I know I don’t use this internet thing often, but I recently turned seventy, and I have realized that there are some secrets I must at least make an attempt to share with the world if I am to be at peace in my final hours.
I was a London-based private investigator in the eighties and early nineties, as those who know me do not need explaining, and one of my first cases was the body of a nine year old girl inside the Clarendon Road studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. It was very hush-hush, and no story was published. In fact, very few people know of this case at all.
I was not allowed to see the body, but I doubt I’d have gotten many clues from it anyway. If the police couldn’t find a suspect from the body alone, then other ways of catching the killer must be used. Then again, I’m not even sure if the police were even allowed to be involved.
Before I carry on with my story, I feel the need to refresh the memories of my readers of a kid’s TV show that was filmed in said studios during the time. It was called "Pipkins" and was ATV’s answer to "Rainbow", or at least an attempt of such.
Whereas "Rainbow" was colourful and fun and embodied everything quaint about seventies British television, "Pipkins" was a far darker ordeal. The puppets were threadbare and utterly creepy, the show was devoid of any real playfulness and humour, and instead had a depressing brownish hue, and episode premises that were melancholy at best, disturbing at worst, such as going to the dentist for a filling, dealing with a dead goldfish, and being "naughty" with a glove puppet.
The main character was a very mangy looking puppet called "Hartley Hare," and he was joined by a snarky tortoise with a slow, deep voice. I also remember a brummie pig, and a monkey called Topov who looked like he wore a mask on the top half of his face, even though that was just how the puppet was designed.
Back to my story. I began my investigation by looking through the staff records, seeing who might have been in the room around the time she might have been murdered, which was estimated between six and ten PM the previous day.
It didn’t take long for me to find something odd. I looked at the list of cast and crew, and began to match them person by person to a group photo that was taken not but four months ago. Everyone matched up, except one. There was one man standing at the back of the photo that I had no name for. I turned the photo over, for there was text that I hadn’t read yet.
“Taken to celebrate the completion of the last episode of the season. Those involved get together to have a good time.”
I had a very strange idea, but I felt it was worth checking out. I procured a copy of the episode list, and then searched the archives. My suspicions were correct. There was a tape not on the list, called "Hartley’s Friend," slotted in after the last official episode of the season, and nobody had even noticed. Of course, I know now that they took terrible care of tapes in those days.
I sat down to watch this episode, "Hartley’s Friend," using the TV in the staff office. The titles came on. Nothing was abnormal about them. The episode opened on Hartley standing next to a pretty little doll puppet in a gingham dress. Hartley spoke, but his voice was different. It was if he was being played by a different actor doing an impression of Nigel Plaskitt (the proper voice for Hartley).
“Hello, my name is Hartley Hare,” he started, “And this is my friend, Gloria. Say hi, Gloria.”
There was silence for a few seconds, before Gloria babbled something that wasn’t even English, in a quiet and timid voice.
“I apologise for my friend. She’s very shy. But she sometimes does naughty things for me.”
The way Hartley said "naughty" in that sentence sent a shiver down my spine, but I kept watching. The next few minutes were rather boring and badly written. Hartley would talk about the weather, and the time he’d seen some ducks in the park, and no matter what he said, Gloria would quietly babble and whimper complete gibberish.
At about the fifteen minute mark, Gloria started to sob. Hartley deflated, as if the hand inside him had left the puppet. There were a few minutes of angry whispering. I skipped backwards and replayed the whispering but with the volume turned up. I swear I could make out a gruff, intimidating voice hissing, “Say the f-ing lines!” during the scene.
Hartley inflated again and the episode continued as it did before, this the one major difference of a constant and distracting sobbing during the whole episode. There were no other characters, no other camera angles. The camera didn’t even move during the entire episode.
In the last two minutes, Hartley and Gloria began to bicker, though Gloria’s tone doesn’t change. In fact, Gloria seems to sound more frightened and fearful as Hartley gets louder and more irate. Eventually, Hartley disappears under the counter, reappears holding a scalpel between his paws, and stabs Gloria multiple times, to the sound of her pained and terrified screams. It wasn’t cartoony, and it wasn’t acting. Those were genuine screams of fright and pain. Blood began to soak through Gloria’s dress as the stabbings continued.
As abruptly as that, the credits started to play, and I stopped the video. I was naturally very disturbed with what I had just seen, and took a minute out. To take my mind off the sound of the sobbing which was still echoing in my ears, I expanded my search to the files of everyone who worked at the studios, not just those involved with the show.
I found my man. Well, not quite. I found his file. His picture matched the mystery man in the group photo. He was listed as a janitor, but his name and address had been blotted out with black ink. There was not no doubt in my mind that he was the murderer. I examined his file. It was all fairly standard stuff. Nothing seemed particularly normal about this man, but as I reached the end of his file, I found handwriting at the bottom of the last page that read:
“Are you sure you’ve reached the end?”
My heart skipped a beat, and I returned to the TV that I had been playing the tape on, and pressed play from where I stopped before. The credits rolled on as normal, as you expect they would, and after they finished, blackness, for a few seconds, but then it came back on.
Now, there were no puppets in sight, just two people. One of them was clearly recognizable as the janitor. The other one was unmistakably the girl who had been killed, but she had blood running down her chin, and tear-filled eyes that were more "weary" than "scared." The janitor spoke.
“We’re going to make an episode, aren’t we? A secret episode of "Pipkins", with only us two as the stars. Isn’t that right?”
The little girl nodded, and babbled in the same manner as Gloria. As she did, more blood spewed from her mouth and down her chin. She was already starting to look pale from the blood loss. The janitor moved in closer to the camera.
“You see, she can’t talk because I cut her tongue out. Isn’t that right?”
She nods again, this time unable to control herself, and starts to sob, with terror in her eyes like I’ve never seen since. The janitor smacks her across the face, and screams at her.
“WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT CRYING? We’re supposed to be filming a KID’S SHOW!”
She manages to stop sobbing and compose herself, though there is not a visible bruise on her cheek.
The janitor reaches under the desk, and pulls out the Gloria doll, only it’s naked. The dress hadn’t been put on yet. He grabs the girl’s hand, slides the doll over it, and then pins it to the counter. He reaches underneath and pulls out a short yet very thick rusty nail, and places it on the counter. He reaches back under again, and this time reveals a claw hammer, which he puts on beside the nail.
I watched through gaps in my fingers as he nailed the doll to the girl’s hand. The sounds of each thump causing a churn in my stomach. The sound of the girl’s whimpering was equally unsettling. It was as if it didn’t even hurt her. She reacted to it the same way she’d react to a flu shot. It was a far worse sound to hear than if she had screamed out. What could he have done to her that would make having a nail driven through your hand seem easy?
I heard the sound of crunching bone and blood began to spread over from the doll, covering the surface of the counter. I stopped the video after that, left the studio, and declined the case.
I’ll never know whether or not that man was ever caught, and I don’t want to know.