The Film Mystery by Arthur B. Reeve
XXXII. Camera Evidence
Coming in from the bright light of open day, the projection room seemed a gloomy, forbidding place, certainly well calculated to break down the reserve of perhaps the cleverest criminal ever pitting his skill against the science of Craig Kennedy.
It was a small room, long and not so wide, with a comparatively low ceiling. In order to obviate eye strain the walls were painted somberly and there were no light colors in evidence except for a nearly square patch of white at the farther end, the screen upon which the pictures were projected. The illumination was very dim. This was so that there would be no great contrast between the light reflected from the images cast upon the screen during pictures and the illumination in the room itself between reels; again designed to prevent strain upon the eyes of the employees whose work was the constant examination of film in various stages of its assembly.
The chairs were fastened to the floor, arranged in tiny crescents and placed so as not to interfere with the throw of the pictures from behind. The projection machines themselves, two in number in order to provide continuous projection by alternating the reels and so threading one machine while running the other, were in a fireproof booth or separate room, connected with the tiny auditorium only by slits in the wall and a sort of porthole through which the operator could talk or take his instructions.
Directly beneath the openings to the booth were a table equipped with a shaded lamp, a stand for manuscripts, and a signal button. Here the film cutters and editors sat, watching the subject upon which they worked and making notes for changes, for bits of superfluous action to be cut out, or for titles or spoken inserts to be moved. At a signal the operator could be instructed to stop at any point, or to start, or to wind back and run some given piece over again. The lights in the room were controlled from within the booth and also by a switch just at the side of the door. A telephone on the table offered a connection with any part of the studio or with the city exchanges, so that an official of the company could be reached while viewing a picture.
As we entered I tried to study the different faces, but found it a hopeless task on account of the poor light. Kennedy took his place at the little table, switching on the little shaded lamp and motioning for Mackay to set the traveling bag so he could open it and view the contents. Then Mackay took post at the door, a hand in his pocket, and I realized that the district attorney clasped a weapon beneath the cover of his clothing, and was prepared for trouble. I moved over to be ready to help Kennedy if necessary. As Kennedy took his key, unlocking the bag, it would have been possible to have heard the slightest movement of a hand or foot, the faintest gasp of breath, so tense was the silence.
First Kennedy took out the various rolls of film. Looking up, he caught the face of the operator at the opening in the wall and handed them to him one by one.
"Here are two sections of the opening of the story, scenes one to thirteen of 'The Black Terror' put together in order, but without subtitles. One is printed from the negative of the head camera man, Watkins. The other is exactly the same action as taken by the other photographer. We will run both, but wait for my signal between each piece. Understand?"
"Now I am giving you two rolls which contain prints of the negative from both cameras of the action at the moment of Werner's death. Those are to be projected in the same way when I give you the signal. Following that there will be two very short pieces which show the attempt upon the life of Mr. Shirley. They are being rushed through the laboratory at this moment and will be brought to you by the time we are ready for them. Finally"-- Kennedy paused and as he took the rolls of negative of the snake film I could see that he hesitated to allow them out of his hands even for a few moments--"here is some negative which will be my little climax. It--it is very valuable indeed, so please be careful."
"You--you want to project the negative?" queried the operator.
"Yes. They tell me it can be done, even with negative as old and brittle as this, if you are careful."
"I'll be careful, sir! You punch the button there once to stop and two to go. I'll be ready in a moment." As he spoke he disappeared and soon we heard the unmistakable hiss of the arcs in his machines.
Kennedy stooped and from the bag produced the little envelopes with the pocket knives and nail files, the set of envelopes with the samples of blood, the piece of silk he had cut from the portiere at Tarrytown, the tiny bits he had cut from the towel found by me in the washroom of this studio, and a microscope--the last, I guessed, for effect.
Around in the semidarkness I could see the faces as necks were craned to watch us. Kennedy's deliberateness, his air of certainty, must have struck terror home to some one person in the little audience. Often Kennedy depended upon hidden scientific instruments to catch the faint outward signs of the emotions of his people in a seance of this sort, to allow the comparison of their reactions in the course of his review of the evidence, to give him what amounted to a very sure proof of the one person's guilt. The very absence of some such preparation indicated to me the extent of his confidence.
At length he began his little lecture, for all the world as though this were one of his classes at the University, as though there were at stake some matter of chemical reaction.
"I need not tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that this is a highly scientific age in which we live." His tones were leisurely, businesslike, cool. "Your own profession, the moving picture, with all its detail of photography and electricity, its blending of art and drama and mechanics, is indicative of that, but"--a pause for emphasis--"it is of my own profession I wish to talk just now, the detection and prevention of crime.
"Criminals as a whole were probably the very first class of society to realize the full benefit of modern science. Banks and business institutions, the various detective and police forces, all grades and walks of life have been put to it to keep abreast of the development of scientific crime. So true has this been that it is a matter of common belief with many people that the hand of the law may be defied with impunity, that justice may be cheated with absolute certainty, just so long as a guilty man or woman is sufficiently clever and sufficiently careful.
"Fortunately, the real truth is quite the reverse. Science has extended itself in many dimensions of space. With the use of a microscope, for instance, a whole new world is opened up to the trained detective.
"Everyone knows now that the examination of hands and fingers is an infallible aid in the identification of criminals and in the proof of the presence of a suspect at the scene of a crime--I refer to fingerprints, of course. But fingerprints are only one small detail in this department of investigation. Our criminals know that gloves must be worn, or any smooth surface wiped so as to remove the prints. In that way they believe they cheat the microscope or the pocket lens.
"As a matter of fact few people have thought of another way of gaining evidence from the finger tips, but it is a method possible to the scientist, and is not only practicable but exceedingly effective. In time it will be recognized by all specialists in crime. Now I refer to the deposits under the finger nail.
"Indeed, it is surprising how many things find their way under the nail and into the corners of the cuticle." Kennedy indicated the files and pocket knives visible in the shaded square of light before him. "The value of examining finger-nail deposits becomes evident when we realize that everyone carries away in that fashion a sample of every bit of material he handles. To touch a piece of cloth, even lightly, will result in the catching of a few of its fibers. Similarly, the finger nails will deposit either a small or large portion of their accumulation upon such things as the knife blades or files used to clean them; and there identification still is possible. Nothing in the world is too infinitesimal for use as evidence beneath the microscope.
"In classifying these accumulations"--Kennedy paused and the silence in the little room was death-like--"we may say that there are some which are legitimate and some which are not. It is the latter which concern us now. The first day we were here at the studio, just four days ago now, and immediately following the murder of Miss Lamar, Mr. Jameson discovered a towel in the washroom on the second floor of the office building. On that towel there were spots of Chinese yellow, make-up, as though it had been used to wipe a face or hands by some actor or actress. Those spots were unimportant. There were others, however, of an entirely different nature, together with the mark of blood and a stain which showed that a hypodermic needle had been cleaned upon the towel before it was thrown in the basket."
Kennedy leaned forward. His eyes traveled from face to face. "That towel was a dangerous clue." Now there was a new grim element in his voice. "That towel alone has given me the evidence on which I shall obtain a conviction in this case. To-day I let it be known that it was in my possession and the guilty man or woman understood at once the value it would be to me. In order to gain additional clues I purposely gave the impression that I had yet to analyze either the spots or the trace of blood. I wanted the towel stolen, and for that purpose I placed the bag containing it in a locker and left the locker unguarded. I coated the towel with a substance which would cause discomfort and alarm--itching salve--not with the idea that anyone would be foolish enough to go about scratching before my eyes, but with the idea of making that person believe that such was my purpose and with the idea of driving him--or her--to washing his hands at once and, more, with the idea of forcing him or scaring him into cleaning his fingernails.
"I succeeded. On one of these files or knife blades I have found and identified the fibers of that towel. I do not yet know the person, but I know the mark placed by Mackay on the outside of the little envelope, and when I tell Mackay the mark he will name the guilty person."
"Mr. Kennedy!" Manton spoke up, impulsively, "every towel in the studio is the same. I bought them all at the same time. The fibers would all be alike. You have named seven people to me, including myself, as possibly guilty of these--these murders. Your conclusions may be very unjust--and may lead to a serious miscarriage of justice."
Kennedy was unperturbed. "This particular towel, in addition to the itching salve, was thoroughly impregnated with a colorless chemical which changed the composition of the fibers in a way easily distinguishing them from the others under the microscope. Do you see, Mr. Manton?"
The promoter had no more to say.
"Now what connection has the towel with the case? Simply this!" Kennedy picked up one of the tiny pieces he had cut out of it. "The poison used to kill Miss Lamar was snake venom." He paused while a little murmur went through his audience, the first sound I had detected. "These spots on the towel are antivenin. The venom itself is exceedingly dangerous to handle. The guilty man-- or woman--took no chances, but inoculated himself with antivenin, protection against any chance action of the poison. The marks on the towel are the marks made by the needle used by that person in taking the inoculation.
"If you will follow me closely you will understand the significance of this. Miss Lamar was killed by the scratch of a needle secreted in the portieres through which she came, playing the scene in Mr. Phelps's library. That I will prove to you when I show you the film. The night following her death some one broke into the room there at Tarrytown and removed the needle. In removing the needle that person scratched himself, or herself. On the portieres I found some tiny spots of blood." Kennedy paused to hold up the bit of heavy silk. "I analyzed them and found that the blood serum had changed in character very subtly. I demonstrated that the blood of the person who took the needle contained antivenin, and if necessary I can prove the blood to come from the same individual who wiped the needle on the towel in the studio."
Kennedy pressed the button before him, twice. "Now I want you to see, actually see Miss Lamar meet her death."
The lights went out, then the picture flashed on the screen before us, revealing the gloom and mystery of the opening scene of "The Black Terror." We saw the play of the flashlight, finally the fingers and next the arm of Stella as she parted the curtains. In the close-up we witnessed the repetition of her appearance, since the film was simply spliced together, not "matched" or trimmed. Following came all the action down to the point where she collapsed over the figure of Werner on the floor. Before the camera man stopped, Manton rushed in and was photographed bending over her.
Kennedy's voice was dramatically tense, for not one of us but had been profoundly affected by the reproduction of the tragedy.
"Did you notice the terror in her face when she cried out? Was that terror, really? If you were watching, you would have detected a slight flinch as she brushed her arm up against the silk. For just a moment she was not acting. It was pain, not pretended terror, which made her scream. The devilish feature to this whole plot was the care taken to cover just that thing-her inevitable exclamation. Now watch closely as I signal the operator to run the same action from the other camera. Notice the gradual effect of the poison, how she forces herself to keep going without realization of the fact that death is at hand, how she collapses finally through sheer inability to maintain her control of herself a moment longer."
During the running of the second piece the tense silence in the room was ghastly. Who was the guilty person? Who possessed such amazing callousness that an exhibition of this sort brought no outcry?
"Now"--Kennedy glanced around in the dim light, switched on between the running of the different strips--"I'm going to project the banquet scenes and show you the manner of Werner's death."
Scene after scene of the banquet flashed before us. Here the cutter had not been sure just what Kennedy wanted and had spliced up everything. We saw the marvelous direction of Werner, who little realized that it was to be his last few moments on earth, and we grasped the beauty and illusion of the set caused by the mirrors and the man's skill in placing his people. Yet there was not a sound, because we knew that this was a tragedy, a grim episode in which there was no human justification whatever.
Werner rose at his place. He proposed his toast. He drank the contents of his glass. Then, his expression changed to wonderment and from that to fear and realization, and he dropped to the floor.
Kennedy's voice, interrupting, seemed to me to come from a great distance, so powerfully was I affected by the bit of film.
"The poison used to kill Mr. Werner was botulin toxin, selected because its effects could not be diagnosed as anything other than ordinary food poisoning. When we look at the print from the second camera's negative you will notice how quickly it acted. It was the pure toxin, placed in his glass before the wine was poured."
Once more the unfortunate director's death was reproduced before us.
"Struck down," exclaimed Craig, "as though by some invisible lightning bolt, without mercy, without a chance, without the slightest bit of compunction! Why? I'll tell you. Because he suspected, in fact knew, who the guilty person was. Because he followed that person out to Tarrytown the night the needle was removed from the portieres. Because he was a menace to that person's life!"
Kennedy turned to the operator. "Have those other scenes come down?"
"All right!" Kennedy faced the rest of us again. "There was, or rather is, another person who suspects the identity of the criminal. To-day an attempt was made upon the life of Shirley. Shirley will not tell whom he suspects because he has no definite proof, yet for the mere fact that he suspects he narrowly escaped the fate of Stella Lamar and Werner." Kennedy pressed the button. "Witness the effort to kill the man playing the part of the Black Terror."
The print was terribly bad, in appearance almost a "dupe," due to the speed with which it had been made. Nevertheless the two very brief scenes rushed through for this showing were more absorbingly thrilling, more graphic than anything ever to be seen even in a news reel at a movie theater.
"Notice!" Kennedy exclaimed. "He puts his hand in one pocket, he fumbles, hesitates, then finds the bottle in the other. Whoever put the poison in the vial replaced it in the wrong pocket. The film shows that very clearly. The camera proves that it was not an attempt at suicide. Yet the poison used was belladonna, selected because this victim had purchased some and because it would seem sure, therefore, that he had committed suicide."
We sat in silence, listening, horrified.
"There is still another matter," Kennedy went on, after a moment. "The fire in the negative vault this morning was incendiary. I have proved to the satisfaction of several of us that a bomb was constructed of wet phosphorus and old film and placed in the vault by trickery four days ago, the same day Stella Lamar was killed. Through a miscalculation the phosphorus was slow in drying and the fire did not occur until to-day. Thanks to that fact I have in my possession a bit of negative which the murderer very likely wished to have destroyed; in fact, I believe its destruction to be the motive in planning the fire in the vault." He faced the operator. "Ready to run the negative?"
Kennedy pressed the button and when the projection machine threw its picture upon the screen I saw something such as I had never imagined before. Everything was black which should have been white and everything white which should have been black. The two extremes shaded into each other in weird fashion. In fact it was uncanny to watch a negative projected and I followed, fascinated.
"This is a film made with the co-operation of Doctor Nagoya of the Castleton Institute and I am told by Mr. Manton that it is one of the finest snake pictures ever made." Kennedy spoke fast, so that we would get the full benefit of his explanation and so that it would not be necessary to subject the negative to the wear and tear of the sprocket wheels in the projection machine again. "I am running this for you to show you the action of the rattlesnake, whose venom was used to kill Miss Lamar, and to give you an idea of the source of the murderer's knowledge of snake poison."
At this moment Doctor Nagoya, whom I could barely recognize in the inverted photography, seized one of the rattlers. It was a close-up and we could see the reptile dart out its forked tongue, seeking to get at the hands of the Japanese, locked firmly about its neck. Then another man walked into the picture, holding a jar. At once the snake struck at the glass. As it did so it was possible to see drops of the venom projected into the jar.
Other details followed and there were views of other sorts and breeds of snakes, from the poisonous to the most harmless. The principal scene, however, had been the one showing the venom.
The operator threw the switch again, stopping the film and at the same time lighting the projection room. Kennedy stepped forward and turned to face us.
"There was this negative in the vaults." He spoke rapidly. "It bore a certain name on the film, as editor. Some one knew that proof of the possession of this knowledge of snakes might prove a powerful link in the chain against him. If that had been a positive instead of a negative, you would have recognized Doctor Nagoya's 'assistant.' There was a double motive in blowing that vault--to destroy the company and to protect himself. In fact, all the rest of the negative was destroyed. Only by chance I saved this piece--the very one that he wanted to destroy."
Everyone waited breathlessly for Kennedy's next move. Suddenly Kennedy flushed. I could see that he became genuinely angry.
"In this room," he exclaimed, "there sits the most unscrupulous, cold-blooded, inhuman being I have ever known. Yet he maintains silence, believing still that he can defy the scientific evidence of his crimes. I have not yet mentioned, however, the real proof of his guilt."
Kennedy picked up one of the little envelopes, one which contained a blood smear. "During the explosion this morning a number of you were cut by falling glass. You will remember that I bound up your cuts, carefully cleansing each one and wiping away the blood. That gave me a sample of the blood of everyone but Miss Loring and Mr. Shirley. Subsequently, without their knowledge, I obtained a sample from each of them. Thus I have a specimen from everyone concerned, or possibly concerned in the murders."
He glanced about, but even now there was no telltale revelation.
"I have analyzed these and one shows that the person from whom I obtained the sample has been inoculated with antivenin. The mark on the envelope is the same as the mark on the envelope containing the towel fibers, a double proof. Furthermore, I am prepared to show that it is the same blood as the blood upon the portiere." He faced me. All at once his voice carried the sharpness of a whip. "Walter, relieve Mackay at the door and take his weapon. Let no one out. Mackay, come here!"
An instant later the district attorney leaned over. He glanced at the mark indicated by Kennedy, then whispered a name. The next instant Kennedy rose. "I thought so," he muttered.
Raising his voice, he addressed all of us.
"Here is a man who thought crime so long that he believed he could get away with--murder! "Not only did he commit a second murder and plan a third to cover the first, but he planted evidence against nearly all of you. He dropped the ampulla in McGroarty's car to implicate any one of four people. He coolly stole a cigarette case to put it where it would be found after the film fire and clinch suspicion.
"For all this, what justification has he had? Jealousy, jealousy of the narrowest, most primitive, sort actuated him. Not only was he willing to kill Stella Lamar, but he sought to destroy every foot of negative in which she had appeared. He was jealous of her success, greater than his, jealous of her interest in other men, greater than her interest in him. Her divorce was maneuvered directly by him simply because he thought it would hurt and humiliate her, and for no other reason.
"When nothing seemed to stop her, on her upward climb, when he realized that she was as ambitious as he was and that her position in the picture world alone interested her, he sought by devious means, by subtle schemes, by spreading dissatisfaction and encouraging dissension, to wreck the company which had made her. At the end--he killed her--waiting craftily until she was at the very climax of her finest piece of work, the opening scenes of 'The Black Terror.'"
There was bitterness in Kennedy's tones. "Before, I would not believe that a man--"
Suddenly the projection room was plunged into darkness. Some one had pushed the wall switch close by me. I backed into the doorway, raising my weapon to resist any attempt to escape.
Almost at the same instant there were the sounds of a struggle. Kennedy had dashed forward in the darkness, sure of the position of his man, unafraid.
A scream I recognized from the throat of Enid. I groped for the switch, but the operator in the booth anticipated me. In the first burst of illumination I saw that Kennedy had forced his antagonist back over the front row of chairs. Almost I heard the crack of the man's spine.
I caught a glimpse of the man's face and gasped at the murderous rage as he struggled and strove to break Kennedy's iron grip.
Enid was the first at Kennedy's side. With an expression I failed to analyze until long afterward she sought to claw at the murderer's unprotected features, twitching now in impotent fury.
"You wrote that note for her to meet you at the tearoom," Kennedy muttered, eyes narrowing grimly, "knowing she would be dead before that time. You protected yourself against the poisoned needle in the portieres--but--your own blood convicts you-- Millard!"