Authors: Geraldine Evans
|The Hanging Tree|
|Rafferty & Llewellyn |
Inspector Rafferty dismisses the report of a hooded body hanging from a
tree in Dedman Wood. When the witness turns out to be a magistrate, who
identifies the body as a man once accused of child-rape, Rafferty
becomes concerned that someone is carrying out their own form of
A Rafferty & Llewellyn police procedural
The Hanging Tree
Copyright 1996 and 2011 Geraldine
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Note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents
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The Hanging Tree
original crossroads used to run by here,’ Sam told Rafferty. ‘Legend has it
that this was the old Hanging Tree.’
Rafferty first hears the report that a bound and hooded body has been seen
hanging from a tree in Dedman Wood, he dismisses it as a schoolboy hoax,
especially when police at the scene find nothing out of the ordinary.
But his anxiety
rises sharply when the witness turns out to be a respectable local magistrate,
who identifies the corpse as Maurice Smith, a man once accused of four child
rapes. Thrown out on a legal technicality, Smith’s case had become a
cause-celebre which had generated much ill-feeling within the community.
Sergeant Llewellyn visit Smith’s home – to discover he has mysteriously
disappeared. And in his flat they find a threatening letter, and fresh
Then the body
turns up again in the woods. Could there be a self-appointed executioner at
work, meting out his own form of justice on the legendary Hanging Tree?
was 10.00 p m and Inspector Rafferty was thankful to finally be going home. The
week before Christmas was not the best time of year from a policeman's point of
view; Essex, in common with the rest of England’s densely-populated southern
counties, had too many criminals with shopping lists of luxury items and a
matching reluctance to pay for them. The combination had made his day long and
So he was inclined to snap when Constable Timothy Smales burst into his
office, crashing the door back against the wall just as he was putting his coat
on and melodramatically exclaimed, 'It's gone, sir. Vanished. Lilley says—'
'Can't you open a door without smashing it off its hinges, man?'
Rafferty demanded. 'What's the matter with you?'
Crestfallen, Smales said, 'Sorry, sir.'
'What's gone, anyway?' Rafferty asked.
'I thought you'd have heard by now, sir.' Smales's fallen crest was now
on the rise again and he came forward excitedly. 'A body was reported hanging
in Dedman Wood. Only, as I said, when Lilley got there it had vanished, so—'
Rafferty was dismissive. 'Is that all?' Timothy Smales's schoolboy
enthusiasm for corpses killed his small stock of common sense and he made a
mental note to put the young constable down for a few more post-mortems as a
cure for the condition. 'Hardly reason to take the paint off my wall. It's
another hoax, man. Have you forgotten it's the school holidays? Last week it
was armed robberies — this week it's corpses. With a bit of luck, by next week,
the bored local teenagers will be tormenting the fire brigade instead of us.'
Smales flushed but continued doggedly. 'It wasn't a kid that reported
it, sir. It was a woman. According to Beard, a posh-sounding woman. Very
adamant, she was. And she was there waiting for Lilley. Said she almost burned
his ears off when he finally got to the scene. And another thing, Lilley said
there were definite indications that a body had been hanging where she said.'
Rafferty, still keen to get home and put his feet up, wasn't easily
moved from his opinion that the call had been a hoax. The world was full of
attention-seekers who had forgotten to take their medication; a posh voice and
a bossy manner didn't make his conclusions any less likely. Still, he reminded
himself, callers intent on wasting police time didn't usually hang around for
the police to arrive.
'Lilley said there were what looked like rope marks on one of the more
sturdy boughs,' Smales went on. 'And the grass was flattened directly
underneath it. A small tuft of rope was still clinging to the bough itself.'
'Could have been made by children with a tyre swing.' Rafferty still
felt their witness would turn out to be less impressive in the flesh. But maybe
he ought to look into it a little more deeply. Resignedly, he removed his coat
and indicated that Smales should continue.
'Constable Beard said the woman who reported it told him she was a
magistrate from Burleigh.' Burleigh was in the north of the county, while
Elmhurst was in the south, near the coast. 'A Mrs ffinch-Robinson. I can
believe the magistrate bit and all, because Lilley said that when he got there
and the body had gone, she didn't half give him a ticking off. Seemed to think
he should have got there sooner. Anyway, she said she'd be in to make a formal
statement. She hadn't been drinking, either,' Smales added. 'Lilley made sure
to smell her breath.'
Rafferty frowned. ffinch-Robinson. The name rang a bell. And from what
Smales said she sounded both sane and sober. But if so, and she was telling the
truth, what the devil had become of the body? If the cadaver was a suicide, as
seemed likely, what reason would a third party have for removing it?
Having come up with no answers, he said, 'I want to see Lilley the
second he gets back. And warn him he'd better make sure he can read his
writing, because I shall want to know exactly what this Mrs ffinch-Robinson
said to him. I'll need chapter and verse, because, by the sound of her, nothing
but another corpse will satisfy her.' Pity we can't provide her with one, he
muttered to himself.
ffinch-Robinson arrived at Elmhurst police station ten minutes later and was
shown into Rafferty's office. She proved not only entirely sober and
respectable, but less than understanding of the slow police response.
Rafferty did his best to soothe her ruffled magistrate's feathers. 'It's
nearly Christmas, Mrs ffinch-Robinson. A very busy time for us and—'
'I understand that, Inspector. But I would have thought a report of a
man's body hanging in the woods would take precedence over public house
'Normally it would, of course. Unfortunately all the uniformed officers
were out or otherwise engaged when your call came through. All I can say is
that an officer was despatched in response to your call as soon as possible.'
Thankfully, Mrs ffinch-Robinson didn't pursue the complaint. But she had
another that was equally sensitive. 'I suggest you speak to the young officer
who finally arrived in response to my call, Inspector. I found his manner
offensive. He not only had the effrontery to smell my breath as though he believed
me to be drunk.' Briefly, Rafferty closed his eyes, surprised at Lilley's
clumsiness; it was more the behaviour he had come to expect from young Smales. 'But
he also warned me of the penalties for wasting police time — hardly conducive
to good police-public relations, you must agree.'
As he gazed at Mrs ffinch-Robinson, perched, with all her ruffled
magisterial dignity in his visitor's chair, Rafferty wished he hadn't sent
Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn out to soothe the latest victim of Elmhurst's Christmas-shopping
criminal fraternity. He could do with his diplomatic skills here. He marvelled
at Lilley's nerve. Pity his judgement wasn't so hot, because, from the top of
her rather stylish Lincoln green, deerstalker hat, to her no-time-to-waste
French pleated hair, through to her firmly corseted figure and practically shod
feet in their brilliantly burnished tan boots, Mrs ffinch-Robinson proclaimed
authority, sobriety and a total lack of hysteria. Her voice, as crisp as a
Cox's Orange Pippin, was clear, precise, and as demanding of a policeman's
respect as the rest of her. Hardly surprising, of course. As she had been at
pains to explain, she
Rafferty, earlier inclined to scoff at tales of vanishing cadavers,
didn't doubt that she was telling the truth about the missing body. Apart from
anything else, her statement hadn't varied by as much as a word from that taken
down by Lilley. She had told them she was staying with her daughter and had
taken the daughter's dog for a walk. It had been the dog who had led her to the
corpse. All that was simple enough. But what she had to tell him next was more
worrying and did little to reassure him that the next few days would be
anything but difficult.
'I didn't say anything to that young officer,' she told Rafferty, 'as he
didn't exactly inspire confidence that one would be believed, but I'm certain
the corpse was that of a chap called Maurice Smith.'
Rafferty frowned as another bell rang. Now why did he recognise the
Mrs ffinch-Robinson's intelligent grey gaze noted his dilemma. 'His was
something of a cause-célèbre about ten years ago. Maurice Smith was charged
with raping four young girls. The case was dismissed on a legal technicality on
the first day of the trial.' Her firmly chiselled nostrils quivered her disdain
for such legal bumbling. 'One of his victims killed herself when Smith was
released. As you can imagine, the victims' families were outraged and made
various threats against Smith.'
Rafferty nodded. Details of the case were slowly coming back. He seemed
to remember that, of the families that Mrs ffinch-Robinson mentioned, one had
done more than threaten. The father had waylaid Smith and given him one hell of
a beating, receiving a prison sentence for his pains. 'Excuse me, Mrs
ffinch-Robinson, but how did you recognise him? After all, it's ten years since—'
Mrs ffinch-Robinson interrupted him. 'Smith used to live in Burleigh
which is where I sit on the bench and he had come up before me in the
Magistrates' Court on several occasions in his teens. His front teeth protruded
quite dreadfully. Extraordinary the parents didn't get them seen to, though, of
course, the mother was one of those spiritless women you could advise till you
were blue in the face. Anyway, the teeth of the corpse were exactly the same. That's
why I recognised him. He'd changed very little in other respects, too. There is
no doubt in my mind that it was Smith. None at all.'
Reluctant to seem to doubt her, Rafferty had, nevertheless, to question
her further. 'Pardon me, but I thought you said he had a hood over his head
when you found him, Mrs ffinch-Robinson?'
Although she looked a little put out that he had detected a flaw in her
statement, she answered promptly enough. 'So he did. I didn't touch anything, if
that's what you're implying. I didn't have to as the wind must have got under
the hood and it was half off. Naturally, I shone my torch on his face. You
should be grateful I did, Inspector.' The Cox's Orange Pippin in her voice
became crisper than ever. 'At least you know the body's identity, even if it
has gone missing.' She gave him a stern, magisterial, smile. 'Now all you have
to do is find it.' She paused before adding, 'and his murderer, of course.'