The Club Foot
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by a New York Detective
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ONE cold January night I was seated cosily by my fireside, enjoying a cup of tea which my wife knows so well how to make, when a violent ring at the front door bell disturbed the reverie in which I was indulging, and made my wife spill the sugar she was in the act of putting into my cup.

“I do hope, James,” said my wife, “that this is no one to take you out tonight.”

“I hope so too,” I returned, “but if it should be, I must obey, business must be attended to, my dear.”

“But it is snowing so fast, and you work so hard.”

“Everybody, my dear, has to work hard to obtain a livelihood,” I returned, philosophically.

Our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of our servant girl, who stated that a young lady wished to see me on important private business. My wife, who is in no wise of a jealous disposition, discreetly withdrew, and the party wishing to see me was immediately ushered into the parlor. I rose as she entered, and handed her a chair.

My visitor was a very handsome young girl of about eighteen years of age. She was dressed with great taste, and evidently belonged to the upper ranks of life. She appeared somewhat embarrassed, as if she were at a loss how to begin the conversation.

“Have I the pleasure of speaking to James Brampton?” she said, at last.

“That is my name,” I replied.

“You are a private detective officer, are you not?”

“I am, madam.”

“O, sir,” said she, “I am in great trouble, and I have come to seek your assistance.”

“Anything I can do, I am sure I shall be very happy to oblige you,” I returned.

“My name, sir,” continued the young girl, gaining courage, “is Eliza Milford.”

“Milford,” said I, “what, the daughter of the gentleman who has lately so mysteriously disappeared, with the account of which the papers have been so full for the last few days?”

“The same, and it is on that very business that I have come to consult you. You are perhaps aware that a young man has been arrested on suspicion a charge of having taken his life!”

“Yes, a Mr. Henry Waring, I believe?”

“Yes, sir, that is his name – that young man is innocent.”

“Indeed!”

“I will make a plain statement of the facts of the case, and then I am sure you will agree with me. My father’s name, as you are aware, is Mr. Herbert Milford. We live on the banks of the North River, about twelve miles from New York. My father was devotedly attached to me, and we lived as happily as possible together. He gratified my every wish, and for years not a single cloud obscured my calm and peaceful existence. About a year ago, I was introduced to the son of a gentleman living in the neighborhood, and mutual love sprang up between us. My father did not oppose our union, and as it was a desirable match on all sides, it was to be settled that we were to be married next spring. Things went on in this way for several months. Henry Waring visited my father’s house every night. But suddenly our dream of happiness was dissipated, and that, too, by an extraordinary circumstance. Henry was early one morning found in the garden attached to our house in a half senseless condition, his clothes and hands were covered with blood, and my father had mysteriously disappeared. Every search was made for him, but without any avail, and Henry was arrested on the charge of having murdered him and concealed the body somewhere.”

“That was a very strange conclusion to come to,” said I, interrupting her.

“Yes, but you have not heard all,” she replied. “My father’s watch and purse were found in Henry’s pocket at the time he was arrested.”

“How does Mr. Waring account for that?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” returned Miss Milford, “for I have not been permitted to see him. He has been removed to the county jail, and his case has not yet been investigated, owing to the fact of my father’s body not having been discovered. But to suppose that Henry could be guilty of murder and robbery, is too preposterous to be believed for a moment.”

“Such would certainly appear to be the case,” I returned; “but did not the place where Mr. Waring was arrested reveal nothing?”

“O, yes, a terrible struggle had evidently taken place there. The flowers and roots were torn up, the shrubbery broken, the ground in various places was covered with blood, and a knife was found which was proved to have belonged to Henry, was also stained with the vital fluid.”

“Do I understand that your father imposed no obstacle to your marriage with him?”

“None at all, sir, in fact my father loved him.”

“How long ago is it since your father was missing?”

“This is my fourth day. My motive, Mr. Brampton, in applying to you, is to free Mr. Henry Waring from the imputation of a crime of which I am sure he is as innocent as I am.”

“It does indeed seem very improbable that he committed the deed. There appeared to be no possible motive for it. The first thing I must do is to see Mr. Henry Waring, and hear what explanation he has to give.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied Miss Milford. “When shall I come and see you again?”

“Are you staying in New York?”

“Yes sir. I am staying with an aunt at 113 East Broadway.”

“Very well, when I have anything to communicate to you I will call.”

She then wished me good evening, and took her leave. When she had gone I reflected a few minutes on the strange case, for to tell the truth, at first glance, I did not know what to make of it. The whole affair appeared to be involved in mystery. Of course, I did not for a moment suppose that Henry Waring was guilty of Mr. Milford’s death. The utter absence of motive, and the fact that he had everything to lose and nothing to gain by the death of the father of his betrothed, satisfied me that he could not be the guilty party. Then the thought naturally arose in my mind was Mr. Milford murdered at all? I passed several hours in these vain conjectures, and was no nearer a conclusion after all.

The next morning I started for the town of L—, situated on the Hudson River railroad, in the prison of which place Mr. Waring was confined. I had some little difficulty in obtaining admission to the prisoner, but when I stated that I was a detective officer, an order was reluctantly given me.

The moment I entered his cell, Mr. Waring advanced to meet me.  In a few words I told him of Miss Milford’s visit to me, and that I was acting by her instructions.

“The dear girl,” he replied— “I know that she could not think me guilty of this foul crime.”

“Mr. Waring,” said I, “it is necessary that you should state exactly what occurred to you in reference to yourself. You are aware that suspicion points very directly at you as having committed the deed. You were found on the night Mr. Milford disappeared in the grounds attached to the house. Your clothes were covered with blood. Evidences of a struggle were apparent, and the old gentleman’s watch and purse were found in your possession, to say nothing of the concealed knife which was proved to be yours.”

“I own the circumstantial evidence appears to be very strong against me,” he replied, “and I am afraid my plain unvarnished story will not do much towards disproving it. But the following are the simple facts of the case. On the night in question I visited Mr. Milford’s house as usual. I stayed there until eleven o’clock and then took my leave. I was accustomed to return home by the garden at the back of the house, as I saved something in distance by so doing. On the night I refer to, I was about a dozen yards from the back gate when two men started up from behind some bushes, and seized hold of me. Before I had time to defend myself, one of them struck me a violent blow on the head which knocked me down senseless. When I recovered it was daylight, and I must have been there all night. I found my hands and clothes covered with blood, and my knife which I carried for self-defense abstracted from my pocket. I had scarcely risen to my feet when I was seized and accused of having murdered Mr. Milford.”

“But how about the watch and purse?”

“I assure you no one was more surprised than myself when they were taken from my pocket.”

“How long a time had you parted with Mr. Milford when you were assailed in the garden?”

“Mr. Milford usually retired at ten o’clock, leaving Miss Milford and myself up together.”

After a little more conversation with the prisoner, I withdrew, not very well satisfied with the result of my visit. It is true it served to confirm me in the opinion I had formed of Waring’s innocence, but I was no nearer discovering the truth than before.

My next proceeding was to make a strict examination of the premises lately occupied by Mr. Milford, and especially the spot where Mr. Milford had been assailed. The house afforded us no clew, but the garden convinced me that the disorder there had been made after the young man had been struck, and that it was not occasioned by any real struggle that had taken place, but to induce the belief that such a struggle had occurred. There was too much regularity in the uprooting of the flowers and roots, and the shrubbery was broken too systematically not to set this point at rest to the eye of the detective.

I discovered that the most minute search had been made for Mr. Milford’s body, but without any success. After making these investigations, I returned to New York, and really saw but little hope of being able to unravel the mystery.

Three weeks passed away, and I had not discovered one single link in the chain I was seeking to find. One day Miss Milford called on me again.  In a few words I told her, that up to the present time my researches had all been fruitless. She looked disappointed.

”Have you heard,” she said, “that my uncle, Mr. Oliver Milford, is occupying Linden Manor House?”

“Your uncle occupying Linden Manor House!”  I exclaimed, in a tone of the greatest surprise.

“Yes, he appeared there two weeks ago, and claimed all my father’s property by virtue of a will which he exhibited, and by which he was made sole heir to all my father’s estate.”

“Are you sure the will is a genuine one?”  I asked, a ray of hope entering my mind.

“There can be no doubt that it was signed by my father,” she replied.

“But who is this uncle of yours? I never heard you mention him before.”

“I had almost forgotten his existence, for the fact is, my father and he were not on good terms together, and his name was scarcely ever mentioned.”

“And you are left nothing in this will?”

“Nothing.”

“Is it not very strange, Miss Milford, that your father should have left your uncle all his property?”

“It is, indeed, very strange,” replied the young lady. “They have never spoken to each other for years. My father could never bear to hear the name of his brother Oliver mentioned, and whenever he did speak of him, which I have before said was seldom, he always spoke of him as a bad-hearted man.”

“And yet you say the signature to the will was in your father’s handwriting?”

“Yes, sir, I am perfectly satisfied of it, so much so, that when some of my friends advised me to contest the validity of the will, being firmly convinced that my father really did sign it, I refused most positively. I care nothing about my father’s wealth, and it is not to regain this that I ask your assistance, sir; my simple wish is to obtain Mr. Henry Waring’s release.”

“Has the will been proved?” I asked.

“O yes,” she replied, “my uncle has taken full possession.”

“And what have you been doing since?” I asked, more out of curiosity than anything else.

“I have obtained some music pupils, and I am doing very well, as I before said. I have no concern about myself.”

“Have you any letter or document with your father’s signature attached to it?”

“I have a number at home,” she replied; “by-the-by, I think I have a letter of his with me now, written to me some six years ago, when he was in Albany.”

So saying she took from her reticule the letter in question, and handed it to me.

“Will you allow me to retain possession of this?” I asked.

“Certainly,” she replied; “but I can assure you that if you suppose the will to be a forgery, you are mistaken. The will is undoubtedly genuine.”

“Well, my dear young lady,” I returned, “I do not doubt your word, but you may be mistaken. At all events I should like to judge for myself.”

I then bade her good morning, and expressed a wish to see her again that day week. When she had gone, I immediately put on my hat and coat, and directed my steps to the recorder’s office, for the purpose of examining the will. Aided by the index I found it readily, and commenced to read every word of it.

It was by no means a long document, but went on to state that he, Mr. Herbert Milford, being of sane mind, did thereby bequeath unto his beloved brother all his personal and real estate, etc., etc. The document appeared to be drawn up in a perfectly legal form, and captious special pleader could take no exception to it whatever. At last I came to the signature. I took from my pocket the letter Miss Milford had given me, for the purpose of comparing the signatures. There could be no doubt whatever but the signature was genuine; the letters were formed exactly the same, and were evidently written by the same hand. Still there was a marked difference between the two. That attached to the letter was bold and firm, while that attached to the will was weak and tremulous. The will was witnessed by John Dorsey.

The fact of this difference in the signatures immediately aroused my suspicions. A person’s signature rarely differs except when the mind is influenced. But then again I reflected that time might impair a person’s writing, and I compared the date of the will with that of the letter. What was my astonishment to find that they were both dated on the same day, namely, January 1st, 1840. I next held up the document to the light, for the purpose of seeing if there was a watermark on the paper. I found such was the case, and the words, “Connecticut Mills, 1843,” could be made out most distinctly.

Here was a will purporting to have been signed in New York on the 1st January, 1840, by a man who was in Albany on that very day, and on paper that was made three years afterwards. And yet there could be no disputing the fact that the signature was a genuine one. The whole truth in a moment flashed across on my mind, and I immediately set about unraveling the web. I went to work with a good heart, for I had but little doubt of success.

My first proceeding was to make inquiries as to the exact date of Mr. Milford’s disappearance. I discovered that it was on the 10th day of January, and that Oliver Milford had come to take possession of the property on the 21st. I also made inquiries as to the past life of the heir to the property, and found that in Boston, from which city he came, he bore a very disreputable character, and that no one would trust or believe him. I then returned to L—, and putting up at a country tavern, I called the landlord on one side.

“Mr. Adams,” said I, “do you know any one of the name of Dorsey living in this neighborhood?”

“Yes, sir, there’s a Mr. John Dorsey who lives over the river.”

“What kind of a man is he?” I asked.

“He’s a very tall, strong man,” he replied.

“I mean what kind of a character does he bear?”

“Well, I can’t say much in his favor, so I would rather not say anything.”

“I suppose he is not very much liked by his neighbors?”

“You may well say that. Ever since he attacked poor Mr. Milford so savagely, nobody speaks to him.”

“He attacked the late Mr. Milford, did he?”

“Yes sir, a most unprovoked assault. It seems that Mr. Milford offended this man in some way, and one day there was a sale in town, and Mr. Milford and Dorsey both bid for the same article. It was knocked down to the former, and it was after the sale that the assault was committed.”

“Was Dorsey prosecuted for it?”

“Yes, he was imprisoned for a year, and had to pay a heavy fine.”

I learned all I wanted to know, and changed the conversation. I now determined I would visit Linden Manor House again. My purpose was to have an interview with the new proprietor, so that I might observe him well, and perhaps gain a few points by my scrutiny.

I soon reached the dwelling, and ringing boldly at the bell, demanded an interview with Mr. Oliver Milford. After some delay I was admitted into his presence. I found him to be a gentlemanly man enough, but with rather a forbidding cast of features. I noticed two things in particular about him; one was that he had a club foot and a restless manner.

“Mr. Milford,” said I, “I have been informed that you wished to dispose of Linden Manor House; if that is the case I should like to purchase it.”

“Who the deuce told you that?” said Mr. Oliver Milford, an angry flush mounting to his face.

“A friend of mine,” I replied.

“He told you a lie, then.”

“If I have been misinformed, I apologize,” I replied.

Mr. Milford was somewhat mortified, and I bade him good morning. When I left the house I determined to visit the stable, for a reason the reader will discover by-and-by. I found two very fine horses, and the ostler, a good-humored Irishman there.

“Fine horses, there,” said I, as I entered there.

“Sure, an’ you may well say that,” replied the ostler, proud of my notice.

“You keep them well groomed, too.”

“Faith, and it’s but little grooming they require.”

“I suppose they can travel pretty fast?”

“You’ve just hit the nail on the head. You should just have seen them the day they came down here from New York. Why, they didn’t sweat a hair, and it’s a good twelve miles, too.”

“Indeed! They did not belong to the late Mr. Milford, then?”

“No, indeed. Sure an’ Mr. Oliver Milford brought them down with him when he came.”

“They were not at all distressed, you say?”

“Divil a bit! They looked as fresh as if they had just come out of the stable.”

“Did Mr. Milford arrive here in the daytime or nighttime?”

“It was dark night.”

“I see you come from the old country; here’s a quarter to drink my health. Good day.”

“Good day, and God bless you, sir—may the holy saints preserve you!”

I made inquiries at the tavern as to the exact spot where the witness of the will lived. I learned that it was across the river on a small island, the whole of which he owned. I procured a boat and rowed directly across – the river was not very broad. I then skirted along the shore until I came to a landing place. After I had proceeded a quarter of a mile, I reached a spot where the marks of horses’ feet were plainly to be traced on the snow. It was evident that horses had been embarked at this point on a boat or raft, and had been conveyed to the other side at the point from which I had started.

I made my boat fast and looked around me. I found that the island was small, and so thickly studded with green trees that I could see but very little in advance of me. Taking, however, the horses’ hoofs for my guide, I came upon an old dilapidated stone building which had evidently been built long anterior to the Revolution. It seemed to be entirely unoccupied, for the shutters were closed, and thick grass and weeds grew in profusion.

I walked all round the house, but could not find a living soul visible, but I was rewarded with a sight which made my blood tingle in my veins, for it served to substantiate my theory with respect to clearing up the mystery, and this sight was nothing less than the impression of a club foot many times repeated, near the front entrance of the house, thus showing conclusively that Mr. Oliver Milford was a frequent visitor at Mr. Dorsey’s.

I rang the bell, and receiving no answer, I opened the door which was unfastened. It was evident that Mr. Dorsey lived by himself, for there was only one room furnished, and that but meagerly. The first thing that I noticed was a candle and box of Lucifer matches on the table in the room. Although it was daylight I lighted the candle and began to explore the house. I first of all examined the upper portion of it, but found nothing.  I then examined the ground floor with the same success. I did not feel discouraged, for I felt almost satisfied from the fact of the candle being there that such would be the result.

I next proceeded to examine the cellar, and had not descended half a dozen steps before I heard a faint groan. I rushed forward, and entered a spacious vault. In a corner of this damp, dark and dismal dungeon, reclining on a heap of straw, with manacles on his wrists and ankles, I saw an old man whom I was satisfied was Mr. Herbert Milford. I held the candle over his head and saw that he was sleeping. At that moment I heard the sound of footsteps behind me, and turning round, saw that it was Mr. Oliver Milford advancing towards me with all the ferocity of a tiger. A terrible struggle ensued, but I was the younger man of the two, and finally succeeded in overpowering him, and in fixing the manacles with which he had loaded his poor brother, on his wrists and feet.

The joy of the poor old man at his release, knew no bounds. In a very few words he informed me of all that had passed. On the night of his disappearance, he was seized by his brother and Dorsey, and conveyed to this prison without being able to give the slightest alarm. While there he had been compelled, under threats of instant death, to sign a document, the purport which he did not know. His brother or Dorsey visited him every day, bringing him a supply of food, but he could not have lasted much longer, as he was getting weaker and weaker every day.

Everything had turned out exactly as I had expected. The trembling characters of the signature to the will, and the fact that it had been ante-dated, convinced me that it had been obtained by force. I then argued that Mr. Herbert Milford was not dead, but in some place of confinement. This place I was satisfied must be near Linden Manor House, as it would be impossible to convey him any long distance without detection. I was also satisfied that Mr. Oliver Milford must have been in the neighborhood long before the time he was supposed to have come from New York, and it was to discover if my opinion were a correct one that I paid a visit to the stable.

The poor old gentleman was conveyed back to his residence, and was soon gratified with his daughter’s presence. Young Waring was immediately released from confinement.

I may add that in a month or two Eliza Milford and Henry Waring were married. Oliver Milford died after four years’ confinement in the State Prison, where he had been condemned for life. Dorsey escaped. By some means he learned that his victim had been discovered, and at once started for New York. I need scarcely add that it was Doresy and Oliver Milford who had made the attack on Waring, and placed the watch and purse of their prisoner in his pocket, for the purpose of causing him to be suspected of having murdered the old gentleman.

Ballou’s Dollar Monthly Magazine, August 1862

This story was later included in the collection Leaves from the Note-Book of a New York Detective: The Private Record of J. B. Edited by John B. Williams, M.D. (New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, 1865. 19-25). The stories in this volume were purportedly written by the fictional character James Brampton.

This story was reprinted as
“A Detective Story” in The Indiana [PA] Progress November 2, 1876.

An earlier, longer original appeared in The Family Journal some time before April, 1860 and this was reprinted in The Memphis Daily Appeal April 22, 1860 as “The Tell-Tale Signature.” That version is much embellished and credits authorship to John B. Williams, M.D. It opens:

“One day while cozily sipping a cup of tea, and talking over our courting days with my wife, a loud ring at the bell informed me that a visitor wished to see me. The servant girl ushered into the apartment a young lady of remarkable beauty, who stated that she wished to see me in particular on very important business. My wife, (God bless her) who is by no means of a jealous disposition, discreetly withdrew and we were left alone.

To see “The Tell-Tale Signature” as it appears in The Memphis Daily Appeal,click here to be sent to the Chronicling America site hosted by The Library of Conngress.