Locked in the Manor
'In 1920s Birmingham, Detective Marjorie Turner gets called to a case like no other at the infamous Selly Manor. Six suspects, one victim, a locked room and a missing hand.'
Read our multi-part murder mystery story set at Selly Manor, written by our volunteer Gaby Songui. This story is not suitable for under 14s.
Locked in the Manor: part 1
On a chilly, frost-bitten morning in January 1925, Detective Marjorie Turner sat on her deep red velvet armchair, reading the Birmingham News as she warmed her toes by the fire. It had been an uneventful day thus far, with her phone lying dormant on the coffee table beside her, and barely a word said by her maid when she brought out her boiled egg and lightly buttered toast. Not even the newspaper held anything interesting. Stanley Baldwin’s face stared out at her in an expression she could only describe as slight, and very well-hidden, amusement. She too would be amused if she could hold the power and authority of a white man, ruling Britain from the comfort of a centrally heated home in London. It was frustrating, the inequality, the power he held, the political system, and yet staring at his black and white picture was the extent of her company this morning. Today was the first day in nearly a month where Marjorie remained undisturbed past 11am, and she had not yet decided if this was a luxury or a curse. Sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring.
Another half-hour crawled on, and by this point Marjorie had flicked through two more newspapers and a Labour pamphlet. Capitalised bold white letters “Greet the dawn: Give Labour it’s chance” played around in her mind. She slid the pamphlet under Baldwin’s face to try and focus on the current article at hand. There was a sharp knock on the door. She paused to mark her position on her final newspaper, the missing person report of eight-year-old Thomas Haxton and listened out for the footsteps of her maid. Click, clack, click, clack… Slower than usual, she would have to check on how Julie was doing later.
Marjorie lived in a narrow, two-bedroom home in Selly Oak with a small kitchen, living area and pantry on the lower floor. The owner had been desperate to get it off the market, so a mixture of incredible value and well-placed windows resulted in her purchasing the property much quicker than anticipated. It also helped that the owner was happy to overlook her mixed complexion, as many she had previously approached had refused to even look at her. A woman living alone was bad enough, but a woman of colour?
Since she had purchased the house five years prior, she worked hard to mould it into what she wanted it to be. Natural light lit up the joint living and dining room, illuminating her shelf-covered walls, stacked with books, newspaper clippings and seemingly random items like Buddha statues and Russian dolls. In the centre of the room were two armchairs, and a coffee table facing a surprisingly grand fire. The other end of the room had a small oak dining table, suitable for four, and a large bookshelf which took up the whole back wall. All in all, the room was pleasant but cluttered, and visitors were sparse, but Marjorie liked it much better that way.
The greetings of the unknown guest were muted by walls and doors, but the tone and pitch of the visitor’s voice was familiar, and when Constable Terry Walters plodded into the room Marjorie had to feign surprise. When Marjorie had been promoted and relocated to Birmingham, the police force had decided that she would have the same partner for every job. She was simply too controversial a figure to work with a range of different constables like most detectives did. Thereby, she was stuck with Constable Walters, a man with the best of intentions but not the sharpest wit. She looked the heavy-set man up and down. She noted that one of the buttons had popped off his uniform. Mrs Walters had a real love for sewing and orderliness, and whenever she left Constable Walters in an unkempt state it meant he had angered her in some way. This meant he would be slightly more short-tempered than usual. Marjorie inwardly sighed at the prospect of the Constable’s temper, and then slid her gaze to his mud-covered shoes.
“Are we going to visit some gardens?” she asked, and then noted the red brick dust on his left sleeve. “Or someone's garden?” The Constable’s nose twitched in frustration, and brought his thick, grey moustache into motion alongside it.
“We are going to Selly Manor. I just got called there with young Detective Martins to inspect the gardens and the house, but the boy lasted all of twenty minutes before he became hysterical” he replied irritably. The gardens were not far from Marjorie’s house, and judging by the sweat on Walter’s forehead, he had walked here at a reasonable pace. A detective with a weak stomach, and a case with the urgency to make Constable Walter’s walk slightly quicker than usual.
“How many people were involved?” Marjorie asked, gesturing at the Constable to take a seat. He immediately obliged, dropping his enormous weight into the matching armchair that faced Marjorie’s. It squeaked in contempt, but eventually both the armchair and the Constable settled into what resembled a comfortable position.
“Three men and two ladies, though one of them is no longer with us. But I suspect you know that already,” Terry said, and Marjorie nodded thoughtfully. She didn’t know too much about Selly Manor, but she did know that seven people didn’t reside there. In fact, she wasn’t sure anyone did. There was a groundskeeper who took care of the property, but it belonged to Cadbury, and Cadbury pretty much left it alone.
“It was a fundraising event. Entertainment for some local folk. Locked in the Manor they called it. All a bunch of bollocks if you ask me,” said the Constable, as if reading the questions in Marjorie's eyes.
“Tell me as much as you know, and when the clock strikes twelve we can head over to the Manor. Rushing things will not sort out the situation any faster,” Marjorie decided firmly. The Constable didn’t seem at ease with this decision; however, exhaustion and hunger quieted his concerns, and the promise and tea and sandwiches cemented him firmly into his chair. Julie rushed in with teacups, a teapot, a small saucer of milk, and a tray of cucumber sandwiches. Terry chomped steadily through the tray while relaying what he knew, and Marjorie watched him in attentive silence.
“So, the organiser of the event, Miss Alice, was trying to raise some money for the fabric shop down the road. Staple of the community she said. Ten years it’s been there and now no one wants to buy fabric like they used to. They just wanted a bit of money to keep the business afloat. She’d got the whole fundraising idea off some fancy company in London who did it last month. People pay to be locked into a building and eat food, read ghost stories. Miss Alice wasn’t even there, can you believe that?” he said, looking to Marjorie to mirror his shock.
“So she left them alone?”
“Locked them in on Friday at 6pm, and wasn’t planning to come back until Sunday. Then the phone rang at 9am this morning and that was that. She came back to a murdered man in the attic room upstairs. David Adelman, 24 years old, recently married and now suffocated to death in a locked room on the top floor”
“The room was locked?” Marjorie asked, and the Constable nodded, seeming to find pleasure in Marjorie’s slight confusion, or perhaps the power of the knowledge he held.
“Locked from the inside. Got some windows, but no way in or out other than that door. Also, and this is the bit that made the Detective all hysterical, he was missing a hand”.
“Just a hand?”
“Just a hand. Someone hacked it off it looks like. We figure it happened after he died because no one said they heard anything,” he replied, popping the last sandwich in his mouth while Marjorie gathered what she knew. She wasn’t the type to write down information. What was the point when she could store it so neatly in her head?
“We better get going then. My thoughts are racing. I don’t believe we can wait a moment longer”.
To be continued…