“That’s according to Hill’s statement,” said Rolfe.
Inspector Chippenfield glanced at his subordinate in some surprise.
“Of course it’s Hill’s statement,” he said. “Isn’t he our principal witness, and doesn’t his statement fit in with all the facts we have been able to gather? Well, the murder of Sir Horace, no matter how it was committed, was committed in cold blood. But immediately Birchill had done it the fact that he had committed a murder would have a sobering effect on him. Although he bragged before he left the flat for Rivers-brook about killing the judge if he came across him, he had no intention of jeopardising his neck unnecessarily, and after he had shot down the judge in a moment of drunken passion he would be anxious to keep Hill—whom he mistrusted—from knowing that he had committed the murder. But he was fully aware that Hill would be the person who’d discover the body next day, and that if he wasn’t put on his guard he would bring in the police and probably give away everything that Birchill had said and done. So, to obviate this risk and prepare Hill, Birchill hit on the plan of telling him that he’d found the judge’s dead body while burgling the place. It was a bold idea, and not without its advantages when you consider what an awkward fix Birchill was in. Not only did it keep Hill quiet, but it forced him into the position of becoming a kind of silent accomplice in the crime. You remember Hill did not give the show away until he was trapped, and then he only confessed to save his own skin. He’s a dangerous and deep scoundrel, this Birchill, but he’ll swing this time, and you’ll find that his confession of finding the body will do more than anything else to hang him—properly put to the jury, and I’ll see that it is properly put.”
Rolfe pondered much over these two conflicting points of view—Crewe’s and Inspector Chippenfield’s—for the rest of the day. He inclined to Inspector Chippenfield’s conclusions regarding Birchill’s admission about the body. The idea that he had assisted in arresting the wrong man and had helped to build up a case against him was too unpalatable for him to accept it. But he was forced to admit that Crewe’s theory was distinctly a plausible one. Though it was impossible for him to give up the conviction that Birchill was the murderer, he felt that Crewe’s analysis of the case for the prosecution contained several telling points which might be used with some effect on a jury in the hands of an experienced counsel. Rolfe had no doubt that Holymead would make the most of those points, and he also knew that the famous barrister was at his best in attacking circumstantial evidence.