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Various newspapers, 1870-1909. Like so many other once-great American institutions, the trunk mystery has gone where the woodbine twineth. The mystery (if it needs to be explained) was always this: Who placed this here dead body in this here trunk and then put it on that there train? It happened all the time: I could collage an area the size of Cicero with similar headlines and never use the same crime twice.

Trunk mysteries tended to lose their glamor if and when they were solved. Usually the shipper turned out be garden-variety murder (of a spouse, romantic rival, or robbery victim), a panicked abortionist who'd accidentally killed a patient, or a professional grave robber dispatching anatomical subjects to a medical college.

False alarms were also common. A conscientious baggage handler would notice a funky smell emanating from a trunk and report it. The contents would turn out to be some legitimately malodorous cargo like smoked halibut.

We don't do trunk mysteries anymore, of course, because nobody has a trunk now. And you'd have to choose your cadaver pretty carefully if you wanted to fit it into a carry-on bag.


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