A Chain of Evidence by Carolyn Wells
Author: Carolyn Wells
1. A Chain of Evidence Synopsis
Set against the backdrop of New York City, A Chain of Evidence is a riveting tale that begins with a seemingly ordinary event: the move of a bachelor lawyer, Otis Landon, and his sister Laura, to Hammersleigh, an upscale apartment building. Their lives take a dramatic turn when they encounter their neighbor, Janet Pembroke, a young woman living under the domineering control of her wealthy great-uncle, Robert Pembroke.
The narrative takes a dark twist with the murder of Robert Pembroke that occurs within their apartment building. As the story unfolds, a complex web of secrets and hidden motives is revealed, drawing Otis into a world far beyond the comforts of his previous life.
2. A Chain of Evidence Summary
Chapter 1: The Girl Across the Hall
The narrator, Otis Landon, a bachelor lawyer living with his sister Laura, moves into a new apartment building called the Hammersleigh in New York City. He becomes intrigued by a young woman living across the hall, Miss Janet Pembroke. Janet lives with her wealthy but miserly and bad-tempered great-uncle, Robert Pembroke. The uncle never leaves the apartment due to his invalid status and is known for his abusive behavior towards Janet. The narrator’s sister, Laura, is skeptical of Janet, perceiving her as haughty and possibly deceitful. The narrator, however, is drawn to Janet’s beauty and apparent strength of character, feeling sympathy for her difficult life with her tyrannical uncle.
Chapter 2: The Tragedy
One morning, the narrator and Laura encounter a highly distressed Janet in the building’s hallway. She urgently requests the help of Dr. Masterson, a family physician, for her uncle, who she fears is gravely ill. Upon arriving at the Pembroke apartment, Dr. Masterson discovers that Robert Pembroke has died, and Janet, overwhelmed by the situation, faints. Laura assists with caring for Janet while the narrator helps Dr. Masterson with the situation. Dr. Masterson is puzzled by the circumstances of Mr. Pembroke’s death, as there are no clear signs of what could have caused it. The narrator observes the room, noting its orderly and luxurious furnishings.
Chapter 3: Janet Pembroke
In the aftermath of her uncle’s death, Janet appears composed but internally troubled. She exhibits no grief but maintains a strong sense of self-control. During a conversation, Janet reveals she had a terrible quarrel with her uncle the previous night. She expresses regret and guilt over her relationship with him. The narrator and Laura learn about Janet’s cousin, George Lawrence, who used to live with Janet and her uncle but moved out due to the uncle’s unbearable temper. There’s a hint of conflict involving Janet’s feelings about the family lawyer, Graham Leroy, whom she dislikes. The narrator, developing an interest in Janet, offers his support.
Chapter 4: Doctor Post’s Discovery
George Lawrence, Janet’s cousin, arrives and is informed about Mr. Pembroke’s death. The arrival of another physician, Doctor Post, leads to a consultation between him and Dr. Masterson. They reveal a shocking discovery: Robert Pembroke was murdered in his sleep, stabbed in the back of the neck with a hat-pin. This revelation stuns everyone, especially Janet, who struggles to comprehend the situation. The two doctors determine to investigate further to uncover the perpetrator, suggesting the possibility of a professional burglar being involved.
Chapter 5: Several Clues
Following the shocking revelation of Robert Pembroke’s murder, the narrator, smitten by Janet Pembroke, stays at the scene to assist. Dr. Masterson calls the coroner, emphasizing the need for an official investigation. Despite his sister Laura’s efforts to comfort Janet, she remains stoic, questioning the role of the coroner and the circumstances of her uncle’s death. Janet and her cousin George Lawrence, the sole heirs to Pembroke’s estate, discuss the future. George, living independently due to his uncle’s temper, expresses relief that Janet will now have financial independence, albeit in grim circumstances.
The narrator, intrigued by detective work, gets permission from George to search the apartment for clues. Dr. Masterson, initially hesitant, allows this after learning of George’s consent. The narrator discovers several items that could be potential clues: a hastily discarded memorandum indicating a payment of ten thousand dollars to Pembroke, two stubs of theater tickets, a torn telegram signed “J. S.”, a local train time-table, an ordinary hairpin, and a man’s handkerchief with the initials “W. S. G.” Despite his lack of detective experience, he collects these items, hoping they might shed light on the murder.
Chapter 6: The Inquest Begins
The inquest for Mr. Pembroke’s death begins in the drawing-room, led by Coroner Mr. Ross and Inspector Crawford. The narrator, Otis Landon, and his sister Laura, provide their accounts of the events. Key points include the discovery of a special key, the last interaction between Mr. Pembroke and his niece Janet, and the peculiar behavior of Janet regarding a large sum of money Mr. Pembroke had received. The inquest also reveals Mr. Pembroke’s volatile temper and his difficult relationship with Janet. Various testimonies are collected, including those of the building’s superintendent and the elevator boy, to piece together Mr. Pembroke’s character and last activities.
Chapter 7: I Give Evidence
Otis Landon testifies at the inquest, detailing his observations and the evidence he gathered, such as a memorandum of money, a time-table, a handkerchief with unfamiliar initials, and theater ticket stubs. These items create speculation but provide no conclusive answers. Janet’s testimony reveals her strained relationship with her uncle, including disputes over money and her refusal to marry her uncle’s lawyer, Mr. Leroy. The inquest brings to light the complex dynamics within the Pembroke household and Janet’s challenging life under her uncle’s care.
Chapter 8: An Awful Implication
Janet Pembroke gives her account detailing her difficult relationship with her uncle, including physical and emotional abuse. She reveals her uncle’s wish for her to marry his lawyer, Mr. Leroy, in exchange for a large sum of money. Her hesitations and answers during the questioning lead to a growing suspicion against her, as she was one of the few people in the apartment on the night of the murder. George Lawrence, her cousin, defends her, rejecting any implication of her guilt. The coroner’s line of questioning suggests that with the apartment’s front door chained from the inside and no sign of forced entry, the murderer must have been someone within the apartment.
Chapter 9: George Lawrence
George Lawrence, Janet’s cousin, defends her against the insinuations made during the inquest. He insists that Janet is incapable of murder and highlights the lack of concrete evidence linking her to the crime. Despite the circumstantial evidence and suspicious circumstances, George stands firmly by Janet, underlining the complexity of the case and the deep personal connections involved.
Chapter 10: Person or Persons Unknown
the narrator, Otis Landon, reflects on the coroner’s investigation into Robert Pembroke’s murder and his own feelings for Janet Pembroke. Despite his attraction to her, Otis acknowledges that he knows little about Janet’s true nature. He feels a sense of responsibility as he was the first to mention the chain on the door, a key piece of evidence that casts suspicion on Janet.
Otis, foreseeing a legal trial, offers his legal services to Janet, who initially resists consulting a lawyer. She expresses a strong aversion to consulting Mr. Leroy, her uncle’s lawyer, and shows signs of emotional distress. Despite her reluctance, Otis persuades her to consider him as her counsel. Janet’s rapid mood shifts, from haughty to broken, deepen the mystery surrounding her character.
The coroner’s jury concludes that Robert Pembroke was murdered by an unknown person or persons between eleven at night and one in the morning. They suggest detaining Janet and her maid, Charlotte, under the supervision of a counsel. George Lawrence, Janet’s cousin, vehemently opposes this suggestion, insisting that an outsider committed the crime and advocating for a thorough investigation. Charlotte, the maid, becomes hysterical, implying that Janet had a motive to kill her uncle, but her remarks are dismissed as incoherent.
Chapter 11 – The Chained Door
Janet is shocked and stunned when she realizes she’s under suspicion for a crime. As her counsel, the narrator takes charge of her affairs, ensuring her cooperation with the authorities. Tensions rise between Janet and George Lawrence, her cousin, over the selection of her legal counsel. The narrator, suspecting neither Janet nor her maid Charlotte, focuses on investigating the possibility of an outside intruder, despite skepticism from others. The peculiar circumstances – a locked door and a chain that was in place all night – leave the narrator puzzled and determined to find an alternative explanation that doesn’t implicate Janet or Charlotte.
Chapter 12 – Janet is Our Guest
Inspector Crawford suspects Janet’s involvement in the crime, largely due to the nature of the weapon used – a hat-pin, a typically female accessory. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, the suspicion of Janet grows. The narrator struggles with his own feelings for Janet, which conflict with the mounting circumstantial evidence against her. Janet’s complex personality and changing demeanors make the situation even more challenging. The chapter concludes with Janet temporarily staying with the narrator and his sister, Laura, as they navigate the legal and emotional complexities of the situation.
Chapter 13 – Janet is Mysterious
Janet’s behavior continues to be perplexing. Landon is deeply in love with her, yet he struggles to understand her true nature. His role as her lawyer conflicts with his personal feelings, making the investigation more complex. Landon commits himself to finding the real murderer, though he’s aware that the evidence points towards Janet and Charlotte. He starts gathering clues, including a key and other items but finds it difficult to make significant progress.
Chapter 14 – Mrs. Altonstall
The narrator, following a clue, discovers a key belonging to Mrs. Altonstall, leading him to her lavish apartment. Initially suspecting her involvement in the crime, he is swayed by her gentle demeanor and shocked that the key was found in Pembroke’s room. Mrs. Altonstall reveals she gave the key to her lawyer, Graham Leroy, for accessing her papers. This revelation shifts the suspicion towards Leroy, who might have inadvertently dropped the key in Pembroke’s room. Despite this new lead, the narrator is relieved as it diverts suspicion from Janet. The chapter ends with the narrator contemplating the complexity of the case, balancing his professional duties and personal feelings for Janet.
Chapter 15: Who is J. S.?
Janet’s mood lightens as the narrator, Janet, and George Lawrence discuss the mysterious J. S., who sent a telegram to Pembroke. They speculate about this person’s identity and possible connection to the crime. Despite the narrator’s attempts to glean more information, Janet remains secretive, especially about a letter linked to J. S. she had read.
Lawrence shares his suspicions about a former business partner of Pembroke’s, potentially the J. S. in question. The chapter explores various theories about the murder, including the possibility of a female assailant indicated by the use of a hat-pin. The narrator struggles with his feelings for Janet and his duty to solve the case, ending the chapter with a resolve to prove her innocence despite mounting evidence and his own doubts.
Chapter 16 – Leroy Arrives on the Scene
Leroy, a lawyer and friend of the Pembroke family, visits Janet Pembroke, who is now staying with the narrator and his sister Laura, following the murder of Janet’s uncle. Laura believes Janet is innocent but suspects she knows more than she’s revealing. Leroy is questioned by the District Attorney, Mr. Buckner, about a key found at the crime scene, which Leroy admits was in his possession but claims to have lost. This raises suspicions about his involvement in the murder, especially since he can’t provide an alibi for the night of the murder.
Chapter 17 – Can Leroy Be Guilty?
Leroy’s hesitations and ambiguous statements during the interrogation lead to speculation about his guilt. However, Janet defends Leroy, stating that it was impossible for him to enter her uncle’s locked apartment. The discussion shifts to consider a potential professional burglar as the murderer, but this theory lacks a clear motive. Despite this, Leroy seems to be more concerned with protecting Janet than clearing his own name, hinting that he might be willing to be considered guilty to shield her.
Chapter 18 – The Rooms in Washington Square
The narrator, a lawyer, and Inspector Crawford, a detective, search George Lawrence’s apartment for clues. They find nothing incriminating, but discover Lawrence’s financial losses in the stock market, which could potentially be a motive for murder. The search yields no definitive evidence, leading to frustration and continued uncertainty about the murderer’s identity.
Chapter 19 – A Talk with Janet
Returning home, the narrator has a heart-to-heart conversation with Janet. She initially resists sharing information, but eventually admits she purposefully did not disclose a letter from a Jonathan Scudder to cast suspicion on someone else. She denies knowing Scudder and suggests he might have committed the crime. Janet’s behavior is contradictory and suspicious, though the narrator is torn between his growing feelings for her and the mounting evidence that suggests her involvement in the murder.
Chapter 20: The Initialed Handkerchief
The narrator focuses on a new lead involving a handkerchief found at the crime scene. He tracks down its owner, William Sydney Gresham, who denies any involvement or knowledge of Pembroke. Gresham’s alibi is not concrete, but his reactions suggest innocence. The narrator is left with doubts about Gresham’s involvement, as no clear evidence links him to the crime.
Chapter 21: Fleming Stone
The narrator shares Janet’s sadness and efforts to distract her from the tragedy. He reflects on his case, feeling uncertain about the involvement of Mr. Gresham. He decides to consult the renowned detective, Fleming Stone. Despite concerns about Stone potentially suspecting Janet, he sees no other option. An emotional moment occurs between the narrator and Janet, where they confess their love for each other. Janet, however, remains a mystery, especially with her insistence that she doesn’t want the truth about her uncle’s death to be discovered.
Chapter 22: A Call on Miss Waring
The narrator and Fleming Stone visit the District Attorney’s office to discuss the case and examine clues. Stone demonstrates his keen deductive skills, especially regarding a pin thought to be part of the murder weapon. They then visit Millicent Waring, who confirms she spent time with George Lawrence on the day of the murder, but he left her place at 11 PM. Despite George’s alibi, Stone remains interested in him, particularly after discovering violet-colored glass from a pin in George’s studio.
Chapter 23: Lawrence’s Statement
Fleming Stone and the narrator visit George Lawrence, who gives a detailed account of his activities on the day of the murder, reinforcing his alibi. Lawrence’s story matches the information previously gathered, including his visit to Millicent Waring and the timings of his movements. Stone seems satisfied but intrigued by the details, especially regarding the pin and the violet glass. They verify George’s account with the office boy at his apartment building.
Chapter 24: The Chain of Evidence
A dramatic conclusion unfolds as Fleming Stone reveals the murderer’s identity. At a tense luncheon gathering, Stone’s insightful observations and interactions lead to the revelation. George Lawrence, trying to maintain a façade of innocence, is confronted by Stone, who systematically dismantles his perfect alibi. Stone exposes how George meticulously fabricated clues and manipulated evidence to mislead the investigation.
Janet’s reactions throughout the luncheon indicate her internal conflict and suspicions about George. Stone, leveraging his sharp detective skills, ultimately accuses George of murdering his uncle, Robert Pembroke. George’s initial denial and attempt to maintain his alibi fall apart under Stone’s compelling arguments.
Stone demonstrates how George could have entered the chained apartment, a critical point in the case. This revelation shocks everyone, especially Janet, who had suspected George but was misled by his alibi. George, realizing his situation is hopeless, confesses to the murder. He explains his initial plan to commit suicide due to financial troubles and how he later decided to murder his uncle for financial gain, using a violet pin as the weapon.
The chapter concludes years later, with the narrator reflecting on the past events. George was arrested but took his own life before the trial. Janet, inheriting a substantial fortune, travels abroad with Laura, eventually overcoming the traumatic events. The narrator joins them in Italy, and his relationship with Janet blossoms into marriage. The mystery’s resolution brings closure to Janet’s previously contradictory behavior, which stemmed from her suspicions and the challenging life with her uncle. The story ends on a note of peace and happiness, far removed from the dark events that once overshadowed their lives.