What: “WENDELL HERTIG FOUND DEAD” was the headline in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune.


When: May 7, 1928.


Crime scene: Readers knew the name of the man — a famous lawyer and former alderman. Was it a car accident? Pneumonia? No. It was a fatal gunshot to the chest in the room he rented at the Athletic Club.

“When found,” said the news story, “he was in his night clothes, lying on the right side in bed. A blanket had been pulled over him. The revolver was lying under some papers on the floor near a dresser, about eight feet from the bed. The shade on the only window in the room had been pulled down and detectives found bloody finger marks upon it. The door was bolted from the inside and the window did not open on a fire escape.”


Murder most foul? It sounds like a classic locked-room mystery. The coroner on duty said it was possible that Hertig could have shot himself in the lung, pulled the shade, hid the gun, got into bed, and pulled up the blanket, but there wasn’t any blood on the floor.


The determination: The day after Hertig’s death, the coroner released his findings: suicide. (It was said that Hertig had complained of feeling ill.) The case was closed. The papers never mentioned it again.


Enduring mystery: Wendell Hertig Taylor, Hertig’s 23-year-old nephew, attended the funeral in Minneapolis and accompanied the body to the family plot in Wilmington, Del. Taylor became a lifelong reader of crime fiction. In 1971, he and distinguished historian Jacques Barzun published “A Catalogue of Crime,” regarded at the time as the finest and most exhaustive study of crime fiction ever written.

Whatever happened in that room in the Athletic Club may have spurred Hertig’s nephew to spend his life studying stories where there was always a solution.