The air in Prairie Flats had been calm all morning. But by noon the wind had whipped up out of the east, and just a half-hour later a small, rainless tornado was pummeling the farming community, its funnel leaving behind a path of destruction and at least one fatality.
The body of Allie Brinker was found lying in a ditch. There was a gash in the young woman's forehead and a trickle of blood that had fallen in neat round drops onto the ground. Not far away, a broken, bloodied fence post led the police to an obvious conclusion. The wind had torn up the post and sent it flying into her head.
"I blame myself," Allie's Uncle Nate told the neighbors. "She was at my place, playing with her one-year-old niece. Just as the wind was picking up, Allie decided to run back home across the fields. I told her to stay. The radio was warning of twisters. I should have stopped her."
After the tornado passed, Allie's boyfriend, Josh, had gone out looking for her. "Last night we had a fight," Josh moaned. "I wanted to make up. But no one knew where Allie was. I had a feeling something bad must have happened. I must have driven past the field twice, but I never saw her in that ditch."
It was Allie's older sister, Beth, who discovered the body. "I was on my way to Uncle Nate's to pick up my daughter. The wind was still strong, so I took the path down by the long ditch where it's easier to walk. I almost fell over her." Beth was still shivering from the horrible shock.
The authorities were all prepared to call it accidental, a tragic example of nature's fury. But then a young deputy sheriff noticed something, a clue that not only told them it was murder but who the most likely suspect would be.
Whodunit? And what was the clue?
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.