U NTIL W EDNESDAY AFTERNOON January 5, 1944, there had been no deaths, intentional or accidental, caused by the firing of a crossbow in the recorded history of Los Angeles County.
On that day, while the German army of Field Marshal Fritz von Manstein was retreating into the Pripet marshes in Poland and the U.S. Marines were driving the Japanese back at Cape Gloucester in New Britain in the Pacific, Mildred Binder Minck made history.
The day after Mildred's historic demise, I sat across from her grieving widower, Sheldon Minck, D.D.S., in a room in the Los Angeles County Jail.
The Los Angeles County Hall of Justice on Temple Street between Broadway and Spring takes up a city block. It's fourteen stories of limestone and granite, an Italian Renaissance style building with rusticated stonework, heavy cornices, and a two-story colonnade at the top.
The L.A. County Jail occupies the five top stories. Sheldon Minck, D.D.S., was occupying only one chair on the fourth floor of the jail. He faced me through a wall of thick wire mesh.
"Toby, I didn't do it," he said.
Shelly Minck is not a thing of beauty to behold when he's at his best, happily drilling into or removing the tooth of a trapped patient. Seated on the other side of the wire, he was not at his best.
"I mean, I don't think I did it," he added.
Shelly wore a pair of dark slacks and a long-sleeved wrinkled gray shirt. His thick glasses rested, as they usually did, at the end of his ample nose. Beads of sweat danced on his bald head and his large stomach heaved with frequent sighs.
"They won't let me have a cigar," he complained. "Is that fair?"
I didn't answer. He squinted around the room. Along either side of the mesh wall were chairs facing each other, twelve chairs, and a narrow wooden shelf on either side so prisoners could drum their fingers, fold their hands, or examine their bitten nails. On the other side, lawyers could take notes or safely give their clients bad news.
There was only one other prisoner with a visitor. He was a thin man with wild hair who needed a shave. His visitor was an even thinner woman with even more wild hair, who needed to decide which of the three colors that roamed through that hair was the one she planned to live with.
It was early in the morning, and each newly arrested inmate was allowed a morning visitor the day after his arrest.
"You should have called Marty Leib," I said.
Marty Leib was a criminal defense attorney whom I called when I needed legal rescue. As a licensed private investigator, I needed rescue more often than I could afford so I saved his services for emergencies. Marty was good, expensive, immoral. He wore fine clothes, weighed about three hundred pounds, and always seemed happy to hear from me and start the fee clock ticking.
"You call him for me. It's you I need. You find criminals," said Shelly.
"I conduct investigations for paying clients," I said.
Shelly looked hurt. Shelly looked as if he were going to weep. I cut him off.
"Okay, I'll call Marty."
"And you'll help me?"
I sublet a small office off of Sheldon Minck's dental chamber of horrors in the Farraday Building downtown. The office was not soundproof. I knew when Shelly had a patient. I could hear the drill, the screams and Shelly's soothing voice either singing or trying to calm the hysterical patient with his singing. Shelly thought he sounded like Nelson Eddy. On one of his better days, I thought he approached Andy Devine.
"I'll see what I can do," I said.
He looked at his hands. His glasses almost fell off. He pushed them back.
"Why would I kill Mildred?"
I could come up with four good reasons. Mildred had not long ago thrown Shelly out of their house, cleaned out their joint bank account, taken in a