Mr. Freitag was a business tycoon who never married, lived alone, and has no survivors. The 85-year-old man lives – or lived – only a few blocks from Gumm, but the two never crossed paths.
The newspaper story mentioned certain details that catch Gumm's eye, causing him to suddenly become interested in the late Mr. Freitag. It seems the old man died a millionaire, thanks in large part to a lifetime of allegedly overcharging and callously bilking naïve customers at three highly profitable jewelry stores he owned.
The article also includes a somewhat odd quote from an interview the elderly lifelong bachelor granted the newspaper last year, when the cantankerous Freitag said, “The only loves in my life are my home and a collection of diamonds I own. I’d kill to protect them both.”
One key word from that quote – diamonds – piqued Gumm’s interest, then the article’s final sentence made his heart beat a bit faster.
A brief visitation for Mr. Freitag will be this evening from 5-6 p.m. at Iris Funeral Parlor, and visitation will also be tomorrow at Spirit Chapel from noon until his funeral at 1 p.m.
“His funeral at 1,” Gumm muttered with sinister thoughts in mind.
For Joseph Gumm is a jewel thief, and burglarizing homes is his talent. He has pillaged numerous wealthy residences during a career of crime, though none of the robberies ever took place in his own neighborhood.
That was about to change with the death of Edmund Freitag.
At 5 p.m. that same day, as funeral parlor visitation began, Gumm climbed into his pickup truck and methodically drove to the old man’s now uninhabited house, to case it discretely from the street. The majestic three-story mansion looked to be securely locked, with the nefarious Gumm assuring himself that an interior alarm system must surely be part of the home’s infrastructure.
Curiously, no fencing of any kind surrounded the perimeter of the property, which could allow basically anyone to access the front door and grounds. However, even with this seemingly unusual security oversight, the veteran jewel thief realized that the entire estate still had an impenetrable aura about it.
As he slowly coasted along the street and prepared to drive away, Gumm happened to spot a third-story window on the eastern side of the house, toward the rear of the mansion. The large rectangular window is virtually invisible from the street, unless someone specifically looked for it.
For some peculiar reason, the third-story window was wide open that evening. The Freitag property showed absolutely no sign of life – no people or vehicles were visible anywhere – so the whole scenario made no sense to Gumm.
Adding to the puzzling scene was a long, rickety, wooden ladder anchored atop a concrete patio slab, with the ladder stretching upward to the third-floor window. The patio slab held no furniture – its only current purpose was to serve as foundation for the ladder that ascended to the open window.
“This joint's a fortress, so what gives?” Gumm wondered, crinkling his forehead in confusion with no answer to the puzzling sight.
But after a few seconds of ponder, he attributed the askew setting to a painter or handyman who probably worked on the home and forgot to lock up when leaving. With that puzzle solved, one final minute to meticulously study the property was followed by the black-hearted thief motoring away from the mansion, to begin plotting his next fabulous robbery.
“I'll do the heist tomorrow around 1,” Gumm concluded, knowing the mansion would certainly be abandoned due to Mr. Freitag’s funeral.
The scheming burglar surmised that walking – not driving – to the targeted home would be his wisest tactic, allowing himself to sneak up from the backyard instead of the street. Plus, he noticed during his home casing that the back of Freitag’s property is heavily wooded, so Gumm could sneak through a portion of the woods to ideally arrive at the rear of the house without anyone noticing.
How to enter the fortified home presented another issue, but that final item could be figured out tomorrow. Tonight, the confident jewel thief would sleep and dream in delight, with images of brilliant diamonds glimmering in the forefront of his mind.
On the afternoon of fate, at 12:30 p.m. as gray dreariness filled the sky, Gumm exited his own residence and put into motion the wheels of his daring burglary. Armed with a tiny crowbar and small jimmy stick stuffed into a jacket pocket, he embarked upon a calculated out-of-the-way hike to the woods behind Freitag mansion.
He slithered and slunk through heavy foliage until finally making his way to a strategic tree-camouflaged position, where he could easily see the back of the elderly gentleman's home. The house appeared as formidably secure as ever, except for what Gumm surprisingly witnessed in the near distance.
The third-story window – the same window that was open late yesterday for whatever reason – was wide open today, and the concrete slab still supported the big ladder that scaled up to it. The baffled robber could also see that the window had no screens or other obstacles within it, so in spite of his bewilderment, he made a decision of destiny.
“I’m goin’ through that window. But really, why is it still open?” he wondered while beginning a careful sneak toward the ladder. “I don't see no work trucks or nothin’, and the place is dead quiet. I don’t understand, but it saves me from jimmyin' the back door or bustin' a window and maybe trippin’ some alarm.”
Gumm's original plan had been to forcibly enter the house via crowbar or jimmy stick, then rush to hopefully find jewels within three or four minutes, and ultimately run from the premises before police could possibly arrive. But now, the open window mysteriously beckoned to him as a perfect means of entry.
He donned a thin pair of tight-fitting surgical gloves to hide his fingerprints, then climbed the shaky ladder with steely nerve and his guts of a burglar, reaching the inviting window within seconds. He peered cautiously into the opening before nimbly climbing through, and immediately surmised that he had entered a library chamber.
Tall mahogany bookcases were lined next to one another, and a thick brown Afghan rug covered part of an intricately patterned hardwood floor. Blue velvet armchairs with engrained crests also graced the stately room, and art treasures of surrealism and impressionism adorned gold-colored walls.
But the item whose splendor ultimately caught Gumm's eye was a vintage rolltop desk of European craftsmanship that sat regally in the middle of the room, with an office chair of Victorian resplendence pushed up against it. And atop the glorious desk appeared a sterling silver jewelry box with the word Diamonds elegantly inscribed in cursive. Next to the shiny box sat a solid gold watch along with a pearl-handled serrated letter opener, and Gumm’s heart pounded with unyielding desire at the sight of such bedazzlement.
But instead of instantly pilfering the silver box and vacating the crime scene, he pulled out the Victorian office chair and sat down at the rolltop desk. He eagerly reached for the box of gems and zealously pulled off its tight cover, revealing a king's ransom in sparkling diamonds that ancient monarchies would kill for.
Flawless cut diamonds by the handfuls. Exquisite jewels glistening like sunlight on dancing water.
“Incredible,” a mesmerized Gumm whispered in ecstasy.
He quickly snapped out of his euphoria and realized that getting out of the mansion was top priority, so he hurriedly arose from the office chair, replaced the lid tightly onto the invaluable silver box, and amorously grabbed it in both hands. His total enthrallment with the diamonds caused him to blindly forego the solid gold watch and pearl letter opener.
The wide-eyed thief started to take a first step toward the open window to make his escape, when a sickening premonition streamed into his consciousness. Suddenly into the dank library chamber appeared the menacing ghost of Edmund Freitag.
The shadowy apparition had sickly gray features that glinted in the ruddy purple light filtering through the window, and the horrid image of the elderly corpse caused perspiration to burst from Gumm's forehead. He shuddered with terror and blinked twice to make sure the nightmarish vision was real.
As the petrified burglar tried to fathom the goings-on, he backpedaled a step in dread. Then the old man spoke.
“You loathsome creature!” bellowed the enraged ghost as his phantom shape floated ominously toward the intruder. “You invade the very home I love and steal my collection of treasured diamonds? You vulgar piece of garbage!”
“H-how is this happening?” the mortified Gumm whimpered as icy chills enveloped his spine. “Y-you…you're dead. I read it in the newspaper.”
“Yes, I am dead, but my corpse could not rest with a pariah like you raiding my beloved home!” Freitag screamed with death on his lips. “And now that you have violated my lovely lair long enough, the time has come for you to leave.”
The eerie ghost of Freitag snatched the serrated letter opener from the rolltop desk and, with a rapier-like motion, slashed a brutal deep gash into Gumm’s left cheekbone and across the cornea of his left eye. The stunned robber was momentarily paralyzed with shock, so the crazed Freitag violently jammed the razor-sharp jagged opener into Gumm's left eye and furiously carved and dug at the eyeball until it dislodged from the socket. The bloody round orb dangled and bobbed on Gumm's face like a tether ball.
The silver gemstone box flew wildly into the air from the jewel thief's quivering fingers as he shrieked in agony, with his cut-up face and grotesque hanging eyeball gushing geysers of scarlet blood. The overwhelming trauma caused the astonished Gumm to clumsily stumble backwards as he shivered with terror and writhed in pain, grasping his mangled face with both hands. He continued stumbling further backward in hideous convulsion until reaching the open window, from which he fell and somersaulted savagely to the concrete slab three stories down.
Joseph Gumm died instantly, landing face first into the cement patio as pieces of his head splattered about. The bulky wooden ladder came crashing down and landed directly onto the thief’s hanging eyeball, which tore from his face and rolled to a stop a few feet from Gumm's crushed skull.
Three stories up, the wild ghost of Edmund Freitag angrily flung the dripping letter opener at the massacred intruder below, then abruptly closed the window and locked it tight. He drifted to the box of prized diamonds that lay intact on the bloodied Afghan rug and anxiously returned the coveted item to its proper place atop the rolltop desk.
Quickly checking the time on the gold watch, it read 1:00, so he immediately disappeared from his cherished home. Mr. Freitag had a funeral to attend. His own.