Invent Crime

Short Story


A body found in a home with bizarre clues leads a detective struggling to uncover the cause of death in this quirky who­dunit mystery short story.

By Kevin RR Williams

Crime Scene


Detective Matt Stevens is called to an unusual crime scene. When he arrives, he finds serial inventor Sylvester Richardson sitting in the chair of his home office. His head on the desk is encased within a spherical fishbowl—like a space helmet—filled with macaroon sandwich cookies.

Without assuming the obvious, Stevens asks the medical examiner on scene about the cause of death.

“There is no blood near the victim, no signs of a struggle, nor entry wounds. Preliminary findings suggest suffocation. I will need to get this fishbowl off of his head for conclusive findings. Though it is not clear how it got on there,” the Medical Examiner, Dr. Dara Foster, ponders.

“What do you mean?” asks Stephens.

“Well, as you can see, though the sphere is large, the opening matches the circumference of his neck. It is too narrow to get around his skull,” Dr. Foster points out.

“Fascinating,” says Stevens as he taps the hard surface with his pen. “And what do you make of the cookies within the fishbowl?”

“That’s a question for you to answer, Detective,” she replies. “Do I have permission to take the body away now.”

“Give me ten more minutes to look around before doing so. During your autopsy, see if you have any theories on how the sphere got around his head. I’ll have forensics dive into his computer.”

Framed copies of patents and awards cover the walls. Stevens asks police officers to gather them up so he can get a better idea of the victim’s inventions.

He then walks into the kitchen to look for the source of the cookies. An empty cookie package is in the waste basket.

“I can’t believe this guy fills a bowl with cookies, walks into his office, gets the bowl stuck around his head, and suffocates. Bag this cookie wrapper as evidence and compare the fingerprints against the victim,” Stevens tells a uniformed officer. “Canvas the neighborhood for witnesses. I want to know this guy’s daily routine.”

The Coroner

Back at his office, Detective Stephens categorizes the types of patents before heading to the medical examiner. “Dr. Foster, any news about the victim for me?”

“Yes, Detective Stevens. The bowl is a clear polymer material. I had to carefully cut it from his head to get it off. There were no head wounds and the cookies are edible, though none appear to have been ingested by the victim.

“As to how the bowl got on his head, I can only offer two theories. If his skull were soft as cartilage, a vacuum effect could suck it through the small opening. Otherwise, I hypothesize that the bowl was formed around him,” Dara surmises.

Stevens asks, “Is his skull soft like cartilage?”

“No, infants have soft spots that allow for brain growth. By about age 2, the skull fuses together. There is no way an adult man of 52 years can have a soft skull,” says the coroner.

“Then how was the bowl formed around his head between the walk from the kitchen and his home office? That’s rhetorical. I know… you’ll say it’s for me, as the detective, to figure out. Thank you, Dr. Foster. Please update me with any other relevant discoveries.”

The Interviews

Officer interviews produce no witnesses, no next of kin, and no signs of forced entry. Mr. Richardson was a recluse. Several fingerprints are on the cookie packaging. The others are not in the system but they could be from the supermarket cashier or stock clerk. There are no prints on the fishbowl.

Returning to his office, the detective looks for clues among issued patents. Some are related to methods of storing and retrieving data. A curious patent was issued for a method of creating blister packaging. Stevens asks computer forensics to look for examples of the patents in question.

“Mr. Richardson must have an attorney to license and defend all these patents. Find out who that is and if there is any pending litigation.”

The medical examiner provides an interesting finding in her report. There is chloroform residue in the victim’s nasal passage and the death occurred during the prior morning.

Detective Stevens heads back to the victim’s house for more clues. Based on the evidence, Mr. Richardson let his killer in. The chloroform suggests premeditation, or that the killer or killers planned to incapacitate the victim. This could facilitate application of the bowl as a means of suffocation.

The Neighbors

Stevens questions neighbors more specifically about whether they witnessed visitors or deliverymen during the morning of the death. One neighbor across the street recalls seeing what he thought was a mail delivery person early in the morning. It struck him as odd because mail normally comes late in the afternoon.

“Where did the mail carrier go after visiting Mr. Richardson’s home?” asks Stevens.

”He had a package to deliver, but stepped inside the home,” says Doug Collins. “I can’t say how long he was there because I got tired of waiting. Our normal mail delivery man came later around 3 PM.”

“Can you give me a description of the carrier? Male, female, tall, short, thin, plump, black, brown, white? What color was the outfit?”

“I wasn’t paying that much attention. Just a few glances through the window from across the street. It was a light-skin man whose head aligned with the porch light. He wore a navy jacket, dark pants, and matching baseball cap.”

Nodding with insight, Stevens replies, “Thank you, Mister…?”

“…Collins. Doug.”

“Can you describe the package, Mr. Collins?”

“It was perhaps a light brown box, maybe a foot wide, small enough to carry beneath his arm.”

“Finally, did you see a nearby delivery truck?”

“There was a white van in front of the house next door to Mr. Richardson. But it had no postal mail markings.”

“Plain white van. Which house is it?”

“It’s that beige one, across the street from me,” says Mr. Collins while pointing with his index finger.

“Was the white van there when you later received your mail at 3 o’clock that afternoon?”

“No, I don’t believe so. Sorry for the fuzzy details.”

“Thank you, Mr. Collins. You have been most helpful. Here’s my card. If you think of anything else, please give me a phone call.”

Detective Stevens then interviews the homeowner of the beige house that had the white van parked in front. The woman there offers less details, but noticed a “slinderish” man with dark clothes entering the passenger seat a little after 11 o’clock in the morning.

“Was he carrying anything?”

“Not that I recall?”

“Thank you, that means the box should be somewhere inside.”


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