Murder Without A Corpse
by Norman A.
Patrolman Mike Conway rounded the deserted corner of Ninth Avenue
and Barrington Street. He was stowing away his keys after the 1:15
duty call. Therefore Conway's hand wasn't very far away from his
He saw two things, almost simultaneously. A sedan was moving slowly
along the wrong side of the street, and a man on the sidewalk was
The blast of a gun broke the early morning quiet! The killer fired
four shots, very fast but apparently with remarkable accuracy for the
man on the sidewalk stopped, straight- ened up to his full height, and
then pitched forward. He rolled limply off the sidewalk into the
Conway's service pistol barked a warning shot. Not that he expected
it to be obeyed, but Conway was considered the crack shot of the force
and knew that he could afford to waste a shot. There was a marksman
medal pinned beneath his badge.
The car gained speed. Conway slowed up, curved his left arm in
front of him and rested the muzzle of his pistol against it. He
snapped three shots this time, and they didn't miss. Conway knew they
couldn't have. He'd wasted enough ammunition to be sure he'd never miss
at this range.
The car gave a wild lurch to the left. climbed the curb, rolled
across the sidewalk and smashed into the stone wall of a building.
Instantly there was a puff of smoke and flames leaped from the
Conway cast a quick glance at the victim in the gutter, knew the
man must be dead because of the way he fell, and then raced toward the
now fiercely burning car.
Someone jumped out of the rear, a slim man with hat brim pulled low
and collar high. He darted along the sidewalk for about ten feet,
swerved and disappeared into the mouth of an alley.
Conway had no time for him; there was someone else in the car. The
driver, probably, be- cause Conway saw an arm hanging limply through
the window. He tried to approach the car, but those flames beat him
back. He curled an arm over his face and tried again. He felt his hair
and eyebrows singe; felt the searing heat and jumped back. The flames
and smoke prevented him from seeing the face of the man behind the
wheel, but he did notice that there were three bullet holes through
the back of the sedan, attesting to his marksmanship.
Conway raced for a firebox on the next corner, yanked down the
lever, then hurried back to where the first victim had been sprawled
in the gutter. Conway stopped and gaped.
The body was gone!
How could a man, hit by two or three bullets that brought him down
violently, get up and walk away? Nobody had appeared to pick him up.
Conway was positive of that.
There wasn't much time to waste wondering. Fire apparatus roared up
and two radio cars answered the same alarm. Conway sent one of the
cars to the precinct for help from the homicide division. Then he went
to aid the firemen.
By the lavish use of chemicals, the fire was soon extinguished; but
Conway gulped and turned away when he got a look at the corpse. There
wasn't much left of it, nor of the car, either.
All this didn't look so well—for a patrolman to tell about a man
falling in the gutter, riddled with bullets, and then have no corpse
there to prove it. By the way things looked, Conway might have just
taken a pot shot at the driver of the car.
But maybe there was blood on the sidewalk, or bullet marks in the
building walls. Conway went back to where the stranger had fallen.
He gave a grunt of satisfaction. There was a stain on the sidewalk,
just where the man had collapsed. It glistened slightly in the rays of
the street lamp. Conway bent down, frowned and touched his fingertip
to the stuff. It wasn't blood. The tip of his finger turned a violent
blue. This was some kind of ink, or dye, and it had been spread rather
lavishly over the cement.
Then Conway was busy. Homicide men arrived. He told them the whole
story, recognized the doubt in their eyes, then stepped back while
they compared notes.
Sergeant Malloy said: "This copper is cracked. If a guy dropped
like he said he did, we'd have another corpse. Did you men see any
signs of bullet marks?"
"None! And if they missed the guy, we'd have found them. If they
didn't, the guy would still be there. Looks fishy to me. The medical
examiner just told me a slug went right through the dead man's head.
Can't tell the caliber."
Another pair of detectives joined the circle. One held out a partly
"This is going to make trouble, sarge. That car belonged to young
Weldon Somers. Remember? There's been an alarm out to look for it. The
kid disappeared a couple of days ago, and his folks are worried. This
wallet contains pretty badly charred pieces of paper, an insurance
card, driver's ticket and some name cards. Everything is made out to
Weldon Somers. There were gold cuff links on the body, with initials
that match Somers'."
Sergeant Malloy carefully tucked the evidence into his pocket. Then
he spoke with the heavy tones of authority.
"Get Patrolman Conway. I'm not satisfied with his story. That guy
is afflicted with a mania for sharpshooting—the best shot on the
force. Maybe he was doing a little target practice, knocked off this
Somers and then cooked up the whole story. It sounds phony to me." But
they didn't get Conway. He, in fact, agreed thoroughly with Malloy and
knew the consequences might mean suspension or worse. There was no
evidence to back up his wild story. So Conway just faded down the same
alley that the man who escaped from the burning car had used.
He reached a small, dark public park and sat down on a bench to
think it over. Until be could prove his story, there wasn't much sense
in facing the precinct captain, reporters, photographers and finally
the police commissioner.
Conway knew all about this Weldon Somers. His father was wealthy.
The boy had too much money and influence. He liked poker games,
liquor, horse racing and blondes. Especially the blondes.
Forty-eight hours ago his father notified the missing persons'
bureau that Weldon hadn't come home and that his sedan was also
missing. A quiet alarm had been sent out. Conway even had the numbers
of that car filed away on the card in his hat.
A good lawyer could make a lot out of that little detail,
insinuating that Conway saw the car, called to the driver to halt and,
when he didn't, opened fire. Realizing his mistake, the patrolman then
fashioned this phony story to cover the results of his itching trigger
At that thought, Conway remembered his own stained forefinger. He
brought out his flash- light and studied the stain intently. He
realized that the man who had pretended to be the victim of a gunman,
must have had a bottle of this blue dye in his pocket. When he hit the
ground, the bottle broke. On that slender clue, Conway had to base his
entire case. It looked hopeless, but Conway recalled the way he'd
first faced a target on the police pistol range. That had seemed
hopeless, too; but he'd made the grade and topped all comers.
He knew also that Weldon Somers had been last seen entering the
roadhouse owned by Jim Bowker. It was just this side of the city
limits and isolated enough so that spotters could give a quick alarm
if police cars showed up at the wrong time. Plenty of money changed
hands in the rooms on the second floor of Bowker's place. He'd been
chased out of the bright-light district months before, The Broadway
squad hadn't liked the sound of his roulette wheels.
But Somers' trail ended at the roadhouse because plenty of people
had watched him drink himself into a state of plastered frivolity and
pester the show girls and customers.
Jim Bowker's story was that he led Somers out of the place, put him
in his car and told him to beat it. Yet Conway's blue-stained finger
intrigued him even more than this much pub- lished history of young
Conway glanced at his watch. About this time Bowker's place would
be going full blast. If he had any kind of a hand in the murder of
young Somers and the apparently faked killing of that other man, he'd
be there alibing himself all over the place. Which meant his house in
town might be empty. Conway decided to have a look. Not that he had
anything on Bowker, but sometimes wealthy, foolish kids mix too well
with gamblers and racketeers. It was a little difficult moving about
town because Conway knew there'd be a radio alarm out for him. He had
one advantage. He knew most of the beats in this neighborhood and timed
his travels so he'd miss the patrolmen.
Bowker's place was a narrow, private dwelling, tucked between two
big mercantile buildings. The whole section was given to small and
large business enterprises; but Bowker stayed there, broadcasting the
fact that he had a sentimental attachment for the place. In reality, it
was an excellent spot for a crook. Men could come and go with ease.
There was a rear exit; another led over rooftops. Bowker's sentimental
rating of this house was more of a self-preservation idea.
Conway reached the house, stalled in a deep doorway until the
patrolman passed by, and then, with a wary eye out for radio cars,
sprinted across the street, up the brick stairs and into the alcove.
He tried the knob carefully. The door was locked. Conway wondered what
a little matter of burglary would add to his sentence as he wadded his
handkerchief against the small pane of glass in the door.
Using his gun butt, he tapped hopefully; then, with a grunt of
exasperation, he gave the glass a solid smack, It made some noise, but
not as much as he had expected.
Reaching through the hole he had created, Conway unlocked the door
and also removed a burglar chain. That chain gave him ideas. Somebody
was in the house, unless Bowker had a habit of leaving his home via
the back door and an alley.
Conway drew his gun, just to be on the safe side. He passed down a
long hallway and stared up the steps to the second floor. Someone was
up there, cursing steadily and furiously. Then the oaths were drowned
by the sound of a shower being turned on.
Conway went up those stairs softly. He knew his hunch wasn't wrong;
but if he failed, there was no telling where he'd end up. Morgue slab
or prison cell, it didn't make much dif- ference. Conway would have no
peace until he cleared himself,
He walked into a bedroom, approached the bathroom door slowly and
took a quick look inside. It was equipped with a glass inclosed shower
and a swarthy man was scrubbing rather vainly at a brilliant-blue
stain on his chest. His clothes were carelessly draped over a chair.
The shirt was badly stained with the blue stuff, and there was more on
his vest and coat. This was the man who had taken a dive on the
sidewalk and had given a perfect imitation of a corpse.
Conway yanked open the shower door. "All right," he snapped, "you
can come out now. Ten hours in there wouldn't remove that blue stain
on your chest."
The man turned around, wiped water out of his eyes and began to
swear softly. He shut off the water, kept his hands shoulder-high and
stepped out. Conway threw him a towel.
"Dry yourself and hurry it up. Don't get any blood on that towel,
either—from those bullet wounds you should have drilled through you."
"What is this?" the man protested. "What's the idea, huh? You're
Conway, the cop who—"
"Who is supposed to have gone gun crazy and knacked off young
Somers. That's me, only you said too much that time, buddy. Nobody
knows about the affair, yet, except the police who were there. Put on
your clothes and no stalling, or I'll take you in as you are."
"But, listen, copper"—the man spoke in a loud voice—"I don't know
what you're talking about. Give a guy a break, will you ? Tell me what
the charge is:'
"We'll iron that out later," Conway said. "When we get downtown
Suddenly, Conway's prisoner hurled the wet towel It hit Conway full
in the face. He grab- bed it away and started to bring up his gun.
Then he knew why his prisoner was so confident. A gun muzzle whizzed
down against the back of Conway's neck! It was a paralyzing blow, meant
to stun rather than knock him out. His gun was yanked from his hand.
The crook with the blue-stained chest let out a raucous laugh and
started to get dressed.
"This guy is pretty hot stuff with a roscoe, but not so strong on
brains. You heard me talking nice and loud, eh, Slim?"
"I heard you," the dapper, slender crook answered. "We better give
this copper the busi- ness fast. Maybe he knows too much."
"Take it easy." The other bent down and tied his shoes. "We'll tell
the boss what happened. And I got a swell idea on how to get rid of
this Boy Blue without sticking our necks out too far. Keep your gun on
Conway didn't move. The crook called Slim matched the appearance of
the man who had jumped out of the burning, wrecked car and darted down
an alley. He was a shrewd, alert little rat and quite ready to blast
Conway wide open!
The other man walked into the next room and dialed a number. "This
is Rama," he announced himself. "Things went a little sour on us,
boss. That copper with the medal for being the champ sharpshooter
picked up our trail somehow.... Yeah—he's 0. K. now. Slim's got a gun
pointed right at his belly.... Put him away ? Why not. It's gotta be
done, but listen to this—that copper must be in a lot of trouble
trying to explain what happened, Suppose they find him dead, a suicide
... Yeah—it's easy."
Rama stopped talking for a moment or two and then he said: "You can
go right ahead with it, boss. There's a big star on the left shoulder
blade.... Blue.... Yeah and don't forget —the left shoulder blade."
Rama hung up, came back to the bedroom and eyed Conway coldly. He
searched him, took away his cuffs and keys. Then he hooked one cuff to
Conway's right wrist and led him down- stairs, through the kitchen and
down another flight which led to a basement garage. He pulled Conway
over to a steam radiator and fixed the other cuff around the pipe.
"that'll hold you," he gloated. "Anyway, even if you do get free,
you'll be as safe as if you were in Sing Sing. This house was used a
long time ago for gambling. The equipment was hidden down here. Them
doors are made of steel, and the door to the kitchen is made of the
same stuff. You can yell your head off, too, because it's soundproof in
here. Come on, Slim, we'll pick up a nice shiny buggy some place, In
the morning they'll find the copper dead in the back seat. There'll be
a hose from the exhaust, no marks on him and they'll say he took the
Slim was doubtful. "I think one of us ought to stay here and watch
this bird. He's too quiet, and a guy who can shoot like him can't be
all dumb. Those three slugs of his came close to me."
"How can he get away?" Rama argued. "Come on; it's 0. K. And,
anyhow, two guys can swipe a car better than one. I need a lookout."
They locked the upstairs door first and went out by way of the
garage doors. Conway heard a powerful lock snap shut as the doors
closed. He waited about one minute before he tried to worry the
handcuff over his wrist. It was an impossible task. He tried to break
the cuff by putting all his strength and pressure on it. That failed,
too. Then he studied the radiator itself. It was a big job, but it
carried steam and was hooked only on one end to the supply pipe.
Conway knew that these radiators could be lifted slightly and swung
around, away from the wall. He tried this and it worked. Even though
the heat seared his hands, he took a firm grip on the radiator and
pried it off balance. The connecting pipe cracked and a jet of steam
hissed out. He let go, cooled his inflamed hands for a moment, then
went to work again. This time he succeeded in cracking tho radiator
completely away from its connecting pipe.
He disengaged the handcuff link, moved away from the steam that
shot out of the broken pipe and found a small can of grease on the
workbench, He rubbed this into the burns on his hands. It alleviated
the pain considerably.
Then Conway went to the double doors and examined them. Any hope
which might have arisen in his heart, was blasted, now. Nothing short
of an oxyacetylene torch would open the doors. He ran up the stairs to
the kitchen door and encountered the same impossible barrier. Rama and
Slim would be back soon. Stealing a car was an easy task for those two
crooks. His only hope, then, seemed to lie in rushing the pair as they
entered. The chances were pretty good that he'd stop a bullet, but
Conway was determined to die that way rather than be turned into a
In the garage once more, he looked around for some kind of a
weapon. His eyes lighted on an old tire propped in a corner. He pulled
the inner tube free of the tire, located a knife and slit the tube
along its entire length.
There were two cars in the garage, parked side by side, but with
about two feet of space between them. Conway hurriedly tied both ends
of the inner tube with strong cord and fastened it between the cars,
using the bumpers as the handiest place to rig up his homemade weapon.
Conway wasn't only a crack shot with a pistol, but he knew every
weapon ever invented since the beginning of man. He'd studied
catapults, sling shots, maces and flintlock pistols. Therefore, he
wasn't exactly an amateur at arranging his trap.
He got a heavy hammer, knocked off the head and prepared to use
this as a missile. He lay prone between the two cars, inserted the
hammer head into the folds of the inner tube and pulled it back
experimentally. Satisfied this might work, he arose. climbed to the top
of one car and darkened the garage by unloosening the single bulb in a
swinging socket. Conway received no warning of the crooks' return, for
the garage had no windows and the door was solid. Only the clash of a
key against the lock indicated the time had come when he must stake
his life on a makeshift weapon.
The door opened a crack. Rama said: "He's put out the light, That
means he must have got loose. Stay in the doorway, Slim. Keep your gun
ready. We know he hasn't a gat, so there's no- thing for us to worry
Rama stepped into the garage, his gun ready for trouble. He stood
still for a moment, trying to locate his prisoner.
Conway slowly pulled back his sling shot, aimed it and let go. The
heavy hammer head hurtled through the air and hit Rama squarely on the
chest. He gave a choaked cry, doubled up and fell, his gun skidding
across the cement floor.
Conway didn't wait for Slim to recover from his surprise. He ran
lightly through the darkness until he reached the wall adjacent to the
doors. Side-stepping swiftly, he approached Slim, who seemed to be
torn between a desire to start shooting or running.
Conway leaped. One hand smashed down on Slim's gun, the other hit
the crook full in the face. He let out a squeal and tried to duck
away; but Conway grabbed him by the vest, yanked him into the garage
and went to work.
Slim was none too brave until he realized that he was cornered.
Then he fought like a wounded tiger. Slim knew all the ways of
fighting, especially the dirty ones. Conway took several severe blows,
but he gave them back at a two-for-one rate. Finally, Slim risked
everything on a jump for Rama's gun. With the garage door open, enough
light entered to turn the blackness into a deceptive gray.
Conway jumped into the air and at the same time lunged forward. He
hit Slim, knocked him over and seized the gun. He sat there on the
garage floor with a satisfied grin on his face.
"Don't move, Slim," he warned. "It wouldn't bother my sleep if I
Slim had his hands raised. He turned around under Conway's orders;
then the patrolman hastily examined Rama. The man was badly hurt. That
heavy missile must have cracked his ribs.
"he'll keep," Conway grunted. "O.K., Slim, we're going upstairs.
You open the door, and if you put more than four feet of space between
us, I'll send a bullet to catch up with you."
Slim finally sat down behind a desk, and Conway shoved the phone
"Contact the man you call 'boss,'" Conway ordered. "Tell him
everything is finished—that I'm dead. Say it's 0. K. to get busy with
the rest of the job. That's all you'll say, too, and I'm not fooling!"
Slim lifted the phone and dialed with a finger that shook badly. He
reached his party and said exactly the words which Conway had
indicated. Then he hung up. Conway pressed the muzzle of his gun
against Slim's temple. The crook talked at a furious rate.
Conway stepped back a pace, reversed his gun and knocked Slim cold.
He tied the crook up securely, gagged him and rolled him into a
Then he went to the garage again and found Rama groaning and half
conscious. This man needed attention. Conway put him in a car, drove
out and proceeded to the nearest hospital. Rama was placed under the
watchful eyes of two husky orderlies. Then Conway drove sedately to
the morgue, parked and went inside. He kept his right hand hidden
because the handcuffs still dangled from it. He hadn't taken time to
search Rama for the key.
"Did a corpse come in tonight—or maybe today—a man whose features
were chewed up badly and who has a tattooed star on his left shoulder
The attendant nodded. "He came in about three hours ago. We
reported it to homicide and the missing persons' bureau. They were
going to send around tomorrow."
"Never mind them," Conway declared. "I'm taking charge. Pretty soon
somebody will call about that corpse. I'll be inside. Don't let on you
know a thing; show the caller to the right slab and let him make his
identification. Then get away as fast as you can."
Conway strode into the morgue proper, grimaced at the rows of
cabinets and selected an autopsy table to hide behind. The chill of
the place got into his bones. Once, the attendant entered and signaled
everything was in hand. The men from the morgue wagon rolled in a
corpse. It was deftly tagged and filed away.
Then Conway heard voices. Two men walked in behind the attendant.
One was Jim Bowker, burly, brutal, but trying to hide it under a
perfectly fitted Tuxedo and an expensive top- coat and hat. The man
with him also wore a Tuxedo and, unless Conway's eyes were going bad,
a shoulder-holstered gun.
The attendant hauled out one slab, raised the sheet and Bowker
peered intently at the corpse.
"How about it, Shady, is this your cousin?"
The other man just wetted his lips and nodded. Bowker stepped back
"No question about it. The tattoo mark tells the whole story. They
fished him out of the river, Shady. Looks like he'd been caught in the
propeller of some boat. Want me to take care of the details?"
The attendant saw Conway's uniform cap arise from behind the
autopsy table and he quietly moved away.
"Bowker," Conway said grimly, "suppose we let the law take care of
the details—you included!"
Bowker jerked around. His companion hauled a gun from beneath his
coat so fast that the action was just a blur to Conway. The gun
started to blast! Conway pulled trigger just once. The gunman reeled a
few steps to the right, his gun sagged in his grasp and he curled up on
Bowker elevated both hands. "Don't shoot, Conway" he cried. "I know
how good you are with a gun. There's been some mistake. We can fix
"Sure we can," Conway came around the table. "Easy, too—just by
calling the wagon."
Bowker didn't move until Conway was no more than four feet in front
of him. Then his right hand jerked down. Conway saw the gleam of a
large gold ring, and then a gun exploded! It must have been hidden in
Bowker's sleeve and controlled by that ring finger,
The roar was terrific, and a heavy slug smashed into Conway's side!
He bent over with a groan. Bowker spun, started to run and Conway made
a grab for him. He managed to seize Bowker's right ankle. The gambler
tripped and fell. Before he could squirm away, Conway swung the free
loop of the handcuff at the gambler's head, Bowker sat up and started
to tug. Then the flailing handcuff caught him on the temple. He fell
back into unconsciousness.
Conway, weakened from shock and loss of blood, passed out. Half a
dozen men rushed into the morgue. Bowker came to, shrilly protesting
Conway awakened, found that he was Iying on a very uncomfortable
object and realized it was the autopsy table. A doctor was bandaging
"Not a bad one," he said hopefully. "We'll fish the bullet out in
Conway propped himself on one elbow. "Where's Bowker?" he shouted.
"Where's the rat?"
"Now just relax," Lieutenant Johnson stepped over to the table.
"Bowker didn't get away. He swears this is all a mystery. How about
letting us in on it?"
"Send to Bowker's house. There's a mug called Slim tied up and
locked in a closet. An- other gunman named Rama is at East Hospital.
They're in on this thing, too. Bowker killed Weldon Somers because he
found out Bowker's system for cheating gamblers at his roadhouse.
Somers put the trick into reverse play and cleaned up. Bowker couldn't
say a word or else he'd give away his crooked play to the regular
players. Somers got drunk. Bowker helped put him in his car. Witnesses
saw that, but they didn't know a couple of Bowker's men were hidden in
the car. Somers drove away, and they killed him in a quiet spot."
"But why did you trap Bowker here? Why did you run away from the
spot where Somers' body was found?" Lieutenant Johnson asked.
"Because Bowker arranged that little job neatly. He hates cops, so
he selected me for the frame. He knew I was a crack shot. One of his
men, Rama, pretended to be hit by bullets fired by Slim from Somers'
car. I thought it was a murder because they waited until I showed up
to begin their play. I fired at the car. Slim had a dead man behind the
wheel by then. He just leaned over the seat, twisted the wheel and
sent the car crashing into the wall. He set off a fire bomb which
started the car burning like mad because it had been doused with gaso-
line. Then Slim jumped out and got away, While I was busy at the fire,
Rama got up and disap- peared, too:'
"O.K."—Johnson wagged his head —"sounds good so far, but what
about the morgue and that body which Bowker identified?"
"That body on the slab is Weldon Somers. The man in the car was
some poor stooge whom they murdered, battered up so he couldn't be
recognized and with enough evidence planted on him so he'd be
identified as Somers. In that way, Bowker knew that Somers' death would
never be con- nected with him. If Somers had been found dead, any cop
with an ounce of brains would have spotted the tie-up; and Bowker
didn't have a decent alibi. He had the motive, too. But he still had
the body of the real Somers on his hands. To get rid of it without
leaving a clue, he had the face smashed up beyond recognition, had one
of his men tattoo a figure on his shoulder, and then came here with
one of his gamblers and identified the body as the gambler's cousin.
It would have been easy to get a release, bury the corpse, and the
whole thing would have been over with."
"So that's it," Johnson grumbled. "Well, he forgot to take care of
the fingerprints we can get off the corpse. There'll be some at
Somers' home to check them against. Nice work, Conway. Working from
scratch, you handled the thing very well."
Conway smiled grimly. "Not exactly from scratch, sir. You see. Rama
is a professional tattoo artist. He needled that figure on Somers'
shoulder blade. Then, when he fell down pretending to be a dead man, a
bottle of tattooing ink broke. I saw the stain on the side- walk and I
knew what it was. My kid brother joined the navy a month ago, and the
first thing he did was have a dancer tattooed on his chest. Darnedest
thing you ever saw—life- like, you know. Anyhow, my mother got sore
and told me to take him somewhere and have it removed.
"I talked to twenty tattoo artists, and I know all about the
business. It gave me a lead, and, combined with the newspaper stories
of Bowker and Somers, I guessed a few things. Slim told me the rest."
Lieutenant Johnson looked at Bowker. "Take him away," he ordered.
Then he looked down at Conway again.
"You haven't heard the end of this yet, Conway. A swell piece of
business. Is there any- thing I can do for you?"
"There is," Conway grunted. "Two things. Get me out of this place.
I don't like the surroundings. Then take that sleeve pistol away from
Bowker and let me have it. Never saw one of those things before. I
wonder if I could hit a bull's-eye at a hundred paces with one if I
practiced long enough—"