Hotels all over the world play their electrifying part in crime stories. Agatha Christie, for example, liked hotels. The mistress of crime penned Hercule Poirot’s adventure Murder on the Orient Express (1934) in Istanbul’s Pera Palace Hotel. (The establishment, in a fit of public relations wisdom, wisely keeps the room as an homage to her presence during what was quite a golden age.) Nor was she a stranger to hotels in the drama of her personal life. When she disappeared from sight, she was discovered on December 19, 1926 as a guest residing in England’s Harrogate Swan Hydropathic Hotel, now known as the Old Swan. I doubt Harrogate would have figured quite so prominently in the world of crime writing if not for the Christie connection.
Criminals, too, are fans of hotels. Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone ( January 17 1899-January 25 1947) made his centre of operations in Chicago’s Lexington Hotel. Developers stumbled across chambers and rooms that were not supposed to be there, which led to the theory that Capone (“Snorky” to his friends) had some secret vault there. When Geraldo Rivera hosted a syndicated TV special from the hotel on April 21 1986, 30 million viewers saw the supposed vault produce basically nothing apart from a few bottles and a lot of dust. It did, however, spawn something unexpected in Mr. Rivera’s career. “Al Capone’s Vault” is now a popular term for something which does not deliver on its promise.
Conversely, Pamela Black got dragged into much more than she’d bargained for when booking into Luxor’s New Winter Palace in 1998. If she was thinking she’d have a nice snooze before a taking in the Nile and the Sphinx, she was very much mistaken. When John Allan rushed into the lobby saying something was wrong with his partner, Pamela, adept at first aid, left her parents to check-in by themselves and went with the man to room 508. There she found a naked woman frothing at the mouth and in a seizure. What happened next created suspicion in her mind, which would prove to be well-founded. Mister Allan refused to administer mouth-to-mouth, preferring to wait for the doctor to come. The unfortunate lady on the bed, 43 year-old Cheryl Lewis, died. Not surprising given the fact Allan had brought her to Egypt with the sole intention of killing her with a lethal dose of cyanide. The poison lives on the lips. He would have suffered the same fate, had he put his to hers.
Allan might have gotten away with the murder had not Lewis’s family insisted the body be returned to England. There, her estranged husband, Graham Lowsby, smelling a major rat, searched Liverpool for Cheryl Lewis’s Mercedes car which Allan had reported as missing. Mister Lowsby felt the car had a part to play in the unraveling of the truth, and when he located it, the police discovered enough cyanide inside to kill more than 500 people. At Allan’s trial it was also shown that he had altered Ms. Lewis’ will so that he would receive her $690,000 estate.
What he got was a life sentence and a different kind of room service.
Historic image via South Loop History.
Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.