THE KILLER WHO CAUGHT HIMSELF
Sainte Adresse is a small French holiday town, only a few miles from the fort of Le Harve. It is not particularly beautiful place, but sufficiently attractive for businessman named Andre Monet to visit for holiday with his wife.
It turned out to mean sad memories for Mrs Monet. One evening, her husband told her that he was going to take a midnight swim in the sea, and that was the last time she saw him alive.
The following morning, his body was discovered lying on the beach, swept up by the early morning tide. There was no doubt about the cause of his death. He had been shot in the head.
At once the local police started to carry out an investigation, but soon they admitted that it was a very difficult case to solve. There appeared to be no motive for the murder. Monet’s clothes were found lying in a near pile on the beach, and all his money, which he had brought with him, was still there un disturbed. So it was not a matter of robbery.
As far as was known, he had no enemies. Although his wife would inherit a large amount of money on his death, she was soon cleared of suspicion.
So what was to be done? What other method of investigation should the police undertake? In desperation, they telephoned higher authorities.
In nearly Le Havre, one of France’s greatest detective, Robert Ledru, was on holiday himself. Overworked for many years having had only a few hours sleep each night, he had been persuaded by his boss to take a long rest.
However, in such difficult case as this, the police felt that he was the only man whom they could ask for help. Ledru was asked to make an investigation of the murder case.
At that time, no better or more brilliant detective could be found in the whole of France. While still very young, Ledru was considered a legend in his lifetime.
Everyone compared him with Sherlock Holmes, the famous hero of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories. It was said that Ledru had only to look at a pair of foot-prints to be able to describe their owner. He could identify a cigarette merely smelling its ash. It was said that his eyesight was so sharp that he could spot a single short thread of cloth in vas lawn.
He worked patiently and very calmly on his cases, examining the spot where the crime had been committed in the hope of finding the smallest clue. Not a thing was considered too small that might have some meaning and so lead to the Solution of the whole case. When he had found a clue, he would start to collect together other the tails—somewhat like a genius solving a whole crossword puzzle after finding only one letter.
After receiving a telegraph from his head-quarters, the great detective hurried to Sainte Adresse and soon took charge of investigation. He began his usual careful search.
Bending down on hands and knees, Ledru searched around the ground, patiently and very closely as usual, and finally he came across something he considered a possible clue. It was a foot-print. He gave orders to have a plaster print mode of it and asked that it be delivered to him as soon as it was dry.
Early next morning, Robert Ledru appeared at police head-quarters with the dry plaster in small box. There was a slight smile on his face as he faced the waiting policemen and began to speak.
“Gentlemen,” the great detective said, “ the case actually been less difficult than we first imagined. I have found the murderer.”
He pointed out that the foot-print belonged to someone who had walked with his feet covered with woolen socks to avoid making a noise. The he said that the killer had crept up behind the unfortunate Mr. Monet and fired the fatal bullet. Finally, he showed how the murderer could be identified by the missing first joint of the big toe.
“Then we must examine the big toes of every man and woman in Saine Adresse, “ said one of the policemen. “ But how can you say that you have found the murderer even before we start to make the examination?”
Ledru bent down, removed his shoe and raised his foot above the edge of the table. Next moment the policemen started at each other in amazed silence.
“I fear I am the murderer myself,” said Ledru, pointing the missing joint of his big toe. “Yesterday I found my sock wet and I wondered why, Now, I know.”
There could be no doubt at all. Robert Ledru had worked hard to hunt himself because the killer was none other than himself.
How could this be? A very unusual story followed. There was not even a slight motive for the crime, Ledru had been know as a sleep-walker, but this time this strange “habit” of his had caused a fatal accident. The detective had walked in his sleep and unconsciously had killed a person who was a complete stranger to him.
Ledru was then taken for trial, with the threat of the guillotine hanging over his head. And yet, could he be tried fairly? How could a court pass judgement on a sleep-walker?
The result was one of the most astonishing legal decisions in the story of France Law.
Medical examinations by experts confirmed that Rober Ledru could be considered a dangerous man only at night when he was asleep. During the day time, he was a law- abiding and quite a responsible citizen. So why, his advocate stated, should he be sentenced for a crime committed while he was asleep?
At the last the great detective received what was possibly an unique sentenced. He was sentenced to night-time imprisonment for life!
Each day at sunset he was locked up in cell until sunrise, and his life continued this way until his death in his cell in 1939.