I’ve always enjoyed an occasional Sherlock Holmes story, but it wasn’t until I took a class on the subject that I learned just how strange many of the tales are. From crazed Mormons to ape men to vampires, Conan Doyle’s heroic detective encounters some seriously strange cases in his time. In celebration of 124 years of inspired mysteries, here are a few of his weirdest tales. There are spoilers here, so if you plan to read any of these stories, you may want to skip past this one.
A Study In Scarlet
The first Sherlock Holmes story may very well be one of the weirdest. It starts out with the apprehension of a double murder suspect in London. As he explains his motives for the killings, we are told about a man named John Ferrier and a young girl named Lucy, who are the sole survivors of a group of an ill-fated wagon train and are both dying of thirst. Fortunately, a band of Mormons led by Brigham Young comes by and offers to save them, as long as they agree to convert to Mormonism and come with the group to start a new “promised land.” John adopts Lucy and while the two have happily converted to the Mormon way of life, he has secretly sworn to never let her marry a Mormon, where she will only be one of many wives.
Years later, she falls in love with a traveling man named Jefferson Hope. The two are engaged and the wedding is planned to take place in three months, when Jefferson returns from a trip he must take for his job. After Jefferson leaves, John is approached by Brigham Young who tells him Lucy must marry a Mormon. He says she can take a month to make her choice between two eligible men in the town. John sends for Jefferson to return and save Lucy. He arrives on the last day before she must make her choice and Lucy, John and Jefferson sneak away. While on the run, Jefferson leaves one day to hunt for food and returns to the camp to find John dead and Lucy missing. He returns to the town and discovers Lucy was forced to marry one of the two Mormon men. A month later, Lucy dies. Jefferson sneaks into the house the night before the funeral and removes her wedding ring. He then swears revenge, stalking the town and almost killing the two men many times.
The men flee to London, hoping to escape certain death, but Jefferson is able to track them down and kill them, which is where the story had begun. Jefferson is already dying and the night before his trial, he passes away, with a smile on his face. Unsurprisingly, the Mormons of the time (and, I assume, modern Mormons as well) were not happy with their portrayal as murdering kidnappers. Conan Doyle publicly defended the story claiming that his story was completely based on fact, but his daughter claimed that he said many times that the story was filled with a number of errors about the Mormons and one of Brigham Young’s descendants claimed that Doyle privately apologized to the church.
The Man With The Twisted Lip
Sherlock Holmes cases are ripe with people living double lives, but in this case, the secret identity is more strange than criminal. Holmes is hired by a woman, Mrs. St. Clair, who claims her husband has disappeared, but she swears that after his disappearance, she saw him in the second story window of an opium den. When police search the building, they cannot find the husband, but they do discover a disfigured beggar in the room beside Mr. St. Clair’s clothes. His coat is then found outside, loaded with tons of pennies and halfpennies.
The beggar is arrested for Mr. St. Clair’s murder, but a few days later, the wife receives a letter from her husband in his handwriting. Sherlock then reconsiders the case and heads to the police station, where he uses a sponge to clean the beggar’s face, revealing that he is, indeed, Mr. St. Clair. The man then confesses that he used to work as a newspaper reporter and once had to go undercover as a beggar to get a story. During that time, he made a great amount of money and he realized he could make more money begging than working as a reporter (I think that’s still the case today), so he quit his job and started living a double life.
If you thought middle class people pretending to be homeless so they can earn an easy living was a modern problem, this story should be a wake up call. Interestingly, this story not only has a weird resolution, it also stands out from the rest of Sherlock Holmes tales in that no crime actually occurred and that Sherlock never explains how he solved the mystery –although the tale does give enough clues to explain itself.
The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
Think that getting contacted by people in other countries who tell you about your recent inheritance is a modern scam? As it turns out, this scam started long before the internet allowed us to get in touch with random strangers. In fact, the so-called “Nigerian scam” was used by an American man in the 1924 Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs.”
In this tale, a man named Nathan Garrideb approaches Sherlock because he needs to find another man with the same name in order for him to obtain a $5,000,000 inheritance. He says that he has been contacted by an American man named John Garrideb who will inherit a $15,000,000 estate from Alexander Hamilton Garrideb, but in order to receive the fortune, the will stipulates that he must find two other men with the same surname and share the fortune with them equally. Because John couldn’t find anyone with that name in America, he has gone to England and has so far only found Nathan. Sherlock soon learns that Nathan does not own anything particularly valuable. While he and Watson are visiting the house, John arrives with a newspaper advertisement that has been placed by Howard Garrideb. Notably, the ad is filled with a number of American spellings and phrases. John then insists that Nathan visit Birmingham to meet this Howard Garrideb.
The next day, Sherlock visits Scotland Yard and finds a photograph of John stating that his real name is James Winter and that he was previously charged with shooting a man in Chicago, but he was acquitted due to mitigating circumstances. The man John shot was a past occupant of Nathan Garrideb’s house. Sherlock then realizes that John was working to get John out of the house to look for something left by the previous occupant. He and Watson return to the house where they find John breaking into a cellar. They arrest the thief, after he shoots at them, barely striking Watson, and discover the cellar housed a counterfeiting printing press. James Winter goes to jail and Nathan is so disappointed that he ends up in a nursing home shortly after the case ends. This story is strikingly similar to another weird Sherlock Holmes tale, “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League,” where a pawn broker is hired for a job for the “Red-Headed League” based solely on how bright his hair color is. Sherlock quickly realizes the job is just a scam to get the man out of his regular office so cons can use his basement to break into the bank vault next door.
The Adventure of the Yellow Face
While Conan O’Doyle might have shown his religious bigotry in “A Study In Scarlet,” he shows a surprisingly progressive attitude towards racism in this tale. Sherlock is approached by a client named Grant Munro, who is suspicious of his wife. She was previously married in America, but the rest of her family died from yellow fever. She then moved to England and married Mr. Munro. The couple was extremely happy together until his wife asked him for a hundred pounds and begged him not to ask why. Shortly afterwards, she started sneaking away to a cottage near their home.
Mr. Munro swore he saw someone with a yellow face in the window of the cottage, but after breaking in, he found the place empty. Strangely, the cottage was well-furnished and featured a portrait of his wife on the mantle. At first, Holmes thinks it must be the woman’s first husband who has returned to England to blackmail her, but when they eventually break into the cabin together, they discover the yellow-faced person is wearing a yellow mask and underneath is a little black girl. As it turns out, the woman’s husband did die in America, but her half-black daughter did not. Because the wife was terrified that her new husband would not love her if he knew she was once married to a black man, she tried to keep the child a secret. When the husband discovers the truth though, he picks up the little girl, gives her a kiss and then holds his wife’s hand as they leave the cottage.
This story is unique for Sherlock Holmes stories in that there is no actual crime, no villain and Sherlock is absolutely wrong in his assumptions. Of course, it also is notable for having such a surprisingly anti-racist message for readers of 1893.
The Adventure of The Creeping Man
While modern crime investigation methods have progressed quite a bit since the Sherlock Holmes series took place, most of the stories are still good enough to hold up in today’s society. The Adventure of The Creeping Man may be one of the only Sherlock Holmes stories of that leaves us giggling about antiquated medical ideas. In this tale, Holmes has been approached by the secretary and the daughter of a respected sixty-one year old professor who has recently become engaged to a much younger woman. Shortly after the engagement was announced, the professor left for two weeks without telling anyone where he went.
His secretary, who opens all of the professor’s mail for him, was able to discover that the professor went to Prague. Since his return, the professor started acting rather strange. He insisted the secretary not open any letters that arrive with a certain marking on the envelope. His faithful wolfhound suddenly turned on him and had to be tied up outside. His secretary also says that he once entered the professor’s room at night and saw him crawling on his hands and feet. The professor’s daughter says that she once saw him staring through her second-story bedroom window one night although they do not own any ladders at home.
Despite this all, he is still quite lucid and has been able to maintain his teaching career without any issues. Sherlock realizes the dog attacks occurred exactly nine days apart every time. He starts to reach a conclusion when the secretary says that he once angered the professor greatly when he picked up a box that the professor had brought back from Prague. Given all the info, Holmes realizes that the professor has been taking some kind of a drug every nine days. He then makes the connection that the professor has been behaving like a monkey. He and Watson then come to the house on the night of the next drug dose and discover the man to be scampering on all fours, climbing up the side of the house and tormenting the dog.
Eventually the dog gets loose and Holmes has to intervene to save the professor. While the professor is unconscious from the attack, Sherlock enters his study and discovers the drug along with a letter from a quack physician who has advised the professor to get his hands on a substance made from a lemur extract in order to help him be younger and more virile, since he is planning to marry a much younger woman. If only he had access to quality Viagra.
The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire
This tale begins when Sherlock is contacted by a man who says his wife has been sucking the blood from their baby’s neck. She was discovered with blood on her lips and the child had a wound on its neck. The wife has made no attempt to explain herself. According to her handmaiden, it has occurred more than once now and the child has been put under the custody of a nurse. The client also has a fifteen year-old son from his first wife. While the second wife is ordinarily a kind woman, she beats her stepson. Sherlock immediately realizes what is going on, but insists on visiting the home before he makes any announcements.
When they arrive, Sherlock notices the South American weapons on display and he takes a look at the wounds on the baby’s neck. He then announces what happened, knowing that it is going to be a terrible blow to his client. He reveals that the oldest son is very jealous of his new brother –to the point where he has taken to shooting poisoned darts at the baby. The mother was sucking the blood from the baby’s neck to remove the poison and save the child, but she could not bear to tell the truth to her husband and break his heart. Holmes then suggests the older boy be sent off to sea for a year as punishment, although doesn’t really seem like a suitable solution for such a sociopathic person.
Do you have any favorite, slightly offbeat Sherlock Holmes tales, or stories from other sleuths? If so, share them in the comments.