The Knotted Handkerchief
by Percy Garrett

About ten years ago I was studying medicine in New York. I had been working very hard, having specially devoted my attention for the last six months to pathology. This is a tedious study, demanding the most determined mental attention. I threw myself into it with all the ardor of youth, and consequently at the end of six months I had completely exhausted my mental energies.

One day I was sitting listlessly in my room endeavoring to master Bayle’s “Recherches Phthisie Pulmonaire,” but I could not comprehend what I was reading; my thoughts unbidden reverted back to my own home, and it rose up in all its neatness and charms before my mental vision. My heart yearned to see my family again, and I knew that two more long years must elapse before my wish could be gratified. A sudden knocking at the door interrupted my reverie. At my summons to “come in,” the door opened, and my particular friend Charles Seldon entered the room.
“What! Still poring over your books?” said he.

“Yes,” I replied, “I am trying to master Bayle, but I don’t make much progress.”
“I tell you what it is, my dear fellow,” said my friend, good naturedly, “you will make yourself ill. You don’t know how pale you look. Now take my advice, throw your books on one side.”
“It’s all very well talking,” I replied; “but I want to perfect myself in pathology, and it is impossible for me to do so without application.”
We then entered into a long discussion as to the necessity of an intimate knowledge of pathol­ogy to practice medicine, and ended as these discussions usually do, by neither of us being convinced.
“Well, old friend,” said he, “the fact is, you must have some relaxation. I am going home tomorrow for a month. Now I propose you ac­company me. You have no idea how delighted my friends will be to see you. We live in a homely style, ‘far from the busy haunts of man,’ but I am sure the change will do you a world of good. Come, make up your mind and join me.”

I reflected a moment — the temptation was too strong for me, and I agreed to accompany him. The next morning we started off. His father was a farmer, and lived in the western part of the state of New York. I shall not dwell on my visit. Suffice it to say that I was received with the greatest kindness, and treated with genuine hospitality, and I passed there four of the happiest weeks of my life. I had been there about a week when I went out one day for a long walk by myself. Seldon had a headache and preferred to stay at home. I walked several miles, and growing tired, I entered a country tavern, and calling for a glass of ale and a cigar, I sat down to rest myself.

While thus engaged a slight cough attracted my attention, and I glanced at the spot from whence it proceeded. Seated at the further end of the barroom was an individual I had not no­ticed before. He was a man between thirty and forty years of age. There was something very peculiar about his features which immediately arrested my attention. I do not know how to describe it, but it gave me an idea that he possessed a very acute mind. This impression was further increased by his movements. They were quick, and it was evident that he did not allow the slightest circumstance to escape him. I am not naturally inclined to make friends with strangers, but there was something in this man which attracted me to him. I drew my chair nearer his and commenced a conversation.
“A pleasant day,” said I.
“You are right, sir,” he replied; “it is very pleasant indeed, considering the time of year. One would expect to find it much colder than it is in this part of the state.”
“I should judge from your remarks that you do not live in this neighborhood,” I ventured to observe.

Before replying he gave me a scrutinizing glance.
“I live in New York,” he replied, after a moment’s pause. “My name is James Brampton; my profession a detective officer.”
I was delighted to meet Mr. Brampton. His name had lately been very prominently brought before the public in more than one instance. He was a man of extraordinary sagacity, and had succeeded in discovering the perpetrators of crime, when to ordinary men all clue appeared to be lost. His faculty in this respect was evidently owing to his keen observation, his acute mental analysis and determined perseverance. No difficulty daunted him, in fact his power seemed to increase in proportion as the case was enveloped in mystery. He was a man of great courage, and what was still better for his profession, extraordinary coolness.
We grew quite familiar, and in the course of conversation I asked him what brought him so far from New York. He told me he was in pursuit of a burglar, and had laid a trap for him and expected to arrest him that very day. Our interview lasted some time, when I arose to go. He then gave me his address in New York, and stated that he should be happy for me to call and see him. After the time for our visit had expired, Charles Seldon and myself both returned to New York together, and I applied myself to studies with renewed energies. It might have been about a month after this, that one morning I took up the New York Herald, and the following paragraph caught my attention:
“Horrible Murder. — The inhabitants of Lispenard Street were yesterday thrown into a terrible state of excitement, by the discovery of one of the most fearful murders it has ever been the lot of humanity to witness. It appears that No. 121 is let out into lodgings. An apartment on the second floor is occupied by a young medical student named George Wilson. It was noticed yesterday that he did not make his appearance as usual. It was supposed that he was sick, and the owner of the house, who occupied the ground floor, went up to his room to see if he had need of anything. When he entered the room a dreadful sight presented itself. The young man was lying before the fireplace quite dead. His throat was cut in a fearful manner. Some of his hair which had evidently been pulled out by the roots, lay scattered about the room. The motives for this horrible deed are entirely unknown. The property of the deceased did not appear to have been disturbed. We are happy to say that the probable murderer has been arrested. We refrain from giving more particulars today, as it might defeat the ends of justice.”
I was very much shocked to learn that poor Wilson had met with such a dreadful end. I knew him well, as he was studying at the same college as myself, and although I could not exactly rank him among my friends, still the little intercourse I had had with him had impressed me very favorably as to his general character. I had only spoken to him the very day before in the chemical lecture room, and it seemed so shocking to know that at that moment he was lying dead. I went down to the college as usual, and the first person I met in the hall was Mr. Dolman, the worthy janitor.
“Have you seen poor Wilson’s body?” said he, after we had been conversing a few minutes about the murder.

“No,” I replied; “I suppose it is a shocking sight.”
“It is, indeed — but there is one consolation — ­the murderer is arrested.”
“So the paper said, but it did not give his name — who is it?”
“One you know very well. It’s no other than Charles Seldon.”
“Seldon!” I exclaimed. “Impossible! Why, he is my dearest friend!”
“I am sorry to hear that, sir, because there can be no doubt about his guilt.”
I begged Mr. Dolman to enter into full partic­ulars. His statement, divested of all extraneous matter, amounted to substantially as follows:
George Wilson and Charles Seldon had at one time been great friends. They had been inseparable, and it appeared as if nothing could occur to disturb their friendship. But one day they had a quarrel in the dissecting room about the origin and insertion of some muscles. High words took place, and threats were freely indulg­ed in on both sides. But by the interposition of some friends they were reconciled. After this quarrel they became as firmly attached to each other as ever. They constantly visited at each other’s rooms, and were frequently seen together in public.

On the evening of the murder, they had attended the theatre together, and Seldon had returned home with Wilson. The owner of the lodging house testified to their both returning about twelve o’clock at night. He did not know what time Seldon had left. The police immediately proceeded to search Seldon’s room. They found the student absent. After a strict search they discovered in one corner of his sleeping apartment, a handkerchief saturated with blood, and a dissecting knife also smeared with blood. In a drawer was a letter containing a challenge to Wilson to fight a duel; this letter had no date to it. This evidence was thought conclusive, and Charles Seldon was immediately arrested, charged with the willful murder of George Wilson.
I must confess when all this was told me, the case appeared a very black one for my friend Seldon. It was proved that on the night of the murder he had accompanied the deceased to his rooms; that it had not been noticed when he left; that the strongest evidences of his guilt were found in his rooms, but still I was not satisfied. I knew Seldon so well that I could not persuade myself he had been guilty of so atrocious a crime. I at once determined to pay my friend a visit in prison, and easily obtained a pass for that purpose. In an hour I was at the prison door. On delivering the pass I was immediately admitted. When I entered the cell, I found my friend sitting on the edge of his iron bed, with his face buried in his hands. As soon he heard my step he looked up.
“My dear fellow,” said he, rising, “this is indeed kind of you.”

“I should indeed be wanting in friendship,” I replied, “if I were not to visit you when in trouble.”
“You know about the dreadful crime with which I am charged, but as surely as there is a God in Heaven, I am guiltless of this bloody deed.”
The poor fellow could restrain himself no longer, but letting his face fall on my shoulder, he wept and sobbed like a child. I had no doubt whatever of his innocence now.
“Come, come,” said I, trying to console him; “Cheer up, Charles. I am perfectly satisfied as to your innocence, and so shall the world be before many days are over!”
“It is not for myself I care,” he exclaimed between his sobs, “but my mother — my poor dear mother, it will break her heart when she hears of her son’s disgrace.”
“My dear fellow,” I answered, “you let your fears get the better of you. There can be no disgrace when there is no crime; but come, compose yourself, I want you to tell me a few particulars regarding this matter. Do you suspect anybody of having committed this murder?”
“No, I have not the slightest idea who did it. You well know that poor Wilson and I had settled our quarrel; we were as good friends as ever, and even on the fatal night we went to the theatre together. We returned about midnight, and I accompanied him to his room, where I stayed with him upwards of an hour, smoking a cigar and talking about old times. I let myself out without disturbing anyone and went immediately home. This morning I was arrested on the charge of murder, and this is all I know about the matter, so help me God!”
“Have you employed anyone to look after your interests?”
“Not yet. Everything was so sudden that I appear to be in a dream.”
“A sudden thought has struck me. You remember my telling you about meeting with a famous detective officer, named Brampton, when I was on a visit to your house? Now if anybody can find out the truth, he is the man.”
“You are right — see him at once, my dear fellow. There is no time to lose.”
I agreed with Seldon, that it would be better to see Brampton immediately, and hurriedly bidding him goodbye, I proceeded at once to the address the detective officer had given me, and which, fortunately, I had preserved. I found him at home, and in a few words I explained to him all that had occurred. He appeared I thought to take the matter very coolly, but consented without any hesitation to examine into the affair.
“What are the proofs against the young man?” asked Brampton.

I then told him about the bloody handkerchief, the dissecting knife, and the challenge which had been found in Seldon’s room; at the same time I upbraided myself that I had not mentioned anything about the supposed proofs of his guilt to my friend when I visited him in prison.
“The first thing we have to do,” said the de­tective, “is to examine these things; we will then visit the scene of the tragedy.”
He put on his hat and we went at once to the police office. The articles were shown us without any hesitation. Mr. Brampton scrutinized the bloody handkerchief, knife, and compromising note very closely.

“If this is all the proof they have got against your friend, it does not amount to much,” said he. “With respect to the handkerchief, you see it is only bloody in spots; had it been used in murder it would have been saturated equally through the whole fabric; the blood on the knife is at least two weeks old, and the challenge evidently written two or three months ago — ­you see the paper looks quite yellow, and has already faded.”
I was rejoiced to hear him give this opinion, which, when he pointed out to me the reasons for it, was evidently well founded. We left the police office, and started for Lispenard Street for the house where the murder had been committed. It was the middle of January, and the day was bitter cold. A considerable quantity of snow had fallen, which somewhat impeded our progress. In half an hour’s time, however, we reached the house which had been the scene of the assassination.

It was quite a modern building situated in the heart of a populous street. One would suppose it to be the last place in the world where such a deed could be committed without instant detection. We had no difficulty in obtaining admission into the fatal chamber. The room remained exactly in the same state as when first discovered. Wilson’s body, however, had been moved into another apartment. Mr. Brampton proceeded to examine the room narrowly, determined if possible to discover some clue to the murderer. I must premise by stating that the apartment was the middle of three on the second floor. The one on the right was occupied by a lawyer’s clerk, the one on the left by a clerk in a drugstore.
“The first thing to be observed,” said Mr. Brampton, “is that it is very singular how this murder could have been committed without any alarm having been given to the inmates of the other two apartments. The natural inference is that the victim must first of all have been deprived of consciousness — this must have been produced by either ether or chloroform. I should judge it must have been the latter, as it is more rapid in its effects.”
I did not agree with the theory of the detective, for it appeared to me that a violent struggle had taken place. The room was in extreme disorder, and the floor was strewn with the murdered man’s hair. I mentioned my doubts to Mr. Brampton.

“The very thing you mention only serves to confirm me in my first opinion,” said he with a smile, and he picked up a lock of hair from the carpet. “In the first place,” he continued, “there is too much study and regularity in this to satisfy me, and look at this lock of hair, you see the ends are all even and stained with blood, evidently showing that it was not torn out by the roots, as would be imagined at first glance. The even ends show that it was cut off with some sharp instrument, and the fact of their being stained with blood proves that the hair was cut off after the murder was committed, and with the same instrument. This instrument must have been very sharp, and I conclude it was either a razor or a scalpel.”

Mr. Brampton now proceeded to search every corner of the apartment, and discovered under a heap of bedclothes a pocket handkerchief. He picked it up and found that the two ends were knotted together. He raised it to my nose, and I could distinctly trace the smell of chloroform. It was a large white pocket handkerchief, and evidently belonged to a gentleman. In one cor­ner of it were the initials J.D.
“An important discovery,” said the detective, putting it into his pocket.
We next proceeded to view the body. The mortal remains of George Wilson were stretched on a low bed in an empty apartment on the next floor. The first thing that Mr. Brampton pointed out to me was that one of the ears of the de­ceased was almost black and the other was grazed. On the back of the head the hair was matted and pressed.
The detective pulled the handkerchief he had found in the other room from his pocket, and discovered that it exactly fitted round the head of the deceased, and where the hair was matted the knot had been tied. The pressure had been so great as to stop the circulation of the blood, and this accounted for the peculiar appearance of the ears. Mr. Brampton next proceeded to examine the mouth of the deceased. After separ­ating the lips, we both of us perceived a small piece of white or transparent substance adhering to one of the front teeth. He detached it.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It is a piece of human skin,” he replied.

“What do you infer from it?”
“I will tell you directly, but it is necessary first that we should again visit the room where the murder was committed.”
We did so, and Brampton walked straight up to a large cupboard which he had neglected to examine before. He threw open the door, and he had no sooner done so than an expression of satisfaction escaped his lips.
“I suspected as much,” said he. “Do you see nothing peculiar in that cupboard?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. “I only see that it is half full of soiled linen.”

“Don’t you see that the linen is indented in the middle, evidently showing that someone has been concealed there?”
When he pointed it out to me it was plain enough, and I wondered it had not struck me before.
“I think we are now in a very fair way of discovering the murderer,” said he. “Your friend is undoubtedly innocent. The murderer, whose initials are in all probability J.D., concealed himself in this closet. He must have been there during the whole of the interview between Seldon and Wilson. When the latter was left alone, he crept stealthily from his hiding place, and first saturating his handkerchief with chloroform, he applied it to the mouth of his victim. A very slight struggle ensued in which the hand of the murderer was bitten by the deceased. The chloroform, however, soon produced unconsciousness; the deed was then committed; the cutting off of the hair, and the disorder in the room, were effected afterwards, as I before told you.”
It was perfectly plain to me after his explanation, that everything must have taken place exactly as he stated, and it appeared such a simple and natural conclusion to arrive at, that I wondered I had not come to the same conclusion myself.
“What is the next lecture at the university medical college?” said he.
“Professor P— lectures at five o’clock this afternoon on Materia Medica,” I replied, somewhat surprised at such a question.
“Will you allow me to accompany you?” he asked.
“Certainly,” I returned, more and more surprised.
We left the house, and it was decided that I should call for him a quarter before five. He gave me no reason why he wished to attend the lecture. At the hour agreed upon I was at his door, and we both proceeded to the college together. When we entered the lecture room he scrutinized every student present, and then appeared satisfied, for he sat down and listened attentively to the end. When it was over he pointed out a young man to me.
“What is that young man’s name?” said he.

“His name is Joseph Davis.”
“Do you know him?”
“Yes, I know him very well.”

“Do you know where he lives?”


At that moment Davis came up conversing with four or five other students. They stood quite near us, and we could overhear their conversation.
“What’s the matter with your hand, Davis?” said a student.
I now noticed for the first time that his hand was tied up in a handkerchief.
“I pricked myself while dissecting,” replied Davis.
“You ought to be careful of yourself, such injuries are frequently very dangerous,” returned another student.
“What a shocking thing it is about poor Wilson,” said another of his companions.
“It is, indeed,” returned Davis. “I suppose there is no doubt about Seldon’s guilt?”
“Not at all. By-the-by, Davis, it is a good thing the murderer is discovered, for you had an awful row with him yesterday morning.”
“I know I had. You know he accused me of cheating at cards, and I could not stand that. I own I used some very harsh language, which I now regret.”
The young men now passed on. Mr. Bramp­ton followed them. At last the student who had referred to the difficulty between Davis and Wilson, separated from the rest. The detective officer hurried on and overtook him before he turned the corner of the street.
“What is that young man’s name?” he asked of me.
“Herman Doyle,” I returned.
“Mr. Doyle,” said Brampton, as he came up with the student, “I wish to ask you a question or two. I am a detective officer. You referred just now to a quarrel between Mr. Davis and Mr. Wilson — will you be good enough to give me the particulars?”
The young student appeared to be a good deal astonished at being thus addressed, but replied without any hesitation.
“Yesterday morning, Davis, Wilson and myself were playing poker in my room. There was a dispute between the two persons, Wilson accusing Davis of cheating.”
“What followed?” asked Brampton.
“Davis, who is a southerner, was very indignant, and swore he would have Wilson’s life.”

“I thank you. I am much obliged to you,” replied the detective, and wishing the medical student good morning, we walked away.
“Now, then, we must go to Davis’s lodgings,” said Brampton. “Introduce me as your uncle and ask him to lend you a scalpel.”
I did not presume to dispute anything he advised. We had not to walk far before we reached the house in which he boarded. He had only arrived a few minutes before us. We were shown at once into his room, and I introduced Bramp­ton as my uncle as had been agreed upon. When the ceremony of introduction was over, I said:
“Davis, will you be kind enough to lend me a scalpel for a day or two?”
“Help yourself,” said he, pointing to a box on the bureau. Brampton took the box as if for the purpose of handing it to me. He opened it and glanced at the contents.
“What is the matter with your hand, Mr. Davis?” said Brampton, looking at him as if he would read his very soul.
Davis began to grow uneasy, and moved restlessly in his chair.
“O, it’s nothing,” he answered. “I pricked myself while dissecting the other day.”
“Will you let me see it?” I asked, “Perhaps I can suggest something for it.”
“It is really not worthwhile,” he answered. Then he added, after reflecting a moment, “but if it will afford you any gratification, you can see it.”
He pulled off the handkerchief and showed us his hand. It was as Brampton had expected —­ his hand had been severely bitten, and the marks of the teeth were plainly perceptible. We then knew that we stood in the presence of George Wilson’s murderer! Brampton suddenly rose from his seat, shut the door, and putting his hand on Davis’s shoulder, exclaimed:

“I am a detective officer. Joseph Davis, I arrest you for the murder of George Wilson, and here is the knife with which you committed the deed,” he added, taking one of the scalpels from the box — “see, some of the hair of the victim still adheres to it.”
This sudden action succeeded. He gazed for a moment wildly around him as if meditating flight, and then fell back speechless in a chair. The assistance of some policemen was immediately obtained and he was removed to the Tombs.
Two days afterwards he committed suicide in prison by opening the femoral artery, leaving be­hind him a written confession of his guilt. In this confession he acknowledged that he had con­cealed himself in Wilson’s chamber, and attacked him exactly in the manner stated by Bramp­ton. Charles Seldon was of course honorably discharged.

Ballou’s Dollar Monthly Magazine, July 1862