THE BADDINGTON HORROR
THE MURDER OF THE JUDGE
The Evening Record
London, June 18th 19 . . .
MURDER OF SIR ERNEST FERBER, BART.
late judge of the high court killed by convict.
an act of revenge.
swore that he would do it.
(From our Special Correspondent.)
BADDINGTON. The little village of Baddington, in Markshire, was shocked to learn to-day that Sir Ernest Ferber, Bart., of Baddington Court, who some years ago retired from the Bench at a comparatively early age, had been brutally murdered in his garden while resting after lunch.
His assailant, who committed suicide, had been released from prison yesterday, after serving a sentence of fifteen years’ penal servitude for manslaughter.
Superintendent Dighton of Scotland Yard is at Baddington, in charge of the investigations.
This brutal murder recalls an almost forgotten trial of fifteen years ago. The ex-convict. Banks, who has committed this crime, had killed a man in a quarrel, in which both men had drawn knives. The jury made a recommendation to mercy, but Mr. Justice Ferber, who had a reputation for the severity of his sentences, sent him to penal servitude for fifteen years. The trial caused a sensation at the time on account of the scene in the dock.
Banks, a man of great strength, fought and kicked, and, before he had been overpowered and removed by four warders, had shouted out that he would kill the Judge when he came out of prison.
It was no doubt partly on account of this scene that the Court of Criminal Appeal upheld the sentence.
Only last week, as published exclusively in the Evening Record, it was announced that Banks, who, having lost all his remission marks, had served every day of his sentence, besides having been twice flogged, was to be released in a day or two. He had repeatedly stated while in goal that he would “do the Judge in”, a threat that, unfortunately, he has now carried out.
Sir Ernest Ferber, the deceased man, comes of a very old Markshire family, etc.
Sir Arthur Sinclair laid the paper down slowly on the table by his side, and glanced across at his guest, John Graham, who was deeply engrossed in some official papers, for Sinclair’s friends knew that nothing pleased him better than that they should feel perfectly at home. Graham had a typical lawyer’s face: a massive, intellectual forehead, and straight bushy eyebrows, with the furrow of concentration above the strong nose. His deep-set keen eyes had been trained to study men and women and to appraise them at their proper worth. Though little over forty, he was a successful solicitor, the head partner in the firm of Graham and Watmough, whose practice was mainly concerned with conveyancing, and the care of old family estates.
Sinclair watched the lawyer from his armchair, where he was lying back smoking.
Graham had dined well, for Sir Arthur was an ideal host, and the dinner had been of his selection, and the wines of rare vintage, carefully chosen.
Since the death of his wife, Sinclair’s life had been lonely, for he had no child, and his chief pleasure had been the entertainment of friends and acquaintances, and men of distinction.
He waited for perhaps five minutes, scrutinizing the face of the lawyer. He would read through a document twice, mark it with a thin gold pencil, and place it carefully in a folder that lay on the floor by his side.
Graham must have been subconsciously aware of the other’s gaze. He raised his eyes, and met the half-sleepy look of the old detective.
“I didn’t want to interrupt you, Graham; but have you seen the evening paper?”
There was something in the quiet voice that caused Graham to put his documents down.
“I saw your man bring it in of course—anything exciting?”
Sinclair picked the paper from the table beside him and handed it across to the lawyer without a word.
“Good God!” The man was startled out of his usual calm. “It can’t be true! I was down there at lunch—on business. I only left . . .” He stopped and passed a hand over his forehead, which had suddenly gone damp.
“I know you were,” Sinclair said calmly. “You told me when you came in.”
Graham rose to his feet and stood devouring the short paragraph.
A look of amazement gathered on his face. “But how . . . It’s impossible. What were the detectives doing? They knew this man had been released. We must do something. I shall have to go there at once.”
“That wouldn’t be of any use,” Sinclair said soothingly. “It’s a shock to you . . . of course it would be, when you saw the man alive only a few hours ago. You knew him well?”
Graham almost collapsed into his seat; his face was mottled. Sinclair gently passed the tantalus and a siphon, and watched his shaking hand as he poured himself out whisky and added soda. The glass tinkled against his teeth as he gulped the liquid down.
“I’m sorry”—the colour came back to his usually florid cheeks. “As you say, it was a shock. Poor old Ferber! I’ve known him all my life—my firm have administered the Ferber estates for generations.”
“That’s interesting—you can tell me something about him.”
“Lord, I know more about his affairs than I knew of him, but I’m about the only living being that knew the man at all. A strange mixture.” Graham shut his lips tightly. “I’m afraid it wouldn’t interest you, Sinclair.”
“On the contrary, it would interest me immensely,” was the quiet reply. “So much so that I propose to go with you to-morrow to Baddington Court.”
“You? What on earth for? Oh, one forgets that, although you have retired, you still take a ravenous interest in all problems of crime. But what possible interest can you have in Sir Ernest?”
“More than you think, perhaps,” Sinclair said gravely. “It’s not idle curiosity, believe me.”
He rose and went across the well-appointed study to his special bookshelf where he kept records of cases in which he had been concerned, and a sort of personal “Who’s Who” of his own making. Strange names were in that list, and many a blackmailer would have given large sums to have access to these volumes for his own purposes.
He selected the “F” for Ferber and “B” for Banks, and resumed his seat holding the neat leather-bound books in his own handwriting.
“You have forgotten, Graham—it’s so long ago. It was I who arrested this man Banks at the London Docks as he was going on board a tramp steamer bound for China. I had to give evidence at the proceedings before the magistrate and at the subsequent trial. I saw a good deal of him one way and another.”
“A sort of ‘tiger man’, wasn’t he?”
Sinclair puffed at his pipe for a few minutes without replying.
“That expression is often used—I doubt if it conveys much—Banks was a man who might have won the V.C. easily. A wild character, devoid of fear, straight and honest in the past and with a clean record. He made no attempt to disguise the facts. He and another man quarrelled, Banks stabbed and killed the man—savagely, brutally, went on driving the knife in after he was dead. A sordid story with one redeeming feature.”
“What was that?” Graham asked eagerly.
“From the start to the finish Banks refused to mention the girl’s name or even to bring her into it at all. They had quarrelled over a girl, and the other man had been playing the fool with her. Banks was genuinely fond of the wench, I believe. He was sullen, morose, and insolent in the box, and made his case worse by saying that he had no regrets, but he would not give the reason for the quarrel.”
“Mr. Justice Ferber, as he was then, was known for his severe sentences,” Graham commented.
Sinclair sat up in his armchair. “De mortuis . . . He was ruthless, implacable. He would send a man to his death as though he hated the wretch, but he was always scrupulously fair. His judgments were sound and his summings-up impartial and often brilliant, but I have watched him when the jury have brought in a verdict of ‘not guilty’. He would tell them without mincing matters that he didn’t agree with them, and then discharge the prisoner with a warning that he wouldn’t get off so easily next time.”
“I know.” Graham nodded his head in agreement. “But that’s no reason why the police should allow this man Banks to come straight from prison and shoot the judge down in his own garden.”
Sinclair took up the evening paper and glanced rapidly through the paragraph again.
“I see no mention of his being shot,” he said quietly.
The lawyer took up the paper. “I thought I read it, but I suppose he must have shot him,” he said.
“Probably; it’s the most likely way.” Sinclair dived into his record book. “There were no children?”
Graham glanced at the inscrutable face before him and hesitated.
“There were no children—that was the trouble.”
“He married late in life—a war widow, I believe,” Sinclair remarked.
Graham gave an uneasy laugh. “You seem to know a lot about him . . . As a family lawyer, I had to do with these matters. He was a queer mixture, hard as iron, a domineering personality, and yet one could not help admiring him. He had come into the estate very heavily mortgaged, when he was practising at the bar—successfully too. When he was faced with the mountain of debt left by his father, the old Baronet—and an old rip too, for that matter—he went and lived in two rooms. He denied himself every luxury, cut his friends, and made money, working day and night. For seven years he slaved, literally, and paid off all debts—every penny.
“Meanwhile the estate had been leased; he would never go there, and had not lived there since a child. Then he piled up more money to insure against the future. He lived to save the family name—it was an obsession—and to secure the old place.
“It was only when he had accomplished this task (and Jacob working for his two wives was nothing to it), that he accepted promotion to the High Court. Then he married.”
“A Mrs. Glynne, widow of Captain Glynne of the Gunners,” Sinclair interposed.
“Exactly, but you seem to know as much as I do,” Graham responded.
“My dear fellow, I only know the bare facts—you know the inner history. The marriage was a failure?”
“She was penniless except for a pension, and had one child, a baby girl, Doreen. She accepted him for the sake of the child’s future, and the judge wanted an heir to the title—wanted it badly. It was a plain, unwholesome bargain. No heir appeared, and she died three years afterwards . . . a welcome relief for her, I am afraid. Then he retired suddenly, and went to live at Baddington Court.”
“And there was no heir,” Sinclair said thoughtfully. “You are the devil, Sinclair. You want to drag the whole story from me—the old scandal. His brother was a scamp, a disgrace to the family. I am not going into details, but I am not far wrong in saying that things got so bad at last that it would have been a long term of penal servitude. Here was the Baronet, with enormous family pride, a judge of the High Court! I believe the authorities consented, sub rosa; and the brother Richard left the country and died somewhere abroad—South America, I think. Sir Ernest took his brother’s two sons and had them educated—their mother was dead. He brought them to Baddington Court to live with him when he went there.”
A grim smile played round the mouth of the detective. “A pleasant household,” he commented.