The Two Teacups

This case, though seemingly simple and straightforward, Mr Holmes, is baffling and I am sure will test even your ingenious mind.

Let's see what Dr Watson and I can make of it, Inspector. What have you discovered so far?

Mrs Ivy Brown, a middle-aged widow, has been strangled. She lies there on the floor where she fell. There are two teacups on the table so it appears that she had entertained her murderer with a cup of tea. Presumably, the murderer sat opposite her at the table. The murderer's cup has no fingerprints upon it. The cups are quite cold as is the teapot so it happened hours ago. There is not a single clue as to the identity of the killer.

We have an interesting case here, Watson, no clues. What do you make of it?

Well, she lies on the floor with her legs partly under the table and her chair knocked over. I would say she was seated when the murderer took her by the throat.

Very good, Watson. Haha! The murderer's cup is empty but Mrs Brown's cup is full.

What in the world are you talking about, Mr Holmes? One empty, one full, What has the amount of tea in the cups got to do with anything?

To reason analytically, Inspector. Teacups, in particular, fascinate me. I will now examine them with my magnifying glass. Ah, very interesting, very interesting, indeed. Well, that's all, Inspector, nothing more of interest, here. Do you have any leads to follow?

None as yet, although Mrs Brown's friend and neighbour, Mr Smith, who lives opposite, has kindly offered to provide some background details. Let us go and chat with him.

( 2 )

Mr Smith, I would like you to meet Mr Holmes and Dr Watson who are helping in my investigation.

This is heartbreaking, gentlemen. I knew Mrs Brown for many years, so please ask what you will.

Perhaps we ought to defer our enquiries to another date. I note my colleague, Dr Watson, is tiring and in need of sustenance. On this sad occasion, we ought to leave you in peace.

No, no, Mr Holmes, that won't be necessary. I'll make a pot of tea. It will be no problem.

If you would be so kind, I thank you.

( 3 )

That was a delicious cup of tea, Mr Smith. Thank you very much. How are you now, Watson, refreshed?

Yes, indeed, Holmes. It was an excellent brew.

I apologise for emptying the pot and not leaving you a second cup.

That's alright, Mr Holmes, I can make a fresh pot of tea. It's no trouble.

Thank you kindly, Mr Smith.

Now, Inspector, while Smith is in the kitchen making tea, I'll swap my cup for his.

What are you doing, Mr Holmes? Is this more of your fascination with teacups?

Yes, Inspector, and this one is very interesting, very interesting, indeed.

( 4 )

Here it is, gentlemen, boiling hot. You'll have to wait a few minutes before you can drink it.

Exactly, Mr Smith, just as you had to wait a few minutes to drink your cup of tea at Mrs Brown's. That's so, isn't it?

What are you talking about, Mr Holmes? Are you mad?

No, but perhaps you are. Inspector, arrest Mr Smith for the murder of Mrs Brown.

What? What? Did he do it? I don't know how you've worked it out, Mr Holmes, but I'll take your word for it. Mr Smith, you are under arrest. Anything you say will be taken down and may be used in evidence.

I guess an explanation is called for and, no doubt, Dr Watson will take notes for his casebook. Put Cheiloscopy at the heading of this case, Watson, for that is what I used to solve it. Do you recall the word, cheiloscopy, Inspector? No? Lip prints, Inspector, lip prints! Just like fingerprints, everyone has unique lip prints. I once wrote a monograph on the subject.

The murderer's cup at Mrs Brown's had no fingerprints, but when I examined it I saw his lip prints. When Mr Smith went to the kitchen to make the second pot of tea, I swapped cups and examined his cup and found his lip prints matched those at Mrs Brown's.

I will now reconstruct the crime for you. What Mr Smith's motives were I have no idea, but I can tell you the murder sequence. Mrs Brown entertained Mr Smith and made a pot of tea and poured a cup for each. The tea was too hot to drink and Mrs Brown had merely sipped a tiny amount from her cup. Mr Smith had not touched his cup but had put on his gloves. He walked around the table and strangled Mrs Brown. After killing poor Mrs Brown he waited a few minutes for his tea to cool. This cold-blooded murderer then coolly sat down to enjoy his cup of tea and gloat on what he thought was a perfect crime. But it is that very cup of tea that will send him to the gallows.

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