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Lawlessness and Disorder: The Riddle Case

The Ministry of Magic is a joke, and a rather sick and cynical one to have in what is allegedly a children’s series.  This “government” throws people into a prison that makes Guantanamo Bay look like the Hilton, and does it without a trial.  In the case of Hagrid in Chamber of Secrets, they did it on the mere suspicion of criminality.  Instead of merely using the death penalty, the Ministry employs a race of demonic creatures that have the ability to destroy souls.  And after one of these creatures does this to a criminal suspect, the Minister for Magic yells that (in his opinion) the man was “no loss” because “he was a raving lunatic.”  Even here, insanity is an acceptable legal defense if the court will buy it!  The government also puts a Big Brother spell on (the houses of) children to keep an eye on what they are doing outside school... oh, and it’s only Muggle-born or Muggle-raised children who need to worry about this, because they can’t tell who does magic if wizards live in the same house.

I have written a whole essay about the train wreck that is the Trace.  I have attempted to explain this in a way that makes the most amount of sense possible.  I’d recommend reading that essay before reading this one, as having a coherent version of the Trace is an important part of the Ministry’s incompetence in handling the Riddle murders in the 1940s.

But, Trace aside, the entire affair was unprofessional, sloppy, lazily done, and a total travesty of justice.  And it didn't have to be.  Even without the Big Brotherly version of the Trace, and even without Albus Dumbledore's 20/20 hindsight, there was enough evidence to get Tom M. Riddle if the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had just had the common sense to look for it.  Let's review the sorry incident:

  • On the Muggle side, the law enforcement gets word of the murders from the Riddles' maid.  Frank Bryce, the caretaker, is arrested, but while in custody he insists that he saw a teenage boy running from the house.  The Muggles cannot find anyone who fits his description, but he sticks to his story.
  • On the wizard side, law enforcement hears of the murders from the Muggle police (notably, not by magical klaxons from the Trace going off).  They arrive on the scene, see evidence of the Avada Kedavra, and arrest Morfin as the nearest wizard there, despite the existence of Apparition and other magical transportation that could have allowed someone else to leave.  (And how did Riddle leave?  He was out of his fifth year.  Had he learned how to Apparate early?)  He confesses.  No further investigation is done and apparently no examination is given to the Muggles' evidence.

The pieces were all there.  Every last one.  Riddle was doing well until he let himself be seen by Bryce, and it's only because of the Ministry's laziness (or unbridled conceit and disregard for the Muggle law enforcement's work) that he got off.  Any proper criminal investigation would have nailed him.  Here's how it should have been done:

  • The DMLE, with Morfin in custody, looks at the Muggle police's evidence from Bryce, stating the presence of a teenage boy at the crime scene. They question Bryce themselves, using Legilimency and/or Veritaserum, and discover that he is not lying.
  • The DMLE checks Morfin for memory modification.  With the existence of the Imperius Curse, Memory Charms, and memory modification, this really should be standard procedure in any case.  Yes, it's Voldemort who did it, but it's still a 16-year-old boy's magic versus a division of Aurors (or whoever).  The real memory is uncovered.  The DMLE makes note that the ring of which Morfin speaks was on his hand in the memory but is now gone.
  • Alternatively, the DMLE is dumb and cannot find/break the memory charm, but note that Morfin is acting suspiciously, speaking of his father killing him for "losing the ring," despite that Marvolo has been dead for years.  This tips them off that he is not right in his mind.  Even though the wizarding world seems to think that insane people still deserve extreme punishment for what they do (Cornelius Fudge had no problem whatsoever with Barty Crouch Jr. being Kissed even though he personally believed that Crouch was a lunatic), they presumably would regard anything they said with deep suspicion. Morfin’s "confession" is apparently the only time when he says anything coherent and logical, which is another big flashing red alarm.
  • While trying to identify the boy from Bryce's account (or the memory, if they could get it), the DMLE look at the list of all wizards, say, age 14 through 20.  The name "Riddle" jumps out at them from this list, matching the victims' names.  They find marriage records for Tom Sr. and Merope Gaunt (and yes, the records would exist).  They find a birth record for a "Tom Marvolo Riddle," who is currently 16 years old.
  • They go to the orphanage, see him wearing a big ring, take it, examine it, take his wand for examination, and find that the wand performed a memory modification.  (It must have been Tom's own wand that did this rather than Morfin's, or it would have tipped them off.)  Assuming they know what Horcruxes are, they discover that the wand also cast the Horcrux curse on the ring.


All that was required was for the DMLE to look at records in the Muggle world.  Bryce's evidence, the marriage record, and the birth record would have been enough to stop the monster then and there.  But their laziness — or, as I've said, arrogance—wouldn't allow that.  One could make a very good case for the idea that Voldemort's rise was a direct result of the Ministry's conceit and incompetence.