“At three o’clock precisely the cries of ‘Murder’ and the report of fire-arms were heard in Park Square West, and Mr. Aaron Cohen was found strangled outside the garden railings.”
“Now at first sight the murder in the Regent’s Park appeared both to police and public as one of those silly, clumsy crimes, obviously the work of a novice, and absolutely purposeless, seeing that it could but inevitably lead its perpetrators, without any difficulty, to the gallows.
“You see, a motive had been established. ’Seek him whom the crime benefits,’ say our French confreres. But there was something more than that.
“Constable James Funnell, on his beat, turned from Portland Place into Park Crescent a few minutes after he had heard the clock at Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone, strike half-past two. The fog at that moment was perhaps not quite so dense as it was later on in the morning, and the policeman saw two gentlemen in overcoats and top-hats leaning arm in arm against the railings of the Square, close to the gate. He could not, of course, distinguish their faces because of the fog, but he heard one of them saying to the other:
“’It is but a question of time, Mr. Cohen. I know my father will pay the money for me, and you will lose nothing by waiting.’
“To this the other apparently made no reply, and the constable passed on; when he returned to the same spot, after having walked over his beat, the two gentlemen had gone, but later on it was near this very gate that the two keys referred to at the inquest had been found.
“Another interesting fact,” added the man in the corner, with one of those sarcastic smiles of his which Polly could not quite explain, “was the finding of the revolver upon the scene of the crime. That revolver, shown to Mr. Ashley’s valet, was sworn to by him as being the property of his master.
“All these facts made, of course, a very remarkable, so far quite unbroken, chain of circumstantial evidence against Mr. John Ashley. No wonder, therefore, that the police, thoroughly satisfied with Mr. Fisher’s work and their own, applied for a warrant against the young man, and arrested him in his rooms in Clarges Street exactly a week after the committal of the crime.
“As a matter of fact, you know, experience has invariably taught me that when a murderer seems particularly foolish and clumsy, and proofs against him seem particularly damning, that is the time when the police should be most guarded against pitfalls.
“Now in this case, if John Ashley had indeed committed the murder in Regent’s Park in the manner suggested by the police, he would have been a criminal in more senses than one, for idiocy of that kind is to my mind worse than many crimes.
“The prosecution brought its witnesses up in triumphal array one after another. There were the members of the Harewood Club—who had seen the prisoner’s excited condition after his heavy gambling losses to Mr. Aaron Cohen; there was Mr. Hatherell, who, in spite of his friendship for Ashley, was bound to admit that he had parted from him at the corner of Bond Street at twenty minutes to two, and had not seen him again till his return home at five a.m.