Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ 15,000 Web Pages In Archive
Volume 7055

A Short Murder Mystery Puzzle

Part of a series written between 1932 and 1940
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Featuring Police Inspector Muldoon and
his trusted biographer and sidekick, Edgar Rice Burroughs

Inspector Muldoon was taking a vacation, and I had asked him to spend a week with me at Palm Springs.

"You won't be bothered by murders here," I told him. "We don't go in for that sort of thing so you should be able to get a good rest."

I took him up to the Racquet Club for lunch the day he arrived, and later we lazed around in the sun by the pool for a while, negotiating a couple of Wes's highballs, and then went over to number one court and watched a tennis match. 

Evelyn and Peter van Rentz were playing Count de Veny and John Forbes. De Veny was a guest of the van Rentzs. He as a heavily bearded man, very foreign looking. With his bald head and heavy horn-rimmed glasses he impressed one at first glance as being well along in years, but his well-knit figure, lithe and active, belied this. 

Dawson Sidley was sitting next to us. He also was visiting Peter and Evelyn -- down for the weekend. I introduced Muldoon to him, and we chatted for half an hour. Sidley was bewailing the fact that he couldn't play tennis any more -- said he was sixty and had a bad heart. Presently Muldoon and I left.

Muldoon is not a loquacious person, but he was unusually silent as we drove through the village to my place nestled in the lee of San Jacinto.

"There something mighty familiar about that de  Veny person," he remarked at last. "I've been trying to place him. I shall yet. I never forget a man."

After dinner we spent the evening playing Canfield, each one banking the other, and gossiping. I'm not much given to that except when I'm with Muldoon; and he's so avid to know everything about everybody he meets that I humour him, knowing how close-mouthed he is.

Muldoon was still trying to place de Veny; and that naturally brought the van Rentzes into the conversation, and one can't discuss the van Rentzes without talking a lot about Evelyn. She's that sort ot girl -- just monopolizes the limelight wherever she is. She isn't conscious of it either. It's just her wonderful personality. I think that everyone that meets her falls in love with Evelyn van Rentz.

I met her first four years ago at a party the Allens gave for her on her twentieth birthday, and I have been her devoted slave ever since.

Well, as it turned out, I guess I talked too much that evening.

Muldoon and I turned in about midnight, and it seemed to me that I hadn't much more than closed my eyes when the t telephone commenced ringing. You know how terribly insistent and inconsiderate a telephone bell can be in the dead of the night, and how you try to shut it out of your consciousness and pretend you don't hear it. 

I tried to, but it didn't work; so I got up and answered it.

The sheriff was on the other end of the line.

"I understand Inspector Muldoon is visiting you," he said. "I'm in a mess, and I want to know if he'll help me out."

I asked him what sort of a mess he was in.

"There's been a murder a Peter van Rentz's. I can't get anything out of any body. These people are personal friends of mine, and I hate to arrest them all. I know if it can be solved by anyone, Inspector Muldoon can do it. I'll sure appreciate it if he'll come over."

Half an hour later Muldoon and I walked into the van Rentz living room. There were seven people there in addition to the sheriff and one of his deputies. 

Muldoon nodded to Sidley, whom he had already me; and I introduced him to Evelyn and Peter van Rentz and Johnnie Forbes. Then he turned ot the sheriff.

"Well," he asked, "what's the story?"

"Count de Veny has been murdered. None of these people will admit to knowing anything about it."

"Where they all here at the time of the murder?"


"Anyone else?"

"They say not __ no one that they know of."

"Good," said Muldoon. "Where's the body?"

"Come with me," directed the sheriff.

Muldoon motioned me to accompany them, after directing the deputy to remain in the living room and see that no one left it.

The house faces north. At the west end are the dining room, kitchen, and servants' quarters. A hallway runs south from the southeast corner of the living room. On the east side of the hallway, the first room is Peter's, across the hall was Johnnie's room. Sidley had the room just south of Peter's, and across from Sidley's room was de Veny's. The servants' quarters on the west and the guest room on the east form two sides of a patio, the living room and dining room the third side; the fourth is open toward the south. Evelyn van Rentz' room is directly north of Peter's and opens into his room and the living room. It is not on the hallway. 

We walked down the hall past Johnnie's and Peter's room and turned to the right into the room that had been de Veny's. It still was. He lay on his face in the middle of the floor, directly in front of the doorway.

"Has anything been touched?" asked Muldoon.

"Not since I got here," replied the sheriff. "What happened before that, I don't know, but they all swear there hasn't been a thing moved. They just came in here, saw he was dead, and went out and called me."

Muldoon stepped to the side of the murdered man and examined the body. There was a bullet hole between the shoulders. His yellow silk pajamas were blood-soaked. A .45 Colt's automatic lay halfway between the body and the doorway.

Muldoon rose and walked slowly about the room, taking in every minutest detail. He pointed to a bullet hole in a chiffonier standing against the west wall, directly opposite the doorway. 

It didn't need a Muldoon to reconstruct that killing. De Veny had been standing facing the chiffonier, his back toward the door, the murderer stood in the doorway and shot him in the back; then he or she had tossed the pistol to the floor near the body.

Perhaps he had hoped to make it appear a suicide, but it couldn't have been. A man can't shoot himself between the shoulders from behind. Muldoon took a handkerchief from his pocket and picked the weapon up very gingerly, so as to not to obliterate any tell-tale fingerprints. He took it close to a light and examined it with a pocket microscope. 

"Whoever did this wore gloves," he commented. "Lets get back to the living room."

Peter van Rentz was pacing nervously back and forth. He is a handsome chap about ten years older than his wife, though he doesn't look it. He 's always been nervous and excitable, often acting on impulse, and it was plain to see that he was terribly upset.

Evelyn sat in a corner, dabbing occasionally at her eyes. They were red and swollen from crying. Dawson Sidley stood in front of the fireplace gazing intently at the dancing flames of a mesquite fire. Johnnie Forbes sat on an arm of a sofa. It was evident that he was making a valiant effort to appear calm. The ashtray on an end table near him was piled high with cigarette butts. He was lighting one cigarette from another. 

Johnnie is a nice kid. He's about four years younger than his sister Evelyn, and fairly worships the ground she walks on. He glanced up at Muldoon as we entered, and as he did so his cigarette dropped from his fingers onto the rug. He didn't seem to notice it, and a thin, bald man of about forty steeped quickly across the room and picked it up.

"Who are you?" demanded Muldoon of this person. He shot the question at him in that way that he has that sounds like an accusation of guilt and that he often uses in propounding the simplest and most innocuous questions. The next instant he might be soothing and cajoling while putting the most personal or important query,. I have seen men forget their own names when questioned like that by Muldoon, and the next instant they would truthfully answer a most incriminating question. 

But this man was not at all perturbed. With perfect calm he turned toward the Inspector, and, bowing slightly from the hips, replied.

"I am Vreeman, sir; Mr. van Rentz's butler."

"How long have you been here? -- On this job, I mean."

"I came with Mr. van Rentz about a year ago, sir -- shortly after he and Mrs. van Rentz were married. We came down here to Palm Springs about a month ago."

"How old are you?"

"Forty, sir, though I know I look much older. I know you'd never believe, sir, that I am only six years older than my wife here," headed, indicating a neat little woman standing at his side. 

"You are Mrs. Vreeman?" asked Muldoon, in his softest and most ingratiating tones.

"Yes, sir; Edith Vreeman."

"Well, Edith, what do you know of this business tonight? Start at the beginning."

"You see, sir, when they came home from the Racquet Club about five, they was all that tired; and Mrs. van Rentz said we'd have an early dinner and all go to bed. So we had dinner about six-thirty -- after they'd showered and changed; but they didn't dress. Mrs. van Rentz wore slacks; and the gentlemen, flannels and polo shirts.

"They had a couple of cocktails before dinner, and after dinner they felt that much rested they decided to have a few rubbers of bridge -- that is, Mr. and Mrs. van Rentz, the Count, and Mr. Sidley. Mr. Johnnie went out." 

"Where did you go?" demanded Muldoon, turning on Forbes. 

"I went to the village to bowl," said Johnnie.

"Who are you?" Muldoon almost shouted the question.

"I'm Mrs. van Rentz' sister -- I mean, she's my brother -- I --" Johnnie flushed a deep scarlet.

"Never mind," said Muldoon, soothingly. "I think I grasp the relationship; you're Mrs. van Rentz' younger brother."

Forbes nodded affirmatively.

"And now, Edith," continued Muldoon, "what happened after dinner?"

"They  played bridge; and after we got the dishes done, Mr. Vreeman, Bert, and I played rummy in our room -- that is, Mr. Vreeman's and my room. About ten o'clock the folks went to bed. Mr. Vreeman went in and straightened up the living room and turned out the light, and then we went on with our game." 

"about eleven o'clock we heard a rumpus in the Count's room -- it's right across the patio from ours, and the windows were open."

"What did you hear, Edith?"

"Well, the first thing we heard was voices talking low, and then I heard Mr. Johnnie's voice say 'I got a good mind to kill you, you --' Oh, sir, I couldn't say the words he called him. And then Mr. van Rentz' voice said, "That's my job, Johnnie. I'll take care of him.'

"The Count said something then. He talked for several minutes in a low tone that we couldn't catch, though we was all listening at the window; and then everything quieted down like they had all gone to their rooms. 

"We talked about it for a while, and then we decided to finish our rummy game and go to bed. It was just midnight when we finished, I know that because Mr. Vreeman looked at his watch and said, 'Well, it's midnight and time we was in bed,' and just then we heard a shot and a plump like, like someone had fell."

"Van Rentz," said Muldoon, "you were in de Veny's room about eleven o'clock tonight?"



Van Rentz hesitated; then he shrugged. "Well, I've got to tell it sometime, I suppose. I woke up about eleven and heard voices down the hall. I heard my wife's voice. I got up and went down to de Veny's room. She was in there with him."

"And you?" demanded Muldoon, swinging suddenly on Johnnie. "What were you doing there?" demanded Muldoon, swinging suddenly on Johnnie. "What were you doing there?"

"I got in about ten-thirty. I wasn't asleep. When I heard Pete and Ev in de Veny's room, I went in to to see what it was all about. When I realized -- or thought I did -- I wanted to kill him. Pete wouldn't let me. There was a gun in de Veny's room, like there was in all the master bedrooms; but I guess de Veny didn't know that. Pete's got a kidnap complex. He's always afraid someone's goin' to kidnap him or some of his guests, so he keeps a gat in every bedroom. I could have got it and killed him then; but Pete wouldn't let me, and Ev begged us not to. She said she could explain everything, so we went back to her room, the three of us, and she told us."

"What did you tell them, Mrs. van Rentz?" asked Muldoon.

"I told them the truth. I told them that I met de Veny in New York about a year before Mr. van Rentz and I were married. We met several times. He was always very courteous and pleasant. One night we were at a party -- a big party -- one of those awful affairs that are such bores. 

"He suggested that we run out on it. He said that his mother had heard so much about me that she was anxious to meet me -- she wanted to contribute to a charity in which I was interested, but she was an invalid and couldn't ever get out. He suggested that we run up to her apartment and see her. He said he would go and phone her. He was gone a short time, and came back and said she was delighted and begged us to come right over.

"We took a cab and drove up somewhere around Fifty-ninth Street. He took me up to an apartment. A man let us in and took our things. De Veny said, 'Miss Forbes, this is 'Tony'; then he said "Tony, where is mother?"

"'She's dressing,' replied Tony. 'She said she'd be out presently.'

"Well, we waited; and while we were waiting de Veny mixed a cocktail. He talked all the time, and half an hour passed before I realized it. Then I suggested that it was getting late and perhaps I'd better see his mother some other time.

"He said he'd go and see what was delaying her, and he went into another room and was gone fully half an hour. When he came out he said we'd better not wait; his mother was not feeling well.

"When we went down in the elevator he told the elevator boy that any time I came, and he called me by name, to let me in -- if I didn't have a key to his apartment. Then he told me,

"You see, my dear,' he said, 'I have no mother, Tony, the doorman, and the elevator boy all know your name. They all know that you were in my apartment alone with me for an hour from eleven to twelve at night. What would your parents and your friends think if they knew that? Wouldn't it be worth something to you if I were discreet and kept your secret?'

"Ever since, he has been blackmailing me. I don't know how much I have paid him, but it is always more and more. When he learned that I was to marry Peter his demands became more exorbitant. He followed me to California when I came here to live after my marriage. He forced me to invite him here. I couldn't raise the amount he demanded this time, and I went to his room to tell him. I was desperate. I begged him to go away and leave me alone, and then Pete came in, and Johnnie."

"And then? insisted Muldoon.

"After I had told them, I felt that Pete didn't believe me, and I was heartbroken. He was very quiet and morose. Finally he said we'd all better go to bed. In the morning we'd decide what to do. That is all."

Muldoon stepped to a coffee table and picked up the revolver he had brought from de Veny's room. He still handled it carefully with his handkerchief. He held it out toward Peter van Rentz.

"Is this yours?" he asked.

"It might be," admitted Peter; "I have several of them, but all Colt .45 automatics look alike."

Muldoon nodded. "How old are you , Mr. van Rentz?"


"You're quite a little older than your wife, aren't you?"

"Yes -- ten years."

"And you are inclined to be a little jealous of her. Isn't that true?

"Not entirely," replied Peter. "I had never had any reason to be jealous of her until --"

"Tonight?" asked Muldoon.

Peter nodded.

The Inspector turned toward Sidley.

"Mr. Sidley," he said, "your room was directly across from de Veny's. You must have heard something of all this."

"I certainly did," replied Sidley -- "all of it."

"Do you know who murdered de Veny?"

"Yes," replied Sidley without a moment's hesitation.

"Who was it?" demanded Muldoon.

"Inspector Muldoon," said Sidley, "I have the greatest respect for you; but this inquisition is entirely irregular, and I will not answer that question. There are reasons why I may not reveal the name of the murderer."

"Perhaps you will change your mind when I refresh your memory," said Muldoon suavely. "Since I saw de Veny this noon at the Racquet Club, I have been trying to place him. In some way I connected him with you." Sidley flushed. "Then," continued Muldoon, "Mrs van Rentz's story of blackmail cleared the identification completely.

"About ten years ago a young Austrian adventurer named Carl Schultz commenced to blackmail you. You paid for a while, thus incriminating yourself; then you stopped. He went the evidence to your wife, and she divorced you.

"Count de Veny and Carl Schultz were one and the same. The bald head, the beard, the glasses proved a perfect disguise. When did you recognize de Veny as Schultz?"

"When I heard Mrs. van Rentz pleading with him not to blackmail her further," said Sidley.

"There are several people here, any one of whom might feel that he had ample provocation to kill de Veny -- Mr. and Mrs. van Rentz, Mrs van Rentz' brother, Mr. Forbes, yourself. There is also another I should like to clear this matter up so that it will not be necessary for the sheriff to place you all under arrest. I wish that you would answer one question."

"What is it?" asked Sidley.

"Was the murderer a man about de Veny's own age?"

"The man who killed de Veny was nearer forty than he was thirty-five," replied Sidley.

"Thank you," said Muldoon. "And now, young man," he continued, turning toward a good-looking chap in a chauffeur's uniform, "what is your name?" 

"Bert West, sir."

"You are the van Rentz chauffeur?"

"Yes, sir."

"You love Mrs. van Rentz, don't you?"

West flushed and stammered. "Ev--everyone loves her."

"That isn't what I mean," said Muldoon in a very low voice. "As a matter of fact, you're in love with her, aren't you?"

This was the result of my gossiping. Everyone knew it, and everyone also knew that Evelyn van Rentz was about the only person who didn't know it. I wished that I had kept my mouth shut.

Suddenly West flared up, "Yes, damn you, I am in love with her! And then what?"

"There isn't anything you wouldn't do for her, is there? asked Muldoon sweetly.

"I'd do anything in the world for her," said West.

"How old are you?" Muldoon fired that question almost venomously.

"I'm thirty-eight years old," replied West.

Muldoon sighed and drew a long black cigar from an inner pocket. I knew that he had trapped the murderer.

"Sheriff," he said, "you may arrest the person who murdered Carl Schultz, alias Count de Veny."

"But who did it, Inspector? I'll be dinged if I know." 

Muldoon pointed. "There is your prisoner," he said.

At whom did he point? And why?




Mystery House Map by Laurence Dunn


Muldoon establishes the fact that of the seven suspects four are under thirty-five years of age.

Sidley has said that the murderer is nearer forty than he is thirty-five. There are three whose ages are nearer forty than they are thirty-five: 
Vreeman is forty
West is thirty-eight
Sidley is sixty.

Vreeman and West each have two witnesses to the fact that they could not have fired the shot that killed de Veny because they were in another part of the house at that time playing rummy.

Therefore, Sidley must be the murderer -- sixty is nearer forty than it is thirty-five, five years nearer.

ERB'S Murder Mystery Puzzles

Karl Commendador: Art ~ Charles Santino: Script

One of 20 ERB Story Adaptations in
The Edgar Rice Burroughs Comics Strips Project

Read them all now for

Visit our thousands of other sites at:
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2020 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.