The Story Behind the Story:
“The Blow Torch Murder”
Undetectable Crime and Detective Fiction
On the 13th of August in 1964, L. Ron Hubbard shared a humorous story which revealed one of his research sources which contributed to the authenticity of his detective fiction. (The below excerpt is taken from the audio recording of his talk.)
“Back in the days when I was having a ball around New York as a writer the medical examiner of New York was a particular pal of mine. He was the coroner of the city of New York and one of the nicest blokes you ever had anything to do with. He’d embalmed personally, with his own paws, 15,000 corpses.
“I got interested in this particular field by being sent in his direction to do a series of stories about undetectable crime, and of course I wound up in the lap of the medical examiner of the city of New York and he started my crime education on the subject. And of course, this was in the field of what they call forensic or legal medicine. And this boy, he had it all at his fingertips and so forth. But the casualness with which he could roll off all of these various things showed a great familiarity with the subject.
“This was not an esoteric subject. This had to do with lots of dead bodies which had been strewn all over the place in various states of dishabille, various states of knocked-about. They were untidy at times. This was quite a boy. And oddly enough, he conceived that he was not acceptable socially. And I was very acceptable socially, so he and I formed a very good partnership, because he always liked to—if I was going anyplace and asked him if he’d like to come along, and so forth, he was there on a rocket plane, you see? Right away, quick! But there wasn’t anything that was wrong with this bird. He had perfect manners, he was a perfect gentleman and so forth.
“I used to see him every once in a while, and I was president of one of the writing societies there, and so forth; why, he used to come over there quite regularly, and he’d give detective writers talks if I’d ask him to, and so forth. And they would go away from the luncheon, or something like that, the weirdest shades of green.
“A guy like that could take one look at a corpse and he’d say, ‘Carbon monoxide, been dead about three hours’; ‘Cyanide,’ ‘Arsenic,’ this, that, the other thing. Brrrrrr, boom! ‘Oh, I’d say that was botulinus poisoning, Joe. Yeah, yeah. Well, put him on the slab and we’ll run a test on it, do an autopsy. I’m pretty sure that’s just botulinus, you know, some—eating green beans in the wrong time of the year that had been in the icebox too long. That’s—looks like that’s what that is to me.’ Almost always just dead on the button, you see? …
“It’s interesting that such a bird as this could sit down and discuss the relative preservation qualities of modern embalming and Egyptian embalming. And he was certain he was doing better these days than the Egyptians were. It’s the first time I’d ever heard that, because we’ve seen these Egyptian mummies in university museums and … they’re still there, all wrapped up and so forth. But his attitude toward it was the attitude of a true professional: “Well, their features hadn’t been preserved and their coloring was bad.’ That’s what he said to me one day, so forth.
“‘Yeah, the next time you’re down in the museum, Ron,’ he said, ‘if you don’t believe it, if you don’t believe that we’re way ahead of them these days, you just take a look at one of those mummies. Features haven’t been preserved and coloring is bad.’ And I said, ‘But man! Those guys—those guys have been dead for thousands of years!’
“And he said, ‘Well, in a few thousand years one of mine—will have been, too.’ And he said, ‘His features won’t be bad and his coloring will be good.’” [laughter]
“The Blow Torch Murder” is currently available within the book Killer’s Law