The dapper chap above is our victim, J.B. Elwell. Mr. Elwell's housekeeper found him sitting in his living room a little after 8 a.m. on June 11, 1920. There was an open letter on his lap and a pile of unopened mail beside him, delivered to him just one hour prior. Oh, and there was a hole in his forehead. On a nearby table was the bullet that had killed him. Nothing had been stolen, despite the fact that the house was full of cash and valuables -- there was even a freaking Rembrandt painting. No one had been seen entering or leaving.
The fact that Elwell had been killed was not a huge shock to those in the know. The man had been not only pretty wealthy, but a bit of an asshole playboy: He was a very successful card player by trade, routinely raking in large sums from the elite. He also very much fucked the elite's wives; in his belongings was found a personal notebook with the names and numbers of around 50 ladies, married and unmarried alike. In 1920. That's a lot of soiled reputations, jealous suitors, angry brothers and husbands, and fucking furious fathers. Add that to the people whose money he had won at the ol' gambling table, and the dude was easily reaching late 1990s rapper figures of people who had beef with him. According to NY Daily News (who seem to have a soft spot for the case, as it was one of their first chances as an upcoming paper to fling shit at notorious people), the police estimated roughly 1,000 potential suspects.
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"Five arrogant rich bastards -- who can all get us fired -- interrogated, only 995 to go!"
And here's where it gets weird. As promiscuous a dandy as he might have been, Elwell wasn't a moron. He was a rags-to-riches guy with a background on the streets, man, and although he was an affable and courteous person, there's no way he could have been exactly unaware of the fact that tons of folks wanted to give him the ol' fisticuffs, at the very least. Yet, he had caught completely unaware, by someone he freely let in his home (none of the locks had been tampered with) and who knew his routines well enough to enter the house during the short window between the mailman and the housekeeper.
What's more, the shot had come from slightly below his head, suggesting the shooter casually shot Elwell while sitting in a chair opposite him ... and then retrieved the fucking bullet and put it on display. How many people who aren't Nazi villains in a noir movie do you know who are capable of that shit? The cops knew none, even out of the huge pool of potential suspects. The case remained unsolved, and, eventually, became the inspiration of The Benson Murder Case, a crime novel that helped popularize the closed room mystery subgenre.