Saturday 25 February 2012

William Krohn - "The Impossible Murder of Dr. Satanus" (1965)

After recently reading a couple of reviews of The Death of Laurence Vining (here and here) I was reminded of this short story (originally printed in the April 1965 edition of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine) with a similar premise--an impossible murder in a hotel elevator. Charles Kimball (an illusionist who goes under the stage name of Dr. Satanus) is found dead from a stab wound in the Hotel Bowman elevator. Two witnesses (including Kimball's wife) testify that he entered the elevator alone and that the car made no stops as it descended to the lobby where his body was discovered. Furthermore, the emergency exit in the roof of the car is locked from the inside. Who killed Kimball and how was his death carried out?

When it comes to my preference in impossible crimes, the more simple the explanation of the mystery the better and so I found "The Impossible Murder of Dr. Satanus" with its straightforward solution to be a satisfying impossible crime story.

According to the bio in EQMM, Krohn was a university freshman when this story was published and the first detective story he read was (surprise!) John Dickson Carr's The Three Coffins. Although he started his writing career young, it doesn't appear that he published much (if anything else) in the genre. Too bad because this was a promising debut.

I thought this might be an obscure short story to get a hold of, but it was deservingly reprinted in 2007 in The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries.


  1. The preface in The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Murders mentions that Krohn penned a second story for the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, but it was rejected as too complex and eventually moved on to become a film critic and expert on Alfred Hitchcock. I wonder if a copy of that story survived.

  2. The author is today known as Bill Krohn. He has published books on Hitchcock, Luis Bunuel and Stanley Kubrick, as well as many articles in Cahiers du Cinema.

  3. Thanks for the info! I knew someone would be able to tell me more about the author.

  4. Dr. Satanus as is murdered in the elevator? Is there a gun connected to a device so that the passage of the elevator from floor to floor, the gun shoots, and Dr. Satanus dies? Or at least a gimmick like that?
    John Dickson Carr (who signed Carter Dickson) and his friend John Rhode, in 1939, wrote a Locked Room set in an elevator: "Drop to His Death."


  5. Minor spoiler: No fancy gizmos.

    And I forgot to mention in my review that the weapon isn't found in the elevator along with the body...

  6. A friend of mine, who read the story, I said just now that Krohn copy the style of Carr and resembles Yaffe. I have not read the story. But if someone has killed Satanus, four may be the cases: either his wife lied and the husband was not alone when he entered the cabin, and who else has testified he agreed with his wife, and then someone stabbed the victim ; or someone has stopped at the floor where you first entered and stabbed him, saying he had found it already; or Satanus pretended to be dead and then was killed (make-up of Agatha Christie); or if the cabin had a roof hatch, someone is down there stabbed him and then climbed back up above the cabin.

  7. You'll have to find a copy and see if any of your theories are correct ;)