Case I: Chapter 6: Dudley Visits the Crime Scene
Dudley waited for an opportunity and went downstairs to utility room unnoticed where he began to carefully look around. The police tape had been removed but the room remained off-limits to all residents. It appeared like a typical utility room containing a large steam boiler and associated water treatment equipment. There was also a large heating and air conditioning system for the main building. It consisted of several compressed air refrigeration units and two large blowers to circulate cold air throughout the building. As he examined the HVAC system more closely, he noticed that the cover was off the fan belt and pulley assembly of the larger fan blower unit. This was an unsafe condition and he was tempted to replace the cover, but realized that the police probably still consider this an active crime scene. As he turned to walk away, a small piece of debris fell onto the fan belt and it was immediately “launched“ across the room. Dudley also noted a safety switch and interlock system connected to the main power breaker located near the door.
He struggled with his observations over a restless night. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary in the utility room that would offer a different explanation than a simple stabbing. The next morning at breakfast, he asked Paloma to have Maria accompany him to the Utility Room.
“Maria, I assume the silver cross the police found on the floor belongs to you. That means you were in this room at some point. Please start at the beginning and tell me everything that happened while you were here.”
“Si, the cross is mine. I was in this room with the Maintenance Man, but I did not kill him. I will try to tell you all that I remember. The Maintenance Man stopped me in the hallway and asked me to help him with some repairs. When I got into the room, it was dark and he began to say bad things to me. He asked me to hand him a tool, I think it was a screwdriver. He grabbed my hand and pulled me toward him. He put the tool down and tried to put his hands on me. When I tried to pull away from him, he grabbed at me and broke the chain around my neck and my cross fell to the floor. I went to pick it up and he grabbed at me again. I moved toward the door and he was calling me names. I felt trapped and called out loudly to The Virgin to protect me. I think that frightened him. He continued to call me names. He said I should go. He told me to turn the lights on and get out. I pushed the light switch near the door. Then, the large tool just flew across the room and struck him in the chest. I knew that The Virgin had answered my prayers and protected me from this evil man. I ran out of the utility room crying and back to the safety of the kitchen.”
“Can you show me where he laid the screwdriver and where it was sitting before it flew across the room?”
“It was sitting here on this large wheel. I think he put it there when he reached out to touch me.”
“Please show me the light switch you pushed as you ran out of the room.”
Dudley noted that Maria had pointed to the large flywheel for the blower of the air-conditioning system. And, the switch on the wall that Maria pointed to was not a light switch but the safety interlock to turn off the power to the motors.
“Thank you Maria, you helped me understand a great deal. You can go back to your duties in the kitchen now.”
Dudley took a piece of string from his pocket and attached one end to the top of the flywheel and held the other to his chest and backed away to the position where the Maintenance Man was presumably standing when the screwdriver struck him. He concluded that the trajectory of the screwdriver which had been resting on top of the flywheel would have “flown” directly into the chest of the Maintenance Man when Maria accidently turned on the power, thinking it was the light switch. The screwdriver would have been launched so quickly at the Maintenance Man’s chest that he would not have had time to react. Dudley didn’t often believe in divine intervention but Maria’s understanding that The Virgin had interceded on her behalf was easily explained by simple physics. He wanted to repeat the experiment but he was alone in the utility room and that seemed like a dangerous and foolish course of action.
At about that moment, Lt. Garcia entered the room. “So, who are you and who appointed you House Detective? I hope you haven’t touched anything in here. This is a murder crime scene.”
“I haven’t touched anything, Officer. My name is Matthew Dudley and I’m a resident here. Señora Angostura asked me to talk to Maria and get her version of what happened in this room between her and the Maintenance Man.
“I believe that she certainly was here but was trying to fend off unwanted advances from this guy. I think I understand what happened and could use your assistance in confirming my suspicions. But rather than trying to duplicate the actual murder process with a screwdriver, I suggest we use a small piece of wood to see if it is possible that Maria’s description of things is even possible.”
Garcia reluctantly drew a small golf tee from his pocket and placed it on top of the flywheel fan belt where Dudley directed. Then, they both moved to toward the door where the safety switch was located. With both of them at a safe distance and carefully watching the golf tee, Dudley pressed the safety switch. The golf tee immediately shot across the room, directly for the spot where the Maintenance Man had been standing.
“Maria said that, as she left the room she thought she was turning on the light switch as the Maintenance Man had told her to do but she hit the safety switch by mistake. The screwdriver, which was resting on flywheel’s fan belt, flew across the room and into the chest of the Maintenance Man. If our experiment with the golf tee is any indication, the screwdriver must have been travelling at considerable speed. Maria’s understanding of events is that The Virgin caused the screwdriver to “fly” to punish this evil man who had been harassing her. I know that sounds a bit far-fetched, but it makes sense. It is more reasonable, at least to me, than to assume that Maria violently stabbed this jerk.”
Garcia reluctantly conceded that this highly unusual explanation made sense. It confirmed that Maria was in the room as indicated by the presence of her cross on the floor as well as her prints on the screwdriver. He is somewhat relieved, but still has to confirm this story for himself. He also has to decide whether to charge Maria in the presumed accidental death.
He decided to interview Maria to see if she repeats the events consistently. As part of his investigation process, Garcia asked Maria for her identification to conduct a background check.
Garcia listened carefully as Maria repeated her story. It was exactly as she previously told Dudley, including the role of The Virgin.
Over the next few days, Garcia determined that all of her papers were in order and that she was in the country legally. She and her family are actually from Guatemala. He smiled to himself, “So much for Millicent’s powers of observation. She is blinded by a very narrow view of things.” He also talked to a few people at her church who vouch for her integrity and provide glowing descriptions of her character. Based on all of this information, Garcia decided not to bring charges for involuntary manslaughter against Maria. He returned to police headquarters where he documented this case as an accidental death.
Garcia returned to La Vita Aureo to have one last discussion with Isabella Duncan. He apologized for his aggressive treatment of OJ and told her that Matthew Dudley had been a help in solving this case. He also advised her to keep an eye on Millicent and not let her create problems for the complex because she sees everything as a crime and herself as Agatha Christie, determined to solve each case. “She is not a very credible person, much less a witness!”