By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Ian Rutledge was damaged. Prior to 1914, he had been a skilled investigator for Scotland Yard. But his service in the war, his experiences and his memories were almost more than he could bear. To make matters worse, the woman he was in love with before the war, Jean, had broken off with the man who had come back from the war. His doctors had recommended that he return to his prior investigator role. Only time and activity would make life worth living again. 

Rutledge had been assigned the politically sensitive case primarily because he was new and expendable. Since the most likely killer was a former military flier and hero, the investigator was likely to be the loser however the case was decided. Colonel Charles Harris had his head literally shot off with a shotgun at short range. Harris, the owner of the estate Mallows, was liked and respected by everyone. He had been the guardian of Lettice Wood and a benefactor to several. And the most likely suspect was Captain Mark Wilton, the betrothed of Lettice Wood.

Wilton was seen to argue with Harris just the night before and perhaps again on the day of the murder. Though Rutledge had a solid witness to the night argument, he was not so sure about the day of the murder, and he was completely in the dark regarding the reason for the argument. Wilton refused to divulge it, “a private matter.” The major question was why would Wilton kill Harris, the well-liked guardian of Lettice? That would certainly doom any marriage plans.

Rutledge was unsure of his investigative skills. He had been among the best once, but now he sometimes heard voices and frequently had visions of the past. The war had not been good to him. In addition, Scotland Yard, or at least his immediate supervisor, was pressuring him for a rapid solution and providing no support. With all that, he was getting to know the people involved and the geography of Warwickshire and Mallows. As part of scouting Harris’s route, Rutledge found a doll. 

Wilton had reported seeing a girl searching for a lost doll on his morning ride. Perhaps she had seen something. After a search, the girl turned out to be a mysterious patient of Dr. Warren. Nothing could be done medically to bring her out of her trance-like condition. She didn’t eat and seemingly didn’t sleep. The doctor expected the worst. With nothing to lose, Rutledge put the doll in front of her. She reacted immediately, grasping the doll and soon after going to sleep for the first time since the problem developed. Perhaps there was more here.

The man who had witnessed the morning confrontation between Wilton and Harris was Hickman, a confirmed shellshock case and a drunk. There was also Mavers, a known troublemaker, who made a point of deriding Harris in public. Several people named Mavers as the likely shooter. What little evidence there was pointed to Wilton, but the case was at best circumstantial. Charging a war hero would certainly do nothing for Rutledge’s career. Had Wilton actually done this; if so, why? And if he didn’t, who did?