Chapter 126: Cut To Ribbons

Barcode, Vauxhall [photo source]
Thanks to Buckingham Slate, Holmes and I had already seen the e-fits, which still struck us as strange. And the new police statement contained new information about why the police were looking for these people. But the story of the mysterious Mediterranean couple had always seemed strange, if not irrelevant, to us, and the new details didn't make the narrative any less strange, in our opinion, or any more relevant.

More to the point, rather than denying lurid details reported by the press, the police were now providing lurid details themselves.

On this point, Holmes was livid. But there was also a bit of a twinkle in his eye.

"An unconfirmed appearance at a gay bar?" he snorted over his coffee. "Is this the sort of clue that needs to be published? If the police were looking for anyone who had met him, they easily could have said that. Instead, they're looking for someone who met him in particular places. Why should their curiosity be so constrained? Of what possible value would it be to them to find someone who met Gareth Williams in a gay bar, or at a drag cabaret, as opposed to someone who met him anywhere else?"

"In order to answer this particular summons," I replied, "one would have to admit having been in the same bar, and run a risk of adverse publicity. Who in his right mind would step forward in response to such a plea?"

"Indeed, the question fairly begs not to be answered," replied the detective. "But there's more to it than that. If it could be corroborated, the hint of a gay connection would serve the hidden agenda of the anonymous sources who won't stop saying, 'He was queer and he deserved it.'

"In the same way, a connection to bondage-oriented websites could serve the agenda of those who are pushing the 'sex game gone wrong' story. I should say it remains to be seen how much of this new statement is true."

"Are you saying you think some of the evidence mentioned by the police could be fabricated, or planted?" I asked.

a chef cutting ribbons with
a sushi knife [photo source]
"What's to prevent it?" replied the detective. "If the killers, for some reason, wanted to make it appear as if Gareth had visited certain websites, how difficult would it be for them to do that? If someone wanted to plant data on his machine, site-tracking information, let us say, and make it seem as if he had put it there himself, by visiting certain websites, how difficult would it have been to do that? Once he was dead, and they had his phones and computers, who could have stopped them?"

"Or for that matter, what if the police wanted to do the very same thing? They've had his phones and computers for four months. How long would it take? Who polices the police?

"They wouldn't even need to plant any data. They could simply claim that he had visited certain websites, or even that he had written certain documents -- who could stop them? Who could contradict them? If ever they were challenged, they could delay proceedings while the required 'proof' was being created. Nobody would ever need to know where it came from, or when.

"For that matter, consider the 'unconfirmed sighting' at a bar. Perhaps the police have an actual, live witness who could testify that he saw Gareth at Barcode. Or maybe they only had an anonymous tip. How would we know? By the same token, what if there were no anonymous tip at all? What if the police were simply blowing smoke? How would we ever know? How would anyone ever know?"

"Well, what about the collection of women's clothing, and the course in fashion design?" I asked. "Could these be dubious as well?"

"These items would be much more difficult to fabricate than an unconfirmed sighting, or some internet history," replied Holmes. "And Cheryl Eastap vouched for his attendance in her classes."

"Then let's suppose," I said, "just for the sake of discussion -- that we can trust the police on these particular points: his interest in fashion design and his collection of women's clothing. Could they be relevant to his death in any way? Or are they simply being touted to establish a pattern that we are supposed to --"

"Yes! It appears so, does it not?" replied my friend. "In any case, it would be a simple matter for the police to obtain a list from Central St Martins College of the students who were in the same fashion design course, or courses, as Gareth was. The police could find all his former classmates, and speak to them at length, about Gareth, about fashion design, and about anything else, without any public appeal for information whatsoever. So why are they doing this?

Barcode, Vauxhall [photo source]
"It's all very double-edged. On one hand, think of the family. It's three days until Christmas, for God's sake! They haven't suffered enough yet? Do they really need lurid new details? And in a statement coming from the police themselves?

"For that matter, what is this statement really saying? They won't put it in plain English, but the message is very clear: 'Merry Christmas to the family of the dead pervert!' It's beyond outrageous, Watson, and I find it very irritating."

"I can see that," I replied. "But there's still more, isn't there? You said it was double-edged. What is the other edge?"

"If it were my investigation," replied the detective, "and I knew virtually nothing about the victim's life or his work, I would be trying to shine as much light as I could on any aspect of his life that I could illuminate. I wouldn't close off any potential avenue of information. So I would never pursue such a line as this. I would look for whatever evidence I could find, and I would try to follow that evidence, wherever it might lead.

"If the police were really trying to solve the mystery, they would be trying to find out as much as they could about Gareth Williams. They wouldn't be so focused on finding someone who could place him in a gay bar, or who could talk about him in terms of bondage or women's clothing. By asking these particular questions, the police are showing themselves to be keen to find something that could be used to associate Gareth with kinky sexual attitudes, if not actual practices. In other words, they are visibly more interested in trying to smear his reputation, or to buttress certain preconceived notions, than to solve the crime.

"The basic principles of investigation are very sound. And this statement is a public announcement that in this case those principles are being disregarded. No doubt the press will have a field day with all these sensational revelations. But we must never lose sight of what they say about the police.

"They've shown their hand now. Everything Slate told us about the investigation being constrained appears to have been true. But that was inside information. Now it's wide open, and the public can see -- if they haven't seen already -- that the investigation is a sham! They may well have called it 'Operation Finlayson' for the very reason Mycroft suggested.

zucchini cut to ribbons with a
vegetable peeler [photo source]
"So these are the two edges, my friend. One edge has wounded the family -- and very deeply, I dare say. But with the other edge, the police have cut the credibility of their investigation to ribbons!"

"To be fair," I objected, "The police are also appealing for anyone who may have been with Gareth -- how did they put it? -- 'at or before the time of his death.' Doesn't that count for something?"

"Oh yes, of course it does," replied my friend. "Give them all the credit they deserve for trying to solve a murder by asking the killer to present himself for questioning. Or, supposing that it was a bizarre accident, give them credit for hoping to solve it by having someone appear out of the blue to explain how he accidentally locked a man into an airtight bag and inadvertently left him in a bathtub to die. In either case, the approach is hardly likely to pay heavy dividends.

"They may as well say: 'Whoever did this, you know who you are. But we don't. Nor do we have the foggiest notion where you are, or how you are connected to this event. And therefore we think you ought to get in touch and explain it to us.'"

"So we can bundle you off to prison?" I asked.

"Something like that," replied my friend. "Keep an eye on the papers. This is bound to excite certain editors. They are so predictable -- they won't be able to resist these lurid new revelations.

"Foul, disgusting stories are sure to be printed in the wake of this statement. But the art of reporting is not dead yet -- not completely. Amid the all-too-predictable slime that is sure to come, we may yet find something useful."