Even after a jury renders its verdict, that doesn’t mean a case goes away. The real truth about some cases doesn’t always come out, which means there are lingering questions about its outcome. We’ve certainly seen that in real life. For example, in 1892, Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Borden was acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother. And there are several theories as to who was really responsible. But at the same time, plenty of people continued to believe she was guilty. And there are historians who think the same thing.
The same questions come up in crime fiction, and it’s interesting to see the roles they can play in the genre. Those lingering questions can be the basis for a legal appeal. Or, they can prompt Cold Case teams to look into the case again. Sleuths, too, can be drawn into cases because of those questions.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, famous painter Amyas Crale is poisoned one afternoon. His wife, Caroline, is the main suspect, and she certainly has motive. She is tried for the crime, and is defended by a very skilled lawyer. But she’s found guilty and sent to prison, where she dies a year later. Most people don’t question the jury’s verdict, either. But years later, the Crales’ daughter, Carla, does. She believes that her mother was innocent, and she questions the outcome of the trial. She hires Hercule Poirot to take the case and find out who the real killer is. Slowly, he learns that there were a few questions at the time, but even those who thought Caroline Crale might be innocent faced one major challenge: if it wasn’t Caroline, then who else had a motive? Poirot gets written accounts of the murder from the people who were there at the time; he interviews them, too. That information leads him to the truth about the murder.
In Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, Superintendent Andy Dalziel returns to a 1963 case – the murder of Pamela Westrup. At the time, Cissy Kohler was arrested, tried, and convicted in connection with the crime. But there were always some questions about whether she was guilty. Now, she’s been released from prison, and the questions continue to mount. There’s talk that she was innocent, but that the investigator in charge of the case, Wally Tallentire, hid evidence that would have supported her case. Dalziel is sure that’s not true, though, and it’s no small matter that Tallentire was his mentor, so he has a personal stake in the case. Dalziel goes back over the events in questions, and slowly gets to the truth about the Westrup murder.
Michael Robotham’s Lost features the case of seven-year-old Mickey Carlyle. Three years earlier, Mickey went missing. Everyone thinks that she was abducted and killed by a paedophile named Harold Wavell. In fact, Wavell was arrested, tried and imprisoned for the crime. But there are still questions about the case. Was Wavell really guilty? If not, what happened to the child? Detective Inspector (DI) Vincent Ruiz is looking into the case, when he is badly injured. After the injury, he has little memory of what happened. But, with help from psychologist Joe O’Loughlin, Ruiz slowly begins to recover his memories of the case. Once he does, he is able to find out the truth about Mickey.
Paddy Richardson’s Wellington-based journalist Rebecca Thorne learns of lingering questions about a case in Traces of Red. Connor Bligh has been in prison for years for murdering his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the murders. There are lingering questions about the case, though. Was Bligh really guilty? There is some evidence that suggests he might be innocent. If he is, then this could be the story to ensure Thorne’s place at the top of New Zealand journalism. She starts looking into the case again and finds herself getting much closer to it than even she thinks is wise. In the end, she learns the truth, but it’s definitely at a cost.
In Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass, pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman returns from London to her native Auckland with her partner, Yossi Shalev, and her daughter, Roimata ‘Roi.’ She’s not particularly eager to make the trip, but it’s important to Yossi, so she goes along with the plan. There’s a good reason, too, for which Claire doesn’t want to go back to Auckland. In 1970, her father, Patrick, was arrested and imprisoned in connection with the disappearance of seventeen-year-old Kathryn Phillips. There was never enough evidence to make a conviction stick, so he didn’t remain in prison. But there are still plenty of people who think he’s guilty. And there are a lot of questions about the trial and about the disappearance. Still, Claire goes back to Auckland with her family. Then, she gets involved in a very high-profile case. A two-year-old in her care is diagnosed with a tumour. His parents object to any surgery on religious grounds, and this puts them squarely up against the hospital. It’s a difficult matter, and it puts Claire in exactly the situation she didn’t want: under the proverbial microscope. Her father’s case is made much of in the media, and all of the questions surrounding it are dragged out again.
There are certain cases like that, though – cases where there’s been an arrest, and possibly a trial and conviction, but there are still questions. Such situations can make for interesting plot lines in a crime novel. And in real life, those cases can make for much speculation.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Goldfinger’s Anything.