The Steal

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Chapter 31          Gladys Wragg

Roger Grey knew that Wragg was very near to solving the case and he knew that soon he would know his identity. It was just a matter of time.  Grey had underestimated Wragg and it all stemmed from that silly man Commander Brand taking action against his superior officer, thinking it would alleviate some of the problems and Grey knew he had had to get rid of Brand.  It was Grey’s first error.  Although not significant at the initial stage, it was later to prove in some small way a promising result.

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Grey hadn’t realised that by murdering George Steal, he had made his second error.  He had left his DNA all over the place and also in his haste he had left some keys behind.  Either they had fallen from his pocket or he might have placed them down as he manhandled his victim.  Wragg hoped that George Steal had been dead long before he had been turned into a scarecrow.  George Steal was dressed in some dirty old clothes that had probably adorned another scarecrow.  The trousers had been pinned up and five miniature heavy vices had been placed in each trouser leg fold. A long steel bar with a sharp point had been passed through a hollow piece of bamboo and through George Steal’s neck, his hands had been tied to each end of the bamboo cane.  A metal post was the prop to carry the dead weight of his body.  The metal post had been tied with strong wire and his feet were at least six inches off the ground.  So if he hadn’t died beforehand he would certainly have had no chance to survive later, it would have been a noiseless slow death.  This report had been given to him by Simon Crook, the Pathologist who aided by his assistants had a devil of a job in cutting away the steel bar and had to bring in a specialist who dealt with such things as metal.  He was someone whom the police force had used many times in the past, although never on a corpse.

Wragg was disappointed with this killer of men and he couldn’t understand the logic of the man.  Why kill an innocent person who had no connection with the company he had started and had no dealings with what had gone on since he had left?  It was established that George Steal was 87 years old.  He had left the company 30 years ago in the capable hands of his son Colin, so he thought at the time, but soon it came apparent that George Steal’s reputation would be in ruins and he had to give his son a lesson between right and wrong.  On the surface it had sunk in and George believed that everything would be fine.

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Reports were being passed onto Scotland Yard regarding the murder of George Steal as people in the neighbourhood had heard of things that had happened in the night but hadn’t paid heed, but now  the police had left notices on lamp posts seeking the public’s help in the murder enquiry.

Someone reported hearing glass being broken, a car door being slammed and sometime later a car being driven off in a hurry and another report on another neighbour being really nosey and witnessing someone wearing black smashing a car window on the driver’s side, getting into the vehicle and after an interval of time driving off at great speed.  No-one reported any of these incidents at the time.  The two ladies were asked to present themselves at a local police station to be interviewed by a senior officer.  The lady who just poked head out of the window was asked to make a statement and then sign the document and allowed to go home without being interviewed.

The second lady would be interviewed by Chief Superintendent Ian Wragg and Chief Constable Eric Carter would be a witness.

After their introduction the interview began.

‘Mrs. Johns did you notice in which direction this intruder in black clothing came from?’

‘It looked as if the person had come from Steal’s back garden!’

‘What time was it?’

‘3:30 am.’

‘How is it you were awake and what made you go outside at that time of the night?’

‘I haven’t been sleeping very well lately and for some reason the doctor had taken me off my sleeping tablets and told me to try to go to sleep naturally.’

‘Yes!  But what made you go outside?’

‘I don’t know really, I thought I heard someone scream, although it could have been a fox, I suppose, but tell you the truth it was a bit spine chilling, if you know what I mean.’

‘Yes I know what you mean Mrs. Johns.  What did the person do next?’

‘He went to the car which was parked in front of Steal’s property, he seemed to be fumbling in his pocket for something.  Obviously he couldn’t find it and he swore loudly.’

‘Do you think it was a man, rather than a lady.’

‘Yes!  It was the way he walked and his mannerisms, you can tell the difference.’

‘You could see that it was a man, wasn’t it too dark to see?’

‘No! At that time in the morning it tends to become much lighter.’

‘And what did he do then?’

‘He got something else out of his jacket pocket. It was long, thin and black.  It could have been a torch.’

‘What did he do next?’

‘He smashed the window of the car with it and got in.  He seemed to be fiddling about in the car and eventually he drove off.  As he drove off he looked in my direction and I ducked beneath my hedge.  I don’t think he saw me.’

Wragg and Carter looked at each other after hearing that the killer could have possibly seen Mrs. Johns.  Wragg knew that the killer kept a catalogue of names and if he thought that a person could point the finger in his direction, they would have to be eliminated.

Wragg suggested that Mrs. Johns have a nice cup of tea and biscuit and he informed her that she would not be going home.  He asked for her house keys and a lady police officer accompanied by another policeman would collect her things.  Would she please make out a list of items, including any medicines that she would need to have while she was away from home.

*                               *                              *

Roger Grey needed to have some purchasing power.  In fact it was time for him to go shopping.  It wasn’t for anything to eat or drink. He was more into human bondage, something that would halt a policeman in his tracks.  It was a waiting game for the right person to be in the right place at a given time.  He didn’t know whether he could do this in broad daylight, but he had hit on a plan that might give him the upper hand as it was becoming a desperate situation as the week rolled by.  He took a chance and visited a flower shop that Saturday morning.

*                               *                              *

Gladys Wragg went on her usual shopping outing, although the day was Saturday and not Thursday.  Lots of things happened on Thursday, her husband Ian had been tied up with his work and was unable to help with the shopping.  They usually went together to do a month’s shopping and although most of it was delivered later that day, Ian would handle the other heavy commodities and load up the car.  Gladys was just off to Waitrose to buy some pork chops for tonight’s dinner and drop in at the florist for a nice bunch of flowers.

*                               *                              *

Two police cars sped along the High Street, their sirens noisily blazing away.  They had received an anonymous phone call about a bomb at a Florist Shop, Gill’s Flowers. In attendance were the Army Bomb Disposal Team and a stretch of road was cordoned off and neighbouring Shop Assistants were escorted to a safe area.  Chief Superintendent Wragg was also in attendance as the telephone message asked for him by name to be there.  The shop door was closed and situated in the aisle between rows of different flowers was this black box.  The army expert padded heavily with a shield in front of him opened the door of the flower shop and approached the box.  All of a sudden a fuse wire began to glow and fizz along towards the box. There was a small bang, a cloud of smoke and a Jack-in-a-box popped out on a concertina spring with an envelope pinned to the front.  It read: “For the attention of Chief Superintendent Ian Wragg.”  The army man sighed heavily and his eyes were pointing to heaven and clutching the envelope he gave it to Wragg.  It read; “If you want to see your wife alive and well you need to do the following.  There was a list of demands; in a nutshell the killer demanded money and anonymity.  Just to make sure, he wasn’t going to let Mrs. Wragg go until he reached his first stopping off point and there was no indication where that might be.  This was not to be put into operation until the killer gave his final instructions.

*                               *                              *

Meanwhile the police were investigating the rest of premises. There was nothing to report at the back and they found a stairway behind a door which led to two rooms.  Gill, the florist and two of her helpers were tied to chairs and had tape across their mouths.  They were released and taken to hospital for check-up.  They were passed fit and allowed to go home.

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