The Mysterious Case of Dr. William Packman
and the Little Black Notebook
An air of indescribable darkness prevailed in the Packmans’ home on the morning of February 5th, 1956. Martha Packman had never before heard her mother, Victoria, utter as earth-shattering a scream as she did then.
“For God’s sake, mother, what on Earth is…” Martha stopped short, paralyzed by sheer horror as she stared at the dead body of her beloved father, William, as her mother lay on the floor, sobbing violently. Signs of a brutal murder having taken place were evident. Only, to his wife and daughter’s knowledge, Dr. William Packman was an honorable and righteous man with no enemies. His sudden killing left the two women who loved him most shattered and baffled.
“Your father left you $20,000,” Victoria told her daughter. “He loved you so much and wanted you to be taken care of.”
“That’s no consolation, mother,” Martha sighed in despondence. “We must find the killer.”
Victoria nodded in agreement: “We will hire the best investigator in New York City to do the job.” And so Inspector Drake, the best investigator in New York City indeed, got his hands on the mysterious case.
“My husband was a surgeon, Mr. Drake,” Victoria told him. “He was a good man who helped people. I cannot think of a single reason why someone would do something so horrific to him.”
“I hate to disappoint you, Mrs. Packman,” the Inspector elucidated, “but my findings so far indicate that your late husband was not, in fact, so innocent. He was heavily involved in the “French Connection”, smuggling Turkish opium shipments that arrived from Marseilles and Paris to New York.”
Mother and daughter gasped in disbelief. “Then, surely, his murder must have something to do with his work behind the scenes!” Martha exclaimed.
“Yes!” Victoria chimed in. “Perhaps he owed someone money!”
Inspector Drake nodded in agreement, “Such a scenario is certainly possible, but I need more information to continue my work and find the killer. There are no fingerprints or any other physical evidence on Dr. Packman’s body that may provide clues as to the killer’s identity. Can either of you recall an acquaintance of Mr. Packman that may shed more light on his work in the months leading up to his death?”
Martha and Victoria stared at each other nervously. “I cannot think of anyone specifically,” replied Victoria, “but he did always carry a little black notebook in which he was constantly scribbling. He never showed it to us, strangely, but we respectfully refrained from asking to see it.”
“Excellent!” exclaimed Inspector Drake. “Do you know the whereabouts of this notebook?”
Dumbfounded, Martha and Victoria admitted they did not. “But we will search our home for it!”
And so the house was turned upside down in search of this mysterious little black notebook, but in vain – there was no sign of it.
“The killer must have known about this notebook and taken it,” Inspector Drake concluded.
“Perhaps we should announce on television that the possessor of the notebook will receive a monetary reward in exchange for returning it to us!” Martha suggested. “I’m willing to offer the $20,000 father left for me!”
“That is a ridiculous idea, Martha,” Victoria countered. “If the killer is the likely new owner of the notebook, bringing it to us will be practically equal to turning oneself in. Surely even $20,000 is not worth facing lifelong imprisonment or execution?”
“But what if the owner of the notebook is NOT the killer?”
“Martha is right,” intervened Inspector Drake, “I don’t think this is such a bad idea. At the end of the day, we have nothing to lose, and this notebook may just provide us with all the information we need to reveal Dr. Packman’s killer.”
And so the quest to find the little black notebook and return it to the Packmans was made public.
Mr. Drake’s office quickly became infiltrated with an endless line of visitors holding little black notebooks. To the Packmans’ disappointment, however, none of the notebooks that were presented contained William’s handwriting as they remembered it. One by one, contenders were turned away.
“We should have known this would happen,” Victoria sighed. “Who wouldn’t want a chance at winning $20,000?”
Nodding in agreement, Inspector Drake stated, “I must find another way to learn more about Dr. Packman’s involvement with the opium trade.”
And so he proceeded to do just that, interrogating every acquaintance of Dr. Packman and every drug smuggler in New York City, but, alas, to no avail. There appeared to be no connection between William’s illicit business and his murder.
Hope of finding Dr. Packman’s killer was beginning to dwindle, when, months later, unexpectedly, a young woman by the name of Isabella Davis knocked at Inspector Drake’s door, little black notebook in hand.
“Please, my clients are sick and tired of you bandits looking to make fast money at the expense of others’ grief,” he told her, harshly.
“No, no, Inspector Drake, I promise you this notebook is Dr. Packman’s!” Isabella assured him.
When Martha and Victoria arrived to verify the notebook’s authenticity, they indeed confirmed that this time, the writing was inarguably William’s. Their excitement quickly turned to utter shock when they realized the notebook was, in fact, a book of romantic poetry William had dedicated to a beautiful woman (clearly, his long-time mistress) named Caroline Preston. Complete with photographs of William’s object of affection and confessions of intense love for her, it was a lyrical work of art.
“And how did this gem find its way into your hands, may I ask?” Victoria asked Isabella, fighting bitter tears.
“Caroline was my best friend,” Isabella replied. “I was over at her house one day, and she showed me the notebook her lover had gifted her. I told her I thought it was so beautiful and romantic, and she admitted that it was too painful for her to read it because she knew William would never leave his family for her, so she suggested I keep it, at least temporarily.”
“Was, you say,” Inspector Drake asked. “Is Caroline no longer alive?”
“Sadly, no, Sir. She had been suffering from a rare digestive illness that eventually killed her.”
“And when did she pass?”
“Back in January.”
Inspector Drake was quickly able to confirm the date of Caroline’s passing.
“Obviously, Caroline cannot be Dr. Packman’s killer if she died before he was murdered,” Victoria stated. “You’re the one with the notebook - why should we not suspect YOU?
Isabella began to quiver violently, “Oh, no, please, I – I – I didn’t kill him! I swear!”
“Panic not, my dear,” Inspector Drake re-assured her, sardonically. “We cannot arrest you without solid evidence, so you will receive your $20,000, as promised, but we will continue to investigate your likely involvement with Dr. Packman’s murder.”
“And perhaps you can help us learn more about Caroline. What was her occupation?” Martha interrogated the suspect.
“Oh, she was far too sick to work and relied on her lover’s help to survive financially.”
“Do you know of any treatments she had sought for her ailment?” questioned Inspector Drake.
“I believe the last treatment Caroline had was a stomach surgery.”
“Are you aware that Dr. Packman was a gastric surgeon?” asked Victoria.
“Yes, Caroline had mentioned that…” Isabella muttered nervously.
“Do you know if Dr. Packman performed Ms. Preston’s surgery?” inquired Inspector Drake.
“I believe he did, Sir…”
A quick look into Dr. Packman’s list of past surgeries confirmed that Caroline Preston had indeed been a patient.
“The doctor’s notes in the records state that the surgery was successful and that Ms. Preston was sent home a few days later for recovery,” Inspector Drake elaborated. “Strange that she died a few months later, then.”
“Are you insinuating that my father somehow precipitated Ms. Preston’s death, Mr. Drake?” Martha asked, rather angrily. “He was the best gastric surgeon in New York City!”
“No-one is immune to errors,” countered Inspector Drake.
“Unless… it was not a error,” Victoria murmured under her breath.
“Mother!” Martha gasped in disbelief, “How can you even suggest such a ludicrous thing?”
“Well, that is precisely what Caroline thought,” proceeded Isabella. “That William wished to get rid of her in this way. You see, they had been having an affair for years, but William grew increasingly unhappy, by Caroline’s accounts, as he realized that he could not allow himself to tear his family apart for his lover, and when he had learnt that her illness, coincidentally, was within the scope of his professional expertise, he saw an opportunity to end Caroline’s life under the guise of a life-saving surgery, thereby ending his own misery. Or at least that is what Caroline had told me when she began to feel sicker and sicker in the months following the surgery.”
“But how would he have been able to do so?” asked Victoria.
“Caroline believed he had somehow managed to inject a slow-acting poison into her during the surgery,” Isabella retorted. “He must have thought that because they were lovers, she would never suspect him when she would begin to feel worse. But she loved him so much that even though she had such suspicions, she would never go after him with accusations of this sort. Moreover, she told me she did not think she stood a chance at winning in court against one of the most respected surgeons in the city.”
“If this is true, it is, of course, tragic and appalling,” asserted Inspector Drake. “However, the bigger question now remains: who, believing Dr. Packman was responsible for Caroline’s death, would be angry enough to murder him?”
All eyes, naturally, turned to Isabella. “Please, do not look at me like that!” she pleaded. “I did not kill William Packman!”
Sensing honesty in her declaration, Inspector Drake concluded, “If you are indeed innocent, the next obvious suspects would be those closest to Caroline. Are her parents alive?”
“Her father is, Sir. His name is Gerald Preston.”
“Then we must interrogate him. Where does he live?”
“1580 Topham St, Sir. He was a very lonely man and often invited Caroline and I for dinner at his home.”
Inspector Drake and the Packmans immediately rushed over to Mr. Preston’s home, bringing Isabella with them. Only, when they stepped inside, they were greeted by a stench so putrid that all hopes of a productive interrogation quickly subsided. The foul odor led them into the master bedroom, where they discovered Mr. Preston’s lifeless body lying on the floor, a sea of small white pills scattered next to him. Not far from his right hand lay a small note with the following words:
“The loss of my beloved daughter, Caroline, grew increasingly unbearable. I thought that if I killed the man who had unnecessarily caused her death, Dr. William Packman, I would somehow feel some relief from my grief – but I was mistaken. Living with the stain of a murderer only brought me more misery. I have nothing left to live for. My God, please forgive me.”
And so the mystery of Dr. Packman’s murder was resolved. The little black notebook proved to have unraveled more darkness than anyone could have predicted.