Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Unexplained Death of Nick McKay

Nick McKay was born and raised in Bozeman, Montana.  According to those who knew him, he was polite and well-mannered and had no enemies that anyone knew of.  But one morning in May of 1994, his body was found in a parking lot in Longview, Texas, his head bashed in.  To this day, no one knows what he was doing in Texas, over 1,600 miles from home; or how he came to meet such a violent end.  His murder remains a mystery.  The story unfolds as follows:  

     When Nick McKay graduated high school in 1988, he got a job working at a meat-packing plant in Bozeman.  He was a hard worker and was well-liked by his boss and co-workers.  He had a large circle of friends, and everyone who knew him spoke very highly of him. 

     His mother, Jane McKay, was proud of her son's easy demeanor.  He was close to all his family, two brothers and a younger sister.  His father passed away when Nick was 22 years old, and though the family felt the void left by his absence, it brought the family closer together.

     Nick had been born in Bozeman, and had spent his entire life in the heart of the Rock Mountains of Montana.  Travel never seemed to interest him; he seemed happiest when he was surrounded by friends and family.  But shortly after Nick's twenty-fifth birthday, his friends and family noticed a marked change in his behavior.  His mother described her son as "moody" and at times "irrational", a serious change in the young man who had always been so easy-going.  Even his closest friends admitted that Nick now seemed paranoid and edgy.  No one knew what might have been the cause of his sudden unusual change in behavior.

     A close friend of Nick's, Beth Calloway, later testified that she once asked Nick about his mood swings and paranoia.  According to her testimony, Nick's answer was simply, "I better not tell you."  Concerned, she asked if he had gotten involved with drugs or gambling.  He assured her it was "nothing like that," and then suddenly got in his car and left.

     By February 1994, Nick's behavior had gotten so outlandish that his mother feared he might be suffering from some kind of mental illness such as schizophrenia.  She asked the advice of psychiatrist friend of hers, Dr. Brenda Elroy, who suggested that Nick undergo a psychological examination and get on a possible treatment plan.  Nick refused, insisting that he was "not crazy."

     By the end of April, Nick was habitually missing work at the meat-packing plant.  According to his immediate supervisor, Terrance Lively, "Nick would miss several days of work without calling in, then show up looking unkempt and acting bizarre.  This started to happen every other week, then every week, and eventually became a real problem."  On May 4, after repeated warnings, his boss fired Nick for "excessive absence."

     According to his mother, during the days that followed, Nick became even more paranoid and elusive.  She stated that during one phone call with her son, he started crying uncontrollably and shouted over and over:  "I won't let it happen."  She could not get him to elaborate and say what "it" was.

     On the afternoon of May 12, growing concerned that she could not reach her son by phone, she drove to his small apartment some five miles from her home.  The door was locked and she spoken to him.  After speaking to his friends and the rest of the family, she found that no one had spoken to Nick in the last thirty-six hours.  She immediately notified the Police.

     The following is a time line of the mysterious last hours of Nick McKay's life.  The information is garnered by the official police records of the thorough investigation that ensued:

     May 10, 2:15 PM:   Nick speaks with his friend Calvin on the phone.  The conversation lasts about 5 minutes.  Calvin later said Nick sounded restless and a little agitated, but was unsure why.  This was the last time anyone of close relation spoke to Nick.

     May 11, 1:52 AM:  In the early morning hours, Nick tries to drive into Canada near Sunburst, Montana but is turned away by border patrol because he “acted suspicious."  Subsequently, none of his friends or family can offer any reason why Nick would try to enter Canada.  Was he trying to flee from someone or something? 

     May 11, 3:34 AM:  Nick is spotted on a convenience store security camera near Billings, Montana fueling his 1990 Ford Taurus.  In the span of several hours he had driven to the northern-most part of the state to the southern-most part .  During this time he contacted no one, nor did he leave a note at his apartment offering an explanation of his movements.

     May 11, 8:31 AM:  Nick tries to cash a paycheck at a pawnshop near Riverton, Wyoming.  He is turned away by the broker.

     May 11, 8:57 AM:  Nick is caught on surveillance video outside the First National Bank near Riverton.  He paces back and forth on the sidewalk for several minutes before getting in his car and driving away.  He never enetered the bank.

     May 11, 2:25 PM:  Nick is found on surveillance video back in Montana at the Great Falls International Airport.  He attempted to buy a one-way ticket to London, England, but did not have enough money.  He walks back and forth for twenty minutes near the main entrance before finally getting into his car and driving away.  Witnesses reported him looking anxious and nervous.

     May 11, 3:15PM:  Nick cashes his paycheck at the First National Bank in Great Falls.

     May 12, 8:45PM:  (6 hours after his mother reported him missing) Nick McKay's body is found near his car in an abandoned parking lot in Longview, TX.  His shirt is missing, his shoes have been removed and placed on the cab of his car.  His belt is later found approximately fifty yards from the parking lot in an empty field.  The front part of his head has been bashed in and is later ruled the cause of death by an autopsy. 

     Police never recovered the murder weapon and are unsure what object was used that may have caused such horrific trauma to Nick's head.  Investigators found no signs of a struggle and no foreign fingerprints in his vehicle or on any items of his clothing.  To this day, his family and friends are unable to offer any reason whatsoever why Nick had driven to Longview, Texas.  He had no apparent acquaintances anywhere in Texas or any other state besides Montana.  

     Investigators were baffled by the scene of the crime; they could not determine why his belt had been removed and left in a field, or by whom it had been removed.  Police were also puzzled by the positioning of his shoes on the cab of his car.  "His Nikes were placed neatly and evenly on the cab.  So far, we are unable to determine the significance of this positioning and whether or not it has anything to do with his death."

     Besides Nick's missing shirt (which has never been recovered), there was another curious item missing; his Ford Taurus keys.  Police found a single key resting in the console of his car, but to date, officials have not been able to find who the key belongs to, nor have they been able to locate Nick's personal set of keys. 

     The mysterious matter of  Nick McKay's death is now 17 years old, and the police are still baffled by the case.  So many questions surrounding the incident still need to be answered.  What was the cause of Nick's growing paranoia?  Did he really suffer from some type of mental illness or was there someone or something causing him to live in fear?  Why had he twice tried to leave the country just within hours of his unexplained death?  And perhaps most importantly, why had he driven over 1,600 miles to Longview, Texas?   



Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Man Who Vanished from an Elevator

      While searching the estate of the recently demised Leonard Hutton, authorities discovered a written confession that at long last, sheds a light on one of the most mysterious crimes ever committed in this country’s history.  The newly found information, not yet released to the media, has been carefully digested and analyzed by detectives, and they are confident that the deceased man’s written statement is factual.  The crime which has long baffled State and Federal authorities alike was dismissed by many as unsolvable, and the matter was placed in a police vault alongside other unsolved murders and  missing person accounts.  But thanks to Mr. Hutton’s candid confession, the perplexing case can at last be put to rest. 
     As the affair of which I write occurred fourteen years ago, and as its magnitude was somewhat diluted by a disastrous wildfire that preoccupied the attention of the greater public at the time, the facts of the case may be worth repeating to stimulate one’s memory.  They are here garnered from a compilation of Washington papers of that period, from the inquisition of Mr. Phillip Brenner, manager of the Venoche Hotel, and from police records which I have been so generously aloud to examine.  The events unfolded as follows:

     On the 14th of August, 1997, a gentleman, who announced himself as Mr. Ezekial Arbassi arrived at the Venoche Hotel in Washington and requested an immediate word with the afore mentioned manager, Phillip Brenner.  He was a slight man, middle-aged with a dark complexion that betrayed Persian descent.  His luggage was minimal; he carried a single leather briefcase which he nervously coddled to his torso.  The concierge promptly escorted Mr. Arbassi to the manager’s office where he was left to communicate the purpose of his visit.
     Mr. Arbassi, not a man of idle pleasantries, immediately relayed his business.  He had arrived that afternoon from Syria for a meeting with a gentleman who was presently registered at the hotel.  His flight had been considerably delayed, and it was extremely important that his arrival be immediately announced to his host who would be expecting him in the business center. 
     Mr. Brenner dialed the business lounge extension which was at once answered by a low-voiced man who identified himself as Mr. Blue.  The manager reported Mr. Arbassi’s arrival, and the latter’s immediate presence was requested in the business center.  Mr. Blue emphasized that once Mr. Arbassi was shown up, their meeting was not to be interrupted for its duration.  Privacy was everything.
     Mr. Brenner hailed Mr. Miles Foreman, the guest supervisor, and instructed him to escort Mr. Arbassi to the lobby elevators which stood adjacent to his office.  There were two lifts in the building and they were marked elevators number one and two, respectively.  As entrance into the basement was attained only by the stairwell, there were just twelve floors that were serviced by the elevators.  Floors one through ten served as lodging quarters for guests, floor eleven was the penthouse which was reserved for parties and banquets.  The business center occupied the twelfth floor, which was the top story.
     Mr. Foreman personally summoned elevator number one for Mr. Arbassi who waited with evident impatience for its arrival at the lobby level.  A young woman entered the foyer from the center hall and joined in the wait for the elevator.  But when it landed, Mr. Arbassi adamantly refused to share the lift with her.  The carriage was his at the moment, he insisted, and he suggested she use the other elevator.  Exhibiting signs of extreme anxiety, he pressed the door panel and the elevator partition closed.  Subsequent investigation of the surveillance video noted the man’s entrance into the lift at exactly 2:31.
     The elevators at the Venoche Hotel are well maintained and regularly serviced so that under normal operation the jaunt between each floor takes no longer than two seconds.  By that reckoning, Mr. Arbassi’s trip from the lobby to the twelfth floor should have taken just under half a minute to complete.  However, five minutes after the man had entered the lift, a call came in for Mr. Foreman from Mr. Blue in the business center stating that Mr. Arbassi had not yet arrived, and that such a hold up could not be tolerated.  Mr. Foreman apologized for the delay and explained that Mr. Arbassi was indeed, on his way up, and that perhaps traffic between the lobby and twelfth floor was unusually heavy, but no doubt the man would reach the business lounge momentarily.
     This call was received at 2:36.  At 2:46 a second call came to Mr. Foreman from an agitated Mr. Blue presuming his guest had returned to the foyer for some reason as he still had not arrived on the top floor.
     By that time, elevator one had returned to the lobby and had serviced three men who were lodged on the fourth floor.  Elevator two also had been used, by the young woman to whom Mr. Arbassi had refused his carriage.  Mr. Foreman assured Mr. Blue that there had been no sign of Mr. Arbassi in the lobby since the man’s entrance into the elevator some fifteen minutes earlier.  The only logical explanation for Mr. Arbassi’s tardiness was that he must have mistakenly exited the elevator somewhere between the first and twelfth floors.  Surveillance cameras were absent in both elevators, so Mr. Foreman radioed the valets stationed on each floor and inquired as to the Persian man’s whereabouts.  The valets’ responses came back beginning with the second floor-
     “L2 to concierge desk.  No one has exited either elevator in the past twenty minutes.”
     “L3 to concierge desk.  All quiet.  No elevator exits in the last half hour.”
     “L4 to desk.  Two women and a child exited about five minutes ago.  They are lodged in room 410.  No other exits.”
     “L5 to desk.  A young woman exited a little bit ago.  No other exits in the last half hour or so.”
     Neither had the valets at levels six through ten seen any man fitting Mr. Arbassi’s description.
     The penthouse on the eleventh floor was normally staffed with a valet, but the young Ethiopian man who generally employed that post had failed to show for work that afternoon, so incidentally, that position was momentarily unmanned.  However, the penthouse cabana was currently under construction, and it is unlikely that Mr. Arbassi could have exited onto that particular floor without being noticed by the contractors who were working there.  A valet was sent to question the workers as to whether they had seen the man, and they each answered with utmost certainty that he had not visited that floor during their time there.
     The affair was perplexing.  Mr. Foreman brought the matter to the attention of Mr. Brenner who in turn, mandated a thorough study of the building’s surveillance video.  The digital cameras that captured Mr. Arbassi’s arrival at the hotel and his entrance into elevator one were replayed and examined frame by frame.  Video of the hotel’s exterior was also reviewed, but failed to indicate any image of the vanished man.  To honor the privacy of the guest’s lodgings, security cameras were absent from the second level upward, therefore, making it impossible to trace the missing mans exact steps.  For this reason, each valet was designated a floor to search with specific instructions to leave no common area unchecked.  The business center too, was searched, mainly to expel the possibility that Mr. Arbassi and Mr. Blue were enjoying a practical joke at the management’s expense.  This indeed, was not the case, and the search availed nothing.
     “This is troubling,” said Mr. Brenner.
     “Utterly amazing, sir,” Mr. Foreman agreed.  “The man has disappeared somewhere between the second floor and the eleventh.”
     “But still, there is no video to substantiate it, or disprove it.  Are the valets certain that no one fitting Mr. Arbassi’s description exited either elevator on any of the floors?”
     “They will all swear to it, as will the workers in the penthouse.”
     “What has happened here then?  Men do not simply vanish out of elevators, Mr. Foreman.”
     “It is distressing, sir.  But may I suggest the possibility that he climbed out of the lift and into the elevator shaft for some reason?”
     “But why would anyone do such a thing?  It’s very improbable.”
     “Improbable, yes, but not impossible.  After all, what is the alternative?  As you said, men do not vanish out of elevators in the middle of the afternoon.”
     Mr. Brenner accepted the point and sanctioned the hotel’s chief superintendent, Mr. Ricci, to examine both elevators and their respective shafts for any evidence that might lead to the missing man.  Mr. Ricci explained to the hotel officials that to exit the elevator from within, Mr. Arbassi would have had to climb upward through the escape panel.  But after close inspection, there was no sign of tampering to the panels within either elevator, nor was any evidence found in the interior shafts that suggested any unusual activity. 
     “The valets will get the boot for this,” Mr. Brenner insisted.  “Mr. Arbassi has exited onto one of the floors and managed to slip by unnoticed.  How it could happen I cannot imagine, but it must be so.  Have the concierge monitor the twelfth floor hallway for a few minutes and no doubt our missing man will show up shortly.  He probably just got turned around a bit, is all.”
     But Mr. Brenner’s supposition was incorrect.  Another half hour lapsed and the concierge radioed Mr. Foreman insisting that no soul had exited the elevators or stairwell in the past thirty minutes.
     “This is putrid madness!”  Mr. Brenner exclaimed.  “How does a small, middle-eastern man elude detection in a hotel in the busiest part of the day?  Ten valets, a concierge, the building superintendent, and two officials, and no one can locate the man!  Unless we find the man soon, I’ll have to involve the Police Department.”
     In fact, the Washington Police Department was called within the hour, and two detectives accompanied by a uniformed policeman arrived at the Venoche Hotel shortly thereafter.  The detectives took an official statement by Mr. Brenner while Mr. Foreman escorted the uniformed policeman door to door to execute a more extensive search.  Every hotel guest and member of staff as well as all contractors who were present at the time of the disappearance were thoroughly interrogated.  The investigation lasted well into the night, but failed to yield any results.  Not only did the evanished man remain unaccounted for, but no conception could be offered that could uncover his whereabouts.
     The country was, as mentioned earlier, in the midst of a natural disaster which devastated much of the mid-west.  Furious wild fires consumed thousands of acres of America’s timberland and had already rendered several hundred families homeless.  The Department of Natural Defense, aided by the United States National Guard fought to gain control of the horrific fires, but had so far been unsuccessful.  The devastation was paramount in the national news, and the isolated disappearance of the man at the Venoche Hotel was not given serious attention, aside from its report in several local papers.
     The majority of the readers who did follow the story, dismissed it as a marketing scheme, aimed at attracting commerce for the hotel.  To other subscribers, the mystery became a challenge to solve the confounding riddle for themselves.  The most common certitude offered at the time was that while Ezekial Arbassi occupied the elevator, he changed his clothes and disguised his face which allowed him to leave the lift on whichever floor he chose without arousing the attention of the valets.  Later, when the valets were prompted to recall the Persian man, they were not able to do so.  However, to this conjecture detectives were quick to point out, that besides there being no obvious motive for the man to make a wardrobe change, his small briefcase would not have been sufficient enough for housing a second costume, nor would he have had time to execute such an alteration during the short elevator journey.  And even allowing that he had somehow managed such a feat, his exit from elevator one would still have been noted by a valet, disguise, or no disguise.  But in fact, the only activity that roughly collated with that frame of time was the appearance of the two women and child who were boarded on the fourth floor.  Naturally, the three were interviewed by detectives, and any suspicion of their involvement in the case was quickly expelled.
     A second, much less popular supposition that was impelled by readers was that the man had spontaneously combusted inside the elevator and burned into oblivion.  But the notion that the man could have incinerated into dust in mere seconds while leaving the surrounding compartment completely unharmed, was dismissed as an absurdity.
     And thus the matter lay unresolved up until this present time.  Remarkable as it seems, nothing of enlightenment has occurred during the past ten years to expound in the least, the mysterious disappearance of Ezekial Arbassi.  Extensive investigation of the man’s background has revealed only that he was a reputable archaeologist and arduous entrepreneur in Syria, and that during his delayed flight to America he manifested considerable anxiety to reach Washington.  The exact business of the man’s visit was never disclosed, and throughout police interrogation, Mr. Blue, who may have been the sole possessor of enlightenment in the matter, maintained that he was unable to shed the tiniest light on the investigation. 

     This aggregates the facts of the case up to the discovery of the confession letter authored by Leonard Hutton whose life was recently claimed by an abject illness.  His confession, addressed to the Washington Police Department, reads as follows:

     “To whom it may concern;
     “The fact that you are now reading this confirms my death, and that my faithful housekeeper has kept her word in summoning you.  I write this confession in the last days of my life, as doctors have promised me I’ve not much more time left.  It is no longer the condemnation of man that I fear, but the judgment of the Creator.  By God, I will have it off my chest before I pass.
     “The confession of which I write concerns the fate of Mr. Ezekial Arbassi, for I am directly responsible for his disappearance some ten years ago.  Understand that I am not the only player involved in the matter; there were many pawns, but I was perhaps the Kingpin.  It is also within my power to expose the powers that impelled me to undergo the assignment, but I neglect to do so.  As I said, this confession is for the good of my soul, and the fate of my employers has no concern here.  I only wish to reveal to you the avenue in which I carried out my orders.
     “At that time, a decade ago, Mr. Arbassi enjoyed a reputation as a proficient archaeologist in the Middle East.  His dedicated troop had by that time, uncovered what is now popularly referred to as The Relics of An Nafud.  His findings throughout Saudi Arabia and the Dasht-e Kavir of Iran had secured for him relative fame in that region of the world.  It was his most recent archaeological endeavor, however, that would give him international notoriety, if successful.  He and his team of subordinates had excavated for months in the Nubian Desert in Sudan for what Mr. Arbassi had deemed, ‘“findings that will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”’  The enterprise was criticized by Western researchers who had attempted digs in the same area and had failed, but Mr. Arbassi insisted there were indeed, relics awaiting discovery.
     “Understand that for every critic, there was a believer that supported Ezekial Arbassi’s convictions.  In the U.S. and Canada, in fact, there was a capacious network of such devotees who followed the archaeologist’s steps very carefully.  The superiors of this network entertained sinister motives, and believed that the interception of Arbassi’s discoveries could prove financially gratifying.  But timing would be crucial; interception of all uncovered relics would have to be made before the Press was made aware of the discovery. 
     “Several renegade agents were placed throughout the region to inconspicuously probe Mr. Arbassi’s progress.  In Washington, intelligence was received that the Archaeologist had in fact, already made a colossal discovery but was being cautiously discreet about his findings.  Mr. Arbassi was a fervent entrepreneur and was determined in the business of increasing his wealth.  Subsequent information arrived stating that he had arranged a meeting in Washington with an affluent investor who bartered under the name, Mr. Blue.  The meeting, it was believed, would be a catalyst for a multi-million dollar trade between Mr. Arbassi and the investor.  If the engagement took place, it would mean the loss of a large fortune for our network.  Therefore, it was decided by my superiors, that the meeting would be impeded.
     “My assignment was delegated by a cabinet of agents whose design was to prevent the meeting of Mr. Arbassi and Mr. Blue, and to procure any information that would lead to our acquisition of the discovered artifacts which were presumed to be well-secured in an undisclosed location.  The cabinet was granted astute intelligence, and they had ample warning that Mr. Arbassi was coming well in advance of his leaving Syria, and they knew that he would be carrying invaluable information with him.
     “You must realize that our cabinet enjoyed munificent wealth; money was of no importance, and I was to employee it in any way I deemed appropriate.  My instructions were to prevent Mr. Arbassi from connecting with his confidant, and to do so without attracting attention.  To accomplish this task, I established a team of trustworthy liegemen to use as I saw necessary.  It was with great zeal that I began planning the apprehension of the subject Arbassi.
     “It was imparted by reliable intelligence that our man would arrive in Washington by commercial flight on the afternoon of August 14, and would travel by means of hired driver to the Venoche Hotel on E. Lauderdale Drive.  This information allowed me two weeks in which to plan my disposal of the target once he arrived on American soil.  At once, I sent a team to the area airports to determine the best approach for apprehending the man once his flight had arrived.  But it was quickly realized that airport security would render any attempt to accost our target, useless.  Furthermore, after his arrival it would be nearly impossible to predict the precise route the driver would take to deliver Mr. Arbassi to the Venoche Hotel, so a brigade was out of the question.  I therefore decided that the hotel itself would be the most logical point of detention, and I began surveying the building to familiarize myself with its design.
     “I visited the hotel on several occasions in the next few days, disguised as floral delivery or solicitor of one thing or another in an effort to study the hotel’s security and camera systems.  I ascertained relatively quickly that video surveillance was absent in both elevators and on all the guests’ levels.
     “Now having a general knowledge of the Venoche Hotel’s security system, I determined that I would need a trustworthy inside man who had a sound knowledge of the hotel’s policies and procedures.  I thought the most logical candidate for my purposes would be one of the eleven valets who occupied the lodging quarters.  I had each of the valets researched and observed for several days and finally approached a young Ethiopian valet named Zimbwa, who lived in the slums, evidently with no family, and thought it likely that his loyalty could be bought for a price.  My assumption proved correct, and we secured his services for a mere $10,000.  To ensure the security of the assignment, I refrained from offering our new informant too many details.  Instead, I shared with him only what was necessary to reach our objective.
     “The valet affirmed his helpfulness by divulging to us the concierge’s duties and escorting procedures as well as the hotel officials’ work schedules.  He also attained for me a photocopy of the building’s blueprints which I requested for reason of studying the plumbing and electrical systems.  He idly mentioned that the penthouse level, which was his own regular post, was about to undergo a construction project in the cabana area, and that contractors would be present for the next couple of weeks.  The presence of the workers would have likely proved injurious to my plans, so I altered the event in the following way:  I contacted the foreman who had been hired for the project and offered to buy out the job for an enormous price, which he hastily agreed to.  The hotel management was of course, ignorant of this transaction, and I employed five of my own competent men as stand-ins for the contractors.
     “By the end of the two weeks, I had several plans in place, each more detailed than the last.  Mr. Arbassi’s actions would dictate which plan was used; whatever his movements were, a plan of action had been provided.  The trouble to which I exerted myself on my assignment must not be underestimated.  This was not a matter of simple annihilation; the subject had to be stealthily executed, and the documents he carried, captured.  Discretion was the name of the game.
     “There was no certainty that Mr. Arbassi’s meeting with Mr. Blue would take place in the twelfth floor business center, but according to our valet’s inside information we thought it very likely.  There was no doubt that Mr. Blue would insist on privacy, and the business lounge was the most logical station.
     “It was evident at the moment that Mr. Arbassi arrived at the hotel that he was alert to danger, and on his guard.  Regardless, everything was in place as planned.  I had an agent waiting in the foyer, a young, attractive woman who was to accompany Arbassi in the elevator to cipher his movements.  She had previously registered under an alias and was lodged on the fifth floor.  As for myself, I was posing as foreman of the penthouse cabana construction on the eleventh story.  My subordinates were with me, awaiting the command to act.  There had been but one disappointment to my plans, and it had occurred early that morning before our final preparation began.  Our inside valet, Zimbwa, had grown suspicious of our intentions and had threatened to inform the hotel manager, Mr. Brenner, of our activities if we did not convey to him our plans.  Naturally, we could not risk a threat to our assignment at such a delicate stage, and the Ethiopian had to be eliminated from our services.
     “It may be necessary for me to detail for you my exact movements at the moment of Mr. Arbassi’s arrival at the hotel.  My team, which I have already stated were competent and educated men, had busied themselves with the cabana construction for the past several days.  It was absolutely necessary, so as to not arouse the ire of the hotel officials that my men execute with great performance, the project we had adopted.  The job consisted of remodeling the kitchen walls with a mock Tudor design and engraving the penthouse slogan onto a sign board.  The project required gutting the large cabana pantry which at the moment left an empty gully of plaster and ply board.  My men had all the appropriate materials ready, and they idled at the sign board to maintain appearances should a member of management come up to check our progress.
     “I was connected by a concealed wire to my agent who waited in the foyer, and upon Mr. Arbassi’s entrance into the lobby, she signaled me with a pre-arranged series of electronic beeps.  I instructed her to accompany the subject into the elevator and to make certain to land him on the eleventh floor where we waited.  Unfortunately, when she approached the lift Arbassi flat refused to admit her.  As I said, he suspected danger, and was taking every precaution.  The agent quickly summoned elevator two, and once inside, reported to me her failure to occupy the man’s carriage on its accent, and she aborted to her room on the fifth floor.  I was prepared for such a set back, however, and I managed to land our man simply by stepping into the hall and summoning elevator one to the penthouse level.  My liegemen and I gathered on either side of the elevator threshold in anticipation of Arbassi’s arrival on our floor.  The carriage doors opened, and the look of irritation on the Persian man’s face quickly changed to an expression of concern and then fear as we forced him from the lift and into the penthouse.  A syringe of potassium chloride awaited the bound man and was promptly injected into his neck.  Death came almost instantaneously and his body was swiftly wrapped in cloth dressing and placed inside the open cabana wall which formed a perfect sepulcher.  The briefcase that he clung to in death had to be pried from his fingers and safely stored in my packing case where it could be studied at a more convenient time.  A thick layer of sealing caulk was applied around the edges of the pantry opening to prevent the unwholesome stench of decay from seeping from the plywood in the days to come.  Then the wall was quickly and efficiently boarded up again in mock Tudor fashion, precisely as management had ordered.
     “Having now accomplished the most difficult part of our job, the rest was mere clean-up.  I figured we had perhaps a half hour to conceal our dirty tracks before a valet or concierge came up searching for the missing man.  With the wall reconstructed, my men finished the engraving on the sign board and affixed it to its home above the mantle.  I proudly appraised the fine craftsmanship that my faithful teamsters had employed on the engraving which read respectively- The Venoche Room.
     “Our little project was finished, but I added a final chore for my men.  I had them re-varnish the hardwood floors in the penthouse for the sole purpose of deterring the missing man’s scent should the police exercise the use of blood hounds.  It was during this operation that a valet appeared at the penthouse threshold inquiring as to Mr. Arbassi’s whereabouts.  My men and I answered with great conviction that we had not seen any man on that floor since our arrival that morning.  The valet seemed satisfied with our response and left us to our labor.  We had finished re-varnishing by the time the Washington Police arrived at the door for an interrogation.  The policeman, escorted by the guest supervisor, saw no reason in muddling the freshly polished penthouse floor, and he questioning my workers and I from the carpeted hallway.
     “My assignment had been successfully executed, and it was now left to the media to publicize the event.  The fact that the incident was never resolved merely confirms a job well done.  Of course, you will want to validate this information for yourself.  As they say, the proof is in the pudding.  In this case, it’s in the wall of the penthouse kitchen at the Venoche Hotel.
     “There remains but one last insight to the case that I must disclose to you:  The location of Zimbwa, the Ethiopian valet whose loyalty failed me.  I suggest you dispatch an officer to the South Hampton Train Yard on Easton Boulevard.  He will need a crowbar to pry up the planks by the south fence, and a shovel to remove the earth.  Once this is done, he will find a skeleton, and if memory serves me it will be wearing a red valet cap.”

The Mysterious Disappearance of Eric Mathews

The following is a supposedly true account of the disappearance of a young boy in 1996.  The information is here garnered by the records of the Hartford Police Department, as well as reports by area newspapers at the time of the incident. As of this writing, the mystery remains unsolved.

     Nestled in the rolling hills of Connecticut, about a twenty minute drive from Hartford, is the sleepy little town of Portland.  Once a rural farming town known for its shaded tobacco farming and brownstone mining, the town is now cast under a perpetual shadow of gloom and dread.  For it was here, in October of 1996, that an eight-year-old boy named Eric Mathews vanished without a trace from his parent's back yard and has never been seen since. 

     The afternoon of October 20, had been like any other autumn afternoon for the Mathews family who lived on a small farm on the outskirts of town.  Ten-year-old Oliver Mathews was playing ball with his younger brother, Eric, in the back yard while the boys' parents, Walter and Joanne, were getting ready for a Fall Fest being held that evening at the Pilgrim Methodist Church about a mile down the road.  According to subsequent testimonial from Oliver, he had been pitching a softball to Eric who was practicing at the bat.  It was about dusk, and Joanne later recalled having glanced out the bedroom at the boys playing and seeing a "magnificent sunset" behind the woods at the far west of the property.  She estimated the time as being around 5:30.

     In the back yard, the boys were growing restless waiting for their parents to get ready.  Getting bored with the game of ball, Oliver suddenly threw the softball as hard as he could at the hay barn behind Eric.  The ball landed on top of the slanted tin roof, but then rolled off the back into the weeds behind the barn.  The ball belonged to Eric and he quickly ran behind the barn to fetch it.  Oliver had lost interest in the game and walked over to the tire swing his dad had fixed to a pecan tree earlier in the week for the boys.  Several minutes passed before Oliver realized his little brother had not come out from behind the barn.

     Oliver called Eric's name twice, but the younger boy did not reply.  Oliver walked quietly to the barn, intending to sneak around the back and scare his little brother who was probably poking a stick into another ant mound, a favorite past time on the farm.  But to Oliver's surprise, Eric was nowhere to be seen.  The older boy then walked back to the front of the barn which remained open so that the families' three cows could easily reach the hay at their leisure.  Thinking that Eric might be hiding behind the large hay bales as a lark, Oliver entered and began sifting through the hay.

     At that time, Walter and Joanne called from the back porch that it was time to go to the church.  Oliver called back that he couldn't find Eric.  Joanne called for her youngest son, saying that the family would be late for the Fall Fest if he didn't come out from his hiding place.  But there was still no answer from Eric.  His parents questioned Oliver as to Eric's whereabouts, but the ten-year-old was at a loss for an explanation.  He told them he had been within twenty yards of Eric the whole time they had been outside playing.  The only time he had taken his eyes off his younger brother was when Eric had run behind the hay barn to find his ball.

     As there was nothing behind the barn but two acres of open pastureland, and nowhere for a boy to hide, it was determined that Eric must be hiding somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the barn.  Walter promised a sound whooping for his disobedient son if he did not come out of hiding at once, but the threat went unanswered.

     After fifteen minutes of searching for Eric but not finding a trace of the boy, panic began to set in.  Joanne telephoned the neighbors that lived within a one-mile radius and asked if they had seen any sign of the missing boy, but unfortunately, no one had.  Walter hopped in his truck and drove up and down the road searching for his son.  Thinking that Eric might have gotten bored waiting at the house and had decided to walk alone to the church, somehow evading Oliver's  attention, he stopped in at Pilgrim Methodist Church to inquire of everyone present if they had seen the boy.  But no one reported having seen Eric, who was very well known to the congregation.

     At 6:27 PM, Walter Mathews reported the incident to the Hartford Police Department.  Detective John Chambers and Officer Mike Ingram were dispatched to the Mathew's farm to do a report and to look further into the matter.  The two Police officials arrived at the Mathew's residence at around 7:10 PM and wrote an official missing person's report, based on the testimonies of Walter and Joanne Mathews and Oliver.

     It was after dark by this time, but the Detective and Policeman began a search of the farm with the use of flashlights.  At approximately 8:05 PM, having had no luck finding the boy, Detective Chambers called for more officers and the aide of floodlights and bloodhounds.

     Since Oliver had been the last to see Eric, who had now been missing for about 2 1/2 hours, the officials asked him to give a close recount of Eric's movement right before he vanished.  Oliver showed the Policemen exactly where his younger brother had been standing when he threw the ball on top of the barn.  He then re-enacted his brother running around the left side of the barn to fetch his ball after it rolled off the back side of the roof.  The ball was found at the back of the barn in a tuft of weeds, but there was absolutely no sign of the eight-year-old boy-- not so much as a broken weed stem.

     As mentioned before, bloodhounds were called in to track the missing boy's scent.  Mysteriously, the hounds were unable to trace Eric's scent beyond the back of the barn.  It was as if he had run around the back of the barn and then vanished from the face of the earth.  Just as mysterious, the dogs each seemed to trace the boy's scent to a small pile of sand that lay approximately one foot from where the ball was found.  By midnight, the police had the area behind the barn taped off, and made plans to return the next morning when hopefully the daylight would shed a better light on the investigation.

     At 7:15 AM, October 21, a team of Policemen and Detectives arrived at the Mathews' Farm to resume their investigation for the missing child.  Special attention was given to the small sand pile that lay behind the haybarn.  The sand, which was subsequently tested in a forensic lab in Hartford, was determined to be foreign in nature to other sand found in the Mathew's pasture.  It appeared to Detective Chambers to be refined sand, the kind used in playground sandboxes.  The sand pile was measured and found to be less than one foot in circumference.  What significance, if any, the sand played in the disappearance of Eric Mathews was unknown, but the police decided to have the area excavated and carefully canvassed for any trace of the missing child.  Unfortunately, the excavation proved fruitless.

     By 8:00 AM, a party of searchers arrived on the property and began an extensive search of the entire farm, beginning near the main house and working outward to the back woods.  Police thoroughly interrogated the Mathew's neighbors, and subsequently, each member of the Pilgrim Methodist Church.  But despite the painstaking efforts of the Hartford Police Department and the townspeople of Portland, no sign of Eric Mathews was ever found.

     Indeed, to this present day, no information or evidence to shed the smallest light on the missing boy's whereabouts has ever been ascertained.   As can be expected, various theories have been offered throughout the years as to the fate of the Mathews child.  Most of these, including the theory of a stealthy alien abduction, have been dismissed as absurdities by Detectives and other officials.

     As for the mysterious sand pile found behind the Mathews' barn, Police remain baffled by its presence in the pasture.  Forensic testing concluded that the sand was mesh silica sand, a synthetic type bought in stores.  None of the Mathews family can offer any idea of how the sand got there, much less what possible bearing it could have on Eric Mathews' disappearance.   According to the official police report, none of the Mathews family are suspected of having anything to do with the child's evanishment; as far as they can determine, Oliver Mathews' testimony is factual and there is no reason to suspect otherwise.

     A $100,000 reward remains in offering to anyone who can offer information as to the whereabouts to Eric Mathews.  As of the time of this writing, he would be twenty-three years old.