(Image credit: Flickr user Xa)
At 10 A.M. exactly, the gates to the zoo were flung open. A handful of the early visitors headed directly for the penguin house. The kids raced in to get the best view of the glass-enclosed habitat and nearly stumbled over the corpse. It was Cheryl Hammaker, a zoo employee, dressed for work and wearing a plastic feeding apron. She'd been strangled.
The medical examiner took the body's temperature, leading him to estimate that she'd been dead for well over 12 hours. "Makes sense," the zoo director said. "The penguins are fed three times a day: when the handlers get here at eight, then at noon, and finally around six, right after we close." He checked the victim's feeding apron, still filled with small fish.
"That's probably when it happened," a detective agreed as he sniffed, smelling just the faintest fishy odor. "Right before last night's feeding."
Cheryl had been a conscientious worker, arriving early and leaving late. She lived close to the zoo and kept to herself. "I'd just promoted her to department head," the director said. "With her own set of keys. Two other people were up for the job. They got pretty upset."
One of the rejected employees was Sean. "I took yesterday off," Sean testified. "My church held an all-day retreat and we didn't get home until midnight. I went right to bed. I had to be here at work by eight."
Juan, the other suspect, was found in the penguin food freezer, taking inventory of a fish delivery. "When I left last night, Cheryl was just filling up her apron for the last feeding. She told me I could go home. This morning Bert and I drove in together and went right to work in Reptile World—until we heard the news. Horrible!"
The medical examiner walked past the body again, sniffed the air, then turned to the detective. "There's something odd here," he said. "We need to question one of our suspects more thoroughly."
Whodunit? And what led the medical examiner to his suspicions?
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.