Reprinted: Bunty PSL #420 as “She’s Guilty!”
Artist: Cover Dudley Wynne?; story Juan Sarompas?
Sixth former Carole Trent is school captain at Redways Boarding School, and her younger sister Julie is third former there. Carole Trent has always been popular, and has won several trophies for the school. But Carole’s popularity takes a dip when she gives some girls who were overzealous about cheering about their latest trophy 100 lines each for bad behaviour. Even Julie cops the lines and the girls, especially Cindy Barker, are furious with Carole. Later, Carole expresses disapproval at Julie being with Cindy’s crowd because they are such a bunch of troublemakers.
During the night someone breaks into the trophy cabinet and steals the trophies. The police find a pair of broken scissors and conclude the thief used them to break into the cabinet. That evening, Julie is puzzled to see Carole leaving the school grounds with a bag. Carole heads to an alley called Skinner’s Walk, because someone told her on the phone that the trophies will be there. She finds them, but as she leaves the alley the police catch her and don’t believe her story as to how she got them. In their view it looks like Carole stole them and now she is under a black cloud at school. She can’t actually be taken away from the school as the police have put her into the school’s care. So she is being kept under confinement in the sick bay while the investigation is underway. When word spreads, all the girls turn against Carole, especially the ones who are angry at those lines from her.
In sick bay, Carole tells Julie she received a phone call telling her where to pick up the trophies. The story was that the thief wanted to give the trophies back quietly. Carole foolishly agreed to collect the trophies without telling anyone. It is now clear that the whole thing was a setup and she walked straight into it. Julie resolves to find out who is behind it – but to have a better chance of doing so, she must pretend she’s turned against Carole over the whole business. Carole’s friend Jane Lytton, who seems to be the only friend Carole has left, is appalled at Julie’s sudden vociferousness in the way she has turned on her sister. This includes Julie joining demonstrations to get Carole expelled, which Jane furiously breaks up.
When the girls hear about the broken scissors they go to check Carole’s scissors. The scissors are missing, and a search fails to find them. Jane interrupts the search and tells them to clear off. Suspecting Cindy is behind everything and the scissors might be hers, Julie drops a hint that has the girls producing their scissors in order to see if one is missing. All the girls’ scissors are accounted for.
Then the detective searches Carole’s room himself and finds the broken scissors. Carole admits they are hers, but says they disappeared two days ago and were not broken then. Nobody seems to find it odd that the broken scissors somehow shifted from the scene of the crime to Carole’s room, especially as they should be in a police evidence bag. And why did the girls not find the broken scissors themselves when they searched the room earlier? Nonetheless, the evidence seems to be piling up against Carole.
Jane expresses fury at Julie over the way she is treating her sister. Her rage leads to odd comments about her being an orphan and the family history she has been doing. When Julie gets curious about the project, she seems to strike a nerve – Jane snaps at her and gives her 500 lines for impudence. Even more strangely, Jane tells Julie that Carole believes someone planted the scissors in her room, and accuses Julie of doing it! When Julie denies it, Jane says it must have been one of the girls. At this remark, Julie realises one of the girls could indeed have planted the scissors while pretending to help with the search. But if so, it could have been any of them.
Julie softens her pretence a bit to try a different tactic. She tells the girls Carole claims that someone framed her. If that is true, then the real culprit would have been missing from school that evening. As planned, this has all the girls accounting for their whereabouts at that time. Everyone seems to have an alibi, but Sarah says something odd – she went to see Jane about lines, but was kept waiting for one-and-a-half hours because Jane was not around. (In other words, Jane has no alibi for that time and was missing when she shouldn’t have been…?) Sarah then explodes with fury and turns on Julie, says Julie was trying to catch her out for something she didn’t do, and she’s as bad as her sister, etc, etc. Just then, Jane breaks them up.
Julie tells Carole that all her suspects are in the clear because they have alibis for that time (except Jane, maybe?), but then gets another lead. Carole has orange paint on her shoes that must have come from her trip to Skinner’s Walk. Realising the culprit might have gotten the same paint on herself as well, Julie heads to Skinner’s Walk. She finds the paint, now dried. Carole’s footprint is there, and there is a smeary mark beneath it, which Julie deduces was made by the enemy.
The next call is to check everyone’s shoes for the orange paint, but Julie finds none. Then, when Julie checks Cindy’s holdall to see if it has the paint on it, the girls catch her and chase her lynch-mob style, accusing her of stealing and then (correctly) snooping because she thinks they set her sister up. Julie takes refuge in Jane’s study, where she declares she thinks she can prove who stole the trophies. Jane keeps the girls out and asks Julie to explain.
All of a sudden, Julie accuses Jane of being the culprit. She planted the scissors in Carole’s room for the police to find after kicking the girls out. The reason Sarah had to wait one-and-a-half hours for Jane that night was because Jane was out stealing the trophies, making the phone call to Carole, and setting up the trap at Skinner’s Walk. Her proof? She saw Jane’s holdall on her desk – and it has the orange paint on it!
At this, Jane suddenly goes berserk. She attacks Julie and yells that her family has hurt her and killed her mother. Hearing the commotion, the girls, Carole and two other sixth formers burst in and demand to know what’s going on. Jane directs them to her family school project. The Brent family of Dingham Hall wrongly accused Jane’s mother, who was one of their servants, of stealing silver candlesticks. The real thief confessed in the end, but it came too late for Jane’s mother; she had died of a broken heart in prison. Jane’s frameup of Carole had been her revenge against the Brent family. Carole then informs Jane she overlooked one thing with her project – there were two Brent families living in Dingham. Theirs had no connection to Dingham Hall and had nothing to do with Jane’s mother.
The authorities decide Jane needs more help than punishment. So they take no action, although Jane has to leave the school. Carole forgives her too. Carole is now more popular than ever and so grateful to Julie for what she did.
This is a solid detective story, and the cover Julie has to undergo is a heartbreaking one – pretending she has turned on her own sister and giving the impression of family disloyalty. She even has to join protest demonstrations to get Carole expelled to make it even more convincing. It must be even worse than for protagonists like Marie Bonnet “The Cat” who have to pretend to side with the enemy in order to be a secret helper. In contrast, Jane appears to be the only one who is loyal to Carole and be the real brick that stands by the protagonist while everyone else goes against her, no matter what. Friends like these have appeared in so many girls’ stories, such as Beth Parker in Bunty’s “Move over Maria”. Only in this case it is not for real – it turns out to be a case of it being the person you least suspect. It was so fortunate that neither Julie or Carole took Jane into their confidence about what they were planning although they still thought Jane was Carole’s friend.
The red herrings established at the beginning of the story are well done. It’s only natural Julie’s suspicions fall on Cindy and her gang as their grudge against Carole began only hours before the affair began, and they have a reputation for causing trouble. And who else could it be? Nobody else is known to hate Carole for any reason. The real clues are done in a more deft, subtle manner that you don’t quite pick up on until Julie suddenly accuses Jane, right out of the blue. If the story had been in colour you would have known it was Jane if you could see the actual orange on her holdall, but you can’t with the black and white print.
The frameup itself is quite clever. The only thing that does not fit is how Jane managed to plant the scissors when the police found them at the scene of the crime and therefore should be in an evidence bag. It would have made more sense for the police to find the piece that broke off the scissors at the scene of the crime, and then the broken scissors the piece came from be found in Carole’s study.
The story of Jane’s mother being a servant who is wrongly accused of stealing candlesticks sounds more like something that would happen in Victorian times than say, the 1970s or so, considering the time the story is set in. Sure, we don’t know the full circumstances of how the mother came to be wrongly accused of stealing the candlesticks or what the evidence was against her. But it would have sounded more credible to have the false charge happen to an ancestor of Jane’s and the tragedy still deeply affecting Jane’s family.
Jane falls into the trap that so many revenge seekers in girls’ comics fall into – they find out that they did not have their facts straight, the person they were targeting was entirely innocent, and their revenge was all for nothing. In Jane’s case it is even more tragic because she was once a genuine friend for Carole before her mistaken assumptions about the Brent family turned her into a very disturbed girl who blames them for her mother’s death and wants to give them a taste of their own medicine with wrongful accusations. The tragedy is ameliorated somewhat by the view the authorities and Carole take about Jane, but Jane now has to live with a guilt complex and feeling a complete idiot.