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The newspapers dubbed him that, the nutty strangler, although there was nothing funny about him. Five times he'd struck, each time leaving nut shells—piles of nut shells. On the first occasion the body of a businessman was found in an alley. The police barely noticed the walnut shells among the midtown litter.
The second time it was a suburban housewife and peanut shells. On the third strangulation (a secretary and pecans) the homicide squad started looking at photos of the previous cases. That's when they made the connection.
"Maybe he likes nuts," a rookie suggested. "Maybe cracking shells calms this psycho down while he waits for the right victim to come by."
On the sixth murder, the police caught a break. It was late. Four officers were just coming off their shift when they heard a strangled scream. They arrived too late to save the young college student. But one glance at the piles of red pistachio shells told them who they were dealing with. The officers fanned out, detaining the only three men they could find in the surrounding streets.
The first was a homeless man, discovered sleeping over a steam vent. There was no alcohol on his breath. The man claimed to have been living on the street for only a week. The police examined his hands. They were large and clean and strong-looking.
The second was a man in a suit, claiming to be on his way home from the office. "I know the subway's in the other direction," he admitted. "But when I heard the scream I got scared. The street here is better lighted."
The third was working on his car. "It broke down a few minutes ago," he said, pulling his grease-covered hands out from under the hood. "You can try to start her if you don't believe me. I was all set to call AAA."
A sergeant turned to his companions. "I think I know who it is. But there's an easy way to find out for sure."
Whom does he suspect? How can he prove it?
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.