The old man was slumped in his favorite armchair, head tilted to one side. At least three deep wounds on the skull of Fred Maltby, 75, ran 12 centimeters from his hairline to the back of his head.
As Detective Superintendent Stuart Clifton surveyed the farmhouse living room, he noted that blood had soaked into the high-backed chair and splattered the wall to one side of it. Probably from the backswing of the weapon used to kill him, he thought.
The top left-hand pocket of Maltby's overalls was open. A cushion on the sofa bore the outline, in blood, of an axe-like instrument. But the 47-year-old detective, a veteran of 40 murder cases, could see no other clues. There was no sign of forced entry, nothing to indicate a struggle or a search, no scattered objects that might yield fingerprints. Just a quick, neat killing.
At 12:45 pm that Wednesday, October 2, 1991, Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Reedman had summoned Clifton to 292 Brant Road in Lincoln, a city in the eastern part of England. "We've a body here," he had said. "Looks like a murder." Reedman, also 47, had worked with Clifton on many cases in the previous 20 years. The two men scarcely needed to exchange words as they moved around the murder scene.
In the kitchen, Clifton nodded at a couple of teacups on the sink drainboard. "Seems like Maltby might have had a visitor," he said. Upstairs, there were indications the old man lived just above subsistence level. Frayed carpet. An unmade bed. At the end of their tour, Clifton commented, "I would say this one's going to be a long-runner." He dispatched one team of detectives to question nearby residents, and another to search the land behind the farmhouse for the murder weapon.
By the next day, officers at Lincolnshire police headquarters had learned that Maltby had once farmed some 40 acres on the southern outskirts of Lincoln. With advancing age, he had given up farming and let out the land for grazing, but he still sold fruit, vegetables and kindling from his farm. He had few friends and no known enemies. "So who could have wanted him dead?" Clifton mused.
"Probably someone who knew him," Reedman suggested. "Neighbours said he always kept the front door locked, and there's no back way in."
As far as they could establish, the only thing missing was the wallet Maltby kept in a breast pocket of his overalls. But those who knew him said he never had more than a few pounds in it. "So what was the motive?" Clifton asked his detectives.
All they could suggest was that someone was after the 500,000 pounds that Maltby had supposedly made from the sale of some land several years before. In fact, the deal had fallen through, but rumors persisted that Maltby was rich and might have money stashed away at home.
The murder weapon was another loose end. On a workbench in the back of the farmhouse lay a jumble of old tools, but no axe. Yet Maltby would have needed one to cut up the wood he sold. What's more, a tree stump in the garden bore the indentations of an axe.
Appeals to the public for further information brought a flood of calls. Clifton and Reedman worked 16 hours a day, plowing through the material. But by Christmas 1991, every lead had come to nothing. Then on January 29, 1992, Clifton got a call from Reedman. "A body was found in a bookmaker's shop," he said.
Alan Rylatt, 60, lay sprawled on his back in the rear office. His head bore the same wounds that Maltby's had - at least eight. The door of the office safe was open, and Rylatt's keys were in the lock. There was no sign of forced entry and no murder weapon. "Looks like it's the same maniac who did in Maltby," Reedman said.
A post-mortem indicated that Rylatt had been killed by an axe-like instrument. "Both Maltby and Rylatt," Clifton told his officers, "were elderly men who lived on their own in the southern part of the city. Both were people whom the public might have thought had a certain amount of wealth. Both were killed on a Tuesday evening - we think between 9 and 10 pm."
All the evidence suggested that Rylatt, like Maltby, had known his attacker and had let him onto the premises. When Rylatt's son Edward, 23, had arrived for work the next morning, the front door to the betting office was still locked. The killer had come and gone by the back door sometimes used by Rylatt's staff.
Edward helped police establish that 3,658 pounds were missing from his father's safe. But there were just under 800 pounds left in the safe and about 13,000 pounds in Rylatt's apartment above the shop. "In both murders," Clifton said, "there was no determined search for money or valuables."
The two murders were very similar, but the victims could hardly have been more different. In contrast to the reclusive Maltby, Rylatt was a sunny, outgoing bookmaker who ran two betting shops, loaned money and rented out a half-dozen apartments. Divorced, he wined, dined and pursued woman - one of them married. "Rylatt had many friends and associates - and maybe a few enemies," Clifton said.
Detectives pieced together a list of Rylatt's debtors from his IOUs and uncashed cheques. They came up with 30 names, including an accountant with a drinking problem, an electrician whose van-load of tools had recently been stolen, and a brass maker from a radiator factory near Maltby's home. All had alibis for the night of Rylatt's murder.
With widespread publicity given to the second murder, police soon had a mass of leads to follow up. But again, not one checked out. By the end of February, just one line of inquiry still seemed open. During the post-mortem on Rylatt, the pathologist had found small specks of grey paint deep in one of the wounds on his skull and a slightly larger spot on his left hand. Presumably, they were from the axe-like instrument with which he'd been killed. If both Rylatt and Maltby had been killed by the same weapon, Clifton wondered, had it been painted between the two murders?
Forensic studies revealed that the paint was at least 90% zinc. This suggested industrial primer. But the amount recovered was so small, few tests could be done.
Then on April 3, 1992, a police officer in the south of the city phoned Clifton. "Four young men just handed me an axe," he said. The teenagers had been boating on a lake about 2km from Rylatt's betting shop when they found the tool in the undergrowth on an island. "It looks like the axe has blood on it," the officer said.
Examining it later, Clifton could see the blood quite clearly on one side of the axe head, near the shaft. The other side had presumably been washed clean by snow and rain. He also noted that the axe head had been painted with a zinc-type point. It was an impressively neat job - not a speck of paint had strayed from the axe head onto the shaft. Possibly done by someone trained to work with his hands, Clifton thought.
Forensic tests established that the blood on the axe head matched that of Rylatt. They also confirmed that the axe marks in the skulls of both murdered men were similar, and that the paint on the axe was identical to the paint on Rylatt's skull and hand. What's more, the axe head conformed precisely to the outline of blood found on the cushion in Maltby's home, and its indentations matched those found on the chopping block in Maltby's garden.
In June 1992, Reedman took samples of the paint found on Rylatt's body to Paint Research Association, a paint industry organization in Teddington, west of London. There, tests established that the zinc had been recycled and that the binder - the ingredient that makes paint stick to surfaces - was unusual: Epoxyester D4.
Clifton's team learned that just two companies made grey paint containing both recycled zinc and Epoxyester D4. Only one exported its products to Britain - Rustoleum, a Dutch firm that made a grey, zinc-rich spray-on paint called Rustoleum 2185. Tests proved Rustoleum 2185 was the paint found on the axe and on Rylatt's body.
Rustoleum had one British warehouse in West Bromwich, near Birmingham. From there, police followed the trail back to a Lincoln engineering tool merchant, Hykeham Forum Supplies, which had bought 36 cans of Rustoleum 2185. Of these, two dozen had gone to a nearby radiator manufacturer, Specialist Heat Exchangers.
"If necessary, we'll interview every single person in that company," Clifton declared. But as he scanned the list of 172 employees, one name seemed familiar: Dennis Granville Smalley.
From police computer records, Clifton soon discovered why. His detectives had interviewed Smalley five months earlier as someone who owed money to Rylatt. Smalley had told police that on the night of Rylatt's murder, he had been at home in North Hykeham on the outskirts of Lincoln. He was looking after his two children while his wife, Gillian, was out at her cleaning job. But had he been telling the truth? Clifton now wondered.
"Find out everything you can about Smalley," he told his detectives. They soon learned that Smalley, 47, had been a brass maker at Specialist Heat Exchangers since 1977. But after a serious car accident in 1987, he had missed nine months of work. Over the next three years, he had fallen heavily into debt and had begun borrowing money.
More important, Smalley had connections to both murder victims. Not only had he borrowed money from Rylatt recently, but as a teenager, he had worked part-time for Maltby.
On the morning of July 28, 1992, police arrested Smalley. A hulking man of 1.9m with short, greying hair, Smalley seemed unperturbed. At the police station, he politely answered all the questions. As to his whereabouts on the night of Rylatt's murder, he stuck to his original story: he had been at home looking after his two youngsters, Andrew, nine, and Claire, ten. Challenged on this, Smalley insisted, "I stayed home all evening. I never leave my children alone."
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