BYPASS FOR MURDER
The story was written for a Private Eye Writers of America anthology titled JUSTICE FOR HIRE. Being somewhat honest at times, after receiving a check I returned it to Bob Randisi, founder of PWA, with a note saying I had never written a story named JUSTICE FOR HIRE. He sent it back with a rather caustic reminder that it was the name of the book, not my story.
Anyway, a man felt he wanted to dispose of his wife - something many men feel prone to do at times - so he decided to electrocute her. For him to do so I called upon my days as a radio and TV repairman in the 1950s. As a murder weapon the evil brute used an AC-DC table model radio his wife kept in the basement by her washer.
Those old tube radios were potential killers so manufacturers used a 25 cent part called a line bypass condenser (people call them capacitors now) to keep the 110 line voltage from reaching the chassis. If that condenser shorted out it had no effect at all on the quality of reception so the user was unaware that the full line voltage was now on the chassis. There were two more safeguards, h0wever: cabinets were plastic or wood and there were plastic knobs on the metal shafts used to tune in a station and control the volume.
To proceed with his dastardly plot the husband bought a cheap condenser of the proper size at a radio parts supplier and shorted it out by stabbing it a number of times with a pin. He then replaced the perfectly good line bypass condenser with the one whose effectiveness he had destroyed. Next he replaced the plastic knobs with ones of metal. Finally he punched a tiny hole in a hose by the washer so a small amount of water leaked onto the concrete basement floor.
He was miles away working at his office on wash day when his wife turned on the radio and provided the line voltage with an easy path to ground. The nasty man failed to do one thing, remove a sticker from a nearby radio repair shop.
Everyone was satisfied it was an accident except a suspicious private eye investigating for an insurance company. He took the radio to the shop, where its horrified owner found the cheap bypass condenser, a brand no respectable shop would use. Furthermore, the radio man said, no shop would ever allow an AC-DC radio to leave the premises with metal knobs. Case solved.
The moral of the story is this: beware of any appliance that plugs into an electrical outlet. Somewhere inside that line voltage is lurking. Electricity is something we use every day. It can be our best friend - or our deadliest enemy.