Whodunit: The FBI and the Hacker

The following is a Whodunit by Hy Conrad featuring Jonah Bixby, a twelve-year-old crime solver and son of a police detective. Can you solve the crime?

(Image credit: Berishafjolla)

As one of the city's only female detectives, Carol Bixby was often stuck with non-detective chores, like doing paperwork. But it was because she was stuck here at the station house on one particular morning, writing up a boring report, that she was picked to join the FBI on an emergency operation.

The FBI's Computer Fraud Division was on the trail of a hacker who was releasing computer viruses through the Beaverton College e-mail system. The hacker had stayed one step ahead of them, changing computers with every attack. But now they were getting close. Carol helped them get a search warrant and accompanied the FBI agents when they knocked on an apartment door just off campus.

A short young man answered their knock. His name was Oscar Paterno, and he shared the place with two other students. "I know next to nothing about computers," Oscar told them. "When I need one, I go to the school's computer lab."

One of his roommates was there to support this claim. "Yeah, as far as I know, Oscar doesn't even have e-mail," said Mark Gilley. The lanky Australian was in the kitchen, a skillet in his left hand, flipping pancakes. "You blokes want some griddle cakes?" he asked. Carol and the agents declined.

"And where is your computer?" Carol asked the Aussie.

"It died last week," Mark told them. "I'm waiting on a check from Mum and Dad to buy a new one."

The FBI found only one computer in the apartment, a desktop owned by the missing roommate, Boris Brinsky, a math major and chess wizard. They took photos of Boris's room and then packed up the computer for further examination at the lab.

They were just carting it out the door when Boris walked in. "What are you people doing?" he demanded. Carol showed him the search warrant and took him aside to answer questions.

"We traced the hacker to your computer," she told him. "The last virus was sent out at 7:06 this morning."

"It wasn't me. I was in the library all night," Boris said. "I fell asleep in a study cubicle and woke up maybe fifteen minutes ago."

Boris knew of no one who could verify his alibi. And his roommates weren't very helpful either. Both claimed to have been in bed by midnight and not left their rooms until about eight this morning. According to this timetable, any one of them, Boris included, could have sneaked into his room and fired off the code that was once again crippling the college system.

Boris was indignant and refused to sign the Inventory of Confiscation. "What am I going to do without my computer?"

"We don't need your permission," Carol explained. "It's just a formality." She held out the pen until Oscar reached out his right hand and signed for his roommate.

That evening, Carol brought the FBI report home to study. "Looks like you've got homework, too," Jonah joked when she laid it all out on the kitchen table.

Carol laughed. "Well, I often help you with yours. Maybe you can help with mine. It would be a real coup if I could beat the FBI on this one."

She showed Jonah a photo of Boris's computer before it was moved. It was a new Dell machine, fairly powerful. To the right of the keyboard were a colorful mouse pad and a small stack of yesterday's mail. To the left were a coffee stain, the mouse, and a small desk clock.

"Tell me everything that happened," the twelve-year-old said. "I think I can find your hacker."



Show Answer

The whodunit above was provided by American mystery fiction author Hy Conrad.

In addition to his work in mystery and crime puzzles, Hy was also one of the original writers for the groundbreaking TV series Monk.

Currently, Hy is working on mystery novel series "Abel Adventures" as well as the Monk series of novels, starting with Mr. Monk Helps Himself (published by Penguin, order from Amazon here)

Check out Hy's official website and Facebook page - and stay tuned for more whodunits puzzlers on Neatorama from the master of whodunit mysteries himself!

Love games and puzzles? Visit NeatoPuzzles for more!

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The puzzle had a lefty using the mouse instead of the owner who was a righty. So... I thought the reasoning was a bit off since my mouse cord is plugged into the left side of my keyboard even though I'm a righty. My mouse is always to the left of the keyboard. But people might readily assume I'm a lefty since my mouse cord is to the west.
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I'm not sure what you are trying to say in that sentence. My keyboard is wireless. But if I saw a mouse pad on one side and the mouse on the other, I would know that someone besides the normal user had been at the computer. Nothing to do with the keyboard or whether it must plug into itself.
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It's not clear that Mark is guilty, because it just says that he was holding the skillet in his left hand, flipping pancakes. It doesn't make clear that he wasn't using a spatula with his right hand. I'm right-handed, so I'll hold the pan with my left hand, and the implement with my right. If it had made clear that Mark was flipping the pancakes with just the pan, it would have been clearer.
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