Spontoon Island
home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
comic strips - editorial - souvenirs - Yahoo forum
Posted 13 July 2011
The Otterholt House Massacre
An investigation by Inspector Stagg
& the State Police Criminal Investigation Bureau
of New Haven - 1926
Chapter 9
By Walter D. Reimer

The Otterholt House Massacre

© 2009 by Walter D. Reimer

(The Stagg Family courtesy of Eric Costello. Thanks!)

Chapter 9

        GUILTY, screamed the Morning Star the next day.
        ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE TO HANG, announced the Forward.  The other fifteen national, regional and local papers in New Haven held similar sentiments, regardless of their political orientations.
        Not surprisingly, the Evening Mail relegated the story to inside the paper, but did give it the honor of appearing on page five, rather than burying it back on page ten. 
        What was surprising to many of the Mail’s readers, however, was the appearance of a Publisher’s Letter in the editorial pages.  The letter was titled “Is Hanging a Deterrent?” and was in fact signed by none other than the publisher and owner of the Mail, Charles Augustus Stagg.
        Mr. Stagg’s family connection to Chief Stagg was well-known, as was his connection to the leader of the Civic Union Party.  He was their older brother and (since the death of their sire) the head of the Stagg Family.
        The Publisher’s Letter was written in a ponderous style that had been in vogue around the turn of the century.  However, despite its prolixity, the Letter presented a fairly cogent argument against the death penalty, particularly in the case of young Mr. Stevenson.
        The Letter surprised many who knew the publisher, as quite a few people believed that the elder Stagg’s mental processes had ceased their movement at roughly the same time that Queen Victoria’s heart had stopped beating.  A common joke held that Charles had sired his children almost absent-mindedly, more out of instinct than anything else.
        What the youngest brother thought of the Letter went unrecorded.  He was an officer of the law and no matter what he could be counted on to enforce the law.
        The Letter didn’t sit well with the middle brother.


Saturday August 5, 1926
The Century Club
14, The Green, New Haven City:

        The Century Club was a home away from home for many of the gentlemen in New Haven’s thin upper crust, who relied on either old family ties or old money to gain entrée into the establishment.  Femmes were strictly not allowed, as were Jews and (this usually said with a delicate shudder) Americans.  The atmosphere was normally one of almost somnolent quiet, and to voice any opinion, however strongly felt, above a murmur was simply Not Done.
        Which made the outburst by one of the Club’s senior members all the more astonishing.
        “That fool’s been King Log for twenty years, and NOW he decides to take a stand?”  Prescott Stagg fumed as he swept off his hat and coat, depositing both into the care of the liveried footman at the front door.  “Where is he?” the whitetail buck demanded.
        “Mr. Charles is in the library, sir,” the beagle said, and Prescott swept past him.
        “You!” he snapped as he came upon his older brother in the library.  True to form, Charles had a large book on a reading stand beside his chair and a small tray of crudités ready to paw.  He took after his grandfather in that regard, preferring a full belly to anything else. 
        His belly reflected that philosophy.
        The elder brother looked up at Prescott, then glanced back at the page he was reading.  “Yes, Prescott?” he asked in a mild tone, as the other furs in the room turned to cast disapproving looks on the younger Stagg for his unseemly outburst.
        Prescott sneered at them and said to Charles, “What were you thinking of, writing that damned letter?”
        “My thoughts were of the parents,” Charles said placidly.
        “The parents?  Why?  Because they’re Progressive Alliance?”  The last two words were filled with venom.
        Charles gathered up a few crudités, dredged them through a dressing and stuffed them into his mouth.  After chewing, swallowing and chasing the vegetables down with a sip of his drink he replied, “Oh my, no Prescott.  Because they're a mother and father, don't you know.  Horrible shock, simply horrible.  If there is mercy, Mayor Stevenson will be quite forthcoming with his sorrow to the victims' families.  Show no mercy, he'll view himself as victim."
        Prescott snorted.  “Have you taken leave of what little sense you still had?”  One or two patrons of the Club hid smiles behind their paws or newspapers.  It was amusing to think of Prescott discovering that his elder brother was nearly as exasperating as his younger brother (half-brother, if one believed certain rumors).
        The question netted Prescott a brief glare.  “You . . . you know, I *am* sentient enough to sign your dividend checks, Prescott.  Remember that."
        As with most clubs, rumors did get around; one of these was that Prescott depended on Charles for occasional subsidies.  These funds, in turn, went on to subsidize certain houses of ill repute.
        "Don't you give me that, you horned homunculus!  Is an editorial singing the praises of our half-wit little brother coming next?" 
        With the slow grace of a shifting glacier, Charles Stagg began to move from his chair until he stood facing his younger brother.  He harrumphed and said, "Sooner, dear fellow, than an editorial singing your praises."
        Prescott started to open his mouth and Charles added, “Oh, yes, dear fellow.  There is quite a difference between you two.  You are happy to take my money to support your – ahem – lifestyle,” a careful choice of word that caused a few more discreet grins.  “Franklin refuses to take a penny, and never has.  He is able to live from his salary.  A worthy example of thrift, don't you think?"
        This sally occasioned a series of whistling snorts, and Charles waved a nonchalant paw.
        "And DON'T snort so.  Anyone would think you're in rut.  Easy mistake, from what I've heard . . . and don't bother giving me the evil eye, Prescott, I'm not one of your backbenchers, I'm the head of the family.  And yes, I will bail you out of your latest scrape.  Again."
        As Prescott whirled and stamped out of the library the other Club members traded astonished looks.  This was easily the most Charles had said in the precincts of the Club since the previous chef was found drunk in the kitchen back in 1919.
        With the same glacial speed Charles left the room, and one member turned to another.  "Good heavens, what's gotten into old Charlie?  I mean, aside from the usual five-course dinner."
        His fellow shrugged.  "Devil if I know.  Well, just as well his little brother isn't here, I suppose.  Can't abide policefurs.  Always asking awkward questions, don't y'know."


Monday September 11, 1926
High Court Building, New Haven City:

        Obeying tradition, the chief bailiff of the High Court presented the decision reached by the five Justices to Chief Justice Williams on a small silver tray.  The basset hound accepted the folded paper, shook back the panels of his wig and read the decision aloud to the waiting attorneys and interested persons in the gallery.
        “The High Court of the Republic of New Haven, acting as the court of appeal for the nation, has reached a decision regarding the appellate case of Stevenson v New Haven,” the canine said.  “By a vote of four to one, with Justice Miller dissenting,” and here Williams nodded to Miller, who looked grim but returned the nod, “it is the decision of the High Court that there was no irregularity in the trial process, nor was there any misfeasance in the representation offered by Attorney Mr. Galbraith in the defense of his client.  Accordingly, the majority decision of the High Court is that the verdict reached by the jury at Defendant Stevenson’s trial is proper.”  Williams looked up myopically as reporters abandoned their posts at the front benches of the gallery and stampeded for the doors, eager to get their stories in first.


Thursday September 28, 1926
The Governor’s Mansion, Savin Rock Park:

        “There are times – and I don’t mind telling you this – that I truly envy the Americans,” Anthony Nutella told his visitor.  “There they have the happy circumstance of having their head of state and head of government all in one fur.”  He sighed, stopped his pacing and leaned against the grand piano in the mansion’s main drawing room.  Running a paw through his headfur the squirrel said, “But I need to stop boring you, Imre.”
        Janos Cardinal Ravenosi, the Archbishop of New Haven, smiled as far as his beak would allow and half-rose in his chair to straighten the scarlet sash on his cassock.  Very few people, restricted to close family and closer friends, were allowed to call him by his middle name.  The crow said, “Tony, you and I have been friends since elementary school.  You’re not boring me, I assure you.”
        The squirrel who was Governor of the Republic chuckled.  “Long hours in the confessional teach you patience, eh?”
        “Something like that.”  Ravenosi regarded his episcopal ring winking pale gold and azure fire on his feathered paw before asking, “What’s troubling you, Tony?”
        “Too many things, Imre.  Do you know how many times I’ve asked the Assembly to get off their tails and actually do something?  We almost had a collapse in the Exchange last year, tied to corruption in the Ministry of Finance.  One of these days, something’s going to happen that we won’t be able to ignore or weasel our way out of.”  The squirrel flicked his tail.  “And every proposal I’ve made since running for this post has been blocked by the Civic Union – and my own party is scarcely any help.”  He sighed and smiled at his friend.  “But let’s have a drink, shall we?  You didn’t come all the way out here from the City just to hear me complain.”
        Ravenosi cawed a laugh and stood, smoothing out the skirt of his black cassock.  Between the black fabric and his feathers, the scarlet sash and biretta of his calling was a startling contrast that rarely failed to have an effect on people.  “No, I didn’t,” he said, “but that doesn’t make me want to leave, Tony.  Tea would be nice.”
        Nutella glanced at the clock on the wall.  “Yes, it’s four-thirty.  Too late for lunch and too early for happy hour.”
        The crow chuckled.  “You have what you want.  I’ll have tea.”  The two walked into a smaller sitting room where a servant stood beside the silver tea service.  They accepted cups and sat down close to each other as the servant departed.
        “Tony,” Ravenosi said, “you and I have been friends for years, and you know you can count on me to be a sympathetic ear.  I want you to return the favor.”
        Nutella’s ears perked.  “Go on, Imre.”
        “From what I hear, the Interior Ministry has sent you a warrant regarding the Stevenson case.”
        The squirrel’s expression became guarded.  “Yes.  Horne gave it to me personally two days ago.”
        “Have you signed it?”
        “No.  Well, not yet, at least.”  Nutella sipped at his tea and made a face. 
        “Why not?”  The question was gentle, soft-spoken.  Ravenosi was often like that; willing to talk quietly (although the Benedictine was more than capable of blood and thunder when he chose to open up his beak).
        “Oh, it’s not because I think he’s innocent – far from it; I think he’s as guilty as sin,” Nutella said, setting his teacup aside and fidgeting with his paws.  “You know I don’t believe in hanging, or any other form of execution.”
        “So you can commute his sentence?”
        “It’s within my authority, under the Charter.”  The squirrel looked at his corvine friend.  “Why?  Is that why you’re here?”
        Ravenosi nodded.  “I came here for two reasons, really.  One, to see how you were.  You really need to come to Mass more often, Tony, it does you good.  Second, I was approached by a small delegation that included young Stevenson’s parents.  They’ve asked me to bring the subject up with you.”
        “In the spirit of Christian charity.”
        “And if I don’t?”
        “That is between you and God, Tony.”
        “You’re one of my oldest and closest friends, Imre, so I won’t mince words.”
        “That generally makes then unpalatable.”
        They both laughed at that, and Nutella said, “Try telling those fools in the Assembly that.  Here’s my quandary:  I know it’s a charitable thing to do.  Stevenson’s young, he has his entire life ahead of him even though he’d end up spending every day of it in prison.  And, to be blunt, it would help politically.”  He sipped his tea, and poured more into the nearly empty cup.  “His father is mayor of a Progressive stronghold that we’ll need in the next election for Prime Minister – which will be coming up in a few weeks.”
        Ravenosi frowned.  “I haven’t seen any of that in the papers.”
        “It’s very quiet for right now.  Silvio’s been talking to several Civic Union backbenchers as well as the Alliance members.  They plan on forcing a no confidence vote on Drake before the Christmas recess, whereupon I’ll call on Silvio to form a new government.”  Silvio Negriblanco was counsel for the Co-Operative and an Assembly Member from the City.  The skunk was determined to become Prime Minister and lead the government out of its current inertia.
        A feathered paw stroked the chisel-shaped beak as the Archbishop considered this.  “So that’s the argument in favor of clemency.  Politics.  Save the child to guarantee the father’s support.”
        “I’m afraid so, but yes.”  Nutella snorted a humorless laugh.  “Hard to believe that a country as small as New Haven should be so heavily politicized.”
        “Try visiting the Vatican sometime,” and both furs laughed.  “What are your arguments in favor of signing the warrant, Tony?”
        Nutella stopped laughing and his tail snaked into his lap.  He stroked it like it was a feral cat as he said, “A couple things, really.  One is politics again.  I’m up for re-election in two years, and that snake Prescott will go after me for being soft on criminals.”  He sighed.  “This makes the fourth death warrant I’ve had cross my desk, Imre.”
        “I know.”  Nutella had come to him under the seal of the confessional for the first three, to wrestle with his conscience.
        “The problem is he won’t confess, and isn’t showing any remorse,” the squirrel said.  “That alone is making all the newspapers howl for his blood – well, all but the Mail.”  He shook his head.  “You read Stagg’s letter?”
        “Oh yes.  Very well-thought out argument.  I admit I was surprised.”
        “So was everyone else, up to and including me.  But even the Reds are after me to sign off on the warrant.”
        “I see.”
        Nutella leaned forward and placed his paw on Ravenosi’s.  “Tell me, Your Eminence.  What do you think I should do?”
        “Yes, you.  Everyone else has been giving me advice; I want to hear yours.”
        “As your friend?”
        “As a Prince of the Holy Church.”
        The crow’s inner eyelids flicked closed, giving his eyes a milky appearance as his right paw sought out his pectoral cross.  He thought for a moment before his eyes opened.  “Our Lord demanded that we be merciful,” the crow said quietly.  “Apart from that reminder, my son, you must follow the dictates of your own conscience.”
        “Thank you, Imre.”
        “Anytime, Tony.”
        The conversation drifted to other matters, small talk about old friends and schoolmates, until the clock chimed six.
        Ravenosi looked up at the clock and smiled.  “I must be going.  I’m celebrating Mass tomorrow for the Feast of Saint Michael.  Will you be there?”
        Nutella smiled in return.  “Michael’s the patron saint of government.  I need all the help I can get.”  He stood as Ravenosi did and escorted him to the front door of the residence.
        The Archbishop’s driver stood beside the imported Ford sedan and held the door open as the Governor shook paws with the crow, then bowed and kissed his ring.

        Hours later a single light burned in the office of the Governor’s Mansion.  Nutella had given up pacing around his desk and was slumped in his chair, drumming the fingers of both paws on the padded leather armrests.
        What to do?
        On the one paw, he could sign.  Stevenson would hang, and his re-election chances would be on a more stable footing.
        But if he did sign, he might gain an enemy in a liberal stronghold – an enemy his Party could ill afford to have.
        If he chose to commute the sentence, he might fail at re-election, but his conscience would be clear.
        He arrived at his decision.
        A paw reached out and picked up a small silver bell.  He rang it, and rang it again.
        A side door to the office finally opened, revealing a tall, thin stoat who was hurriedly doing up his collar.  “Yes, sir?” his principal secretary asked sleepily.
        “Bring me the Seal, please – then call the Interior Minister at his house.  Tell him to come down here in the morning.”
        “Right,” and the stoat stumbled out, returning with the Seal of the Republic in its velvet bag.
        Nutella took up his pen and signed the death warrant.  Without a word he took the Seal from Silber’s paws and embossed the document.
        “There,” he said as he gave the Seal back to his secretary.  “I may have to answer for this sometime, but at least public opinion is on my side.  I’ll have to take my chances with North Haven.”


Saturday September 29:

        The news that the Governor had signed the death warrant arrived too late for the morning editions of many of the daily newspapers, but Paulie noticed the huge headline on his City Final copy of the Star the next day:
        The red deer sighed and sipped at his coffee as Jane busied herself with breakfast.  Grace Stagg had sent him a note via her father, congratulating him and adding that her fellow Collegiate students had been quite shocked to learn that there had been someone like Wyatt Stevenson in their midst.  The usual remark was that the rabbit had been “such a quiet man.”
        His ears perked as he heard his mate Jane humming happily to herself, the result of the gift he’d received.
        The others at the Central Precinct had passed the hat and presented him with a token of their appreciation for his leadership on the case, a small bag containing a collection of coins and dollar bills that amounted to nearly two week’s pay.
        He wasn’t sure, but he thought the fifty-dollar note was from Chief Stagg.  Hardly anyone else in the Bureau had that kind of money to throw around.  But the extra money was welcome, to be sure; five growing fawns were not cheap to feed.
        The phone rang, and Jane stepped into the other room to answer it.
        “Paolo?  It’s for you.”
        Paulie laid the paper aside and went to get the phone.  He kissed Jane on the cheek before putting the receiver to his ear.  “Hello?  Oh, hello sir . . . no, sir, just – oh, hello, Mrs. Nussbaum . . . Mrs.?  Mrs. Nussbaum?  Please, Mrs. Nussbaum, I need you to get off the line . . . yes, I know, but this is police business . . . Sorry, Mrs. Nussbaum . . . Hello, sir?  Yes, I think she’s off the phone now . . . yes, it’s a party line . . . Yes, sir.  Yes, I’ll be there . . . thank you, sir.  Good-bye.”  He placed the receiver on its hook and gazed at it thoughtfully for a moment.
        “What was that all about?” Jane asked.
        “That was the Deputy Chief,” Paulie explained.  “They’re planning on hanging Stevenson Friday morning.”
        “Yes, and by law there have to be two witnesses from the State Police present.  I’m one of them, so I have to be in my dress grays.”
        “I’ll make sure they’re pressed.”
        He smiled.  “Thank you, love,” and they kissed.  The kiss deepened until the doe was pressed against the wall, her right leg rising to wrap around her husband’s left thigh.
        “Daddy and Mommy are hugging again!” one of their children yelled, and the kiss dissolved into a mutual laughing fit.


Central Prison
Friday October 5, 1926

        The Central Prison of New Haven was a pile of hewn granite that reminded many people of a medieval fortress.  Parts of it dated all the way back to the country’s independence in 1781, and despite repeated renovations and remodeling it was still a grim sight to see.  The walls were thick and nearly twenty feet high, with guard towers at the corners and every two hundred feet along the perimeter.
        Paulie disliked having to come to the prison, particularly in formal uniform.  The gray coat was a perfect target for thrown food or other, less mentionable objects.
        Fortunately he didn’t have to tour any of the cell blocks, but was escorted by a jailer straight to the Warden’s office.  Once there, he was surprised to see Chief Stagg seated across from the Warden.
        “Ah, Paul.”  The whitetail buck looked subdued.  “I’m glad you’ve arrived.  You know Warden Smith?”
        “I’m afraid not.  Good morning, Warden,” and he shook paws with the heavy-set, gray-furred feline.  “I apologize for being late.”
        “You’re not late, Lieutenant,” Smith said, consulting his pocket watch.  “Chief Stagg and I were just whiling away the time before heading down.  Mr. Stevenson has been up longer than we have.”
        “Yes.  It’s been reported to me that he was awakened at four and had his last meal.  He ate well, according to the guards, and is currently attending Mass with the prison chaplain.”
        Paulie nodded and Stagg asked, “I take it the phone to Savin Rock is open?”
        “The line is tested every ten minutes, as per regulations, Chief,” Smith said.  He glanced at the clock and started to rise from his chair.  “It’s time we headed down, gentlemen.  Follow me, please.”
        A guard, spit and polish in dark blue, opened a locked side door and the trio headed downstairs.  Paulie remarked quietly to his superior, “I’m surprised they gave you this detail, Chief.”
        “Penance, Lieutenant.”
        “Penance,” Stagg repeated.  “I’m here as punishment for pressing the Squadron Scandal matter with the Interior Minister and the Deputy Chief.  I made the error of pointing out that the people who are profiting from the scandal are in no position to be investigating it.  And here I am.”
        At the end of the stairwell was another locked door, and a short passageway with yet another door at the end of it.  The Warden and the two policefurs were admitted, and Paulie looked around.
        He’d been in the prison’s death house before.  The gallows with its requisite thirteen steps was fairly new, constructed of thick oak beams, sanded and varnished so that it gleamed in the harsh overhead lights.  A red telephone hung from one of the white-painted walls, with a prison officer stationed next to it.
        One wall was dominated by a huge window made of several panes of glass with chicken wire sandwiched between them to block thrown objects.  A curtain was drawn across it and a door stood nearby.  Paulie and Stagg would not be going in there, as the condemned man’s family and members of the press would be present, along with the three civilian witnesses required by law.
        The official hangman of the Republic, a muscular wolf in a faultless black suit and tie, was making final preparations.  He had inherited the job from his father and grandfather, and had spent the previous week since the issuance of the warrant making calculations regarding the correct amount of weight necessary to snap Stevenson’s neck cleanly.
        “It’s funny,” Paulie remarked softly as he and Stagg stood to one side and watched.
        “What is?”
        “Well, he’s at Mass now.  Saying confession and getting Communion.”
        “So, he’ll be forgiven, and go to Heaven.”
        Stagg nodded.
        “What about the women he killed?”  Paulie shook his head.  “I think it’s just funny, that’s all.  Makes you wonder if the Lord has a sense of humor.”
        “Hmm.”  Stagg seemed lost in his own thoughts.
        A small light flashed over one door.
        The wolf hurriedly pulled a black cotton hood over his head and the curtain concealing the witnesses drew back.  Paulie didn’t want to look at them, so he kept his eyes front and stood at attention alongside his chief, his uniform cap under his left arm as the condemned was led in.
        Wyatt Stevenson entered the room flanked by two guards, his striped prison uniform clean, neat and obviously new.  He was pawcuffed and shackles hobbled his feet, forcing him to walk slowly.  The prison chaplain walked behind him, softly intoning the words of the Twenty-third Psalm.  The rabbit’s face was impassive.
        They were met at the foot of the steps by the hangman and the Warden.
        Stevenson frowned.
        “Do you need help getting up the stairs, son?” the wolf asked.
        The rabbit spat at him, and started up the stairs before the guards could react.
        Paulie could hear Adelaide Stevenson’s anguished sobbing even behind the window.
        The hangman and the Warden followed the small group up the steps, and the feline drew a paper from his coat pocket.  He cleared his throat and said, “Wyatt Gerard Stevenson, having been found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, is to be put to death by the means of suspension by the neck.  Does the condemned have anything to say?”
        Wyatt looked uncertain, then glanced at the priest who nodded encouragingly.
        “I’m . . . I’m sorry,” he said softly.  “Sorry.” 
        A long moment passed, and the Warden signed to the hangman, stepping back as the hooded wolf came forward with a hood.  The guards held the rabbit still as the hood was fitted, and tightened their grip as the noose went around his neck and he began to struggle.
        When the hangman stooped to attach the required weight to Stevenson’s ankles the curtains whisked closed.
        The Warden checked the clock as the moments ticked away.
        Paulie heard Stevenson whisper, “Sorry.”
        The clock’s hands reached seven o’clock.
        The Warden nodded.
        The hangman pressed a switch with his foot and the trapdoor gave way under the rabbit.
        Paulie winced and half-turned away as Stevenson dropped then swung, jerking spasmodically at the end of the rope.  Finally the movements stopped and the prison doctor stepped forward.  A stethoscope was pressed to the rabbit’s chest, and he nodded.
        Paulie, Stagg and the others crossed themselves as the curtain was drawn back again to let the assembled witnesses see what had happened.



        A terse statement was being placed in the glass-fronted notice box at the main gate as Paulie and Stagg left the prison.  “Well, that’s that,” Paulie observed. 
        “Where are you going, Lieutenant?” Stagg asked as the red deer started to head for his car.
        “Hmm?  It’s pretty early in the day, but I need a drink, Chief.  Sorry.  Anything you need?”
        Stagg sighed.  “Yes.  I need to come with you.  I confess that I feel the need for a bracer myself.”
        “My car?  I have to turn it back over to the transport yard Monday anyway.”
        The bar was a dingy place in a small village between the prison and New Haven City.  The place saw a lot of police and prison guards, so two more (even in uniform) went unremarked.
        “Hull’s Pilsner,” Paulie told the bartender.
        “Milk stout, please,” Stagg said, and after the drinks arrived the two policefurs sat and looked at their beers as the foam subsided.
        Finally Paulie stirred and raised his mug.  “To Justice,” he said quietly, and drank.
        Stagg stirred out of his reverie.  “Hmm?”  He touched his mug to Paulie’s and drank, then said, “I’d like to amend that, Paul.”
        Stagg nodded and lifted his mug.  “Fear Justice.”
        Paulie thought it over, then nodded.  “I’ll drink to that.”