The Mystery of the Burgled Bedroom (Pt 1)

A short solve-your-own mystery by Keith Robinson

I had a great response to this little mystery, and about half of the answers were right, or partially right. This page contains Part One of the mystery, which ends with a chance for you, the reader, to offer a solution before moving on to Part Two...

The Five Find-Outers, together with Buster the dog, were walking through the park one fresh sunny afternoon when a nice juicy mystery unfolded before their eyes. It was a modest-size park with tall wooden fences all around, beyond which lay gardens and the backs of houses.

"Ooh, look," said Daisy, pointing to a group of three youths kicking a football about. "We should have brought a ball for Buster. He would have loved to go chasing after it."

"And he could do with the exercise," said Pip, looking down at the little black Scottie dog. "Look at him, with his fat round belly!"

"He's not fat," said Fatty, sounding hurt. "He's just muscular. He gets plenty of exercise nipping around Mr Goon's ankles."

Everyone laughed. Mr Goon, the village policeman, absolutely despised the small dog—not to mention the children, who always seemed to solve mysteries before he did. If there was even so much as a sniff of a crime being committed in Peterswood, the Five Find-Outers would be there in the thick of it, solving the case—or "poking their noses in as usual," as Mr Goon always grumbled.

"Besides," Fatty continued, bending to pat his faithful companion, "it's been raining a lot this week, and today is the first chance he's had to get out."

As the three older boys ran about, shouting and jostling each other for the football, another boy wandered out of an alley into the park and sauntered towards them all, his hands stuffed into his pockets and jingling what sounded like loose change. It was the paper boy, spry and freckle-faced, with small round glasses. He carried a waterproof bag over his shoulder, into which was jammed a number of rolled up newspapers.

The ball suddenly flew towards him, and the three older boys changed direction and pounded across the grass after it. The small boy froze in fright, but the youths stampeded safely around him after their ball. "We need a goalie!" shouted one. "You, Billy—you've got gloves. You can be goalie."

"They're a bunch of ruffians," said Bets, looking cross. "They should be more careful with that ball!"

"They're just having fun," said Fatty, patting her shoulder. "No harm done."

Larry, the eldest of the Find-Outers, studied the youths with a frown. "The one playing at being goalkeeper—the one with the curly red hair—is Billy Appleby, the son of Lord Appleby, who lives in the mansion over near Christmas Hill. Those other two are his cousins, I think. I've seen them before."

Bets shrugged. "Who cares who they are? Let's go and get ice creams. Despite all that nasty rain this week, it's awfully warm today, and—"

But at that moment, one of the youths kicked the ball a little too hard. It sailed over the high wooden fence that backed a tiny cottage, and an instant later there was the clear, unmistakeable sound of crashing glass.

All three youths froze and looked at one another. The Find-Outers froze too, and Bets gave a little gasp.

Then the red-headed youth, Billy, hurried towards the fence. It was at least six feet high, maybe seven, but he was tall and managed to clamber up onto the top quite easily. He stared down onto the back of the property beyond.

"That's torn it," he called down to his cousins. "The ball went clean through one of the windows of this cottage. Looks like a bedroom window—I can see the bed, and a dressing table, and... Hang on a minute."

His voice had changed. Fatty pricked up his ears. "What's wrong?" he called, walking over to where the tall boy's cousins waited at the foot of the fence. The back of his neck was tingling. Was that a mystery he smelled? "What do you see?" he asked Billy.

Billy was silent for a moment. Then he turned to face his cousins, hardly noticing that Fatty now stood with them. "I'm not sure, but it looks like there's been a burglary or something. The drawers of the dresser are wide open, and one is upside down on the floor, and there just seems to be more mess in that room than our ball could have caused—like someone's ransacked the place. Better call the police."

The youth started to climb down the other side of the fence into the back garden of the property beyond. Before he dropped out of sight, he paused and spoke to the shorter of his two cousins. "Gordon, go and fetch Mr Goon, will you? Tom, I'll meet you around the front."

Then he jumped down and disappeared. The cousin named Gordon raced off across the field. Tom headed off the other way, to the alley the paper boy had come from.

Fatty glanced at his friends, his eyes shining. "A mystery!" he said. "Come on, let's go around to the front. Maybe we can help Mr Goon in some way."

The Find-Outers caught up with the worried-looking Tom and introduced themselves as they entered the alley. "This is Larry and Daisy Daykin, and that's Pip and Bets Hilton," said Fatty. "I'm Frederick Trotteville."

Tom seemed to be a year or two older than the Find-Outers, but he was short and had to look upwards at both Fatty and Larry. He frowned, then stopped. "Frederick Trotteville? I've heard of you. You solve mysteries, don't you?"

Fatty swelled with pride. "Well, yes, I suppose I do. With the help of my friends here, of course," he added modestly. "We're friends of Superintendent Jenks."

"So you must be friends with Mr Goon as well, then," said Tom. "That's lucky. Maybe you can put in a word for us—you know, so we don't get into so much trouble over breaking that window."

Fatty doubted very much that he could help Tom in that respect. Anything Fatty said to the policeman would no doubt be sneered at.

They continued on down the alley that led through to the street, then hurried along the pavement to the front of what they guessed must be right cottage. It was completely obscured by tall hedges, but once they were inside the gate they could see that the cottage was a picturesque little place, a low building with old slate tiles, black iron gutters and drainpipe, white painted sash windows with deep red sills, and ivy that had managed to creep all the way up one side of the house and along the top so that it dangled down over a window. On the doorstep lay a rolled up newspaper, flapping a little in the breeze, and a couple of bottles of fresh milk. Poking out of the letterbox was some mail.

"Whoever lives here must be away," Pip remarked.

"Where's Billy?" asked Daisy. "He must be still around the back."

Tom and the Five Find-Outers hurried up the side path that led to the back of the cottage. "Ugh, it's muddy," said Fatty warningly, pointing to a squelchy-looking spot under a very small window that stood ajar. "Better be careful where you walk."

They found Billy standing around the back of the cottage, peering through the bedroom window. "There's no one here," he said. "The bedroom's a mess—and I don't just mean from the glass. Look."

Tom, Fatty, Larry, Pip, Daisy and Bets crowded around the window with Billy, and Buster darted around their feet, wondering what on earth they were all looking at. Pip whistled. "Phew, the ball went clean through. There's hardly any glass left in the frame. Can you see the ball, over by the door? Look at this mess!"

A couple of shards of glass poked out of the frame here and there. The rest lay scattered across the cream-colored carpet inside the bedroom. Just as Billy had said, a dresser stood along a wall to the left, its drawers pulled wide open, obviously ransacked by a thief in a hurry. One drawer had been yanked right out and thrown aside, and it lay on the floor with its contents spilled everywhere.

"Looks like the burglar might have been after something in that drawer," Larry said, pointing to it. It was a wide but slim drawer, and it lay upside down on the glass squashing what looked like a couple of photo albums. Some other odds and ends lay scattered round and about. "I can't imagine why he felt a need to pull it right out though," Larry went on. "Maybe he was angry or something."

"Besides, he was obviously after the jewels," said Daisy. "They were in plain sight, after all."

Sure enough, on the top of the dresser stood a jewelry box. Its little lid was open, and it was completely empty. Alongside the jewelry box stood a mirror and an assortment of perfume bottles, lipsticks, hairbrushes, and a few shards of glass that had been flung high across the room.

"I wonder how valuable the owner's jewels were," said Daisy. "Must have been something of value, for the thief to have taken it all."

"Burglars often just take handfuls of stuff and hope it's worth something," said Larry. "They can probably tell right away what's cheap and worthless, but anything they're not sure of they'd just take with them so they can study it properly later."

"Right," Fatty agreed. "Burglars have to be quick. He'd probably just cram everything into a pocket or bag and make off."

Billy, the red-headed youth, had been studying Fatty with a curious stare. "Who are you?" he asked at last. "I'm not sure you really need to be back here, all you kids. This is a matter for the police."

Fatty snorted. "Kids! Why, I'll be leaving school before you know it, and—"

"This is Frederick Trotteville," said Tom, who had been hopping about at the back of the crowd, hardly able to get a look through the window. "He solves mysteries. You've heard of him, haven't you?"

Billy shrugged and shook his head. "I'm going round to the front to wait for the police. Come on, Tom."

As Billy and Tom headed off, Fatty turned to his friends. "Now, take a really good look around, Find-Outers. There are clues here—clues that can help tell us who broke in and stole the jewels. Larry, be a sport and run around the house, will you? Check all the windows, and see if any have been left open—besides the small one we passed."

As Larry headed off, Pip stuck his head all the way through the window and looked about. "Well, I see lots of glass on the carpet from where the ball went through the window, and open drawers, and a drawer that's been pulled out and thrown down onto the floor—a real mess, but nothing that would tell me who the burglar is."

"Careful, Pip," said Daisy, pulling at his arm. She pointed at the glass sticking out of the frame. "You'll cut yourself if you're not careful."

"I wish I could see properly over the window sill," Bets complained, on tipoes. "Give me a boost, Pip."

Fatty helped her instead, clasping his hands together to form a step for her small foot. He waited patiently while she had a good look around.

"Ooh, what a lot of glass to clean up!" she said, shocked. "And the ball has made a horrible stain on the carpet."

It was true. The plain, cream-colored carpet looked brand new, and very clean indeed except for a dirty round patch near to where the ball lay. The wet grass and occasional muddy patches in the park had turned the ball into a heavy soggy lump. As Fatty looked around the room, he spotted another dirty round patch on the wall directly opposite the window. The ball must have flown in, bounced off the wall, and come to rest by the open bedroom door. What a pity such a mess had been caused!

Larry returned, a little breathless. "All the windows are locked, except that small bathroom window we passed. What about this one? The bedroom window?"

Fatty gingerly put his hand in through the broken window and checked the latch. "It's secure," he said.

"I think an old lady lives here, probably alone," said Daisy, frowning. "See, the wardrobe is standing open, and the clothes hanging inside look more like the sort of clothes an old lady would wear. And I don't see any men's clothes at all."

"So what?" grumbled Larry. "That doesn't tell us anything about the burglar."

Fatty gently let Bets down onto the grass. He brushed his hands clean. "Actually it might. Burglars usually pick their victims carefully. It wouldn't do to break into a place that's occupied, so the burglar must have known the cottage was empty today. How did he know?"

Bets suddenly gave a squeal. "I know! There are milk bottles on the doorstep, and mail stuffed into the letterbox. Whoever lives here must have stayed away last night, and isn't back yet, and the burglar must have seen the milk and the mail—and the newspaper—and realized the house was empty."

Fatty grinned. "That's my girl. But we just saw the paper boy walking through the park, so let's assume the burglar only saw the milk and the mail. Those would have been delivered early this morning, so they will have sat out all morning and into the afternoon."

Larry nodded slowly. "Yes. And did you notice how tall those hedges were at the front of the house? Casual passers-by wouldn't see the milk bottles and mail, unless they stepped in through the gate. That suggests the burglar is probably someone who stopped by here today. The newspaper boy, for instance; we just saw him, and there's a newspaper on the doorstep. So he's obviously been here, and he can't failed to have noticed the milk bottles and mail. He's a suspect!"

"The milkman was probably first to arrive this morning," Daisy continued, "so it's feasible that he wouldn't have had any idea that the old lady was out. Then good old Lofty the postman arrived, and he stuffed the mail into the letterbox, and probably noticed the milk on the doorstep. But he may not have thought anything of it, as it was still so early..."

"But at this hour of the day," said Fatty, checking his watch, "it's quite noticeable that the milk and mail still haven't been brought in. We must consider the paper boy a prime suspect, since he was just here."

"And look," said Pip suddenly, pointing to the rear of the garden, where a sheet of newspaper fluttered against a fence, trapped there by a gentle breeze. It was caked in dried mud. "Is that a clue, do you think?"

There was a sudden commotion from inside the house. The Find-Outers peered through the window once more, Bets on tiptoes, and waited as Mr Goon's booming voice came to them. Through the open bedroom door they could see straight down the dimly-lit hallway, with its spotless cream carpet and several doorways that stood off to the sides. Mr Goon's hulking figure appeared at the very end, bursting in suddenly through the front door as if he had put his shoulder to it.

"Fancy that," he said to the slimmer and smaller figures of Billy, Tom and Gordon behind him. "It wasn't closed properly. The burglar must have got in through a window somewhere and then left through the front door. The nerve of the man!"

Then came the voice of Billy. "Yes, there's a window open around the side. A bathroom window, I think. But it's very small, too small for someone like you or me to get through. Anyway, as I was saying, I climbed down from the fence at the back and looked through the bedroom window, just in case someone was in there, hurt or something, you know? Some of these burglars can be quite nasty, breaking in and attacking the owner in broad daylight."

"Cowardly lot, they are," replied Mr Goon, his eyes fixed on the carpet. "Now, watch where you're walking. Don't tread on any clues. And don't touch anything. This is a crime scene, you know."

The policeman stopped halfway along the hall, by an open door. "Ah!" he said, pointing into the room. "The bathroom window is open. See, lad? The burglar must have climbed in through there, then ransacked the place and nipped out the front door."

"Must have been small, then," Billy said, frowning as he stared into the bathroom. "That window's tiny!"

Fatty remembered the paper boy walking through the park. He had been very small, and spry too—he could easily have climbed through that small bathroom window, which Fatty remembered had indeed been very small.

With his eyes fixed on the floor, Mr Goon reached the bedroom doorway and stopped to look about, taking everything in—the glass that littered the floor, the upside-down drawer with its contents squashed underneath, the football and the muddy stain it had left... Then he looked up—and his gaze fell on the children, who were staring in at him through the window. The policeman's eyes bulged, and his face turned a familiar shade of purple.

"You!" he roared. "You kids! Get out of it! Get away! Clear orf, the lot of you!"

Fatty turned and winked at the others, then faced Mr Goon with a polite smile. "Good afternoon, Mr Goon. We heard there had been a crime committed, so we came to see the great village policeman in action. Please don't let us distract you."

Billy looked from Mr Goon to the Find-Outers with a surprised expression. "I did warn them not to meddle, Mr Goon," he said. "I told them this was a matter for the police."

"You're a good, sensible lad," said the hot-tempered policeman, his face the colour of beetroot. "Not like these interfering nuisances. Clear orf, I said! There's nothing for you here. I can handle this case quite well on my own, thank you very much."

Fatty shrugged. "Well, that's fine, Mr Goon. We'll be orf—er, off then." He turned to go, but then poked his head in at the window again. "By the way, let me know if you get stuck. I already know who the burglar is, so I'll wait around in case you need help."

Mr Goon's eyes bulged, and a disbelieving look crept over his face. His mouth turned into a sneer. "You know? A likely story. Clear orf!"

Fatty ushered his friends away from the window. They each gaped at him.

"Are you serious?" asked Larry. "You really know who broke in? Was it the paper boy? But... how do you know for sure?"

"Clues," said Fatty in his most annoying voice. "There are plenty of them, but one in particular proves who stole the old lady's jewels. You all saw the same clues I did, so think, Find-Outers. Think hard and you'll know straight away who the burglar is."

Think you know the answer?
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