(Wizard Homepage)


Last episode taken from The Wizard issue: 1111 September 14th 1946.

He was the most brilliant pupil of Farrow’s school. How is he linked with a murder mystery? This story holds a big surprise!

The Murder Mask

Superintendent Clive Hardy, of the Rodingham police, charged up the stairs of the Acme Hotel. He hardly knew what to expect at the top of the stairs, but already a feeling of dread gripped him. He was prepared to find that tragedy had occurred in the Acme Hotel, as it had occurred so many times lately in and around Rodingham. A long sequence of murders had made Rodingham a city of terror. The first of those murders had taken place some weeks ago. The victim had been Grant Playfair, a well-known Rodingham citizen. Playfair was found in the middle of Burfield Common, a place remote from any water. Yet Grant Playfair had been found lying there—drowned! The second victim, Charles Roper, had met his death in the middle of his roof garden. He, too, had been drowned, although he had not been in water or near water! And so the list of victims of the Rodingham killer had mounted until now he had claimed seven lives. Clive Hardy feared that he would find that the number had now increased to eight. Early in the case, the superintendent had found that Playfair and Roper had been pupils at Farrow’s, the famous public school, and strangely enough, the remainder of the victims had either been to Farrow’s or were connected with the school in some way. It seemed that the Rodingham killer hated Farrow’s for some reason, and this hatred had grown into a desire to murder Old Farrovians. It was one of the most mysterious and baffling cases with which the police had had to deal. And one more factor made it even more mysterious. Soon after the sequence of murders had begun, an unknown person, calling himself the Voice on the Wire had rung again and again, and in uncanny fashion his advice and suggestions had generally proved correct. Hardy now depended on the unknown man for aid. It was because of a suggestion, put forward by the Voice, that suspicion had fallen on a one-armed newspaper seller named Beauchamp; and although Hardy had not agreed with the suggestion, he had been intrigued when an elderly ex-Farrovian named Cyril Beauchamp had called at the police station to tell of certain happenings of thirty-odd years earlier. Nearly eighty years of age, Cyril Beauchamp had collapsed after his long journey, and had been escorted to the Acme Hotel by Hardy, and ordered to bed. Now an urgent call had come from Robins, the hotel manager, saying the door of old Mr Beauchamp’s room had become wedged, and strange, gurgling noises were coming from within the room. A group of men—the manager, assistant manager, one of the two porters and waiters—were near the door of the room where Hardy had recently seen his visitor installed. All turned when they heard the superintendent. Robins the manager, held up a hand. “Be careful, or he’ll shoot through the door. He says he’ll kill anyone who charges that door.” “Who will?” snapped Clive Hardy, breathing hard. “You mean old Mr Beauchamp has gone crazy?” “No, there’s someone else in there with him. We started to break down the door, and someone called out that he would shoot if we continued.” “How long ago was that?” “Maybe five minutes. The gurgling noises have stopped, but we hear nothing of Mr Beauchamp. We fear that—” “Out of my way!” snapped the superintendent, drawing back for a charge. Crash! Hardy was a hefty person, and the door quivered and gave a couple of inches. There was a loud, creaking noise, and the knob moved. The door was not locked, but a chair had been wedged beneath the knob on the other side. The men in the corridor drew back in expectation of the threatened shots, but none came. Hardy drew breath, and charged again. The manager came to aid him. There was a snapping sound, and the door opened so suddenly that they sprawled on the floor. The top bar of the chair had broken under the strain. It was a luxurious bedroom, one of the best in the hotel, but the thing that interested Hardy at that moment was the open window, with curtains billowing out, and a fire-escape beyond. He groaned. He had seen this sort of thing before. The killer always seemed to find his entrances and exits prepared for him. On the bed lay the frail, white-haired form of Cyril Beauchamp. His face was covered by a queer-shaped mask. The superintendent motioned his helpers back, and bent to examine the contraption. It was an ordinary dental mask, the sort used by dentists when administering gas to their patients. It was cone-shaped, but could be folded flat. At the rim of the mask, fitting tightly round the victim’s face, was a miniature rubber tyre, inflated with air. It formed a cushion on any shape of face, and in the ordinary way prevented gas from escaping at the sides. Once cased in that, the wearer had to breathe whatever was pumped into the mask. The old man was flat on his back, his hands clenching the bedclothes at his side. Hardy noticed he was bone-dry. There was not a drop of water on him. From the apex of the cone-shaped mask a length of tubing hung down. There was a small metal cup at the free end. “Gosh, he’s been gassed!” muttered the superintendent, and gripped the edge of the mask to take it off the face. He did so, and water poured out over Cyril Beauchamp’s still figure, soaking the upper part of his body, and the bed. The mask had been filled with water, and Superintendent Hardy realised he had solved the mystery of how the killer’s victims had all been found drowned where there was apparently no water. The fiend had always stunned his victims first, and had then turned them face upwards before fastening this mask over their faces. It was so made that it would fit any face. Instead of pumping in gas, the murderer had filled the cone-shaped mask with water. It took less than a pint to do this. The unfortunate wearer of the mask would then be breathing water instead of air. He would draw it in and expel it with his breath, using the same water over and over again, until his lungs were full. This would give exactly the same effect as being submerged under water. As the murderer removed the mask, the water encased in it would drench the upper part of the victims body. Such had been the case on all other occasions, but this evening the killer must have been interrupted by the attempt to open the door, and had not waited to claim the mask. One glance at the old man told Hardy he had come too late. “Get a doctor!” he snapped to the onlookers. “I don’t think he can do anything, but we must have a doctor. Who was it heard gurgling noises coming from this room?” The assistant manager replied that he had. He also said that at the same time he had found the door barred on the inside, and heard movements. “It was a queer noise, and I thought Mr Beauchamp was ill,” he added. “What you heard was him drowning!” snapped Clive Hardy. “If you had forced the door open then you would have saved him, and you would have seen the murderer.” The assistant manager took a deep breath. “But why was the old man killed? He was an inoffensive, sick old man. I see no reason why the killer picked on him.” “Here’s the reason,” snapped the superintendent, and picked up a blue-and-gold tie from the dressing-table. “An Old Farrovian tie. Beauchamp was killed because of that—and perhaps because someone feared his memory for faces. Will anyone be on duty at your hotel exchange? Yes?” Hardy picked up the receiver of the phone in the corner and asked to be put through to the police station. Sergeant Venning was at the other end and said—“I was just going to ring you, superintendent. There’s a call through from the Voice on the Wire. I—” “I’ll take it here directly afterwards, but here’s something I want you to do.” Broke in Hardy. “Go round to the lodgings of Beauchamp, the one-armed paper man, and see if he’s been out to-night. We’ve got a man watching the place. He ought to know. Now give me the Voice on the Wire.” There was some slight delay as the connection was made, then Hardy heard the low voice of the unknown helper. The question the Voice asked was brief and to the point— “Have you found out where Beauchamp went to school?” “Beauchamp?” asked Hardy. “You mean the one-armed paper-seller?” “Of course I do! Who else have we been talking about?” demanded the Voice on the Wire. “Well, we’ve had another Beauchamp on the scene, and he’s just been murdered. He was an Old Farrovian.” Hardy went on to describe just what had happened, and the Voice on the Wire did not interrupt until near the end, then his words came quickly and excitedly— “Nail the paper-seller that’s what you’ve got to do! I have felt this for some time. He’s the murderer! As you know Hardy, I have said all along that the killer will be found to be connected with Farrow’s. I believe Beauchamp went to Farrow’s under another name. When he saw Cyril Beauchamp he feared he would be identified and took the precaution of murdering him.”

A Killer Is Caught

Superintendent Hardy drew a weary hand across his forehead. “But man, I can’t arrest Beauchamp without evidence! I’ve got a man watching his lodgings day and night. He’s probably there at this minute and has been there all night. I dare not risk a false arrest!” he protested. The Voice clicked his tongue in annoyance. “I’ll arrest him if it’s proved that he’s been away from home to-night,” promised the superintendent, “but otherwise I daren’t. He could—Yes, what is it.” Robins, the hotel manager made the interruption. He had been called out of the bedroom by one of his staff, and now he returned. “A call came through on one of the downstairs phones from one of your sergeants,” he said. “I think the name was Venning. Venning says that Beauchamp is in his lodgings and that he vows he has been there all evening. The constable on watch bears him out.” “There you are!” shouted the superintendent into the phone. “The newspaper-seller is in his rooms, and has been there all evening. He’s got a cast-iron alibi. The fact that my man was watching outside all the time is the best proof he’s got. We must rule out Beauchamp as the murderer.” “If you do that I’ll wash my hands of the whole case!” snapped the Voice on the Wire. “I bet you’ll find that Beauchamp has some way of getting in and out of his lodgings without being noticed by your man on duty.” He rang off in his usual decisive manner and Hardy scarcely heard the doctor pronouncing that Cyril Beauchamp’s death was due to drowning. “Get everyone out of here, then lock the door,” the superintendent ordered the manager. “Some of my men will be round shortly.” He lost no time in leaving the hotel and hailing a late taxi. Rodingham was silent now, for practically everyone had gone to bed. The taxi made good time through the deserted streets heading for the mean quarter where the one-armed newspaper-seller had his lodgings. Hardy was just finishing a cigarette when the taxi pulled up at the corner where he expected to find his plain-clothes man on watch. Sergeant Venning was also there. “Beauchamp flew into a rage when I walked in and wakened him,” said the sergeant. “He threatened to sue us.” “And what does he say he’s been doing during the last hour?” interrupted Hardy. “In bed reading. Smith here says he has certainly not been out.” That seemed definite enough, but the superintendent had another idea. “Has anyone been in and out of that house during the past two hours>” he asked. “Oh, yes, sir, but not a man. An old woman came out about two hours ago, and returned perhaps twenty minutes or half an hour ago.” “What sort of old woman?” snapped the superintendent. “A stout party, sir, with a long, black coat and a bonnet. Maybe it’s the landlady or another lodger.” The superintendent’s eyes glinted. “Whose house is it?” he asked. “An old person called Rogers. She’s an old spinster, and has taken lodgers for some time now.” Superintendent Hardy stepped across the road and hammered on the knocker. He demanded to know what was wanted. “I want to speak to Miss Rogers, please. It’s the police,” said Hardy, and he whispered aside to the plain-clothes policeman— “Keep a watch at the side and the back of the house. Stop anyone who tries to leave.” There was a good deal of grumbling and rustling, then a short, thin little woman, huddled in a red flannel dressing-gown, opened the door. “Sorry, Miss Rogers, but we have to make some inquiries about the movements of the occupants of this house. Have you been out the evening?” asked Hardy. “No, I haven’t. I’ve something better to do than go gallivanting round the town after dark.” “And Mr Beauchamp?” “He told your men that himself. He came in soon after nine, when he’d sold his papers, an’ went straight to his room. He’s been there ever since, except when the police called him down.” “I see. And the old lady who live here—the stout lady—do you know what time she came in or went out?” Miss Rogers looked at the superintendent in obvious amazement. “There’s no stout lady here,” she replied. Hardy looked at Sergeant Venning, then across at the waiting plain-clothes constable. “So you have no one else in the house besides Beauchamp?” he asked. “No one could have seen a stout woman wearing a coat and bonnet come out of here?” “Indeed they couldn’t!” replied Miss Rogers emphatically. “Right! I’m afraid we’ll have to go up and see your Mr Beauchamp again. Come along, Venning.” The policemen had pushed past the astounded woman and were on the stairs before she could voice her protest. The door at the top of the stairs opened, and Beauchamp appeared. “What’s going on here?” he demanded. “Don’t I get any sleep to-night? Oh it’s you police! What do you want with me now?” “We want to know where you’ve hidden a women’s long, black coat and bonnet,” said Clive Hardy coolly. “We know you went out dressed in those clothes earlier this evening.” “You’re crazy!” snarled the newsvendor as he stepped back into his bedroom, but his expression gave him away. “Just what am I accused of—impersonating a woman?” “No, murders—many murders!” replied Hardy grimly. “Look out, Venning!” Sergeant Venning was ready. Beauchamp had made a dive for the window, but Venning shot out a long leg and deftly tripped him. He fought like a fiend, and with amazing strength. His artificial arm was of great weight and when he managed to catch Sergeant Venning a glancing blow on the side of the head with it, it nearly finished the fight. He had actually succeeded in breaking loose when Smith, the plain-clothes man, arrived and dealt him a swinging blow on the head with his emergency truncheon. The one-armed man slumped in a heap. The police searched the room and found nothing of interest, except a great many classical books, and up the chimney an old black coat and a bonnet which would make any man resemble a woman in the dark.

An Astounding Surprise

For two days the police questioned Beauchamp, but without any success. He declared he was innocent of murder, and that he had absolutely no connection with Farrow’s school or old Farrovians. It was the Voice on the Wire, when he rang up on the second day, who suggested it would be a good idea to take the prisoner down to Farrow’s, in the hope that someone would recognise him. Superintendent Hardy liked the idea, but did not tell Beauchamp where they were taking him. They went by car, with Sergeant Venning and Sergeant Thomas in attendance. The Headmaster and Bursar had been notified of their coming, and when they arrived they were shepherded in by an entrance where none of the boys, then in class, would see Beauchamp handcuffed by his good arm to Sergeant Venning. The Newsvendor’s artificial arm had been removed, for it had proved too useful a weapon. The police and their prisoner were shown into a private room and told that Dr Trinch, the Headmaster, would soon be with them. Before long footsteps were heard, and the lean, slightly bent figure of Dr Trinch appeared in the doorway. He was nervous and barely glanced at the man handcuffed to Sergeant Venning. “I understand we may be of use to you again, superintendent,” he said. “You say it’s a question of identity.” “Yes, sir, we would like you to take a good look at this man and tell me if he calls to mind any old pupil of the school.” As he spoke, Hardy snatched of Beauchamp’s hat, and the prisoner lowered his head. The Headmaster of Farrow’s adjusted his glasses and peered for a long time. “Bless me! Good gracious!” he exclaimed at last. “I certainly find something strangely familiar about his face. I’m sure I—why, it’s Russell Williams, one of the most brilliant boys we ever had! Williams, whatever has happened to you?” “Russell Williams!” repeated Superintendent Hardy, who had been over all the school rolls and records in the possession of the Bursar. “Wasn’t he at the school at the same time as Playfair and Roper, the first two victims of the murders?” “he certainly was,” agreed Dr Trinch. “He was a magnificent scholar, the head of the school, the finest athlete we had in a quarter of a century, and captain of the school for three years. He was a boy for whom we predicted a great future, yet for some reason he didn’t keep in touch with us of later years.” “I know what you’re thinking!” Williams suddenly shouted, and his eyes blazed with uncanny brightness. “Why did I do it? Why did I, the favourite of Farrow’s, the brightest pupil and athlete they had, why did I turn sour and murder anyone I saw who came from the old school? Well, I’ll tell you!” he took a step forward. “It was just because of that! Yes, I was brought up in the lap of luxury, and when I was here I was tops at everything,” went on Williams. “I was told the world was at my feet, that I had a great future before me, and I believed it. But what happened when I went out into the world? My father died, and I had to earn a living. I found I was no longer captain of the school, nor the favourite of masters, but a mere nobody who couldn’t settle down to work. I had no glory, no applause, no encouragement. I sank lower and lower, until for a time I pretended to be Lionel Beauchamp, a boy who had been killed in an accident just before I came to the school. I’d heard all about him and his rich father, and I ran up debts and charged them to the old man until things became too warm and I skipped to America.” His teeth were set. He was fairly hissing the words. It was clear that he was far from normal. “Out there I worked as a labourer, and more often than not I starved. I lost my arm in an accident, and that made things worse. When I got back to England all I found I was fit for was selling newspapers. Then one day I saw Grant Playfair wearing the old school tie, and my hate rose. I blamed all my troubles on the school where I’d had fame. If I hadn’t been made so much of there, and been given to expect so much, I wouldn’t have gone down under obstacles as I did. I hated the school and everyone who had been there—” His voice rose to a shriek, and he hurled himself with outstretched hand for the throat of Dr Trinch. The old Headmaster jumped back, the three police officers closed in, and the Rodingham murderer was soon mastered.

It was the following evening that the Voice on the Wire rang the Rodingham police station and asked for Hardy. “Congratulations, superintendent,” he said. “I see you’ve got your man. He’s made a full confession.” “Yes, it proves you were right after all,” said Hardy. “I don’t claim the credit. I would never even have suspected the newsvendor. I wish I could meet you and thank you.” “Better not, superintendent, better not,” replied the Voice, “Then we can write the case off as finished?” “No, there is only one point that puzzles me, and it’s bound to come out at the trial,” said the superintendent. “How did Williams carry sufficient water on his person to fill that mask? The mask he used would fold up and go into any ordinary pocket with the tube, but he couldn’t put pints of water in his pocket.” There was a low chuckle from the Voice. “Superintendent, am I right in guessing you’ve taken Williams artificial arm away from him?” he asked. “Yes, he was too dangerous with it. I’ve got it here on my desk. It’s a heavily made thing.” “Not half as heavy as it was sometimes, I’ll wager,” said the Voice on the Wire. “If you’ll examine it, superintendent, I think you’ll discover it is hollow, and will hold water. Maybe one of the fingers on the hand unscrews, and enables the water to be poured down the pipe into the mask. Look for yourself.” Clive Hardy did so, and discovered that that was the secret of the whole thing. “You’re a wonder!” declared the superintendent when he had returned to the phone. “How in the world did you guess that?” “I didn’t,” replied the Voice. “It was obviously the only place where he could carry it.” Superintendent Hardy suddenly said quietly— “You sound remarkably clear on the phone to-day. I’ve got an idea you’re very close at the moment.” “I am,” chuckled the Voice on the Wire. “I’m speaking from the call-box round the corner. I just wanted to see the scene of the crime and to get a glimpse of you. I had that before lunch, and now I’m satisfied and shall be leaving Rodingham at once.” Clive Hardy’s eyes sparkled. Here was his chance of seeing and meeting his mysterious helper. The phone-box mentioned was not thirty yards from the door of the police station. “Well, having seen me, what do you think of me?” he queried, and gently put down the receiver without waiting for a reply. The next moment he had dashed from the room, hurled aside the astonished Sergeant Venning, and rushed down the police station steps at breakneck speed. Sprinting round the corner, almost knocking over two unfortunate pedestrians, he came in sight of the phone-box. It was empty. The door was swinging to and fro, as though it had just been allowed to slam. At least a hundred people were in the crowded street, and any one of them might have just emerged from the box. Superintendent Hardy kicked the door shut and stamped back to the police station. His unknown helper had been too quick for him after all. The Voice on the Wire had him puzzled to the last!

The End

So ended the Voice on the Wire. The story ran for 10 weeks. The Wizard issues 1102 – 1111

A repeat of the story ran in The Wizard issues 1682 - 1691

A further story under the title It’s The Voice on the Wire. Ran for 12 weeks in The Wizard issues 1166 – 1177.

With a repeat in The Wizard issues 1816 – 1827 under the title The Telephone Terror.


© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2004