We’ve all seen them: a dead body is found in a room locked from the inside, in a gorgeous old Belle Epoque or Art Deco mansion.
The television series and movies make getting into that locked room look so easy: just push the key through from the outside, hear it drop to the floor, and then open the door.
I’m here to tell you it is NOT that easy.
We’re in an old building. It has huge heavy wooden doors, and old style door locks.
On the outside of the door is a handle that you can pull, but not turn, so even if the door is not dead-bolted, you can’t get in without a key to release the latch bolt.
It workS ALMOST like the diagram below, except that the key when turned once and held in position opens the latch bolt, and turned twice and held in position opens both the latch bolt and the deadbolt. “Held in position” is important because the outer knob does not turn (there’s no spindle).
On the inside is a lever handle that opens the latch bolt, and a key that both throws and opens the deadbolt.
Because we’re in a foreign country, and I want to be extra secure, I’ve been dead-bolting the door from the inside whenever we’re home. That means there’s a key left in the inside keyhole. When I go out, I open the deadbolt, and take the key with me to lock the door from the outside.
I can’t forget the key, because I can’t get out the door without using the key to release the deadbolt.
Except that yesterday when I came home hot and tired from picking up groceries after our day’s outing, I put the key back in the door but didn’t bolt it – just stuck it in the keyhole.
Around 9:30 in the evening, we decided spur of the moment to go out to watch the light show at the Reichstag, and I decided spur of the moment that I didn’t want to carry my heavy purse, so … Ted grabbed HIS key and we headed out the door. When he tried to lock it from the outside, he couldn’t. I couldn’t. No amount of wiggling the key made any difference. Except that it did: it jiggled the key I’d left in the interior lock just enough to partially shoot the deadbolt, and render any attempt to use a key in the exterior lock futile.
We were locked out.
We’d left a window open, but our apartment is 20 feet up. Even if there were a really long ladder just hanging around, neither of us would be climbing it. We know how that could turn out.
So we called our landlord. She called a locksmith. He arrived half an hour later, tried a few things, declared the lock equal to either a secret laboratory or a Soviet spy network, and (after generously turning down any payment for his time) called a different locksmith. He confirmed that pushing the inside key out of the door from the outside isn’t really a thing.
At 11:00 p.m. a lovely young Sri Lankan man (who we found out has family in Toronto) arrived wearing a vest with many pockets filled with tools of the locksmith’s trade, and carrying a heavy duty Makita drill which he used for the next 20 minutes to drill out the lock cylinder. That allowed us all into the apartment, after which he installed a new heavy duty lock system – one that works just like the original – gave us an invoice totalling €190, and headed off just before midnight.
I’ve learned my (expensive) lesson: don’t deadbolt the door when we’re home. No one can pull the door open from the outside anyway.
And there’s no way those 1920’s detectives on TV get into the locked rooms in those old houses as fast as is depicted.
We know from personal experience.