As I have already mentioned, we can obtain valuable lessons in observation, deduction and tracking from those whose duty it is to guard the public peace. Naturally we do not desire Scouts to dabble in crime in any shape or form, but when the investigation and detection of crime bring but points that are valuable to us in our training then we should not neglect to make what use of them we can. Apart from that, the natural boy, as the natural man, is interested in detective stories, not so much from the morbid details of the, crime that has been, committed as from the interest that is aroused in piecing it all together step by step afterwards. It is rather like a jig-saw puzzle, a valuable mental test by the way; there is a picture that has been cut into small pieces which are all mixed up, but which have to be put together again. Some of the important pieces may be missing, but, despite that, the investigator tries his utmost to reconstruct the complete picture.
Very small things have frequently led to the detection of a crime. A single foot-print, or a single finger-print, has led to the conviction of a murderer. A wisp of paper fluttering from a window, and bearing marks of having had a roll of coin wrapped in it, has betrayed a counterfeit coiners' factory. A few letters out of line in a typewriter have led to the unmasking of a forger. A casual photograph has led to the tracking down of a disguised anarchist; for frequently the camera can detect flaws to which the human eye is blind. Frost brushed off a gate by someone climbing over it has led to the tracking down of a burglar. There are many more instances of the fact that by noticing a very small thing detectives have unraveled crimes.
Little mannerisms of speech or gesture frequently disclose the profession, and sometimes the identity, of a person who is suspected. A doctor tells me that it is possible to identify a doctor by the fact that when he is handed a glass and a bottle, he will hold the glass between the thumb and first two fingers of the left hand and uncork the bottle with the little finger of the same hand. He desires me to add that the bottle invariably contains medicine, of course! The hands of the engineer, the van driver, the carpenter, the chemist and photographer usually show signs of their owner's profession.
The writers of detective stories frequently make use of these characteristics in unraveling their plots. For instance, in the "Bulldog Drummond" series, the arch villain, Petersen, gives himself away by drumming with the fingers of his left hand on his left knee.
Let me give one concrete illustration of the influence which small things have on the investigation of a crime.
A well-known German Deputy was shot dead by two unknown young men when walking through the woods near Griesbach in Baden. While scouring the country round the scene of the crime, the police noticed a few scraps of paper which had been brought down by a mountain stream, and lodged in one of the crevices of its rocky bed. The fragments were collected and examined. One of them was the edge of a member's card of a professional association in Hamburg. On it was the syllable "ultz" and the number "10," apparently the terminals of a large figure. Reference to the association proved that a certain man named Schultz had been entered on its books under the number 625410.
Another of the scraps of paper had been torn off an addressed envelope, and bore the mutilated names, "lessen," "Maximilia," and "Muenche." The last indicated Munich, the second Maximilian Street, so the postmen whose rounds covered that thoroughfare were asked whether they had ever delivered a letter to a person whose name ended with a "lessen." The postmen at first could not help directly; but one of them mentioned casually that when he was at Mannheim he had come across the name Tilessen. When this name was put to them, several of his colleagues remembered that a certain Tilessen had received letters at Maximilian Street, 33. And thus the two murderers were discovered.
It is a well-known fact that a criminal who lays himself out to commit a crime, and plans it carefully beforehand, very seldom behaves in the same way as an innocent person would do. He likes to work in the dark, he prefers to approach his object by roundabout ways, and he usually prefers to leave the scene of his crime by some unusual path.
The detective, when he arrives on the scene, has to run over the facts of the case as reported to him, and then try to put himself in the criminal's place, to think what he would do under similar circumstances, how he would approach, what road he would have left by, where he would have stood, and so on. When he has done that he has very carefully to examine all those seemingly possible places for traces, so that a scratch or a finger mark does not escape his notice.
In the country the investigation of cases of burglary, for instance, is simplified by the fact that few people are about, and that frequently there will be marks to be found on the ground. In the towns similar cases present greater difficulties. Sometimes a burglar will drop stolen articles on the route he has taken. If a box has been removed containing valuables, usually the box will be found rifled in a gully, or in a field. If more than one has been engaged in the crime this usually marks the spot where the division of the spoil has taken place, and in the country that place will be fruitful of marks.
One Sunday morning the maid at a vicarage observed a strange man near the stable and ordered him off the premises. Later in the day she had occasion again to visit the stable and, on approaching, heard some keys drop and saw a man disappear in the dark. The incident was reported to some Scouts who were camping near by. Two of them went to the stable with a cycle lamp, examined the ground, and discovered fresh footprints, which they followed from the stable to a cottage some five hundred yards away.
They tried the cottage gate, but found it padlocked; at the same time a man in the garden stepped from behind a bush and inquired what they wanted. They asked if he had any eggs to sell, and, on receiving a curt negative reply, returned to the vicarage and gave a description of the man they had seen.
The maid identified him from their description as the man she had spoken to earlier in the day. The police were then informed and they went to the cottage and brought the man to the vicarage, where the maid, without hesitation, was able to identify him.
The Scouts did their job well. They had followed the track they found, were ready with a reply when unexpectedly confronted by the man, and had observed his appearance sufficiently well to have it identified when they reported it. In this case the deductions thereafter were fairly obvious.
There are so many detective stories nowadays that one has to be careful to distinguish the good from the bad if one wants to follow out the Chief's suggestion of reading out a story, and asking the boys afterwards which details suggested certain solutions. Frequently it will be found that the criminal is the person who seems the most unlikely right up to the last chapter. If that is so the book is not a good one for our purpose of following up logical deductions, but is merely written to sustain the interest of the reader to the end. It then becomes a mere story bereft of the mental exercise that Conan Doyle's stories stimulated. Two simple identity and deduction games have been mentioned in the chapter on Observation of the Individual.
The reconstruction of a crime from the "sign" left on the ground, or in a room, is again a good exercise for our deductive faculties, but the setter of the stage should himself have a clear idea of the story he means to convey by the "sign." He can either take a story he has read and reconstruct the scene from the details given there, or make up a story of his own, but in the latter case he must be careful to see that his story is simple and that the "sign" can be logically accounted for. It is no good just upsetting chairs and throwing matches about anyhow; the scene should be acted in reality, though not to extreme lengths, beforehand.
If you are acting such a scene, you, like the detective, will need to think with the mind of a criminal! He will probably have Come and gone by unfrequented ways, over a field, through a garden, through a hedge, or over a wall, along the top of a wall, or along a roof. Instead of walking boldly up to a door or window, he may have approached cautiously, taken cover behind bushes - a match or two may be found there - taken short, uneven steps, and stopped frequently to listen, or withdrawn in alarm. When he came to a corner, he may have stood there and peered round, he may have gone on hands and knees under a window, or he may have come cautiously close up to a window and peeped in. After the crime he may have jumped down from a window, or off a wall or roof, he may have dashed for cover, changed his boots, even thrown them away. Any of these things might happen. It takes a very bold man to walk calmly up to a door or window, enter a house, and walk calmly away, and, as a rule, criminals are by no means bold men.
In staging crimes of violence a little red ink can work wonders, and greatly add to the stage effects.
Before leaving this subject of crime and the criminal, I should like to repeat in a shortened form a yarn that the Chief Scout tells in his book Boy Scouts Beyond the Sea, because it brings out a number of the qualities of the trained police tracker.
A policeman in an up-country station went, unarmed, to arrest a man who was "wanted." The man covered him with his revolver, retreated into the thick bush and escaped. The policeman went back for his arms and for Tiger, his black tracker, and started off in pursuit.
After going over fairly easy ground for ten or twelve miles, they got into a dry, stony district, where the runaway, knowing he would be tracked, had jumped from rock to rock. A nail scratch here, a grain or two of rock freshly broken there, a few rocks leading at easy bounds from one to the other, gave the tracker his line. Then the tracks led into a fencer's camp in the midst of a thick patch of scrub.
Tiger ran round the patch and reported that the runaway was still there, or had changed his boots. He then made a wider cast round and found footmarks going away. He guessed that the runaway had changed his boots in the camp, had walked backwards, and then turned round. Very soon it was noticed that the runaway had got tired of wearing strange boots and had resumed his own again.
At last they came to a river, a hundred miles from where they had started; the footmarks led straight on into the water. Tiger swam across, found no marks on the far side, swam back again, found footmarks heading down stream in the mud near the river's bank, and followed them in the river for three miles, where they turned on to a bush path along which a herd of cattle had recently passed. The man had obviously nipped in ahead of the herd, hoping that they would obliterate his traces, which in fact they did. But the cattle turned off the path, and went down to the river to drink, and Tiger found the runaway's footmarks at the spot leading straight on.
Then they found the tracks were getting very fresh, the earth kicked up was damper than the surrounding ground, the edges of the track were sharp, and not rounded off by sun or wind. They proceeded cautiously. The policeman's rifle rang out before the outlaw's pistol.
The track was over!
Training in Tracking