When Madam Celestine of Hotel Amsterdam saw the bellboy coming running down from the third floor in a most hurried and unusual manner, she emerged from the foyer reception.
In that rapid fire way of speaking common among Parisians, she asked, “What on earth are you so flustered about, Paul?”
The boy, Paul, answered in an alike manner with eyes as wide as saucers. “I was taking petit déjeuner to room 14 on the third floor but the door was locked tight and no matter how many times I knocked, there was no response.”
“Room 14 on the third floor? Oh, oui oui! The English gentleman, Monsieur Taylor. I’m sure he’s only sleeping. Let us go and see together, Paul.”
“These troublesome Englishmen!” admonished Madam Celestine as she hiked up her skirts and led Paul back up the stairs. She meant to wake the guest herself.
However, Taylor was always a punctual man who rose early. What had happened this morning to break his routine? She hoped she was mistaken, but – worry began to gnaw at her thoughts and in no time at all she was standing on the third floor in front of room 14.
She knocked loud enough to almost break down the door and still there was only silence from within. The door was locked from inside so Madame Celestine took one of the pins from her hair and inserted it into the keyhole to knock the guest’s key out. She then used her own skeleton key to open it.
No sooner had she done so than a terrified shriek left the landlady’s mouth and she fell into Paul’s arms where he was standing behind her. A gruesome scene awaited them in the room. The two discoverers didn’t dare enter; with nary a look back they tumbled down the stairs and rang the local police. Inspector Moupas came from the local Roumon Quarter branch immediately with a subordinate in tow. Madam Celestine was shaking like a jelly dessert but on her instructions they flew up to the third floor, their boots stamping heavily on the staircase. Madam was out of breath but she continued to shout.
“Il est mort, il est mort – He is dead! He is dead!”
It was 10am on the 8th of October, 1905.
Hotel Amsterdam in the Roumon Quarter of Paris – also called Amsterdam Hotel. The owner may have changed but it is still in business today under the same name. It was three days prior to this incident occurring that Bruce Taylor, a jeweller from England, had come to Paris from South Africa and taken up lodgings at the hotel. Taylor had come to sell South African diamonds at the Parisian markets and his wares – both cut and raw stones – were wrapped carelessly in paper and stuffed into the pockets of his pants, shirt and jacket as if they were valueless pebbles you might pick up from the street. It may seem especially careless but this was actually the safest way of transporting them; he didn’t even take off his clothes as he slept. The diamonds were literally with him day and night.
His was the fourteenth room on the third floor and its two windows faced onto the bustle of the Roumon Quarter; it was a spacious and neat bedroom. Bruce Taylor didn’t speak French so he didn’t often go out. Paris in autumn is gloomy, the skies are often pregnant with heavy rainclouds. Every day Taylor would take a seat in a corner of the smoking room and talk with the Dutch owner of the hotel, Minil van de Velde, in English mixed with Dutch words about Cape Dutch in South Africa. Van de Velde was a man of few words but he seemed to get along well with Bruce Taylor and would talk for hours with him. Taylor would often take out his diamond collection and lay them out in front of van de Velde’s amazed eyes. The owner of Hotel Amsterdam had once been a dealer in precious stones and he held particular interest and experience in diamonds.
Taylor had retired to bed early the previous night. At that time there were no other guests besides Taylor staying on the third floor. It was a quiet night that preceded the morning of the 8th.
There being a “continental breakfast”, coffee and bread was available in the morning. At his usual time the bellboy Paul took Taylor’s breakfast to his room but on receiving no answer upon knocking and calling, he descended to the lobby as we have previously relayed and alerted Madam Celestine. That was when the discovery was made.
Hotel Amsterdam was an old fashioned building. Everything was antique. Two substantial iron hook brackets was hammered into the wall and between them ran an iron bar from which hung heavy curtains. Bruce Taylor had taken the strong braid that had been used to push aside the curtains, put it about his neck and hung himself from the hook. He looked like an entirely different person: his face was pale and distended, his lifeless eyes were opened wide, staring at something that could not be seen in the opposite corner of the room where the bed was. His face carried a look of horror. It seemed to indicate he’d killed himself as a result of some indescribable fear or shock. Even Police Inspector Moupas – a man accustomed to scenes like this – turned his face away. Nevertheless, there could be no doubt this had been a suicide. And yet, how strong must have been his urge to die or his reasons to have to die? The proof of it could be found in the fact that Taylor had bent his knees and tied his ankles to his thighs so that his feet definitely couldn’t reach the ground when he hung. The hook brackets were in a particularly low spot and the rope long so that usually – at his natural height – he’d be able to reach the floor and suicide by hanging would be unsuccessful.
“Bet you didn’t expect this,” said the detective who’d accompanied Inspector Moupas to the scene with awe in his voice.
“He must have been determined to end it all. This cloth that’s binding his legs could have been torn off easily and he could have stood when it became painful.”
Not even one of the many diamonds they expected to find in the suicide victim’s pockets or luggage could be located. The coroner could find no explanation for the death except for Inspector Moupas’: that is, that the man had killed himself. Thus the case was settled as the bizarre suicide of an Englishman.
Two weeks passed. The Taylor incident was starting to be forgotten. That’s when a Frenchman by the name of Calvaert, an acquaintance of Madam Celestine’s, was found dead in the same circumstances in room 14 on the third floor. This caused a huge uproar. A jeweller from Brussels called Monsieur Vardan had been staying in the room two days prior. Of course the proprietor had taken great care that Vardan should not hear about Taylor’s suicide but just that morning a fellow Belgian who had been staying in the hotel at the time of the suicide had informed him of the tragedy that had occurred two weeks earlier in room 14. Anyone would be scared off by that. Vardan demanded to change rooms immediately or he would move to a new hotel. Madam Celeste was thoroughly embarrassed. Unfortunately the hotel had no vacancies. She had no other choice. Being a friend of hers, she explained the state of affairs to Calvaert who was staying in a room on the second floor and asked if he could help her out of this difficult situation. She really didn’t want to have to turn a customer out of her hotel. Would he swap rooms for her? Calvaert had heard what happened in room 14 so he wasn’t exactly pleased with the arrangement, but being that Madam Celeste was a friend, he refused to voice his reluctance to help her and instead put on a brave and willing face, swapping rooms with the jeweller Vardan. Vardan moved to the second floor and Calvaert moved to room 14 on the third floor. This happened on the Friday. On Saturday morning Calvaert was found hanging from the same curtain rod-supporting hook that Taylor had swung from. Taylor’s suicide had occurred between the Friday and Saturday too.