My fourth mystery, MURDER IN DISGUISE (due out in 2016), involves a suitcase full of cash from illegal bootlegging and drug sales. I found myself at a loss when trying to estimate how much money would be in that suitcase. How much money would fit into an average suitcase? Of course, it depends on the size of the suitcase and the denomination of the bills, but even then, I had no earthly idea. Would it be tens of thousands of dollars? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?
To find out, I took a trip to my local bank and, after carefully explaining that I was neither crazy nor a bank robber, I asked the manager how many bills to an inch were in a stack? I explained why I needed to know, and after she stopped laughing, she got a teller to bring out several packets of cash. I whipped out my ruler and measured–turns out there are about 200 bills per inch when the bills are used. Crisp new bills lie flatter and would measure more per inch, but I figured the money in my fictitious suitcase was used bills, coming from bootleggers and drug dealers, not from banks.
Back home, I measured the length and width of a dollar bill, then plotted how many could fit in a suitcase of approximately 30″ x 20″ x 8.” There would be 1,600 bills in each 8″ stack and 35 stacks arranged 5 rows by 7 rows. Now, depending upon the denominations inside the suitcase, it would hold about 5 1/2 million dollars if they were all hundreds. But my story takes place in 1925, and hundred dollar bills would be rare and difficult to spend (and would be worth about $1,365 in today’s money), so I figure most are twenties and some are tens, still large bills in those days but easier to use. With a hypothetical mixture of mostly twenties (see illustration) and some hundreds and some tens, I came out with about $1.68 million. That sounded reasonable. So that’s what I’m going with.
Then I learned that bills from that era were slightly larger than our today. I could either redo my calculations or imagine a slightly larger suitcase. Lazy me.