The Matter of Duplicated Fingerprints

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was having a great day!  His wife was adrift in a bridge tournament in Ocracoke and the Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security was hobnobbing with some of his well-placed political collaterals offshore fishing for wahoo.  For Noonan, the term wahoo had double meaning for, while the Commissioner and his cult were fishing for the fish, Noonan was silently screaming wahoo because it gave him a free afternoon.

Then things got better! He answered his office phone – the one with the hard wire – when a loo-loo call came in!  This was certainly a cause for yet another wahoo because the office task being interrupted was the annual budget examination for the Department.


“Captain Noonan?  The ‘Bearded Holmes?’”

“Better be. I’m paying his bills.”

“This is Frank Jones and yes, that really is my name.  I’m calling you from Raleigh.”

“Well, what can I do for the Joneses?”

“Well, it’s odd, but, unfortunately, quite serious. You see, I’m being charged with the murder of my wife.”

“That, I have to say, is serious.”

“Yes, sir. But there’s a problem.  My wife is still alive. And she’s right here in our living room as I am speaking to you.”

“That’s odd,” Noonan said as he dug through the debris of his desk for a notebook.  “How is it you are being charged with a crime that appears to never have been committed.”

“That’s why I’m calling you.”

*  *  *

“You’d better start from the beginning,” Noonan said as he scratched his head with his pen point. “It’s hard to be charged with murder if the victim is alive.”

“You’re telling me,” Jones said. “Three weeks ago I was on a business trip to Greenville.  I’m a freelance technical writer so I do not have a regular job.  I have clients.  I work out of my home here in Raleigh. I went to visit six clients in Greenville over four days. I went from appointment to appointment and spent my nights at the Spartanburg Manor. At some time during the second night, a Maria de Beneville was brutally murdered. As it happened, one of the firms I met with in Greenville was the small firm of Beneville and Lawson, LLC.  On the night before she was killed, I went to a party sponsored by one of my client firms. There were probably two dozen people there. It was convenient because it was at the Spartanburg Manor where I was staying. I had a few drinks, shook some hands, passed out some business cards and went to bed at about ten. Whatever happened next, I do not know. All I know is two days later, before I left Greenville, I had the North Carolina Troopers at my hotel door with an arrest warrant.”

Noonan kind of shook his head. “That seems a bit quick. How’d the Troopers make the connection between you and Beneville?”

“You won’t believe me.”

“Try me.”

“When the body was discovered – and it was found behind the Spartanburg Manor – there was no identification with the body but my business card was in a pocket. Then the Troopers did the usual. They got fingerprints off the body and ran them through some North Carolina database. The fingerprints matched my wife, who was in Raleigh. They called my wife and asked where I was. She said, ‘Greenville at the Spartanburg Manor,’ and that was the connection they needed.  So I was hauled in.”

“Didn’t the Troopers ask who was on the phone in Raleigh?”

“No. They just said they were trying to reach me. She didn’t ask why and gave them my room number at the Spartanburg Manor.”

“Well, after the Troopers did know your wife was alive in Raleigh, why didn’t they release you?”

“Well, they didn’t believe my wife was, well, my wife. They think my wife, the real one here in Raleigh, was posing as my wife and that’s why I killed my real wife in Greenville.  Afterall, they have a body with my wife’s fingerprints. Their theory is I set up the meeting at the Spartanburg Manor to kill my wife so I could be with the woman posing as my wife.  So I am guilty of murder. The body was found behind the Spartanburg Manor where I was staying and her car was parked on a side street close to the Spartanburg Manor, my business card was in her pocket, and I was supposedly the last person to see Maria alive.”

“Says who?

“Maria’s business partner. He was at the party and went home in his car.  Maria never came home. The body was found behind the Spartanburg Manor and her car was still parked on the street nearby.”

“Identical fingerprints means identical twins. Does your wife have an identical twin sister?”

“Not as far as we know.”

“Well, what does her birth certificate say?”

“Just her parents’ names. Nothing about a twin.”

“Was she born in the United States?”

“San Francisco. 1967.”

“Are her parents still alive?”

“Father, no. He died a decade ago. Her mother has Alzheimer’s. She’s in an assisted living home in Palo Alto.”

Noonan thought for a moment.  “OK, I’ll need to think about this. First, if you have your wife’s birth certificate, …”

“I do.”

“Good. Email it to me. Now, my other questions. I will need all the answers at the same time. Here we go, do you benefit in any way from the death of this woman, what was your actual contract with the firm, did this Maria have life insurance, does she own her home, what is the financial state of Beneville & Lawson LLC, does she have any children, does she have any sisters, and that’s about all I can think of right now.”

“I can give you some of these answers now.”

“Nope.  Not until I do some research on my own. Then I’ll call you back.”

*  *  *

The State Troopers out of Greenville had no problem speaking with Noonan.  To them, the case was solid, a slam dunk. There was a financial link between Frank Jones and Beneville, they were at the same party on the same night and the body was found behind where he was staying.  He didn’t have a reliable alibi. Jones had said he went to bed at 10. When the Troopers checked with the security software, they found Jones’ door had been opened at 10:05 p.m. and again at 7:15 a.m.  But this could have been a ruse. He could have opened his room door at 10:05 p.m. but never gone in. He could have killed Beneville and then spent the night in his car and then opened and quickly shut the hotel room door at 7:15 a.m. the following day and then gone downstairs to breakfast. So there went his alibi. The security cameras at the Spartanburg Manor were very good and showed the Jones car had not been used during the night. But Beneville’s car had been parked on a nearby street, out of the view of any of the security cameras. Logically, the Troopers said, Jones spent the night in her car. His fingerprints were not found in her car but this, the Troopers surmised, was because Jones must have been wearing gloves. And the wife in Raleigh? There was no reason to investigate her, the Troopers said. She had an airtight alibi. She was in Raleigh at the time of the murder.

At first blush, it did not look good for Frank Jones.

But then again, Noonan knew full well just because something was obvious did not make it true.

Whenever a loo-loo call was dropped in his lap, Noonan had two tried-and-true resources: history and the newspapers. He started with the only document he had: the birth certificate of a Bernice Swanburg from the Ashbury Community Clinic in San Francisco in 1967. Since this had been sent by Frank Jones, Noonan assumed this was Jones’ wife’s birth certificate. There was no Ashbury Community Clinic listed on the Internet so Noonan contacted the City of San Francisco Department of Birth, Death and Statistics. Once they were convinced he was indeed a member of law enforcement, they told him what wanted to know. The Asbury Community Clinic had been a transient health clinic for what were known in those days as hippies. It had provided first care for non-critical medical conditions like LSD hallucinations, drug overdoses, venereal disease and normal childbirth. Anything beyond what an EMP could provide was sent to a general hospital. The clinic closed in about 1969, Noonan was told, and all that remained were its medical records which were filed in each patients’ medical file in whatever general hospital they were sent to. No, they did not have any other birth certificates for any other Swanburg.  They also did not have a birth certificate for any Beneville or Lawson.

Then Noonan asked about the other name on the birth certificate, the person who had signed the certificate. The was the name Benedrill, acoustically like the anti-itch medicine but pronounced the same, the clerk told him.

“Odd name for a doctor,” Noonan said. “But his name does not have the letters M.D. after it.”

“Well, I can’t see the document you are looking at. Let me see if I can find his name as a certified M.D. for 1967.”  As she was looking, Noonan asked her to see if there had been any births for Benedrill.  There was one: July 23, 1967.

“Isn’t that the same date as Bernice Swanburg?”


“Could you look that certificate up as well?”

“Sure, and according to the medical records, there was no doctor by the name of Benedrill in San Francisco at that time. Most likely he was an EMT at the clinic. Let’s see, here’s the birth certificate for a Maria Benedrill.”

“What are the parents’ names?”

“None here.”

“Huh,” Noonan said. “Do you have adoption records there?”

“Yes,” and it was along, hesitant ‘y-e-s.’

“I know, I know,” Noonan said soothingly. “I know you can’t tell me what is in the adoption record but you can tell what is not.”

“Let me think about that,” the record clerk said. “Let me guess; you want me to tell you none of the names you have given me are on any adoption records.”

“You see through me like glass.”

“R-i-g-h-t. And whatever it is I do not find, we never had this conversation.”

“I’ve never even heard of you.”

“Tell you what.  Let me not call you back when I cannot find any information that might fall from the sky.”

“I will send a thank you on the wings of a dove.”

“Nope. But next time you are in San Fran, I could use a bottle of red.”

“You got it. Or, rather, you don’t.”

Then Noonan punched up the index for San Francisco newspapers, archives, historical associations and libraries and got zip. Then he moved up to the California indexes.  He got a few hits, but only one appeared to be fruitful.  It listed a show of a traveling magician with the stage name Beneville.  He was performing for three days at the Napa County Fair with his daughter as his assistant. There was nothing on a Swanburg or Lawson.

Noonan, an old hand at crime detection, smelled fraud.  The Troopers in Greenville had a strong case but it was all circumstantial. What it lacked was MOM.  MOM, to Noonan, was “MOTIVE, OPPORTUNITY and MEANS.” The perfect case showed the perpetrator had all three. Frank Jones had none of them. There was no MOTIVE for him to murder Beneville – and, at best, the idea he was killing his ‘old’ wife for a new one would collapse at trial when Jones’ defense attorney shows that Jones’ current wife was his ‘old’ wife as well. With no MOTIVE there would be no incentive for Jones to have killed Beneville so the MEANS was irrelevant and the same could be said of OPPORTUNITY.  Without a MOTIVE, the State Troopers case was in trouble.

But someone was killed. Therefore there had to be a MOTIVE somewhere. When it came to MOTIVE, another M-word was usually involved:  MONEY. Greed, anger, and revenge were all crimes of passion and the perpetrator were easy to identify.  But when it came to MONEY, the MOTIVE was elusive.

But money could be traced.

So Noonan dove, into the money pool.

Then things got easy.

There were no crimes in California associated with a Swanburg, Beneville, Benedrill or Lawson that Noonan could pin to any of the individuals. He did not even try with Jones. But when he pulled up the court records, the MOTIVE became clear. In 1992, 1997, 2004 and 2011, there were bankruptcies of a Maria de Beneville. All of the bankruptcies were for LLCs with various names. But all of the unpaid debts listed were to a John Lawson. Smelling profit as M-O-T-I-V-E, Noonan pulled the legal filings for John Lawson. There were no bankruptcies but there was the establishment of a trust.

In 1992.


Then it got better.

There was another bankruptcy but this time it was in North Carolina. In 2018. Again, the unpaid debts were to John Lawson – in Greenville.

When the un-named clerk in the office of the City of San Francisco Department of Birth, Death and Statistics called back, Noonan had a surprise for her.

“Let me tell what I think you’re going to tell me.” Noonan chuckled at his own cleverness.

“That’s a twist.”

“You found Benedrill adopted an orphan, parents unknown. And, after doing some digging, you found that Benedrill changed his name to Beneville.”

“Nope. Not changed.  It was apparently misspelled all along. Or he had purposefully misspelled it.  Hey, it was Haight-Ashbury! Hippie time! Under the name Beneville I found a business license for a magic shop in San Francisco. And a death certificate.  He died in 1992.”

A clang rang in the deepest recesses of Noonan’s brain.

“Anything on cause of death?”

“Yup. Murder. Unsolved. Strangled in a car in Berkley. Just over the bridge from here.”

“How convenient.”

“You know what else is convenient?”

“Let me take a wild guess. Somehow a John Lawson was involved.”

“Oh, you are so good. The paramedic on scene. It helped when I said I was doing the research for a detective back east.  They checked. By the way, are you really called the ‘Bearded Holmes?’”

“I’ve been lucky. Just one more thing. Is there any record of a marriage of Beneville?”

“No, but if it’s any help, there’s a marriage of Swanburg to a Frank Jones in 1995.”

*  *  *

When Frank Jones called back, Noonan had some preliminary questions.  “Frank, did you actually meet with Maria de Beneville and John Lawson in their offices?”

“Not Maria. I’ve never seen her. I met with John Lawson and his administrative assistant or office manager. She had been my contact over the past year or so.”

“How old would you say she is?”

“Maybe 30, 35.”

“How about John Lawson?”

“My age; 60ish.”

“So you never met Maria?”

“Correct. Not even at the party.”

“But the office manage was there?”

“Yup. A looker.”

“Uh, huh,” muttered Noonan.  “Now, for my answers.”

“Sure. In the order you gave, I benefit in no way with the death of Maria de Beneville. My contact with that firm has been over a six-year period, starting in 2014 and I did annual reports for them and their clients. Six of them.  I missed 2018 and 2019 because there was some kind of reorganization of the firm. I don’t know how old Maria de Beneville was but if she was my wife’s identical twin they have to be the same age. I do not know if she had any life insurance and I do not know if she owned any property. I do not know if she has any children or siblings and other than the kerfuffle in about 2018, I know nothing of the finances of the company.”

And the clanging in Noonan’s brain was deafening – figuratively speaking.

*  *  *

“Why aren’t you upstairs swelling with pride?”  Harriet, the office manager and common sense maven, shivered her shoulders to indicate her question was not serious.

“Ah,” Noonan said as he shook a pen at her. “You know how I hate crowds.”

“No,” Harriet sniped. “You hate having the Commissioner swell in your presence, particularly when you did all the work.”

“You read me like a book.  In this case,” Noonan picked up a notebook from his desk. “This one.”

“Bully for you!  Now, tell momma how you solved the case.”

“Actually it was easy,” he smiled. “After I got the facts. I just told the State Troopers in Greenville to run the fingerprints of the dead woman through the California database.  The Troopers thought they had identified the woman because they had a match on fingerprints in North Carolina. So they stopped checking. Once the reasonable possibility of an identical twin popped up, it opened a can of worms. When the victim was identified with a California driver’s license, boom, that let Frank Jones off the hook.”

“And put this other guy, Lawson, on the hook.”

“Yup.  It’s all about MOM, Harriet. If you’ve got MOM, you’ve got the case. It was just a fluke they ended up with a patsy who was married to the identical twin of the victim.”

“That’s what the Commissioner said.”  She let her eyes drift to the ceiling. “And, as usual, he is claiming all the credit.”

“Well, do you know why he drinks coffee?”

“Is this a joke?”

“Because what he can’t stand is reali-tea.”

Steven C. Levi is a sixty-something freelance historian and commercial writer who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, his home for past 40 years. He has a BA in European History and MA in American history from the University of California Davis and San Jose State. He has more than 80 books in print or on Kindle.