I Was Suspected of Murder | Yankee Classic Article
‘You were in an evening class with her this fall, at Boston University,” said the elder, somewhat taller of the two. “You both signed the same attendance sheet opening night,” “That’s possible,” I said. “I switched right after that to another course. I couldn’t say who was in the first. There were sixty at least.” Both detectives were nodding and rocking slightly on their heels. The senior man looked at the patch on my face.
“You left a raincoat at the cleaner’s first thing this morning. It had stains on it. Blood from that cut maybe? How’d you get hurt?”
I said I had driven off the shoulder of Route 114 in Sunday night’s fog, on my way from Andover to Swampscott, crumpling a fender on an old stone wall and striking my head against the windshield post. He asked how long I’d been at Andover. I told him I stopped in there late Sunday to see friends, after Thanksgiving weekend in Worcester at my mother’s. The shorter detective wrote in a pocket notebook as I answered questions about how my Andover friends and my mother could be reached. I said I hoped they would not bother my mother unless they had to, that she was alone and not in the best of health.
“Look,” said the larger man. “You’re a single guy, right? And a teacher…like Miss Atherton? You’re a good bit younger, sure, but still maybe could’ve been friendly. You were with her in that class – and there’s the coat and the cut on the face, too. Your school principal can’t tell us much, except you’ve been teaching out of state and your references are good. We may just have to talk with your mother…and maybe go a lot further. Who’s the doc, by the way, who stitched up your face? And how about the car — parked, is it, where we can get a look at it?” I gave him the information, with an effort to steady my voice. Then he motioned with the back of his hand toward the classroom, where young voices had begun to rise.
“Okay. You can go back in there. But stay close this afternoon, at the place where you’re rooming. We’ll get back to you.”
In my attic bed-sitting room that afternoon, I kept imagining a phone call and point-blank dismissal from the superintendent of schools, even an outraged massing in the street below by citizens of Swampscott and Marblehead. New as I was, I could think of no one to turn to for advice or for the name of a lawyer. Desperately, too, I needed to know if the police were checking with my mother; yet I dared not alarm her by phoning if perhaps they were not. So there I sat, caught up in conflicts I could do nothing about.
It was nearly five when a doorbell rang and my landlady showed the two detectives up to my room. Ten minutes later I was at the front door, breathing more easily and showing them out. They had examined the car and talked with the doctor. I could forget the whole thing, they said. No need now to bother my mother or anyone else. They were sorry they had even had to bother me. Relief was great…until I went out and came back with newspapers.
The Atherton murder was headlined everywhere, in all its gory detail. State and local police, conducting their separate and joint investigations, were without a single valid clue. House and yard so far had yielded no helpful fingerprints or footprints. Nothing at all had been taken; no door or window showed signs of having been forced. All bloodstains matched the victim’s own Type B. Miss Atherton had not been sexually attacked, and nobody in her present or past appeared to have any reason to kill her. Though bloodstained articles from cleaning establishments and trash collections had led to a number of unnamed suspects, no one so far was charged with the crime. Except for the utter impossibility of it, the lone woman might have strangled and then lacerated herself. Where no one appeared guilty, anyone, of course, could be.
None of the papers mentioned that the investigation had reached into a classroom at Swampscott High School. That, I supposed, was part of a grand design. No doubt the police were playing cat and mouse with those they had questioned.
Tuesday I got as far as the door of the principal’s office, intending to find out if the detectives on Monday had given him the real reason for their visit. But I walked away again. If they had not told him, my inquiring would arouse suspicion. If they had, my best bet was a show of unconcerned innocence.