In A Matter of Deduction, Dennis Adrian Crayford was an ex-RAF pilot and air gunner who was found murdered in the front seat of a de Havilland Tiger Moth aircraft which had crashed near the town of Provins south of Paris. Crayford was twenty-nine at the time of his death.
Crayford had served three years as an air gunner in the RAF during the Second World War. He trained to be a pilot and later got his wings and served another three years as a single-seat fighter pilot before being discharged with the rank of Flight Lieutenant on medical grounds.
After the war, he had joined the Holmwood Flying Club and trained for a civilian pilots licence. On the night of his death, he had been briefed to do a night training flight comprising a solo flight to Gatwick and back.
Crayford did not complete the flight. His aircraft was discovered crashed near the town of Provins in the main line south of Paris. Biggles was puzzled because an experienced pilot should not have gone so far off-course especially in fine weather conditions.
Marcel invited Biggles to examine the wreckage. Together they found a number of suspicious features. The tanks were dry, indicating that the aircraft was taken as far south as it could before crashing. The aircraft did not crash into the ground. It looked like it had run head on into a tree, with the fuselage becoming so telescoped that it was difficult to remove the body of the pilot. An experienced pilot knowing he was going to crash would have allowed the wings to take the shock and save the fuselage. In this case it looked like the tree was being deliberately rammed.
Examination of Crayford's body showed that he had died not from the crash but from a broken skull as the result of a blow from behind, indicating that there must have been someone in the rear cockpit.
Biggles surmised that after take-off, Crayford must have landed to pick up a passenger. In the air, the passenger hit him on the back of the head and killed him. He then took over the controls and flew it towards the south of France, going as far as his fuel lasted. He then landed in a field, pointed the nose of the aircraft towards a tree and then turned the engine off before jumping off, hoping the police would conclude that Crayford died from crashing into the tree.
Biggles thought the passenger might have planned to board a train since the crash took place near the main railway line. Enquiries at the local station revealed that a foreigner had purchased a ticket to Nice just after the time the crash was believed to have occurred. Armed with this information and a description of the man from the station master, Biggles and Marcel flew on to Nice ahead of the train and were able to apprehend the murderer, who turned out to be one George Bardello, a member of a London gang of car bandits escaping with the proceeds of a mail-van robbery.