The first shot went through the oriental patterned upholstery and lodged in the wood frame of the chair. Later, Singapore police were able to match this bullet to the 7.62 Russian TT-33 Tokarev pistol with the initials CH engraved along the back of the grip that they found under the stairwell behind the New Phoenix Hotel.
Originally known as the Peacock Hotel, the current building was gutted by a suspicious fire in the 1930s and when rebuilt was renamed, naturally, the Phoenix Hotel. Gutted again during the Japanese occupation, the owners rebuilt one more time and, to ensure that their target marketAWOL sailors, prostitutes and opium smokerswould recognize a name they had come to trust, they called it the New Phoenix Hotel.
The second shot passed through the open window of the New Phoenix Hotel and was not recovered.
The third shot struck Russell Pearce in the throat, severing both his jugular vein and his windpipe. There was an amazing amount of blood, but it pooled in the center of the room, under the body. The shots did not attract attentionit took much more than a few gunshots to attract attention in this section of Singaporebut the manager was eventually forced to check the room when Danny Wu, a permanent resident of the hotel, complained that there was blood dripping on his ceiling fan, spraying his flat with a fine, red mist.
The body matched the U.S. passport authorities found in the coat pocket. The passport stated that Russell Pearce was twenty-eight years old, which he was, and a professional athlete, which he was not. Given his passport photo Pearce could have claimed to be an Arrow Shirt model, which would have been closer to the truth, but the blood-covered face was starting to swell in the midday heat, and while it was definitely Pearce, it was no longer photogenic.
The room was not registered in Pearces name, nor was he a resident of the hotel. The scrawl in the guest book, like most of the signatures in the New Phoenix guest book, was illegible and fictitious. The man who worked the front desk, a Kashmir Sikh who also served as the hotels pimp, stated that he had no recollection of who rented the room and that he did not see Pearce enter the hotel, nor did he hear anything unusual since gunshots were not all that unusual at the Phoenix. He had his own reasons for not cooperating with the police but he also had three twenty-pound notes in his wallet that ensured his lack of cooperation.
For the past month, Pearce had been staying at Raffles, the once spectacular colonial hotel that served as a second home for many of the regions expatriates and the handful of tourists that were trickling back to the island. He had a modest single room and his freshly laundered clothes hung in his closet. The staff and guests remembered him as friendly and carefree, typically American in that he was just too loud most of the time. He drank, no more so than everyone else, at the hotels Long Bar, but avoided the fruity gin slings for which the hotel was famous.
His conversation centered on sports and he nightly lectured on the superiority of American baseball over sports he did not understand. He proved willing to build an impressive bar tab and therefore he was mourned and missed for almost two days.
To assist in paying this bar tab and outstanding hotel bill, his possessions were claimed by the hotel and sold to a used clothing store in the Islamic quarter. His sunglasses were donated to the chief porter, and, in case he was indeed a professional athlete, his baseball glove and ball were placed in the hotels already overcrowded trophy case. A handwritten card identified the tattered objects.
Russell Pearce had mentioned, often, that he was waiting for his friend Charley Hodge to arrive. He said his friend was "a firecracker" and that they would paint the town red when Charley got there. Since the authorities already had the CH engraved murder weapon, everyone assumed that while Charley had arrived, the reunion did not go as Pearce had planned. Charley Hodge was never found.
From Relative Danger by Charles Benoit (Chapters 1 & 2, pages 1-16). Copyright Charles Benoit 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.
Blood at the Root
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