by Gary Hoffman
The Conning-A-Con Caper has never before been published.
The kill was easy. He snapped on a pair of surgical gloves and came into Cornell Wilcox’s house via the rear kitchen door around seven-twenty, long before the family locked up for the night. He knew Cornell and his family would be watching television in the rec room. Cornell talked to him several nights ago about not missing this music awards show. Country music was his favorite.
He took a butcher knife from a wooden holder on the counter. It was his weapon of choice because it couldn’t be traced to him. He went behind the small counter dividing the kitchen from the dinning room and waited. Within fifteen minutes, Cornell came into the kitchen for another beer. He didn’t bother to turn on the light.
As he was popping the top, the man came behind him and in one movement, put his hand over Cornell’s mouth and stuck the knife into his right kidney. Cornell let out a moan and started to collapse. The man withdrew the knife and stuck him again. There was no sound this time. The man picked up Cornell’s arm and smashed his watch with the butt of the knife. He wanted to make sure the police knew the exact time the attack occurred. He wiped the blood from the knife on his pants. He was long gone before June Wilcox began screaming.
He left through the alley. He walked three houses down and took off the pants he was wearing. It was a relief to get rid of them because they were really too tight. He hid them where he had stashed a pair of his own. Once he got to his garage, he changed his shirt, shoes and socks. They went in a plastic trash bag, along with the surgical gloves and were placed with the neighbor’s trash that would be picked up early in the morning.
He entered his own yard through the back gate. He picked up the leash that was still hooked to the dog and walked into the house. A few months ago, his wife would have been there to ask if Ralph had enjoyed his walk, but they had divorced and his wife chose to move to Arizona. And he knew why–it was that damned Cornell Wilcox’s fault.
Detectives Jack Green and Mark Jabo were assigned to the case. While forensics was doing their job, they got a chance to talk to Mrs. Wilcox. “So you, your husband and two children were all in the rec room watching television when this happened?”
“And why did you come to check on him?”
“He had just been gone for so long.” She grabbed another tissue and blew her nose.
“I’m sorry we have to do this right now, Mrs. Wilcox, but the sooner we get information about this case, the sooner we can solve it.”
“I hope so. I just don’t know what I’m going to do.” She sobbed some more.
“What did your husband do for a living?”
“He was a security officer at Framingham Correctional Facility.”
“Was he having problems there with anyone he worked with?”
“Not that he ever talked about. Cornell always tried to leave most of his shop talk at work.”
“Anyone outside of work he might have been having problems with?”
“Again, not that I knew about. We did have a strange thing happen a couple of weeks ago, though.”
“Yeah. A new couple moved into the neighborhood. All the people on this block are very friendly. When someone new moves in, which isn’t very often, we get together and have a party for them. That way we can all meet them and welcome them to, as we call it, ‘our little corner of the world.'”
“So what happened a couple of weeks ago?”
“A new couple moved in and we went to their welcoming party at the Valor’s house. It turned out the man had just been released from prison. He had been in one of the ‘houses,’ as Cornell called them, that Cornell had been in charge of.”
“This cause a big problem?”
“Not right then. I don’t know what might have happened later. Cornell said he thought Alex was more conscious about it than he was.”
“Did your husband tell you anything else about their relationship in the prison?”
“No, like I said, Cornell left most of that stuff at work.”
“And what is the name of this couple?”
“Alex and Sara Hickey.”
“And where do they live?”
“Just three houses down, south.”
“Okay, Mrs. Wilcox, you’ve been most helpful. We’ll get back to you as soon as we find out something.” Green sent an officer back to the station for a warrant to search the Hickey house.
“Come on in. Alex should be home anytime.”
“Where is he?”
“He went to see about a job.”
“At this time of night?”
“I know. We thought it was strange, too, but he got a call about it this afternoon. He’s been trying so hard to find work, he couldn’t pass it up. I’m sure you both know how difficult is it to get started again after what he’s been through.”
“What kind of work was it?”
“Driving a truck. He was going to be hauling asphalt for a highway project. It was going to be a nighttime job, but he needed to do something.”
They all heard the back door to the house open. “Sara, I’m back.”
After introductions were made, Jabo asked him, “So how’d the interview go?”
“It didn’t. The guy never showed.” Green and Jabo shot a glance at each other.
“How’d you hear about this job?”
“I heard about it from a friend. He gave me a phone number to call. What’s this all about anyway?”
“Who was this friend?”
“A guy I just met in the neighborhood. Chad something or other.”
“He was being rather helpful for you just moving in, wasn’t he?”
“Some people are willing to help. I did my time.”
“What time did you leave the house?”
“I left about quarter to seven. What’s going on?”
“We had a problem up the street tonight,” Green told him.
Alex clinched his fist. “So since I’m an ex-con, I’m the first person you come after?”
“The problem involved Cornell Wilcox.”
Alex wrinkled his forehead and cocked his head to the side. “What kind of problem?”
“He was killed.”
Alex slammed his fist on the arm of the chair. “So because I was under his control for a time in prison, you figure I killed him.”
“Weirder things have happened. I must tell you we will check your phone records for the calls you claim you got.”
Alex looked at his wife. “That won’t be possible.”
“I’ve been trying to get my own life started again, but people aren’t very willing to help. Our only phone right now is a cell phone that I bought prepaid. Nobody else will extend credit to us right now.”
“So let me get this straight,” Green said. “You got a call we can’t trace and you can’t prove where you were tonight because the person you were to meet didn’t show up. That about right?”
Alex hung his head. “Yeah, that’s right.”
There was a knock on the front door. There were uniformed officers and forensics people ready to search the house. One of the forensics people handed Detective Green a bag. “We found these out back, stuffed down alongside the trash cans.”
He looked at Alex. “These yours?”
Mrs. Hickey jumped in. “I think those are his. They were stolen off our clothes line about a week ago.”
“A clothes line?”
She shook her head. “We haven’t been able to afford a new dryer. The old one shot craps. I’ve been hanging our clothes out on a line to dry.”
“Lots of coincidences here, aren’t there?” Jabo said.
“I think you better come down to the station with us, Alex,” Green told him.
Alex was taken downtown by two uniformed officers. The search of the Hickey house turned up no new clues. Green and Jabo started going house to house to see what information the neighbors might provide. The only thing they did find out was that a couple of the neighbors had heard that Cornell Wilcox was having an affair with Alice Barry, another one of the women who lived on the street. They also found out that Alice Barry had divorced her husband and moved.
Of course, they also found out that Mrs. Hickey had been hanging her clothes on a clothes line. Some of the neighbors seemed to be rather incensed about that. It just wasn’t that kind of neighborhood. They returned to question June Wilcox.
“Sorry we have to ask you these kinds of questions, Mrs. Wilcox, but we need some answers. Were you and your husband having marital problems?”
“What kind of problems?”
“You think I killed Cornell?”
“No, we don’t. We just want to know what your relationship was like.”
June straightened up and puffed out her cheeks. “It was fine.”
“Cornell ever have an affair?”
“That’s a hell of a question.”
“One I need answered right now,” Green said.
June looked down. “Nothing I could ever prove.”
“But you thought he did?”
“I heard a couple of people talking.”
“Were they talking about Alice Barry?”
She started to cry. “Yes. Now please leave.”
Green and Jabo returned to the station. They went straight to the forensics lab to see about the blue jeans. “Well, the size of the pants were consistent with others we found in Hickey’s house. The blood is the same type as Cornell Wilcox. There is also blood smeared on the inside of the pants, like the person had blood on their shoes when they took them off.” Green and Jabo returned to their desks. “Well, partner,” Jabo said, “what ya think?”
“Hickey had a possible motive and the opportunity. No question about that. His alibi stinks. We know what the weapon was, but can’t really tie it to anyone. What’s your take?”
“About the same. One thing that really bothers me is those blue jeans. Forensics says there was blood on the inside of the legs. He took them off with blood on his shoes. That means he probably had blood on his socks and shirt, too. Why did he just hide the pants? What happened to the rest of the clothes he was wearing? Forensics couldn’t find traces of blood anywhere else in the house.” They both sat silent for awhile. “Another thing. This guy has been in prison for almost four years. He had to have learned a lot there. I think he could have come up with a better alibi. Surely he knows we wouldn’t buy that story.”
Green and Jabo’s first stop the next morning was at the house of Alice Barry’s husband, Chad.”We need to ask you some more questions, Mr. Barry,” Green started. “I know some of these are going to be tough, but we need to know.”
“Well, fire away. I’ll do my best to help you. Whoever killed Cornell needs to be caught.”
“Glad you feel that way. We are given to understand that Cornell had an affair with your wife. Is that correct?”
Chad looked at the floor. He waited a few seconds before he answered. “I’m afraid so.”
“Is that what caused your wife to leave?”
“It caused a lot of arguments, if that’s what you mean. Yes, I guess it did lead to her filing for divorce.”
“She leave on her own?”
“What do you mean?”
“She leave or did you kick her out?”
“Probably a little of each.”
“So how did you feel about Cornell?”
Chad snorted. “Well, it certainly didn’t endear me to him, if that’s what you mean.” He looked down again. “I guess it was as much my fault as it was Alice’s. Divorces do take two people, you know.”
“So where were you last night between seven and seven-thirty?”
“Right here. Hum, come to think of it, I was walking the dog about that time.”
“Anybody see you?”
“Don’t think so. Wait a minute. I did wave to Ed Brisker. He was sitting out on his porch, like he does every night about that time. He lives the next block over.”
Ed Brisker confirmed he had seen Chad walking his dog about seven-fifteen the night before. Ed’s wife told them it might not have been the night before. Ed was having memory problems. It could have been the night before that.
“Does Chad Barry ever stop and talk to Ed?”
“Oh, yes. Every chance he gets. Ed likes it, and I really appreciate it. Gives him something to do, and I don’t have to worry about him while Chad is here.”
When the two detectives got back to their car, Green spoke first. “Well?”
“If Chad talks to Ed Brisker very often, surely he’s aware of the memory problems.”
“Yeah, but maybe that was the only person he saw who could vouch for him.”
“Maybe. I’m just not sold on it yet.”
“Think we should add Chad to our suspect list?”
“I think so. If Alex Hickey did it, he made too many stupid mistakes. I think he’s smarter than that.”
“I think we need a warrant to search Barry’s house.”
The search of Chad Barry’s house turned up no physical evidence. Green did find a bill for a Visa card. One of the charges on it interested him. It was made to Hull’s House of Electronics. When they called the store, they discovered the item purchased was for a prepaid cell phone–one they did not find in Chad’s house.
“If he used it for what we think he used it for, I wouldn’t keep it around either,” Green said.
“Let’s see if we can get Hickey to help us. He may be able to blow this whole thing wide open for us.”
Later that evening, Alex Hickey went to visit Chad Barry. Green and Jabo instructed him about Chad opening up more with a big ego boost. Alex was fully wired with the latest system that was concealed in the collar of his shirt. The police could record everything being said around him.
“What…what in the hell are you doing here?” Chad stammered out.
“We need to talk.”
“I’ve got nothin’ to say to you.”
“Oh, I think you do.”
“You get away from me, or I’m gonna call the police.”
“Call away, Chad. I’m sure they would be glad to hear from you. I’m sure they would be interested in how you set me up.”
“Set you up? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Want to open the screen door and let me in?”
“Well, I guess I’ll just stand here and talk. You close the door, and I’ll talk loud enough so all the neighborhood can hear me.”
Chad unlocked the screen door. “Get the hell in here.” He looked at Alex for a few seconds. “Take off your shirt.”
“Take off your shirt. I want to see if you’re wearing a wire.” Chad was satisfied he wasn’t.
“All of this was pretty clever of you. I heard a lot of stories while I was in the joint, but this may be the best one. Very ingenious.”
Chad smiled. He stood a little taller. “I thought it was damned good. How did you figure it out?”
“The job. You told me about the job, and then when I get there, no one is there. You kill a guy while I’ve got no alibi. And, actually, I wasn’t that sorry to see ole Cornell go. He wasn’t the nicest guard I ever had.”
“Yeah, maybe you did me a favor. They let me out, so I know they don’t have squat on me for evidence. I’ll bet they got nothin’ on you either.”
“You got that right.”
“Must have taken you months to plan all of this so cleverly.”
“Oh, no. Just a few days. It came to me after you moved into the neighborhood. I knew this was my chance.”
“And you knew they’d come after me since I just got out of prison?”
“Especially since Cornell was a guard there. Of course, he deserved it. He was the one who was screwin’ my wife.”
“I’ll bet you really enjoyed killing him?”
“I’d like to bring him back to life and do it all over again.”
The front and back doors to the house burst open at the same time. Green and a uniformed officer came through the front with guns drawn. Jabo and another uniform came through the rear.
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