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The Missing Ham

Writing to us from Scotland, our client told of the strange vanishing of an even stranger object.

We were leaving Belfast to come to Scotland. Moving house. My mother-in-law had gifted us a couple of weeks previously a large joint of smoked ham which had been sitting at the back of our fridge during our packing and clearing out. We simply were unsure what to do with it - cook it and eat it in small bits? throw a party? take it with us? In the end, 24 hours before departure, it was still sitting in the fridge unopened but clearly visible.During the course of the next few hours, we slept and then started packing our car. Nobody else was around - just the two of us.

All the windows and doors remained shut except for the front door through which we were transporting all our goods. Finally, with all our boxes loaded, we went to the fridge to remove our chilled foods for storage in a refrigerated box during the journey. Imagine our surprise and consternation when it was discovered that there was NO ham... All our sandwiches and sundries were sitting happily undisturbed on the shelves of the near empty fridge, but lurking behind them there was nothing to be seen.To this day the mystery of the disappearing ham has continued to haunt us. No traces have ever emerged and both of us are certain we never touched it. It was such an unusual object for us that we would never have approached it in a casual fashion.

As it had been a number of years since the vanishing, this was a cold case (so to speak) and therefore we started with covering the obvious: Any pets with the ability to open doors? Had they talked about this ham to anyone else? Any visitors in that 24 hour period? There was a cat next door, but she weighed less than the ham, the ham had only become a topic of conversation with others after its disappearance – but they did have one visitor.

A friend did indeed come round for a final farewell party on the night before we left. We enjoyed a number of cups of tea together and played a board game. I expect I probably won. It is possible that our guest went into the kitchen unaccompanied, but did not return carrying a bag, nor was it possible that he could have smuggled the ham out under his jumper, it being about the size of his head.

We decided to take another approach. We asked our client to ask his wife to write us to us with her account of the same mystery, without having seen his. The end of her account was very revealing:

... as we were getting closer to our moving date, slowly we packed up everything and started emptying the fridge as well. However, the ham was just sitting there. I guess we were just going to take it across to Glasgow with us? But then I think the day before we had to move, the ham just disappeared. We just noticed it wasn't in the fridge anymore. We both thought the other had done something to it but eventually we figured out that it must have just evaporated.
My brother in law was over for a couple of days (one night) because he was helping us move. He had driven across from Glasgow and we packed up his car with half of our stuff. I'm not sure if he remembers seeing the ham but I know we asked him at the time if he knew anything about the whereabouts of it.

A subtle but important detail. She placed the disappearance of the ham on the day before they left, whereas the husband placed it on the day of leaving. This revealed something about the nature of the case, and the difficulty with detection, namely the nature of perception. With this in mind we asked another question: could the client confirm exactly when they had last seen the ham in the fridge:

At this distance from the events I cannot confirm the ham was in the fridge 24 hours before departure, though it was certainly there in the last couple of days leading up to the exit, and my wife and I are both certain that neither of us moved the ham at any time.

Then, in a disconnected event, something else strange happened.
Myself and another member of the agency went to a building where there was a large, red basketball net set up outside. We went inside and carried out some agency business (which I won't bore you with now). Once back outside, we stood talking for about ten minutes before I saw a ball on the floor and announced that I was going for a shot. When I turned around to shoot, the basketball net was gone. This seemed unbelievable at first, it seemed like it had just disappeared as we all assumed it had been there the whole time. But of course the basketball net had simply been packed away while we were inside, and although we had been standing there for some time, we hadn't actually looked at it to confirm – we had perceived it to be there because it had been there before.

It was therefore highly possible that this same occurrence had happened to our client. He and his wife could have perceived the ham to be there, because they assumed it was there, rather than actually looking at it directly. A leg of ham of this size would only last a maximum of 5 days in the fridge. This then expanded the amount of days of its disappearance from one to five, and therefore expanded the pool of suspects. With this we wrote to the client again, and his response turned the whole case on its head.

The ham arrived from Hungary in a parcel and remained in our fridge for several months - being of the salty variety and apparently able to remain 'fresh' for decades. Following your logic, that exponentially expands the list of potential suspects.

At this juncture the question becomes one of labour versus necessity: two years on from the disappearance, is it worth expending further energies in the somewhat esoteric pursuit of a joint of ham? I am beginning to lean towards the negative, and am happy to close the case with your recent deductions.

And there the case ended. We were very willing to continue with finding the someone (if it was a someone) who may have taken the ham in those months, but the client was happy to close the case.

Suffice to say, we have always remained a little suspicious of how quickly the client closed the investigation when we were getting so close. May the ham rest in peace.

Foxcroft - MRBDA