This is part 4 of a short story about the mystery of the murder of a wine expert. You can find parts 1-3 here:
I looked back at Werner as I went out and said, “You’re right. You should have an attorney.”
Thirty minutes later, I was back at the crime scene, leaning against the hood of Truman’s squad car in front of the house, comparing notes.
“What did you find out on the canvass and the about the inventory?”
“We didn’t get anything from the neighbors. Nobody heard the shot or saw anything unusual except for a guy three blocks down the street who said the Batmobile was parked across the street in front of his neighbor’s house.”
“Some kind of European sports car. He didn’t know what kind. The neighbor in question wasn’t home, so we couldn’t ask him about it.
“Huh. Look at this,” I said. I pulled my phone out and showed her the picture of Cooper’s car.
“Shoot it to me, and I will run it by the witness.”
“What about the wine inventory,” I said as I e-mailed the picture.
We haven’t finished the inventory of the wine. I did verify that three of the most expensive wines are gone, including the Penfolds Grange. Other than that, the coroner’s guess for time-of-death is between 12 and 2 AM. The cause is the gunshot to the head. It is probably a .380 or 9mm, but they were still looking for the round when I left.”
“So, someone showed up to Joseph’s house late, shot him in the head, desecrated his corpse, and stole some of his expensive wine. Robbery?”
“It doesn’t feel like a robbery. The scene is too orderly. The place wasn’t ransacked, and the whole wine bottle thing makes it look more hinky, like revenge or something.”
“You’re right. If it were a robbery, it was focused on the expensive wine.”
“Wouldn’t that be kind of pointless?”
“How would they profit from stealing the wine. If it were someone who knows enough about wine values to focus on the Penfolds, then they would also know that it would be impossible to sell it to anyone knowledgeable without them alerting the authorities. With only twelve bottles in circulation, it is big news when one of them sells.”
“You may be right, although it could be sold to a private buyer with a secret wine cellar. The murderer cannot be someone who doesn’t know about wines; they knew enough to find the most expensive ones. If it were someone who knows their wines, the motive was probably not financial gain, which points back to Dobson, Cooper, or both.”
“Did you get anything out of them when you interviewed them?”
I told her about the visit to the winery.
“So, Dobson has a mystery alibi, and Cooper has no alibi, and they both have some motive and opportunity.”
“That pretty much sums it up. The problems are that Dobson’s alibi might be solid, and secondly, his motive seems too weak to lead to murder. Everyone I talked to seemed to think Joseph’s article would not have that big an effect.”
“Who do you think did it?” she asked.
“I like Cooper. He had the most to lose from Peter’s column. Dobson could fire him whether the bad vintage was his fault or not if that column had been printed. He would do it just to save face for the winery. There was also a current of hostility in Cooper that I did not see in Dobson.”
“Why don’t we bring him in and sweat him?” she asked.
“We would be wasting our time. To sweat someone, you need some leverage, and we don’t have any.”
“What do we do now?”
“We wait. The crime scene guys may give us something. Meanwhile, finish the inventory and run that photo of the car past the guy up the street.”
The following day, we were both in early. Truman had worked for me before and knew my rule on murders. Get the paperwork done before ten in the morning. We spent three hours writing and organizing reports into the murder book. I called Sid Arthur at the state crime lab at eleven to see if they had anything yet.
“There are a couple of things that may help you,” he said. “He was shot with a .380. We were able to recover the bullet from the wall. We also got prints from the wine glass in the living room and off the bottle in the victim’s mouth. There is a definite match on a guy named Werner Dobson. His prints were on file since he served in the Marines. His criminal background is clean.”
“Nice. We happen to know Werner. Anything else?” I said.
“No. Just the obvious. He was murdered where we found the body. The wine in the glass came from the bottle shoved down his throat. The only other prints we found were the victims.”
“That’s kind of weird,” I said. “Let me know if anything else comes up.”
“It’s not likely,” he said. “But I will if it does.”
My next call went to the State Medical Examiner to determine when the post-mortem was scheduled. They had him booked for Wednesday afternoon. Truman or I would have to be there, but I wasn’t expecting much in the way of new revelation. We already knew the cause of death and a rough time. After I got off the line, I went in and gave the Chief a briefing on our progress and then told Truman where to meet me for lunch.
The day was warm and sunny, so we ordered at the counter and grabbed an outside table.
“Give me the highlights from the canvas and inventory?” I said.
“Nothing new,” said Truman. “I ran the picture of the car by the witness, and he said it looked like the same car. The neighbors where the car was parked are out-of-town, so it doesn’t look like they were getting a late-night visit. The three most expensive wines I told you about yesterday were the only ones missing from the pantry. Now your turn.”
I smiled at her. She knew something was up, and she was being notably patient. I told her about the fingerprint match and the murder weapon. Then the waiter came out with our food.
After a few bites and a drink of iced tea, she said, “That kind of sucks. I was starting to believe it was Cooper.”
“So was I,” I said. “But that is why it’s best to wait for some evidence.”
“What now? Drag Werner in and grill him? Search his house and business? That’s it. His mystery alibi worries me, but the print match is compelling. We have to jump on it with both feet.”
“Any idea who the alibi is?” she asked.
“Five bucks says it’s the gracious and lovely Gretchen.”
“You sound jealous.”
“I am,” I said with a smile.
“Well, you are on,” she said. “Five bucks. Dobson is too old for her.”
“Well, you are about to learn about the seductive power of wealth. Anyway, you handle the warrants, and I will put together a plan to roll him up late this afternoon and get a couple of teams in to search his home and the winery.”
We finished lunch and headed back to the police station.
By seven that evening, an annoyed Werner Dobson sat in our interview room at the station, waiting to be questioned. The search of his home in Dundee had been completed without finding anything to help make the case. The winery search continued. It had already turned up an S & W .380 hidden under some files in his desk. It was starting to look like we had our man. Truman returned with the bagged and tagged gun at a quarter to eight, and we went in to see what Werner had to say.
Werner looked up when we came in but said nothing.
Truman set the evidence box on the table, and we sat across from him.
I put the file on the table and thumbed through it to let the tension build and then looked at him and said, “You have been read your rights?”
“Yes,” he said with an irritable tone. “We can clear this up if you check my alibi for that night.”
“Okay, where were you Sunday night?”
“I was entertaining a friend of mine, a woman. We had dinner at Jory’s restaurant at the Allison Resort. We finished at around ten and then returned to my house in Dundee. She spent the night with me.”
“You were together all that time?”
“I would say so, yes,” he said with a hint of a smile.
“I hope you will be discreet. This would be an embarrassment to us both.”
“We will. Who was it?”
His face reddened a bit, and he said, “Gretchen Rudnitsky, my receptionist.”
Truman muttered, “Damn,” and pulled a five-dollar bill from her pocket and slammed it on the table in front of me.
I smiled at her and said, “Check it out. She was at the winery watching over the search. Get her on the phone.”
She stood and left the room, and I slid the evidence box into the empty seat next to me, took off the lid, and pulled out plastic evidence bags containing a wine bottle, a wine glass, and the gun we found earlier that day at the winery. I set them on the table.
“Here is the problem we have, Werner. This is the wine bottle that was forced into Joseph’s mouth,” I said as I held up the bag with the bottle.
I put the bottle down, held up the bag with the glass, and said, “We also found this at the scene. We pulled clear fingerprints off both items, and they matched your prints on file with the FBI.”
He tried to look impassive, but his face had reddened, and his eyes narrowed like he was trying to make sense of what I was saying. Then he blinked at the bag and said,” It figures Peter would drink Pinot from a flute.”
“A flute. You use them for sparkling wines, not reds.”
I shrugged off his comment and held up the last bag containing the gun.
“We also found this in your desk at the winery. It’s the same caliber as the gun used on Joseph. We haven’t done ballistics or checked for fingerprints, but we will.”
“I think I should have an attorney….” he started to say when the door opened, and Truman came in and indicated, with a nod, that I should follow her outside to compare notes. I put the evidence back in the box, picked up the box, and rose to leave.
I looked back at Werner as I went out and said, “You’re right. You should have an attorney.”
Truman looked worried.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“We can’t find her. She doesn’t answer her phone. I sent a patrolman by her house, and no one was home. I called the winery, and no one was there. I called Dave Cooper, and he said the last time he saw her, she was leaving the winery after the police were finished.”
I didn’t say anything. She looked at me. I looked at her. She looked at me and crossed her arms, and said, “What?”
“I am not panicking yet, but this has been too easy,” I said. “Murder investigations are chaotic and disorderly. Murders like this, in particular, do not solve this easily unless the murderer is stupid, and Werner doesn’t strike me as stupid.”
“Okay,” she said, “what you are thinking.”
“I feel like we are being spoon-fed the evidence. First of all–fingerprints. We get solid matches off the bottle and the glass but no prints elsewhere. Why would he be so careful but not think to wipe down the bottle and glass.”
“He was nervous and in a hurry?”
I continued, “Then there is the gun. He kept it and put it back into his desk drawer? He should have hidden the thing. The guy has a hundred acres of farmland and a bunch of buildings, yet he puts the gun back into his desk. It makes no sense.”
“Guilt can make you do weird things. Maybe he wants to be caught?”
“Then he comes up with an alibi, and the person who can vouch for him is suddenly missing. It feels like something is happening here that we don’t see. It’s like we are being manipulated.”
“All we got is what we got. Should I book him?”
“Yes. Book him. There is no real reason not to.”
“You’re the boss,” she said.