What I had not realized was the extent of his involvement in real life crime. He participated in investigations to find those guilty of crime and to aid those unjustly accused.
I expect he was partially inspired by his own experience with the criminal justice system. As a young doctor in 1885 he was visited by the police who, after receiving an anonymous letter, were making inquiries into the death of a boy for whom Doyle was caring in his home as a “resident patient”. Medicated with choral hydrate he had suddenly died. Though proper, police suspicions were raised by Doyle signing the death certificate. Doyle would have at least faced a major investigation but for the visit of a local doctor the night of the death who confirmed Doyle’s treatment.
It is no surprise that he was constantly contacted by members of the public seeking his assistance in solving mysteries. The chapter title concerning those letters says it best – By Every Post a Call for Help. He responded to many letters. My next post will provide an example of both his deductive skills and his willingness to reply to letters.
Doyle was willing to lend his support to causes through the grand English tradition of writing a letter to The Times. In 1896 an American woman, the wife of a prominent San Francisco businessman, was caught stealing from a series of shops and a hotel. She pled guilty with her barrister advancing evidence of a nervous disposition “at certain periods” and was sentenced to 3 months to jail. Doyle, after recounting her theft of items of modest value she did not need, submitted:
It can surely not be denied that there is at least a doubt as to her moral responsibility, and if there is a doubt, than the benefit of it should be given to one whose sex and position as a visitor amongst us give her a double claim upon our consideration. It is to a consulting room and not a cell that she should be sent.
After considering the representations of Doyle and others she was released the next day.
Doyle was an active participant in the efforts to determine the identity of Jack the Ripper. In his analysis of the Ripper’s letter Doyle thought the Ripper had at least been to America as he used expressions from the United States. Doyle also believed the Ripper disguised himself in women’s clothes to escape from the scenes of the murders.
On his travels Doyle was consulted on local crimes. During a major trip to Africa a couple of years before his death the South African police sought his insights on a puzzling murder.
As he grew older Doyle was committed to spiritualism and looked to the insights psychics could provide in solving crimes.
After Agatha Christie disappeared the police approached Doyle. He obtained one of Christie's gloves and took it to a “medium and psychometrist” who, without information on the owner of the glove, identified it as from an Agatha who was not dead and would be found by the following Wednesday. The medium’s statements proved to be true.
Doyle sought to right injustice to the end of his life. Shortly before his death he supported the campaign to exonerate the executed American anarchists, Saaco and Vanzetti. He believed they were executed because of their political convictions rather than for committing murder.
Through reading the book my admiration for Doyle grew. He was stalwart in seeking justice for over 40 years. Many complain about injustice but few take action to right wrongs. Doyle was committed to acting in support of principle.
Costello’s approach of providing examples and analysis chronologically is my preferred approach to non-fiction. His narrative is brisk. He is not writing an academic work but his statements are well researched and his analysis solidly based.