The Works of Sydney Fowler Wright 1874 - 1965

Statement for the Police

by Anthony Wingrave

Evening Standard

"If," said the Chief Inspector, "you can show us that you are innocent, we shall, of course, treat your explanation as confidential. We have no sympathy with black-mailers, alive or dead.

        "We know that you were at Bakewell Buildings at about eleven. We know that you made a short call at the gound-floor offices of your solicitors, Bendall and Bendall, and that you then went up by the lift to the second floor. The lift boy saw you go into Maxwell's office

        "He saqys it was about ten minutes later when you rang for him to take you down, and that you then looked aggitated. That may not mean much. When he said that he knew that Maxwell had been Murdered; and - he says - he concluded that it must have been done by you.

        "We know, by Maxwell's diary that you had an appointment with him at 11:15 and that his next appointment was with a lady at 11:45. We know that she found him dead. There is no possible doubt of that.

*        *        *        *        *

        "We also know that you have been in the habit of paying Maxwell monthly sums for over 10 years - first of £10, then £15, increased to £20 a month ago.

        "Maxwell had been killed, apparently without struggle, by one blow from his own poker.

        "That is the case you have to answer. You are not bound to say anything, but I have to warn you that anything you say may be used in evidence. Unless you can convince me otherwise, we shall be obliged to charge you with murder. The reasons for yuour call must, in your own interrests, almost certainly be discloseed."

        "I do not see why they should," said the man. He was about 50 - rotund, bald. His clothes were well cut. He was the manager of the Strand branch of the London and Northern Bank, to which he had been transfered fromm Fenchurch Street about two months before. His name was James Atkinson.

*        *        *        *        *

There was a short pause. The Inspector remained silent. Atkinson went on: "Let me be as frank with you as you have with me.

        "About ten years ago, I was second on the staff of our Fenchurch Street branch. One August, I was in control for a few weeks, while the manager was on holiday.

        "We had a Stock Exchange customer, a man called Cufflin, who made a great deal of money by share transactions. I knew this from his account.

        "In conversation with me he mentiobned that he was buying Outrigger Gold Shares, which were certain to rise. I had not speculated before, but I was tempted, and bought heavily.

        "He sold out in time, and made his profit. He advised me to do so with an ugly smile - and I found that I was just too late. He had done it deliberately because I had offended him previously, which I had not been aware of doing.""

        "Yes," said the Inspector, "I can believe that."

        "You knew him?" Atkinson looked surprised.

        "Yes. We had a warrant for his arrest when he died."

        "Really? Then you know when it was. He died two days after I realised that I was ruined."

        "He committed suicide to avoid arrest." said the inspector "He wasn't short of money. But he was short of excuses as to how it became his."

        "Well," said Atkinson, "Iknew I was finished, and I had a wild idea of appealing to him. I went to his private house late one night, and found he had just - as I was told - had a fatal accident.

        "During the night, an idea came to me. We should go on paying his cheques until we had official information that he was dead. He often drew large amounts out over the counter in cash, and his signature had mannerisms that are easy to forge.

*        *        *        *        *

        "In my position it was it was not impossible to put such a cheque through. I drew one for £500, which just covered what I had lost. Nobody at the bank suspected anything. In due course his will was proved . William Bendall was his executor. Maxwell at the time, was Bendall and Bendall's managing clerk.

        "We sent the statement of his account to them, with the cancelled cheques, in the usual way., including the one I had forged. I heard nothing aboput it for some months, and then Maxwell came to see me.

        "He had the cheque with him, and I think - though I don't know how he should - he was very near guessing the truth. Of course I denied any knowledge of the matter, and said that, in my opinion, the cheque was in order, and properly signed.

        "But he pressed one point, The number of the cheque showed that it was not out of Maxwell's book. From where did it come?

*        *        *        *        *

        "It did not come out of mine. I was not as crude as that. But, all the same, it would have been impossible to explain plausibly.

        "On an impulse of desperation, which may have been foolish or not, I told him the full facts.

        "He professed sympathy, but said that if he did not disclose it, he was taking a very great risk. Would I recognise that? We agreed that I should recognise it with £100, to be paid £20 down and then £10 per month.

        "When he had received all the £100, he said that payments must go on or else - By that time he had left Bendalls' and opened an office as a financier on a floor above them. I should say that his main occupation was blackmail, using information he had been picking up in their office.

        "When my position improved the £10 had to be £15, and now when he knew that I was manager of the Strand branch he said that it had got to be £20.

        "That was more than I was willing to stand. I'm a married man, and my expenses keep getting heavier. As it is my wife thinks I am dreadfully mean, and I can't explain.

        "It's quite true that I went to see him to expostulate, and it's quite true that I saw that it would be no good, and I came away almost at once. But I didn't kill him, and I don't know who did.

*        *        *        *        *

        There was another pause. "Mr Atkinson," said the Chief Inspector, "we don't love blackmailers. But the law doesn't allow murder.

        "I'd like to believe you, but the facts are very hard to explain away. Did you see anyone going up, as you went down?

        "I only saw the lift-boy who took me down, and someone was coming out of Bendalls' office as I passed out. I didn't see who it was.

        "Well," said the Inspector, "I'm not going to detain you now."

*        *        *        *        *

        The brothers Bendall talked together.

        "William," said Charles, the elder, "We must be very exact. There is nothing we can have miscalculated or overlooked?"

        "It is a matter on which I would have preffered to have counsel's opinion; but we both see the objection. The law appears to be clear."

        They received Chief Inspector Dixon with cordiality.

        "You have doubtless come to see us again about Mr. Maxwell's death?" Mr Edward enquired.

        "Yes. I should like a statement."

        Mr. Edward said, "My brother her wishes to dictate a statement which we will both sign." he spoke through a desk telephone, and a girl came in with a notebook.

*        *        *        *        *

        The Chief Inspector was too astonished to interrupt. Mr. Charles began to dictate: This is the joint statement of Edward Bendall and Charles Livesay Bendall both of Bakewell Buildings, Great Marlow Street, London WC2, concerning the death of Mr. Frank Maxwell of the same address.

        He was killed by one of ourselves by a blow on the head inflicted by his own poker, the other one of us having entered the room with the intention of preventing the act of violence, but being a few seconds too late.

        Franklin Maxwell died because he persisted in blackmailing our clients using confidential information, which he had obtianed while in our employment for his purpose; and our clients declining to prosecute.

        The one of us who killed him considers they did the right thing and that right-minded men will agree.

        Mr.Charles concluded by saying: "We shall require that to be done at once, as the Chief Inspectors time is of value, and he will doubtless wish to take away with him when it is signed. And we shall require a copy for the office files."

*        *        *        *        *

        The girl went out. The door had scaresly closed when the Chief Inspector exclaimed: "Gentlemen, if this isn't a joke, - and it's in very bad taste if it is - I must ask you to be more explicit, and say which one of you is responsible for the crime."

        The senior partnes said: "It is hardly a subject for levity. But do you think it is fair to ask that?

        "It is absolutely neccessary for me to know. Do you suppose that I wish to arrest an innocent man?"

        "And do you suppose that a guilty one wants to be arrested? It is an elementary principle of English law that a man cannot be required to convict himself."

        "But if I believe that statement, one of you is a murderer nd the other is an accessory after the fact, and s also open to prosecution. You can't get away from that."

        "We have no wish to do so. But I suggest to you that we are in no danger from the law so long as we decline to say more than we have already done. You cannot convict two men of each oter's crimes."

        The girl came back and put down two sheets on the senior partner's desk. He said: "Thank you Miss Weston. You needn't wait. I am sure the Chief Inspector will witness our signatures."

        The document was signed, and passed to the Chief Inspector.

        "I suggest that you should lay that statement before the Assistant Commissioner." said the senior partner.

*        *        *        *        *

        A week later the Assistant Commisssioner received this letter from the Home Secretary:

Dear Sir Percy,


        I have discussed the Bendall statement with Audrey, who gives it as his decided opinion:

        (1) That you could not prosectute the Bendalls, or either of them, on that statement alone, without some confirmatory evidence.

        (2) If such evidence could be obtained, pointing to either of the signatories, the statement would become of great value, and would probably secure a conviction.

        (3) On the other hand, if you secure the conviction of Atkinson, or, by other means, prove conclusively that neither of the Bendalls had committed the murder, you could prosecute them both for obstructing the course of justice, and would almost certainly obtain convictions.

        I have no doubt that these opinions are sound, but when we consider prosecuting Atkinson we must observe that even if we could obstruct the Bendalls statement being brought in as evidence, we could not prevent it coming to public knowledge; and whether we could anticipate securing a verdict under such circumstances.

        I feel it will be best to do nothing more in this case, unless additional evidence can be obtained, when we will have a further consultation.

The End