem Bradford. He is a well-known housebreaker.” “A small, lightly built man?” queried John Martin. “Yes, about five feet tall, pale-faced, with thinning hair going grey at the temples. He has been convicted four times, and always for housebreaking or burglary. The man on the phone is keen that we find Bradford, even if it means his arrest.” “Hm!” John Martin glanced at the house, where not a light showed. “Under those circumstances, I’ll use my own discretion. I’ll get in touch with you again later.” He rang off, but stood in the call box for some minutes watching the house amongst the trees.

The Fiery Glow.

A few moments later, John Martin went down and viewed Carrickly House from a new angle. Suddenly he glimpsed a red glow in one of the downstairs back windows. “Poking up the kitchen fire before going to bed,” thought the detective. “But why does he use no light? Does he creep about the house in the dark? Presently he heard the soft pad-pad-pad of an approaching policeman on his beat, and hid himself until the uniformed figure had passed. Then he climbed over the wall and dropped inside the garden at the rear of the house. It was a jungle of weeds, and was obviously never used. Keeping in the shadows, he approached the window where he had seen the glow. There were no curtains on the window but he could see no glimmer of light inside. The kitchen range must have been closed up again. John Martin flashed his torch on the window and set about opening the catch. When he had succeeded, he slowly raised the lower frame of the window. When it was up sufficiently for his purpose, he put his head inside, listened intently, then slithered over the sill. The expected warmth of the kitchen did not strike him. When he looked across at the range he realised there was no fire burning. “So the glow did not come from there, although it shone at this window,” he thought, as he tiptoed forward, using his torch sparingly. He could hear no sound. The kitchen was poorly and untidily furnished. The oilcloth was threadbare. When he reached the long passage running to the front-hall, he saw that the carpet was in similar condition. There were closed doors on either side but two rooms beside the hall were open. The rooms were large and massively furnished but there was no sign of silver or anything else likely to tempt a burglar. Everything was thick with dust. Old Hinton did not employ a servant, and it was evident that he did not waste much time on housework. John Martin was glancing towards the staircase, and wondering if it would be wise to climb them, when a sudden red glow made him turn. It came from the end of the passage near the kitchen, and he realised that one of the doors which he had passed had now been opened. A square of light showed, a red and fiery glow in which was framed the tall but bent figure of Old Hinton. He was carrying a candle, and closed the door behind him immediately, locking it and taking the key. Then the detective knew that the red light came from a cellar, and that only when the door was opened did any of the light reflect into the kitchen. He slipped behind some dusty curtains and held his breath as Hinton approached. He heard him turn and mount the stairs. Presently there was a creaking up above, as though the man was going to bed. The rest of the house was dead silent. Not even a clock ticked. Martin came out from hiding, and tiptoed down the passage. He wanted to have a look at the door leading to the cellars. He made the surprising discovery that it had been strengthened with steel plates, and that the lock was of a modern, little known type which practically defied efforts at forcing. The door fitted so well that not a ray of light escaped around it. There was a steel handle to the door, and an afterthought caused him to dust it for fingerprints. He had touched it himself, but there were plenty of prints upon the shiny surface. For the most part they were from the fingers of a right hand, doubtless the right hand of Old Hinton, but there was a finger and thumb mark belonging to someone else. The print was broader, smoother, and had been recently made. Satisfied that he was not being observed, Martin knelt down and examined the prints with a magnifying glass. John Martin had an uncanny skill of remembering prints and recognising them if he saw them again. “There is something in that cellar which keeps him busy,” He decided, then let himself out by the kitchen window and carefully refastened the snib. He knew that his visit had not been observed by Hinton, and that he had left nothing behind which would betray the fact that he had been in the house. He made his way to the call box on the other side of the road. The number he dialed put him in immediate contact with room 77, at Scotland Yard. He made his report as concise as possible, giving in the regulation code the essential details of the finger-prints which he had found on the cellar door handle. “…Records will have the prints of Jem Bradford. Get them to check as soon as possible. They should be able to tell one way or another from the points I’ve sent in. I’ll ring back in an hour’s time. Meanwhile I’ll continue to watch.” “Right!” came the reply, and the distant receiver clicked into place. It was drizzling with rain. John Martin stood under the trees with his collar up and his hands in his pockets. Not a movement came from Carrickly House, not a glimmer of light showed. The only passer-by during the next hour was a policeman on his beat. The last radio set had been turned off in nearby houses. The neighbourhood was like Old Hinton – asleep. At the end of the agreed time. John Martin returned to the phone and asked if Records’ report had been received. “Yes, we have it. Those finger-prints belonged to Jem Bradford. Furthermore, we have been making inquiries through the local police about Hinton. He has lived there for ten years, and although he lives alone and very simply, he has a large bank balance. He pays in large sums of money in cash every month or so. Nobody in the neighbourhood seems to know where his income comes from.” “I see!” Martin was thoughtful. “Even now I don’t think we have sufficient grounds for a search warrant, but I can handle things. Arrange for three or four men to be outside the house in half an hour’s time Tell them to stop Hinton on some pretext if he comes out in a hurry, and tell them to take no notice of a little smoke.” He rang off before he could be questioned, and returned to the garden opposite. For the second time that night he let himself in through the window. He made his way to the front part of the house, where he remembered having seen a large brass tray in one of the rooms. He carried the tray into the hall and placed it on the floor near the front door, then went back to the kitchen and found a supply of paraffin. There were oil-lamps or candles all over the house. For some reason Hinton used neither gas nor electricity. The detective screwed up old newspapers into balls and soaked them with paraffin. He piled them on the brass tray together with some old dish-cloths and towels that he had found lying in the kitchen. Then he glanced at his watch and put a match to the lot. Flames licked up greedily, but because of the tightness of the paper balls, and the thickness of the dish-cloths, there was more smoke than fire. Great clouds of it poured across the hall, filled the lower rooms, and went up the stairs. Martin went to the doorway nearest the tray and waited, keeping low to the floor where the air was clearer. From there he could watch the fire he had started, and also watch the stairway. Five minutes elapsed before there was movement above. The smoke had at last reached Hinton and wakened him. He dragged open the door, a lighted lamp in his hand, and Martin heard him gasp with horror when he found the house filled with smoke. The man came a little way down the stairs with a rush, then raced back into the room, evidently for some clothes and footwear. Not a minute later, he was tearing down the stairs with an electric torch in his grasp. John Martin remained perfectly still, watching Hinton make his way along the passage leading to the rear of the house. He was coughing, choking, and spluttering as he ran, one arm held before him. There was so much smoke that it was impossible for him to see that the fire was on a tray, and that it was doing no damage. Panic gripped him, as John Martin had hoped that it might. Straight down the passage the man stumbled, stopped, and the listening detective heard the rattle of a key. Old Hinton’s first thought was of the contents of the cellar! John Martin moved swiftly along the passage.

The Secret Of The Cellar.

The cellar door was open, but he could see no red glow. The light from below appeared to come from a powerful acetylene lamp. It had been lit by Hinton immediately he reached the bottom of the stairs. The air that rose was very hot. Down below, he heard Hinton making rapid movements. There was the noise of keys, and the rustle of paper. The man was almost gibbering with fright and anxiety, and when some three minutes later he came up the steep stairs, he twice tripped, and finished by falling into the passage. The hidden detective made no attempt to lift him, nor to prevent him making for the back door. Bolts and chains were hastily taken off, and the door was flung open. Old Hinton plunged into the open air. A few moments later there was a shout, and the blast of a police whistle. John Martin nodded in satisfaction, then went down the cellar steps, for the door had been left wide open. The place was as hot as an oven, and the cause was not difficult to find. In one corner of the cellar was an electric furnace of large size, and through a transparent panel could be seen a ruddy glow. On top of the furnace were crucibles of various kinds. There were several benches, two cupboards, and in another corner a large safe. Smoke had not seeped into the cellar as yet, and it was possible to see everything clearly. The floor was covered with a thick carpet. There was a writing desk and a comfortable chair. It was obvious that Old Hinton had spent more time down here than in the upper part of the house. John Martin looked at the contents of the crucibles, at the piles of neatly stacked half-crowns on one of the benches, and pursed his lips in a silent whistle. Now he understood most things. “He was a coiner. This is where he makes half-crowns by the thousand, and if those are specimens, they are first-rate examples of the coiner’s art. He came down for his moulds and for something from the safe – something that he would not leave behind. Then on a bench he spied some tools which were certainly not those used by a coiner. They were cracksman’s tools, a jemmy, wedges and instruments for picking locks. His eyes narrowed when he saw them, and he moved over to each of the cupboards in turn, opening them as he went. He did not find what he sought, but peered under all the benches, and even in the open safe. Again he drew a blank. It was not until he closed the safe door that he discovered it had been screening yet another cupboard which was close beside the safe. This cupboard was locked, and there was no key in the lock. He used the picklocks from the bench, and after a minute’s work, the door swung suddenly open, and something heavy fell upon him. It was a body of a man who had been forced inside and propped against the back, the body of a man whose skull had been shattered by some blunt instrument. No more than five-feet tall, and lightly built, with pale face and rat-like features, there was no mistaking him. John Martin knew he had found the missing burglar. There were shouts from above, and this time he answered. There seemed to be a slight struggle on the staircase, and Hinton could be heard protested: “I tell you that I’m the owner of this house, and it’s ablaze! Let me get out before I’m choked. Get me outside quickly.” “There’s no danger,” said someone else, grimly. “How do we know you’re the owner? We saw the fire start, then you came rushing out. You might be the fire-bug who started it. Maybe the real owner is below…Hi, there!” “No, no, I tell you -” screamed Old Hinton, but he was bodily lifted the last few steps in the arms of a burly sergeant, who stared about in bewilderment and drew a deep breath. “As tidy a little place as I ever did see.” He glared across at John Martin, whose form hid the shape which had slumped to the floor in the corner. “Who are you?” “Headquarters will explain that in due course!” snapped Martin. “You were warned you might find me here. That’s Hinton you’ve got, the owner of the house, and the owner of this nice little plant, as you so aptly called it.” Hinton seemed on the verge of collapse, although he continued to stare at the speaker as though disbelieving his eyes. “Who – how did you get down here? He gasped. “Never mind about that. Hinton. You have claimed ownership of this house, and must therefore, be responsible for this cellar and its contents. Coining has been going on for a long time here, I’d say. In your pockets, I fancy we’ll find the moulds. One of the two policemen who had come down the stairs went over and put his hand in the prisoner’s outside pocket. He withdrew a flat bundle of crisp pound notes held together by an elastic band, blinked at them then proceeded to pat the wriggling, struggling man all over. “Gosh, he’s wadded with ‘em! He’s got packs of notes stuffed everywhere.” “yes, doubtless the reserve sum which he kept in case of flight, but only a small portion of what he must have made during his career as a coiner. The moulds will be in an inner pocket.” This proved to be the case, and at the sight of them Hinton ceased to struggle. “All right, let’s get out of here!” he croaked. “I admit that I was a coiner. Let me go. I’m choking!” “Wait a minute!” ordered John Martin. “There’s something else. Earlier in the evening, a burglar named Jem Bradford succeeded in entering your house by a side-window. You denied it two hours later, but it was the truth.” “It’s a lie! You’re the man who came snooping at my door before midnight. I told you then there had been no burglary!” cried the prisoner. “Yes, that was what you told me, because Bradford was unfortunate enough to find your cellar door open, and discovered your secret. Before he could get out and tell his accomplice, you came up behind him and killed him.” “It’s a lie!” Screeched Old Hinton. John Martin moved aside, exposing the body. “It is no lie. Here’s Bradford. You stuffed him into this cupboard with the intention of later destroying him in this furnace of yours.” Hinton went limp and said no more. The sergeant handcuffed him to his own left wrist. The policeman looked at Martin curiously, wondering who and what he was. Neither of them remembered ever having seen John Martin before. When arrangements had been made to take over the house, and to send for the police surgeon and other officials, they moved towards the cellar steps. “Beats me why he crept around with candles and lamps when he could have had electric-light.” Muttered the sergeant. “The house is wired. I can see the main cable in the corner. “Yes, and I’ve no doubt it’s been tapped to supply current for the furnace, but on the other side of the meter. It’s easy to see why Hinton had the house cut off from both gas and electricity. “The meters are over there on the wall, and if he had made use of either there would have been an inspector here every quarter to read them. Hinton dared not have anyone entering here. He preferred to have the inconvenience of oil and candles, pretending to be old-fashioned.” “For the same reason he had no servant. He was afraid that someone would discover his secret, but he forgot the possibility of burglars being interested. Only when he found Bradford here did he see the danger, and decided to kill him. Unfortunately for him, Jem Bradford had an accomplice outside.” The smoke was clearing in the rooms above, and while the police waited with their prisoner for the patrol-van, John Martin slipped away. He would send in his report, but he would not appear at the trial of Sebastian Hinton. John Martin’s part in the case was over.


The ‘Tec Nobody Knows (1ST series) 13 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1249 - 1261 (1949)

The ‘Tec Nobody Knows (2ND series) 9 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1274 - 1282 (1949 - 1950)

The ‘Tec Nobody Knows (3RD series) 4 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1328 - 1331 (1950)

The ‘Tec Nobody Knows (Complete story) 1 episode appeared in The Rover issues 1361 (1951)

The ‘Tec Nobody Knows (Complete story) 1 episode appeared in The Rover issues 1469 (1953)


© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2003