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"The Heckby Hill Murder" from Illustrated Detective Magazine

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Illustrated Detective Magazine
The Heckby Hill Murder
by Ellis Parker Butler

The Heckby Hill murder was one of the most astonishing cases ever investigated by Oliver Spotts, the Near-Detective of Mud Cove, Long Island. It was a brazen affair for it was committed in full view of fifty-six detectives, one half of the police force of Mud Cove, and Emmaline, the cook of Old Cap Cuff's College for Detectives. In full view of all these people Antonio Bellotti was shot to death.

On Friday, June 18th, Old Cap Cuff's College for Detectives was to hold its Annual Picnic and Games. The spot chosen was Heckby Hill, a fine grassy knoll just outside the village of Mud Cove. At eight o'clock in the morning, the day being perfect. Old Cap Cuff lined up his forty-nine student detectives, his six professors, and Emmaline the cook, and the procession started for Heckby Hill, marching two by two. At the head of the procession was Ethelbert Scummins, playing "Sweet Adeline" on his saxophone. He was not playing it very well.

Oliver Spotts, Near-Detective Oliver Spotts, Near-Detective

On reaching Heckby Hill the procession entered a gate, marched to the top of the hill, broke ranks, and deposited its luncheon baskets on the ground. It was then that -- with a loud popping noise -- one half the Mud Cove police force, with Chief of Police Jed Hullins at their head, arrived on motorcycles. They were the invited guests.

Immediately below the hill and across the road was a small house. It was close to the road and in full view of all the picnic party. Old Cap Cuff had just cleared his throat to make a welcoming speech when an automobile was seen coming from the direction of Mud Cove at seventy miles an hour. It was an open car and in it were four men.

"By hecky, boys," exclaimed Chief Hullins, swinging one leg over his motorcycle, "them fellers is breaking the speed law and they don't dast do it!"

He raised the rifle, took careful aim and fired.

"Maybe they're fetching our ice cream," said Old Cap Cuff, but at that instant the car stopped suddenly in front of the house across the road. The man sitting beside the driver jumped down. He had a rifle in his hand and he ran to the low wide window of the house and peered in. He evidently saw what he hoped to see, for he raised the rifle, took careful aim and fired, shattering the windowpane. He then looked through the broken pane to see that he had accomplished his deadly purpose, jumped into the car, and the car shot on over the brow of the hill at terrific speed.

"By hecky, murder's been done!" cried Chief Hullins, straddling his motorcycle and he and his men were instantly in pursuit of the murder car. Old Cap Cuff and his six professors and the forty-nine detective students rushed down the hill and across the road. Emmaline, after one glance, continued to unpack the luncheon baskets, because the murder was none of her business.

In the house Old Cap Cuff held back his fifty-five assistants and walked to where the dead man lay on a couch.

"Antonio Bellotti!" he exclaimed. "He will never act again. He is as dead as the dickens!"

It was known in Mud Cove that Antonio Bellotti had been living in that house. He was a recluse from the world that had once worshiped him as the handsomest and most daring of motion picture actors. For a few years he had combined the charm of a Valentine with the splendid vigor of a Fairbanks, but he had dropped out of the pictures suddenly. There had been a rumor that clever rum-runners had induced him to put his money in a huge rum-running scheme and that the ringleader had been Black Mike Caso. Old Cap Cuff recognized the dead man as Antonio Bellotti, having often seen him on the screen in the old days.

In less than half an hour Chief Jed Hullins and his men returned on their motorcycles. The picnic party had returned to the hilltop and Chief Hullins interrupted their planning for the capture of the murderers.

"Gents and all," he said, "you won't have to catch the murderers, because there ain't any. Not now, there ain't."

Chief Hullins and his men had pursued the murder car, firing at its tires as they neared it, while the gangsters shot at their pursuers but, near Grayston, the murder car skidded in rounding a curve, and dashed into a tree and was instantly demolished. The four occupants of the car met instant death -- not one escaped -- and papers found on them proved they were Black Mike Caso and the three members of the Caso gang.

"And it was Tony Bellotti they killed, was it?" Chief Hullins asked. "Well, I'd like to stay for the picnic but murders make work, Cap. I've got to get back to town and fix up five funerals and one thing and another. Excuse me, will you, Cap?"

Old Cap Cuff excused him, telling him to come back for some ice cream if he could. Preparations were then made for the running and jumping contests, and so on, but before they began Old Cap Cuff made a short speech.

"And so, you see, gents," he said in closing, "every murder ain't a mystery. This here one was a dead open-and-shut case, and there's no job for a detective in it. Unless," he added with a grin, "some poor sap like Oliver Spotts thinks there is. He is liable to think there is a mystery in most anything."

At this the whole company laughed -- except Emmaline and Ethelbert Scummins -- and began the day's sports.

The reason Oliver Spotts had not attended the picnic was because the clam business seemed to have taken quite a boom and he had spent most of the day digging clams. Although now he possessed a diploma to prove that he was a near-graduate of the Old Cap Cuff College for Detectives and that he was thus entitled to do business as a near-detective, business in the detective line had been so slack that he had to continue as a clam-digger.

Thus Oliver Spotts missed the picnic but that night Ethelbert Scummins, who was studying to be a Watson -- or detective's helper -- told Mr. Spotts all about the Heckby Hill murder. It was nearly midnight when Mr. Scummins finished and Oliver's sister Lotta was long since in bed. The bantam-like little near-detective and his third-grade Watson were in Mr. Spotts' bedroom at the rear of the houseboat, talking in subdued tones, and when Mr. Scummins tooted his saxophone he did so very gently.

"It's almost plenty of enough to make a detective sick and ill, Ethelbert," said Mr. Spotts sadly. "When the only murder in Mud Cove comes in a long time, it don't amount to less than nothing, or not even that much. I'd almost as lief have folks die in their beds as be murdered, if they don't have no mystery into it."

"It wasn't Mr. Bellotti's fault," said Mr. Scummins. "Don't blame him -- he didn't have any say about it, Ollie."

"A murder ought to be an interesting murder, or what's the use having one?" complained Mr. Spotts. "It ought to give a detective a chance to detect something. I'd as lief Mr. Bellotti wasn't dead at all, almost. A lot of gangsters -- what's that?"

The sound that interrupted Mr. Spotts was a scratching noise on the window screen behind the bed on which Mr. Scummins lay indolently, and the near-detective's third-grade Watson rolled over and put his face close to the screen to look out. To his surprise he saw a face close against the screen on the other side of it.

"Tsst! Tsst!" the stranger hissed. "Are you Oliver Spotts?"

To be able to stand where he was and look into the room the man outside had to be daring and agile. The houseboat was not afloat and was not meant to be afloat. Its nose was against Harbor Road, and its stern had been supported high above the bay by criss-crossed timbers. It was now high tide and at high tide the lower timbers were under water and could be reached only in a boat. The timbers were slippery with slime. To reach the window the man must have come in a boat and climbed the slippery timbers.

"No," whispered Mr. Scummins in reply to the man's question, "I'm not Spotts, but he's here," and he whispered to Mr. Spotts: "Olly, there's a man here wants to see you."

Thus notified Mr. Spotts crawled across the bed on his hands and knees, and he too looked out. He could not see much because of the darkness outside and the mesh of the screen.

"How do you do?" he whispered. "What do you want to see me about -- detecting or clams?"

"I want to see you alone," said the strange visitor. "It is a detective matter."

"This here man that is into the room with me," said Mr. Spotts, "is my Watson and I don't do no detecting jobs without he is onto the same case upon which I am. You can trust him entirely total. He is as secret as the tomb -- two tombs."

"In that case," said the man, "I don't mind his being present. How do I get in?"

Mr. Spotts removed the screen. The window was small but with the help of Mr. Scummins he pulled the stranger through the window onto the bed, and when the visitor had turned over face upward Mr. Spotts uttered a cry of surprise.

"My!" he cried. "It's Mr. Antonio Bellotti. I thought you was dead -- ain't you?" The man sat up.

"Now, that," said the man, "is just what I'd like to know. That's what I'd like to have you tell me -- am I dead, or ain't I?"

"If you're Mr. Antonio Bellotti," said Mr. Spotts, "you're dead -- you was fatally shot to death this morning by a rifle bullet through the heart, and no mistake."

"I saw you," said Ethelbert Scummins, "and Mr. Spotts is right."

"If I am Antonio Bellotti, yes!" said the man. "I'll admit that if I am Antonio Bellotti I am dead. And I won't complain, either. But am I Antonio Bellotti? Tell me that, will you?"

In talking the three had raised their voices, and now Lotta Spotts, in the next room, awakened.

"Oliver!" she called sharply. "Who is that man you've got in there?"

"We don't know yet whether it's Mr. Bellotti or his corpse," Oliver answered. "We're just talking it over."

"Well, corpse or not," said Miss Spotts, "tell him not to talk so loud; I want to get my sleep."

"You shouldn't have told her anything," said the man. "I came to you in secrecy. A man don't want to have everybody know that he don't know whether he is dead or not. Now this is the case -- if you'll take it --"

"Well, I don't know --" said Mr. Spotts doubtfully.

"There'll be two hundred dollars in it for you, and expenses," said the man, whispering.

"I'll take the case," said Mr. Spotts so promptly that the two whispers ran together.

"Then I will give you the facts," said the man, settling himself more comfortably on the bed. "Some years ago a man named Antonio Bellotti was famous in the motion pictures. He was being paid enormous sums but he permitted himself to be tempted by one Black Mike Caso to go into a rum-running deal. The Government learned of this and made threats, and Antonio Bellotti peached on Black Mike and his pals -- he told all he knew -- and the Government let him go scot free."

"Mr. Spotts knew that," said Mr. Scummins. "He's wonderful -- you'd be surprised."

"I am," said the man. "But to continue: the rumors that Antonio Bellotti was rum-running killed him for the screen. He never acted again. But this was not the worst -- Black Mike Caso and his gang of gunmen swore to 'get' Antonio."

"And they got him!" said Ethelbert Scummins.

"Did they? That's what I want to know," said the man. "Because I don't know."

"Why not?" asked Mr. Spotts.

"Because," said the man, who was either Mr. Bellotti or was not, "when Antonio Bellotti was a picture star and shown on the screen as doing death-defying stunts, he did not do them himself. He had a double -- as it is called -- to do the more dangerous stunts. That double was exactly like Antonio Bellotti in appearance, as he had to be. His name was Joe Pippi."

"I am starting to begin to smell a mouse in the woodpile!" said Mr. Spotts. "Yes, sir!"

"Amazing, Spotts!" cried Mr. Scummins, in a hoarse whisper.

What I'd like to know is -- am I dead or ain't I?

"Very well," continued the man. "Five days ago Joe Pippi, now a tramp out of work, came to Antonio Bellotti's door begging food. Antonio Bellotti recognized him and he recognized Antonio Bellotti. Bellotti was glad to see him and told him to stay as long as he liked. He did stay. Joe Pippi was glad to have a home again and," said the man with a grim smile, "either Antonio Bellotti or Joe Pippi, his double, was asleep on that couch when Black Mike fired the rifle. Which was it? That is what I want you to tell me."

"What's the matter of you that you can't tell?" asked Mr. Spotts. "Have you got that amnesia disease so you can't remember?"

"No," said the man, but Mr. Scummins interrupted him.

"Where were you when the fatal shot was fired?" he asked.

"I was down cellar bottling some homemade wine," the man explained. "I heard the shot and I stayed where I was."

"That was a wise thing to do," said Oliver Spotts. "If you and the other one looked so exactly alike they would have killed you both."

"They would, gentlemen," said the strange client of Oliver Spotts. "And now let me tell you why I do not know whether I am Antonio Bellotti or Joe Pippi. Six months ago Antonio Bellotti's uncle died and willed him $30,000, provided the money was claimed by noon tomorrow. Antonio Bellotti never claimed it."

"Why not?" asked Spotts.

"Because he was afraid to," said the man who was either Antonio Bellotti or Joe Pippi. "Antonio Bellotti was in hiding from Black Mike Caso and was afraid that claiming the money would let Black Mike know where he was. So he did not claim it. But now Black Mike and his gang are all dead."

"Then," said Oliver Spotts promptly, "there ain't no question of a doubt -- you are Antonio Bellotti. Anybody would be for $30,000."

"Ah, but wait!" exclaimed the man. "You don't know the worst. Antonio Bellotti has a wife and he has been hiding from her, too. She divorced him and was awarded alimony, and the alimony now amounts to $40,000. If she knows that Antonio Bellotti is alive she can take his uncle's $30,000, and he will still owe her $10,000 and she can put him in jail until he pays it."

"Then there ain't no two ways about it -- you are Joe Pippi," said Mr. Spotts positively; "That's my advice, last and final."

"You say that now," said Mr. Spotts's client, "because you have not heard the full story of Joe Pippi. Two weeks ago Joe Pippi was almost starving and he broke into a restaurant and stole six ham sandwiches, three pies and from the cash register $36.00. If I am Joe Pippi I will be arrested and sent to jail for two years."

"You ain't Pippi, that's certain sure," said Mr. Spotts instantly. "It looks like you ain't going to be nobody."

"But wait a minute," said the man, holding up his hand. "Wait a minute! Antonio Bellotti, two days before he was killed, made a will leaving to Joe Pippi the house on Heckby Hill and $3,000 in bonds, because he loved Joe Pippi like a brother. With the $3,000 Joe Pippi could square the restaurant man and go scot free, and he would have the Heckby Hill house."

"It's sort of all confusingly mixed up, ain't it?" said Mr. Spotts. "It looks just immediately now as if you was Joe Pippi."

"But the trouble is," said the strange client, as if Mr. Spotts had not interrupted him; "The trouble is that Antonio Bellotti made the will but there were no witnesses -- so that will is no good."

"Then you ain't Joe Pippi," declared Mr. Spotts. "It looks like you wasn't nobody at all."

"I've got to be somebody," said the man with considerable irritation. "I couldn't be nobody for an hour now. Everyone knows Antonio Bellotti's face, and this murder will bring it to everybody's mind. Everyone will say 'Heavens! There's Antonio Bellotti!' and if I don't admit I'm Antonio Bellotti I'll have to explain that I am Joe Pippi. What do you suppose I came here for? You've got to tell me whether I'm Bellotti or Pippi. You took the job. This man is a witness to that."

"I won't --" began Mr. Spotts, meaning to say he would not have anything to do with the case, but Ethelbert Scummins reached for his saxophone and blew a tremolo blast that drowned his voice. It was such a loud toot that the strange client jumped nervously and Miss Spotts awoke and shouted "Stop that noise!" from the next room. Mr. Scummins put down his saxophone.

"You're right, Spotts," said Scummins. "What Mr. Spotts was about to say," he continued, speaking to the man who was either Antonio Bellotti or Joe Pippi, "was that he won't give you a positive answer tonight. "Naturally, he cannot. He is a near-detective and he must have clues. He must snoop and shadow. He must examine the premises and study the scene of the crime."

"Most certainly sure," agreed Mr. Spotts. "And put on a disguise for it. Whiskers and et cettery."

"Certainly!" said Mr. Scummins.

"I'm surprised you did not understand that, Mr. Bellotti-Pippi. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You are not treating Mr. Spotts right -- not at all right. Did you bring with you a hair from anybody's head? Or scrapings from under anybody's fingernails? Or even a coat button? No! Not a clue of any sort! I'm disgusted!"

"I'm sorry," said the client meekly. "I'm not used to detective ways, sir."

"I should think you were not!" exclaimed Mr. Scummins. "And that is the only reason Mr. Spotts forgives you, ain't it, Spotty? And now Mr. Spotts don't want any more of this foolishness. He wants you to put that $200 in his hands and go home and say nothing and do nothing and see nobody. Go home and hide in the cellar and bottle wine, and come here tomorrow night and Mr. Spotts will tell you who you are. The idea! Coming here without any clues!"

"Without even nothing to use a microscope onto!" declared Mr. Spotts indignantly. "It ain't right!"

"I'm sorry," said the client again, even more meekly, and he took money from his pocket and gave Mr. Spotts $200. Mr. Scummins and Mr. Spotts then assisted this strange client to back out of the window legs first, and they heard him climb down the timbers and row quietly away in his boat.

"He's Joe Pippi," said Spotts. "And why? For because of the way he clumb up them timbers and down again -- that's dangerous, and it was to do dangerous things Mr. Bellotti used to have him for a double."

"Spotts," said Mr. Scummins, "you're wonderful! Your mind works like a machine. It amazes me. It astounds me. But, Spotty, just now you are tired; you are not fit to do your best Grade A thinking. Go to bed, Spotts. Tomorrow you will attack this case with a clear brain and a refreshed mind."

With that Mr. Scummins picked up his hat and the newspaper that lay under it and departed for his dormitory at Old Cap Cuff's College for Detectives, and Oliver Spotts went to bed.

Early the next morning Mr. Spotts was ready for the important detective work he was under contract to do. In the clear light of morning he was not sure what it was he had to do, nor how he was to go about doing it, but he made the most careful preparations for whatever it might be. Mr. Scummins had mentioned a disguise, so Mr. Spotts put on his "clam-digger" disguise, including the rubber boots, oilskin slicker, nor'wester hat and the beard. The beard hooked over his ears and had once been red but had faded to pink. The truth was that this disguise was more familiar to the people of Mud Cove than was Mr. Spotts himself without the disguise, but this did not worry Mr. Spotts.

To complete his disguise Mr. Spotts pushed his two-wheeled cart in which were a number of baskets of clams he had promised to deliver to customers that morning, and anyone would have known instantly that he was disguised as a clam-digger -- if it had not been for the disguise. As everyone had seen the pink beard, everyone knew that Oliver Spotts, the near-detective, was at work on a case. By the time Mr. Spotts reached Old Cap Cuff's College for Detectives, where he was to meet Ethelbert Scummins, fifty or sixty men and boys were following him.

Mr. Spotts rang the bell and Emmaline, the cook, came to the door, and before Mr. Spotts had finished asking for Mr. Scummins, Chief of Police Jed Hullins -- who had been told that Olly Spotts was out detecting -- arrived with four motorcycle officers. They waited at the gate. As the professors and students of Old Cap Cuff's College for Detectives had just finished breakfast they also decided to watch Mr. Spotts do his detective work.

Ethelbert Scummins came out of the college with his saxophone in his hand, and immediately began playing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," and as Emmaline was very fond of that tune she too followed the crowd. Chief Hullins ordered the party to form two abreast.

Behind Mrs. Hoffberger waddled Oscar, her duck.

Thus all proceeded toward Heckby Hill, the procession increasing in numbers on its way. Ethelbert Scummins walked first, playing his saxophone, then came Oliver Spotts pushing the clam wagon, and at the end of the line, panting in her effort to keep up, was old Mrs. Polly Hoffburger, who was fat and lame in one leg. Behind her at a short distance was her pet duck Oscar, waddling along as nice as you please and saying, now and then, "Quack! Quack!"

Arriving at the late home of Antonio Bellotti -- or of Joe Pippi -- Mr. Scummins, the third-grade Watson, made everyone form a half-circle and sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." He beat time with a folded newspaper.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen," he said, "you will all wait here while Oliver Spotts enters this house and solves a mystery that has arisen in connection with the murder of Antonio Bellotti. From time to time I will announce the progress of the investigation. If anyone has a stopwatch I would be glad to have him time Mr. Near-Detective Spotts."

"I have a stop-watch," said Chief Hullins who used one in timing speeding automobiles.

"I will first go inside and see that -- see something," said Ethelbert Scummins, and he went into the house. In a moment he was out again and no one noticed that the folded newspaper was no longer in his hand. "We are all set," he said when he came out. "Ready, Chief Hullins -- go!"

At this word Oliver Spotts and Ethelbert Scummins entered the house together, but Mr. Scummins immediately appeared at the broken window. He looked into the room but spoke to those outside.

"Mr. Spotts is now in the murder room," he said. "He is looking around. He looks at the murder couch. He looks at the floor. He looks at the ceiling. Now he is going to walk to the table in the middle of the room. He is walking to the table. He sees a folded newspaper on it. He is going to pick up the newspaper. He has picked it up. He is going to open it. He has opened it. He is going to say to himself, 'Ah!' Here is a newspaper the murdered man received just before he was killed -- the murdered man never opened it!' He is saying it! Now he is going to read the headlines. Just a minute folks, while Oliver Spotts reads the headlines."

In the pause that followed, those outside uttered exclamations of admiration and surprise.

"Oliver Spotts, the famous near-detective, has read the headlines," said Mr. Scummins in a clear strong voice. "A look of triumph is going to show on his face in a minute. It shows on his face. He is reading one of the headlines again. What are you reading, Spotts?"

"It says here," came the voice of Oliver Spotts, " 'Movie Actress Drops Dead in Hollywood. Lucette Milldew, Divorced Wife of Antonio Bellotti, Dies Suddenly.'"

"Oliver Spotts has solved the mystery of Heckby Hill," cried Ethelbert Scummins. "He has discovered that Antonio Bellotti was not murdered. He has discovered that his double, Joe Pippi, was the murdered man. He is going to pound on the floor. He is pounding on the floor. He is going to shout, 'Bellotti, come up! It's all right, your wife is dead.' He is shouting it! Time!"

"One minute and twenty seconds, by gosh!" said Chief Hullins. "That's the quickest record I ever heard tell about, and no mistake!"

"Marvelous! Amazing!" cried Ethelbert Scummins, as a good Watson should, and in another minute Oliver Spotts and Antonio Bellotti were bowing in the doorway, hand in hand.

"Spotts," said Old Cap Cuff generously, "you're good. I'll say that much -- you're good. How did you do it?"

"Acumen," said Ethelbert Scummins quickly. "Acumen, Cap Cuff."

"No such thing!" said Mr. Spotts indignantly. "I didn't have no acumen onto me. Unless," he added, "you put it onto me, Ethelbert."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:14:19am USA Central
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