Solve the mystery of “Jack Magg’s Jaw” for a chance to win an incredible Locked Room Prize Pack. Each prize pack include a hardcover copy of Tom Mead’s debut mystery novel, Death and the Conjuror, and Golden Age Locked Room Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler, plus four ticketsto The Escape Game, America’s premier timed escape room challenge (redeemable at any of their 21 locations around the country) — that’s over a $200 value, total!

To enter, email with the subject line “Jack Magg’s Jaw Solution.”Include who you think the murderer is and — for extra credit — the clue that gave away their guilt. Four winners will be selected out of everyone who guesses the murderer correctly. Winners will be chosen on ______. All entrants will receive the official solution to the mystery in their inbox after the winners have been announced. Must be located in the United States to enter.



By Tom Mead


When Jack Magg’s wicked soul departed his body, it left behind a heap of battle-scarred flesh swinging from a hangman’s rope. The brutal highwayman faced death with a smile, baring his sharpened teeth as the life eked out of him.

That was 1740. But his reign of terror wasn’t over. In fact it was only beginning.

Nearly two-hundred years later, seven guests (myself included) gathered for a weekend party at Clive Stoker’s rambling country house, where each guest’s arrival was met with a chorus from ferocious guard dogs. I was accompanying my friend, retired conjuror Joseph Spector. He had asked me to go with him not because he thought I’d find the experience edifying, but because I had a motor car. The house was in the middle of nowhere- a considerable trek from the nearest railway station, and an uphill trudge from the closest market town. I didn’t mind, of course. A weekend in Spector’s company was seldom dull.

The other guests were all strangers to me, though I knew some by reputation. For instance, there was Pamela Rasmussen, whose husband–famed eccentric Odin Rasmussen–had died unexpectedly seven years ago. The shock of it had turned her hair bright white.

Then there was Ernest Bland, Stoker’s solicitor. Everything about him was gray; his hair, his face, his conversation. If you glanced away, you forgot what he looked like.

Next was Canon Villiers and his adult daughter Violet. Villiers had wild hair and foggy eyes. I could just imagine him spewing hellfire from the pulpit. Violet, however, was disconcertingly perfect. Not a hair out of place, even on such a humid evening.

Finally there was Vauncey Magg-Boulting, a flamboyant businessman with pince-nez and a Vandyke beard (or, more appropriately, a Van Dine). He’d travelled all the way from Maidstone for this, a fact he reiterated several times.

Stoker himself was benign at first glance. But there was something predatory in the way he beckoned the butler, Gadsby. Gadsby approached with the pepper mill and ground it noisily over his master’s Dover sole.

“I wonder,” said Spector, “why you’ve brought us all here.”

“Patience,” said Stoker. “All will be revealed.”


After dinner Stoker led us down a stone staircase to the cellar. There we found a steel door with a sophisticated time lock. “Behold,” he said, “my Museum of Murder.”

The vault was lit by a single bulb. Free-standing shelves cast long shadows, each lined with artefacts and handwritten labels. The left-hand wall was taken up by a painting of a faceless man. “The ‘Grey Man,’” Stoker announced. “Painted in Broadmoor by Edward Manville, the Rotherhithe Strangler. He claimed it was the Grey Man who committed his crimes.”

Stoker gave a precis of each item. “This is the duelling pistol that killed Lord Nash in 1832. Observe the scorch marks around the barrel. And this locket, embossed with the curlicued ‘M,’ contains a lock of fair hair from the woman who butchered Jack and Ellen Staveley five years ago; a love triangle culminating in tragedy. The locket was clutched in the dead man’s hand. Sadly, ‘M’ remains unidentified.

“And now we creep forward in time. Last year a string of murders shocked South-East England–six girls slaughtered by a madman. Eventually, the crime was pinned on a Sittingbourne lad named Isaac Leach; he protested his innocence right up to his execution several months ago. Here is the damning evidence–a bloodstained five-pound note. Leach was wandering near the scene of the last murder, clutching the note. He always claimed it had been given to him by another man.”

Stoker concluded at a plinth in the center of the vault, where a curve of bone lay on a cushion of black velvet.

“Now, the reason you are all here. My most prized exhibit: Jack Magg’s jawbone. I invited four of you here tonight because you’ve spoken of your wish to obtain it. Eh, Pamela?”

“It was my husband’s property,” she said, “you stole it from him. It’s my rightful inheritance.”

Stoker smiled. “And Canon Villiers.”

“Your ‘museum’ is an abomination. If the jaw came into my possession, I’d smash it into dust.”

“And Vauncey Magg-Boulting.”

“I’m Jack Magg’s last descendant. His earthly remains belong to me.”

“And Joseph Spector.”

Spector shrugged. “I’m simply curious.”

“You’re being coy,” Stoker chided. “Your collection could rival even mine. You’d kill to possess the jawbone, wouldn’t you?”

Spector didn’t reply.

“Well, you may be in luck. These days, my museum bores me. Hence this little soiree. Tomorrow you will have the chance to bid for Jack Magg’s jaw. Mr. Bland’s here to ensure everything’s above board. But if you’re tempted to help yourself overnight,” he said, leading us back out, “I assure you this time lock is utterly impenetrable.”

He slammed the door and wrapped his fingers around the time lock dial. I heard the tick-tick-tick of its rotation as he twisted his wrist clockwise. When he stepped back, I caught a glimpse of the dial pointing to ‘7.’

“Seven hours. It’s three minutes past midnight,” he said, checking his wristwatch. “That means the vault will be completely inaccessible until three minutes past seven.”

“Ladies. Gentlemen,” said the butler, appearing at the bottom of the stairs, “coffee is served.” We trailed after him up the stairs to the lounge, and thenceforth to bed.

“I’ve no intention of spending the night here,” said Vauncey Magg-Boulting. “Gadsby, telephone a taxi. I’ll sleep at a hotel in town. And tomorrow I shall reclaim my property.”

Stoker did not demur. “Do as the gentleman says, Gadsby. Anybody else?”

Shyly, Ernest Bland said: “I believe I shall return home for the night. It’s only a mile from here.” Once Bland and Magg-Boulting had departed, Gadsby took us to our rooms. Pamela Rasmussen’s was at the top of the stairs, with Violet Villiers next door. Naturally our host had the master bedroom. From there we proceeded along a narrow, dead-end passage toward another door. The floorboards squealed beneath Gadsby as he approached to unlock it. “Yours, Mr. Spector.” Spector bade us good-night and disappeared inside.

The canon’s room was further along the passage and mine was at the very end, tucked in the outermost corner almost as an afterthought, overlooking the guard dogs’ pen.


I passed an uneasy night, waking before six to a chorus of barking. Gadsby was lurking in the hall. “Your fellow guests are in the cellar, sir, to await the unsealing of the vault.”

“Bland and Magg-Boulting, too?”

“Indeed, sir.”

I headed down, my footsteps echoing. The others loitered uneasily as I checked my watch: two minutes past seven. Then I broke the silence with an apocalyptic sneeze. “Forgive me,” I said. “Dust.”

At last, the time lock emitted a ‘click.’ Magg-Boulting pounced and eased open the metal door.

“Where’s our host?” Pamela Rasmussen was saying. “He should be here, shouldn’t he?”

“Oh,” said Spector, his pale eyes catching what dim light there was, “he’s here.”

We peered into the vault at an alien shape: a body, crumpled at the foot of the plinth.

Clive Stoker had been dead for hours. That much was obvious from the dark, crusty blood pooled around him. His face had been bludgeoned beyond recognition and the weapon–a hand-carved bust of Vlad Tepes–lay beside him. Jack Magg’s jaw was gone.

An ugly business. Before calling the police, Spector took a good look around the vault. It appeared undisturbed, with one exception–a pair of labels had been swapped around: the duelling pistol and the bloody five-pound note.


“There are two other pieces of the puzzle,” Spector told me later as we sat facing one another across the kitchen table. “Firstly, this. It was on the floor of the vault, tucked in a corner where it had rolled. As you can see, it’s a human tooth–sharpened to a point.”

“And the second?”

“This.” He produced a wristwatch which I recognized as Clive Stoker’s. He must have removed it from the dead man’s wrist.

“The time,” I said, “it’s wrong. Off by about two minutes.”

“Indeed. These clues, along with the others we observed together, should tell you the culprit’s name and the explanation for the locked-room murder.”

I stared stupidly at him.

“All right,” he relented, “one last hint. Watch closely.”

He plucked an apple from the fruit bowl and bounced it off the stone floor like a tennis ball. I watched it plummet out of sight, hit the ground with a slap, and rebound into his waiting hand. He bit into it with a hearty crunch.




By Tom Mead


“First,” said Joseph Spector, “the ‘locked-vault’ mystery.

“Clive Stoker wanted us to believe we had seen the vault sealed. In fact, it wasn’t sealed until several hours later–by the killer. I worked this out from the watch. Stoker told us it was three minutes past midnight, meaning the vault would unseal automatically at three minutes past seven. But his watch was wrong; out by two minutes. This meant that by rights the vault should not have reopened at that time. Therefore, it was actually sealed by somebody else, who used a different watch–one showing the correct time.

“As for how the illusion was created, consider the bouncing apple. What you really saw was an apple dropping into my lap, accompanied by a tap of my shoe, before I flicked it up with my knee. You saw the apple fall, you heard an impact. Your brain perceived a correlation between the two. It was the same with the vault. You saw Stoker twist the dial, and you heard it clicking into place. You saw the pointer levelled against the number seven. But what if it was the number and not the pointer which had moved? A simple enough device; perhaps a thin, magnetic ring to fit over the dial, covering the real numbers. All Stoker had to do was rotate it and not the dial.

“As for the sound, that clue came this morning–when you sneezed. This was caused by the household item which replicated the sound of the time lock last night: the pepper mill. This was Gadsby’s part in the scheme. His master’s instructions were simple enough; a mere matter of timing. Clive Stoker had thought everything through very carefully.

“He hosted the weekend party for one reason–to stage the theft of Jack Magg’s jaw, and cash in the artefact’s insurance policy. Hence the presence of Ernest Bland–an independent witness. And the other guests… well, he was simply filling the house with suspects. All he needed to do was sneak downstairs while we slept and steal the jaw himself.

“But the killer–who had been waiting for just such an opportunity–went after him.”

“So,” I said, “which of them was the killer?”

“That was a matter of elimination. It couldn’t have been Ernest Bland or Vauncey Magg-Boulting; they weren’t in the house overnight. They might have returned under cover of darkness, but not without waking the guard dogs. So they can be excluded.

“Gadsby had no motive–killing his master would rob him of gainful employment. The canon could not have passed by my room without waking me, thanks to that squeaky floorboard. Which leaves Pamela and Violet. This is where things get tricky and we must resort to the next clue.

“The broken piece of tooth, which I found in a corner of the vault, indicates a scuffle in which Jack Magg’s jaw was broken. A rather hasty clean-up operation took place, where the tell-tale tooth missed the assailant’s attention. Therefore, the jaw was not in fact the motive for Clive Stoker’s murder–something else in that vault was.

“Remember that two labels had been swapped around: the duelling pistol and the bloody five-pound note. It seems likely they were knocked over in the same struggle that broke the jaw. That they were replaced incorrectly implies haste but also draws attention to another item–the one between them, whose label was replaced correctly. Perhaps the incorrect labelling was accidental, or perhaps it was a calculated manoeuvre to draw our attention away from the real reason Clive Stoker had to die.”

Spector held up a small metal object–the locket from the Staveley case, with its curlicued ‘M.’ He flicked it open with his thumbnail, revealing that it was now empty. The lock of hair was gone.

“Pamela Rasmussen couldn’t have been the mysterious ‘Lady M,’ as the shock of her husband’s death seven years ago had turned her hair white. The Staveley double murder was two years later and the lock of hair in the locket was fair, not white. Which leaves Violet.

“Her hair was dark and uncannily perfect, in spite of the humidity. This implies fastidiousness, but also something else: a hairpiece. Underneath, she is fair. She was the mysterious ‘Lady M,’ who came to reclaim the evidence linking her to the double murder. And the answer was in plain sight all along…” Snapping shut the locket, he turned it over and I saw what he was referring to. Upside-down, the curlicued ‘M’ became something altogether different: ‘VV.’