An Ellis Parker Master Detective mystery story written by Russell Lloyd
CHAPTER 1 – "The Prize Fight"
Today is Tuesday, July 22, 1924. For weeks, the nation’s newspapers have been full of reports on the on-going John Scopes “Monkey Trial.” The trail (State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes) was named this because the Evolution Theory taught that man was descended from monkeys or apes. Substitute Biology Teacher Scopes was arrested for teaching the Evolution Theory to a high school class in Dayton, Tennessee. He was cited to be in violation of Tennessee’s Butler Act. The Butler Act forbid the teaching of Evolution in a state funded school. John Scope’s defense was financed by the deep pockets of the American Civil Liberties Union. The trial was deliberately staged in Dayton to attract as must attention as possible. Many Americans saw this as a battle over the wide public differences in religious beliefs and the Theory of Evolution that was based on scientific studies. Many saw this as a direct attack on the veracity of the Bible. Bible stories like those of Adam and Eve were disputed and criticized. The story of Eve’s creation (from Adam’s rib) was specifically ridiculed by the agnostics as well as the question of where Cain’s wife came from.
Detective Ellis Parker when asked about Cain’s wife “I won’t touch that. Ask Lawyer Clarence Darrow; he has it all figured out.”
Fundamentalists believed that the Bible was God’s word as he intended it to be revealed. It is meant to take priority over all human knowledge. Only doubters would believe in the Evolution Theory. The court case was viewed as both a theological contest and a trial on whether modern science should be taught in schools. Scopes was eventually found guilty. He was fined $100.
The Heavyweight Championship of the United States is being held today at the recently refurbished New Jersey Fairgrounds in Trenton, NJ. It is a beautiful, warm, bright day with a slight breeze. Over 1200 people are sandwiched into the largest tent that could be found by the promoters. President Calvin Coolidge sits with New Jersey Governor George Silzer in a lavishly decorated front row booth. Calvin Coolidge had been the first US President to have his inauguration broadcasted on the radio last February. Patriotic banners and flags are hung and proudly displayed to showcase the President’s attendance. Silent screen star Buster Keaton and his “Go West” costar Kathleen Myers sit together in a booth next to the President.
Ellis remarked to Cora “Kathleen is a flirty, talented young actress. Buster knows how to please his audience. She reminds me so much of our own Susan Cramer. Susan could be a successful model or actress.”
Cora “Over Ed and Dorothy’s dead bodies.”
Ellis “I suppose you are right.”
“Go West’s” uncredited co-star Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle sits with them. Comedian Fatty was finally acquitted in 1922 after three wildly publicized trials for the alleged rape and killing of actress Virginia Rappe. Buster had supported Fatty during his ordeal even though the public had their doubts about his innocence. These doubts nearly destroyed any chance of Fatty working again in the entertainment industry as film producers feared the public would boycott any film that included him. Buster offered Fatty a small part in his “Go West” production as a gesture of support, but it was understood that Fatty would have to participate uncredited. Even Buster feared the public’s backlash. Buster Keaton brought his film crew with him to film the fight. It was to be released to theaters nationwide.
The heavily publicized fight is scheduled for 15 rounds. It features tough as nails, undefeated Heavyweight Cozy Mathews of Chicago matched against the undefeated Albert Smith of Mount Holly, New Jersey. Smith was a mountain of a man, feared my many. The winner would be crowned the World Heavyweight Champion. The present universal, undisputed and legendary champion Jack Dempsey was now in the twilight of his career. He decided to remain inactive after his September 14th, 1923 knockout of challenger Luis Angel Firpo. Rumors persisted that Dempsey would meet Albert Smith, but a fight was never finalized. Without a Dempsey defense scheduled the boxing commission voted to award the Heavyweight title to the winner of the Smith-Mathews bout.
Mount Holly’s second most well-known resident (after boxer Albert Smith) is Ellis H. Parker. Ellis is sitting in the very first row along with his wife, Cora. In her lifetime Cora will bear Ellis 15 children, but not all of them will live to adulthood. Ellis is the Chief Detective in the County of Burlington, New Jersey. Burlington County is famous for its dense pine tree forests that stretched across the state to the Jersey Atlantic Ocean shoreline. Ellis is often described as America’s Sherlock Holmes because of his amazing success in solving crimes of all sorts. Tales of his masterful deductions, traps, and crime solving skills were passed from person to person until Ellis became a mythical figure during his life. Today, Ellis and his wife Cora were all set to root for Mount Holly’s own Albert Smith. Albert and Ellis had become fast friends while relaxing together at the Mount Holly’s Elks club. The club was located just next to the Mount Holly Court House that housed Ellis’s office. In the weeks leading up to the fight, Ellis and Albert would often be seen in deep conversation as they leisurely strolled the streets of Mount Holly. Citizens would often stop them for Albert’s autograph or just to shake his hand wishing him good luck in the upcoming fight. On most of these occasions Albert would grin and bear the interruption, but occasionally the intrusion would cause Albert to become abrupt and surly. Ellis was troubled by this character flaw of Albert’s but remained his friend none-the-less.
Ellis’s famous pipe (full of Sir Walter Raleigh’s tobacco) would hang from his lips during these long walks. It was as much a part of his body as his hands were. Today, at the fight, it was no different, the pipe was hanging from his lips. Film star Buster Keaton waved too Ellis before he stepped over to introduce himself. “Good afternoon Mr. Parker. I have read so much about you. The United States very own Sherlock Holmes!”
Ellis is thoughtful for a few seconds “Thank you for the sincere compliment Mr. Keaton, but Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character created by the English Writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In Mr. Doyle’s stories, Sherlock would be hired by Scotland Yard or private clients to investigate cases. Holmes used his keen sense of observation, talent with forensics and his intense interrogation technics to solve even the hardest and most complex cases with his incredible reasoning and logic. I am, on the other hand, a real-life Sherlock Holmes. I can assure you that my cases were real. Not fictional. Some of the guilty did die with a rope around their necks. In fact, one of them successfully escaped the noose during his hanging. Imagine that; he killed a whole family of 6 simply to gain possession of an old nearly crippled horse. The guy could run like the Dickens, but I caught him. I did. We tied the rope extra tight around his neck the second time.”
Buster smiles and then comments “I only wish we had an investigator of your talent in California. I am sure you are aware of the colossal mess made during the prosecution of my friend Fatty Arbuckle?”
Ellis drew long and hard on his pipe before responding “I am aware of his trials. A tragic accident, wasn’t it? That beautiful actress. Dead. It is alleged she led a life of questionable morality, but that isn’t a good enough reason for us to justify her death. I followed the testimony closely in the newspapers. Roscoe Arbuckle was a brilliant actor, comedian, director, and screenwriter. I read that he had just signed a new contract with Paramount Pictures. For over a million dollars I recall. He had to endure three trials for the rape and manslaughter of Virginia Rappe. Miss Rappe had fallen ill at a party hosted by Arbuckle. She died about four days later supposedly from injuries suffered there. Mr. Arbuckle was accused by her acquaintance of rape and of accidentally killing Miss Rappe. Mr. Arbuckle was finally acquitted at the third trial. He received a formal written statement of apology from the jury."
Buster continues “The sad part Mr. Parker, is that the incompetent court severely jeopardized Fatty's career, good standing, and future, don’t you agree?”
Ellis raised his eyebrows “I will not criticize the court. I really can’t comment on that. I would need to see the case files. Then I would re-interview all the parties involved. Even if I did, after all this time, I usually find that the stories will change dramatically.”
Buster absentmindedly waves hello to President Coolidge seated in the booth next to them.
Ellis cocks his head “You have a relationship with our President?”
“Yes. He is a fan of my movies. I have been invited to show them at the White House. Would you like to be introduced?”
“Most assuredly. I would much appreciate that. I’d be ever so grateful.”
Buster begins to walk over to the President’s booth “Follow me, Detective Parker.”
As Buster approaches, President Coolidge rises from his seat to offer a greeting. The President takes Buster Keaton’s hand sternly as he loudly boasts “Great to see you here Buster! Should be an exciting evening. A splendid night of professional boxing. Have you placed any wager?”
“I have no favorite Mr. President.” Buster responds while pointing to the seated Kathleen Myers “Miss Myers and I are here to enjoy the art of boxing.”
“I see you are accompanied by Mr. Arbuckle as well? Bravo. Brave of you. It speaks to your character.” President Coolidge then turns to face Ellis. “And who is this gentleman? Please introduce us Buster.”
“Mr. President, this is Ellis Parker. He is a Master Detective.”
The President’s face hints at recognition “Of course, your reputation precedes you, Mr. Parker. I have followed your career with great interest. Your name was suggested for the position that J. Edgar Hoover recently accepted. You might be hearing from him soon. We have a need for men like you in Federal Government.”
Ellis can’t blush. If he could have this was one of the few times in his life, he would have. “Thank you, Mr. President. I would be honored to consider service to my country. You flatter me.”
President Coolidge notices that Challenger Albert Smith is now stepping into the ring.
“Gentleman, to our seats. I am reasonably certain you favor the Challenger. Is that so, Mr. Parker?”
“Yes Sir, he is a close friend of mine.”
Ellis pauses “Mr. President. One last question, if I might? On a different subject.”
President Coolidge turns back to Ellis “Certainly Mr. Parker.”
“I wrote to you and Vice President Dawes (the recent Nobel prize winner) a number of times with my suggestions for the new Bureau of Investigation. It seems that many of my thoughts on the organization and investigative procedures have become a reality. I am correct in assuming that my letters influenced this?”
The President turns to leave “I have no idea, although I do recall your letters. I have since turned over all my notes and correspondence on this matter to Mr. Hoover. I suggest you make an appointment with him to discuss your concerns. Enjoy the fight.”
Ellis comments to Cora “A fine looking man. Stately, robust, powerful. Former Massachusetts Governor, Law Degree, Graduate of Amherst. He seems to be the right man for the right times. I do wish he was more forthcoming.”
The Trenton State Band starts playing “America The Beautiful” as Cozy Mathews climbs over the ropes to join Referee Tom Jones and Albert Smith in the center of the ring. Then everyone is asked to stand for the National Anthem. Cozy does not acknowledge or look directly at Albert during the Referee’s instructions. Albert on the other hand stares without blinking at Cozy swaying back and forth. Referee Jones asks both fighters to return to their corners to await the start of the fight. This is highly unusual. Jones then walks over to the ropes in front of Boxing Commissioner Walter Bechtel. He motions for him to confer. The Commissioner stands up to ask “What’s Up.” Jones tells him “I think Albert Smith has been drinking. He might be impaired. The alcohol smell on his breath is unmistakable. Should I call off the fight?”
Commissioner Bechtel grabs both of Jones’s shoulders “Are you crazy? The President is here. Half the people in America are listening to the radio. Start the damn fight.”
Tom Jones walks away shaking his head “All right but remember I asked if Smith gets killed.”
The fight begins. Both Mathews and Smith are cautious, pawing at each other to gauge their strengths and weaknesses. Cozy connects with a straight right hand that stuns Smith just before the bell. It is enough to give the first round to Cozy on the scorecards.
The second, third and fourth rounds get worse for Albert Smith. He looks tired and confused. By the end of the fourth round, he is not punching at all.
Buster yells over to Ellis “Your boy better wake up. He is losing big, Ellis.” Ellis doesn’t respond. He draws harder on his pipe. The smoke billows out of his mouth.
It looks as if the fight is mounting up to be an easy victory for Mathews. After the 4th round bell Referee Jones motions to Commissioner Bechtel again “I think he is too drunk to continue. He can hardly defend himself. Should I call it?”
“No. Not yet. We need to make sure the radio audience and the President get their money’s worth. Let it continue for now.”
Cozy Mathew’s corner has figured out what is going on “Your fighting a drunk, Cozy. Just carry him for a few more rounds, then put him on his butt.”
Cozy follows orders. The 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th rounds could have been scripted. The plan is, jab and clinch, then jab and repeatedly clinch until the last few minutes of each round. Throw enough combinations to win the round just before the bell.
In the 9th Albert Smith begins to recover from the alcohol still in his system. He starts to attack after each of Cozy’s jabs. Cozy begins to feel Albert’s pressure. Albert accomplishes enough to win his first round.
In Mathew’s corner, his trainer tells Cozy that the party is over “You better respect him now. The alcohol must be wearing off. Protect yourself and look for the knockout.”
Cozy stands up to wait for the bell that will continue the fight. He turns to acknowledge his wife and young son in the first row. Cozy winks at them before turning to face Albert.
In Albert’s corner, he is told that he needs a knockout “That’s the first round you have won. You got to take him out to win this fight. He must finish this fight on the canvas, or he is the champ. Got it?”
Albert nods his head affirmative. He jumps up before the bell is even rung to begin the 10th round. The round is devastating for Mathews. Albert has his way with him. Mathews is knocked down twice. The damage can be seen on his face. Cozy is barely able to hold on to finish the round.
Albert's corner is hysterically celebrating when he approaches it. They sense a victory and a championship. “Take him out this round Albert” instructs trainer Billy Ward. “His tank is empty. Keep the pressure on him. He’s too tired to stop you, but you still have to knock him out to become Champion.”
The bell rings to start round 11. It is now an all-out war. Cozy Mathews has been known to be a sneaky fighter in the ring. The Referee separates them after Cozy has wrapped Albert in a clinch. Albert walks away as instructed. Cozy takes the opportunity to hit Albert on the back of his head. Albert, spitting out blood and teeth, screams foul to the Ref. Blood is also rushing out of a 4-inch gash over Albert’s left eye. It was caused by Cozy’s illegal head butt. It was delivered while Albert was releasing him from a clinch as instructed. The spurting blood blinds Albert. Albert chases after Referee Jones to confront him over Cozy’s illegal tactics. There is some body contact as he makes his complaint known. Albert is nose to nose with the Ref. Referee Jones signals a foul on Albert. He then instructs the scorer to deduct a point from Albert’s score. The Referee then points to the canvas in the center of the ring. It is his signal that the fight will now continue. Nearly blind from the blood running into his eyes, Albert rushes Cozy to land three straight punches to his jaw. Cozy collapses like a rock to the canvas. It is obvious to all that he will not get up. The Referee waves Albert off, indicating that the fight is over. Albert ignores his signals and continues to savagely beat Cozy into a bloody mess while he lays unconscious on the canvas. It takes the Ref, the scorekeeper and all four of the corner men to pull the furious Albert off Cozy. They try to wrestle him to the canvas. They end up tackling Albert to stop his assault. They finally manage to drag him over to his corner.
The Ref signals for the Doctor to attend Cozy. The Doctor climbs through the ropes to take Cozy’s vital signs. He looks up at the Ref in shock to slowly shake his head from side to side. Referee Jones’s face goes ashen. The Referee now realizes the horrible truth. Cozy is dead.
Albert runs over to Referee Jones screaming “Hold up my arms. You stupid fucking asshole. I, Albert Smith, am the fucking new Heavyweight Champion of the United States!”
The Ref answers “But Cozy’s dead.”
Albert looks him in the eyes “So what? He was a dirty bastard. It could have been me. Raise my hands, or you will suffer the same fate.”
A short while later, Ellis turns to his wife Cora as they exit the tent “You can’t always figure out everything. Life is not like one of my cases. Albert has won his Championship yet there is no joy in it. A man had to die for him to achieve his lifetime goal. Sad, don’t you think?”
Cora glances at her husband “Yes Dear, it is. Ben-Hur or Phantom of the Opera tonight?”
Ellis continues “Did you notice Cozy’s young son? Looked to be about ten years old to me. Fear was all over his face. He was there with his mother in the front row. She was desperate to block his view and shield his eyes. She knew her husband was dying up there. She didn’t want her son to see his father’s death. Ten years old! His life will never be the same. Tragic.”
Ellis strikes a match to light his pipe. He takes two deep draws “Did I tell you how beautiful that dress is on you Cora? I think Ben-Hur tonight my Dear. I find chariot races exciting. We will save the Lon Chaney film for another night. I do hope my 35 MM Leica arrives soon. Oscar Barnack has invented a great tool for filming crime scenes. It will revolutionize investigation. I hear J. Edgar is already using one. Oh! How about those Thompson submachine guns? The bootleggers have them even before law enforcement. I deserved that job.”
Cora asks “What Job Ellis?”
“The one J. Edgar Hoover stole from me.”