Source documents compiled by insurance investigator Ralph Henderson are used to build a case against Baron 'R___', who is suspected of murdering his wife. The baron's wife died from drinking a bottle of acid, apparently while sleepwalking in her husband's private laboratory. Henderson's suspicions are raised when he learns that the baron recently had purchased five life insurance policies for his wife. As Henderson investigates the case, he discovers not one but three murders. Although the baron's guilt is clear to the reader even from the outset, how he did it remains a mystery. Eventually this is revealed, but how to catch him becomes the final challenge; he seems to have committed the perfect crime.
Charles Felix was the pseudonym of Charles Warren Adams (1833-1903) who was an English lawyer, publisher and anti-vivisectionist, now known from documentary evidence to have been the author of The Notting Hill Mystery. This is usually taken to be the first full-length detective novel in English.
SECTION II. Table of Contents
1. Memorandum by Mr. Henderson.
We now come to that portion of Mrs. Anderton's1 history which embraces the period between her marriage and the commencement of her last illness. For this I have been compelled to have recourse to various quarters. The information thus afforded is very complete, and taken in conjunction with what we have already seen in Miss B--'s correspondence of the previous life of this unfortunate lady, throws considerable light upon two important points to be hereafter noticed. The depositions, however, unavoidably run to a greater length than at this stage of the proceedings, their bearing on the main points of the case would render necessary, and I have therefore condensed them for your use in the following memorandum. Any portion, not sufficiently clear, may be elucidated by a reference to the originals enclosed.
Mr. Anderton was a gentleman of good origin, closely connected with some of the first families in Yorkshire, where he had formed the acquaintance of Miss Boleton, while staying at the house of her great aunt, Miss B--. He appears to have been of a most gentle and amiable disposition, though unfortunately so shy and retiring as to have formed comparatively very few intimacies. All, however, who could be numbered among his acquaintance seem to have been equally astonished at the charge brought against him on the death of his wife, with whom he was always supposed, though from his retired habits little was positively known, to have lived upon terms of the most perfect felicity. As the event proved, the case would in effect never have come on for trial; but, had it done so, the defence would have brought forward overwhelming evidence of the incredibility of such a crime on the part of one of so gentle and affectionate a disposition.
During the four years and a-half of their married life there does not appear to have been a cloud upon their happiness. Mrs. Anderton's letters to her great aunt, Miss B-- (to whom I am indebted for almost the whole of the important information I have been able to collect respecting the family) are full of expressions of attachment to her husband and instances of his devotion to her. Copies of several of these letters are enclosed, and from these it will be seen how unvarying was their attachment to each other. Throughout the entire series, extending over the whole period of her married life, there is not a single expression which could lead to any other conclusion.
It is, however, evident that the delicate health with which Mrs. Anderton had been afflicted from her birth, still continued, and in two instances we have indications of the same mysterious attacks noticed in the letter of Mrs. Vansittart, before quoted. These, however, appear to have been but very slight. They had for some years been of more and more rare occurrence, and from this date, (October, 1852), we have no further record of anything of the kind. Still Mrs. Anderton's general health continued very unsatisfactory, and almost everything seems to have been tried by her for its improvement. Among the enclosed correspondence are letters dated from Baden, Ems, Lucca, Cairo, and other places to which the Andertons had, at different times, gone for the health of one or other, Mr. Anderton being also, as stated in Mrs. Ward's letter of the 14th June, 1851,2 extremely delicate.
Of this gentleman all accounts agree in stating that the chief ailment was a constitutional nervousness, mental as well as physical. The latter showed itself in the facility with which, though by no means deficient in courage, he could be startled by any sudden occurrence however simple; the former, in his extreme sensitiveness to the opinions of those about him, and his dread of the slightest shadow of reproach on the name of which he was so justly proud. In the accompanying documents you will find instances of both these idiosyncrasies.
In the summer of 1854 Mr. Anderton's attention seems to have been drawn to the subject of Mesmerism. They had been spending some weeks at Malvern, where this science seems particularly in vogue, and had there made acquaintance with several of the patients at the different water-cure establishments, by some of whom Mr. Anderton was strongly urged to have recourse to mesmeric treatment both for Mrs. Anderton and himself.
The constant solicitations of these enthusiastic friends seem at length to have produced their effect, and the favourite operator of the neighbourhood was requested to try his skill on these new patients. On Mr. Anderton the only result seems to have been the inducing of such a state of irritation as might not unreasonably have been expected from so nervously excitable a temperament, in presence of the "manipulations" to which the votaries of mesmerism are subjected. In the case of Mrs. Anderton, however, the result was, or was supposed to be, different. Whether from some natural cause that, at the time, escaped attention, or whether solely from that force of imagination from which such surprising results are often found to arise, I cannot of course say; but it is certain that some short time after the mesmeric "séances" had commenced, a decided though slight improvement was perceptible. This continued until the departure of the operator for Germany, which country he had only recently left on a short visit to England.
Notwithstanding the worse than failure in his own case, the certainly curious coincidence of his wife's recovery seems to have entirely imposed on Mr. Anderton, whose susceptibility of disposition appears indeed to have laid him especially open to the practices of quacks of every kind. So great was now his faith in this new remedy that he actually proposed to accompany the Professor to Germany rather than that his wife should lose the benefit of the accustomed "manipulations." He had proceeded to London, for the purpose of making the necessary preparations, when he was induced to pause by the remonstrances of several of his friends, who represented to him that a winter in the severe climate of Dresden-the place to which the Professor was bound-would probably be fatal to one of Mrs. Anderton's delicate constitution.
His medical adviser also, though himself professing belief in mesmerism, gave a similar opinion, while at the same time he obviated the difficulty respecting the mesmeric treatment of Mrs. Anderton, by offering an introduction to "one of the most powerful mesmerists in Europe," who had recently arrived in London, and who eventually proved to be the so-styled Baron R**.
This introduction appears to have finally decided Mr. Anderton against the Dresden expedition; and, after a brief experience of his manipulations, Mrs. Anderton herself seems to have derived, in imagination at least, more benefit from them than even from those of her late attendant. So thoroughly were they both impressed with the beneficial results of the Baron's "passes," &c., that Mr. Anderton, who had now resolved to settle in London for the autumn and winter, went so far as to take a ready-furnished house at Notting Hill, for the express purpose of having his new professor in his immediate neighbourhood. Here the séances were continued often twice or three times a day, and though, of course, no one in his senses could really attribute such a result to the exercises of the Baron, it is certain that, from some cause or other, the health of Mrs. Anderton continued steadily to improve.
Matters had continued in this position for some weeks, when objections were raised by some of Mr. Anderton's relations to what they not unnaturally considered the very questionable propriety of the proceeding. There seems to have been a good deal of discussion on this point in which, however, Mr. Anderton's constitutional susceptibility finally carried the day against his newly conceived predilections with respect to, a practice so obviously calculated to expose him to unpleasant comment. The Baron, however, was not disposed so easily to relinquish a patient from whom he derived such large and regular profits. On being made acquainted with the decision respecting the cessation of his visits, he at once declared that his own direct manipulations were unnecessary, and that, if considered improper for one of the opposite sex, they could easily be made available at second-hand.
Having once swallowed the original imposition, any additional absurdity was of course easily disposed of, and it was now determined to avoid all occasion for offence; Mrs. Anderton should henceforth be operated upon through the medium of a certain Mademoiselle Rosalie, a clairvoyante in the employment of the Baron, who, after being placed "en rapport" with the patient, was to convey to her the benefit of the manipulations to which she was herself subjected by the operator.
Into the precise modus operandi I need not now enter, but will only remark upon the fresh instance of the extraordinary powers of imagination displayed in the still more rapid improvement of Mrs. Anderton under this new form of treatment, and the marvellous "sympathy" so rapidly induced between her and the Baron's "medium."
Mademoiselle Rosalie was a brunette rather below the medium height, with a slight but beautifully proportioned and active figure, sallow complexion, and dark hair and eyes. The only fault a connoisseur would probably find with her person would be the extreme breadth of her feet, though this might perhaps be accounted for by her former occupation, to be noticed later on. It is necessary for our purpose that this peculiarity should be kept in mind. In...