Chapter 101: Outside The Box

Previous: A Wild Theory

"No wonder the police haven't found it." [source]
"Still, Holmes," I objected, "why would the coroner's office say the body was identified by comparison with a photograph, if it wasn't true?"

"That's a good question, Doctor," replied my friend.

"And if it is true," I continued, "then a neutral observer might be tempted to ask, 'Why didn't they test the DNA?'"

"Indeed," said Sherlock Holmes. "And the same observer might be tempted to suggest that perhaps no rigorous testing was done to identify the body, precisely because such testing would have uncovered a monstrous deception."

"And yet," I said, "it's only a wild theory."

"That's all it is," agreed Holmes. "And, at this point, that's all it can be. I would love to trust the press, Watson. I would truly enjoy being able to take every word printed in the London dailies as Gospel truth. It would make everything so much easier. But as we have seen more than once, it's not a wise thing to do."

"The quote to which you referred," I said, "which was published in the Sun, was uttered at the inquest, no?"

"Yes," said my friend.

"That is a very public event," I continued. "I would be inclined to believe reports from inquests and hearings."

"Because such reports tend to be more reliable," said he, "than stories about botched gem shop heists?"

"I wouldn't want to overstate the case," I said, "but suppose for a moment that you are onto something. What if the body in the flat belonged to someone other than Gareth Williams? What impact would that have on the investigation?"

"I suppose that depends on which investigation you mean," replied Holmes. "If you are referring to the police investigation, which doesn't appear to be going anywhere, especially because no formal cause of death can be ascertained, then the question answers itself, does it not?

"We have been critical of the police for their reluctance to say Gareth Williams was murdered. But what if the body they found in Gareth's flat was not that of a murder victim? Then they would be right, at least as far as cause of death is concerned.

"Since the police have no cause of death, they can't call it murder. And since they can't do that, they can hardly arrest any suspects, can they?

"In other words, a switch of bodies, if it happened, and if it went undetected, would have stifled the police investigation before it ever began."

"The result of which would be identical with what we have seen so far," I pointed out.

"It's a totally wild theory," cautioned Holmes once again.

"I understand that," I said. "But I like it just the same. Stay on this line of thought with me for a moment. What impact would it have on our investigation?"

"In addition to all our other problems, technical and otherwise," replied Holmes, "we would also be trying to find out whether Gareth Williams is still alive. If so, where is he? If not, what happened to him? And in either instance, whence came the body in the bag?"

"So our investigation would be much more complicated," I continued, "and the police investigation would be well nigh impossible. Would that be sufficient reason to do such a thing?"

"That would depend," replied the detective, "on who was doing it."

"Whoever did it," I continued, "showed that they had secure access to the 'safe house' as well as the power to manipulate the press. What does that imply? What else would they have? Would they have access, for example, to a variety of dead bodies?"

"Probably," said my friend.

"I think you were right about the relative risk involved," I said. "If the killers had secure access to the 'safe house,' which they apparently did, and if they had a substitute body available, which, if they were well enough connected, they probably did, then perhaps the crime was not as audacious as we first believed."

"How so?" asked Holmes.

"If somehow they could kill Gareth and get his body out of there," I said, "or kill him elsewhere and disappear his body, and if they could leave another body behind, one which bore no trace of murder, then they would have a powerful reason to do so.

"The forensic examination of the body they left behind could not possibly lead to them, so in a sense it would be safer than leaving behind the body of the man they had killed.

"And at the same time, they could guarantee that no matter when the body was found, it would already be badly decomposed. So they would accomplish the third prong of what you called a 'three-pronged attack' in a most powerful fashion.

"Do you happen to know of any published statement, corroborated or otherwise, which suggests the body was identified by a family member, or by any technique more stringent than comparison with a photograph?"

"No," said Holmes.

"I am curious enough to have another look at the files," I said. "I would like to see how much support I can find -- circumstantial, indirect, or otherwise -- for this wild theory of yours."

"It is beginning to sound a bit less wild," said my companion. "It is also beginning to seem less mine, and more yours!"

"Wouldn't that be strange?" I said. "Can you remember a single case, in all the years we have been together, in which I caught on to the true explanation of a mystery before you did?"

"I can recall many cases in which you have been very helpful," replied Holmes after some thought, "but I cannot remember an instance in which you have spotted the solution before I did. That doesn't mean it can't happen; in statistical terms, provided that we work on enough cases together, it is probably inevitable."

I smiled, perhaps a bit too broadly.

"It remains to be seen," said Holmes, "whether the longstanding trend is to be broken in this particular case. Tell me one thing?"

"Anything," I replied.

"Do you really like this theory because it's so wild?" he asked.

"Partly," I answered. "I mostly like it because it explains so many things that otherwise make very little sense. You've been telling me the simplest available explanation is usually the best."

"I have," he said.

"Well," I replied, "maybe the police couldn't find evidence of murder on the body because the body wasn't murdered. What could be simpler than that?"

"If the solution to the mystery is completely outside the box, --" said Sherlock Holmes.

"Then it's no wonder the police haven't found it," said I.

"Nor will they," said he.