THE REAL SHERLOCK HOLMES
(Investigator 54, 1997 May)
The mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was as keenly analytical as the mind of his creation Sherlock Holmes.
This is sometimes forgotten by skeptics who focus on Doyles' belief in fairies.
Murderer Herbert Dougal and also "brides-in-the-bath" murderer George Smith were caught and executed due in part to investigations by Conan Doyle. Oscar Slater (1873-1948), a German Jew residing in Scotland, was wrongly convicted of murder in 1909. He was released from prison after 19 years due to protests by Conan Doyle and others. George Edalji, the lawyer son of an immigrant from India, was pardoned through Conan Doyle's efforts after being convicted of mutilating farmyard animals.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was born in Scotland of Irish parents. He practiced medicine from 1882 to 1890 during which time he wrote detective novels and historical romances.
He served as a doctor during the 2nd Boer War. His pamphlet The War in South Africa (1902) corrected enemy propaganda, justified Britain’s actions and earned him his knighthood.
In A Letter in Scarlet (1887) Conan Doyle invented the super observant detective Sherlock Holmes and his doctor assistant John Watson.
The Adventures ofSherlock Holmes were serialized in Strand Magazine of 1891-1893. The serials were also published as books:
- The Sign of Four 1890
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 1891
- The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes 1894
- The Hound of the Baskervilles 1902
- The Return of Sherlock Holmes 1904
- His Last Bow 1918
- The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes 1928
Conan Doyle also wrote historical romances:
- Micah Clarke 1887
- The White Company 1891
- Brigadier Gerard 1896
- Sir Nigel 1906
Rodney Stone – about a boxer – came out in 1906 and two science fantasy novels The Lost World and The Poison Belt were published in 1912 and 1913.
Conan Doyle's strangest case as a private detective occurred in 1903.
Starting in February someone mutilated sheep, cattle, horses, goats and dogs around the mining village of Great Wyrley about 30k from Birmingham.
In August police arrested 27-year-old solicitor George Edalji, son of Rev. Shapurji Edalji an immigrant from India. Muddy boots and hairs on a coat were taken as evidence.
The Reverend claimed his son had not left the house on the night of August 18 when a pony had been mutilated.
Sentenced to 7 years George Edalji wrote to Conan Doyle from jail. He pointed out that more maimings occurred after his arrest.
Being a physician Conan Doyle noted that George Edalji had very poor eyesight due to astigmatic myopia. This would have made mutilating of animals at night while avoiding police patrols difficult!
Conan Doyle checked for enemies of George Edalji back to his childhood days.
From 1893 to 1895 numerous lurid letters had been posted to local people in the name of Reverend Edalji. Conan Doyle checked these and concluded the handwriting was of a schoolboy. Comparing these letters with recent anonymous letters, boasting about the animal maimings to police, Conan Doyle concluded the handwriting was similar but more adult.
Conan Doyle examined school records at the school George Edalji had attended and found a suspect.
Eventually a Government committee reviewed all the evidence and George Edalji was pardoned.
In later life Conan Doyle lost some of his objectivity. He converted to Spiritualism, wrote History of Spiritualism (1926) and took seances, and the supposed spirit manifestations at them, seriously. He ended his friendship with Houdini because of Houdini’s practice of exposing the tricks used by mediums to fool people.
Conan Doyle also believed in fairies on the testimony of two lying teenage girls. The photographic evidence the girls supplied was eventually exposed by magician James Randi as photographs of picture cutouts from a book.