The McCoy name first appeared in Franklin County forty years before the war between the states. Rufus Tyler McCoy bought a small tract of land to raise cotton and soybeans. Over the years the McCoy plantation grew to over a thousand acres, and in the first decade of the 1900s the family built a house three blocks from the town square of Clantonville. The house where Chester McCoy met his untimely demise.
I sat at my desk with a cup of peach tea liberally laced with honey and stared out the windows at two gray squirrels sitting atop my rusty old iron birdbath. I sensed the squirrels’ frustration because the water had turned to ice. I watched for a moment and chuckled. When some geese squawked overhead, the squirrels jumped to the ground and raced toward the maple trees along the street. I turned my attention to the stack of mail and began sorting it. Among the usual assortment of advertising, utility bills and Christmas cards was the latest copy of the Franklin County Gazette. Already knowing what story was on the front page of the weekly paper, I set it aside to read later and looked at the last piece of mail. It was addressed to me but without a return address. The postmark was from somewhere in Franklin County. Being a retired detective, this piqued my curiosity so I opened it and removed the single sheet of paper.
I would like to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss the Chester McCoy murder case. I have information I am sure you will appreciate…
I leaned back in my chair and read the typed single paragraph note several times. The paper and envelope held no clues in themselves. They could be purchased by the case at numerous stores in the area. I was intrigued by the hand-written signature. Brennan Walters. I was unfamiliar with the name but curious. I pulled my Franklin County phone book from the second drawer on the right and checked for the name. It wasn’t there. Still, I thought I should take the note seriously. The murder of Chester McCoy was the first case after my promotion to detective, and it was the only unsolved murder in the history of Franklin County.
I closed my eyes and pictured the scene from thirty-five years ago.
I arrived at the combination city police and sheriff station, located on the first floor of the courthouse in downtown Clantonville, Monday morning at my regular time of 7:30. My head ached, and I felt the effects of a sleepless night. The date was April 3, 1950. This was my third week as the sole detective in Franklin County, and so far I’d had only one case: the mysterious disappearance of two reference books from the local library. I sat at the cluttered desk in the office I shared with the chief of police and county sheriff and stared out the window. The Magnolia trees were in full bloom. Their delicate white blossoms wafted through the air like snow. The phone rang, interrupting my reverie. I answered and heard these words, “There’s been a murder!”
I instantly became alert. “Slow down and tell me that again.”
“This is Frank Engle, and I believe Mr. Chester has been murdered.”
“I’ll be right there.”
I grabbed my coat and rushed out the door. I could either drive my 1949 ‘Shoebox Ford’ or sprint the three blocks to the McCoy mansion. I chose to run since the car was low on gasoline.
I arrived out-of-breath and Frank Engle, the lifelong butler, handyman and chauffeur for the family, ushered me inside the three-story home.
He led me down the hall to the last room on the right. “He’s inside.”
I tried the door. It was locked.
“How do you know he’s inside?” I looked at the transom window above the door. “Why do you think he was murdered?”
Frank pointed to the ladder at the end of the hallway. “I’m just guessing.”
“You looked, right?”
Frank stared at the hardwood floor for a moment before nodding. “Miss Emporia and I are never allowed into the study unless the door is open. Sometimes we hear voices from inside though. Voices that shouldn’t be there.”
After a few questions, I gleaned from Frank that Miss Emporia Callie, who had worked in the McCoy house her entire life, as had her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, had heard an argument in the study the night before. I asked Frank to bring the ladder to the door so I could ascertain for myself that Chester McCoy indeed appeared to be deceased.
Eventually, Frank found a spare key. I unlocked the door, stepped into the study and stopped. I expected the strong cigar smell in the masculine den, but I detected the light presence of a rose-scented perfume. I walked straight to the desk. I stopped in front and inspected it. I saw the ledger Chester might have been reading, the Tiffany lamp and the box of Cuban cigars. Nothing appeared out of place. I walked past the large wooden desk, momentarily glancing at the still form of Chester McCoy, to check the windows. All three were latched from the inside. The transom window was too small to allow access or egress. I moved away from the windows and turned in a circle. How could someone leave the room, and lock the door and windows? I recalled the stories I had heard in my childhood about secret passages leading from one floor to another and maybe even tunnels in the basement leading to outbuildings. I cautiously approached the corpse. He was sitting upright in his straight-backed leather chair and, except for a small amount of blood at the back of his head, he appeared to be sleeping in a rather uncomfortable position. It was then I noticed the bronze bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest on the floor. Though new on the job, I was smart enough not to touch the bust. I leaned closer and spotted what might be dried blood on the base of the heavy object.
I looked at the face of the deceased again and thought he looked so much older than I expected. I steeled my emotions and started to inch out of the room. As I passed the bookcase, I once again detected the rose-scented aroma. I left the study, closed the door and asked Frank about the residents of the house.
“Only Mr. Chester, his younger brother, Mr. Grisham, and Miss Suellen were in the house last night,” Frank assured me.
I detected a slight frown on Frank that disappeared in a split-second. “Where were you and Miss Emporia?”
He tilted his head as if he didn’t understand why I would ask the question, then he replied, “In our rooms, of course. You should know that.”
“Does Miss Suellen know what happened?”
Frank shook his head. “I never go upstairs, and Miss Emporia could not bring herself to tell Miss Suellen about the calamity.” He clicked his tongue. “She lost Mr. Thomas, Lord rest his soul, and now Mr. Chester is gone, too.”
I sighed. “I suppose I had better tell her.” I started for the stairs but stopped suddenly. “Wait! Where is Grisham? Does he know?”
Frank stared at the floor.
“What is it?”
“I haven’t seen Mr. Grisham this morning.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said with a smirk.
“I probably shouldn’t tell you, but I’m sure you will find out soon enough…”
“Tell me, Frank,” I ordered.
“Mr. Grisham’s closet has been emptied.”
“Are you telling me Grisham McCoy is nowhere to be found?” I asked.
Frank stared at the floor. “He’s gone.”
“I’ll find him. He won’t get away with this.”