- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

What's this? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle … a murderer?
The plot has thickened considerably for those who cherish the clever civility of Sherlock Holmes, celebrated detective and pipe-puffing icon. His creator has been accused of murder along with mischief, plagiarism, deception and some hanky-panky, too.
Doyle would be mortified, most likely, to learn that a fellow Englishman believed he stole the plot for "The Hound of the Baskervilles" from another writer, then poisoned that very writer and ran off with his wife back in 1907.
But this is what researcher Rodger Garrick-Steele believes, and he has been accumulating circumstantial evidence for 11 years.
Mr. Garrick-Steele is at the very apex of his endeavors and playing it to the hilt. He's written a 446-page manuscript, was recently photographed in deerslayer hat and caped coat by the victim's grave and has spun his tale to several major newspapers, including the Times of London.
"It all points to a horrifying picture of a cover-up," Mr. Steele told the Times on Sept. 10.
Needless to say, Holmes fans are in full cry.
"It's a good tale, but the guy is looking for a publisher," said Peter Blau of Washington's Red Circle, one of several dozen Sherlockian societies around the globe.
"Complete bunkum. Absolute nonsense," noted Heather Owen of the Sherlock Holmes Society in London. "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a man of honor."
"This fellow may be engaged in a great publicity stunt," said Tim Johnson, curator of the Sherlock Holmes collection at the University of Minnesota, the world's largest assemblage of Doyle's works.
Meanwhile, Scotland Yard will investigate. So says Detective Chief Brian Moore of the Serious Crime Squad, who told the Times he has men at the ready.
Mr. Garrick-Steele variously described as author, undertaker, psychologist, driving instructor and real-estate developer is convinced that Doyle originally heard the tale of the spectral Baskerville hound from one Bertram Fletcher Robinson, an acquaintance and fellow journalist who lived in Dartmoor, in southwest England.
Academes have long mulled over this possibility. Doyle did thank "my friend Fletcher Robinson" in the original version, published in Strand magazine in 1901. And Robinson's coachman was named Harry Baskerville.
Here, academes and Mr. Garrick-Steele part ways, and the story takes on a life of its own.
Mr. Garrick-Steele, 58, became intrigued with Doyle once he took up residence a dozen years ago in the wee town of Ipplepen, on the edge of Dartmoor, where the hound's story transpired. One day, Mr. Garrick-Steele says, a photo of a young Doyle mysteriously appeared on his doorstep.
He hung the photo in his living room, but the photo kept "jumping" off the wall. Mr. Garrick-Steele felt this was a sign that something was amiss, and began his research.
He found a book written by Mr. Robinson a year before "Baskervilles" was published. The two plots were too similar for comfort quite "galling," Mr. Robinson said.
After perusing wills, death certificates, letters, historical accounts and ephemera, Mr. Garrick-Steele concluded Doyle stole the story from his chum, Robinson. But that was not all he stole.
Doyle also had a passionate affair with Robinson's wife, Gladys, said to be bereft because she was childless. Then, Mr. Garrick-Steele says, the celebrated author wanted to hide both plagiarism and the affair, and persuaded Gladys to help him kill her husband with laudanum an opium compound.
Fletcher Robinson did die unexpectedly at 36, supposedly of typhoid. But Mr. Garrick-Steele believes Doyle who also was a physician cleverly mimicked the symptoms of the disease using a gradual opium overdose.
"Desperate times demanded desperate remedies," Mr. Garrick-Steele said, and has asked local officials to exhume the body for more conclusive proof.
No wonder Holmes fans are in turmoil "furious" and "indignant" as one paper put it.
Groups like the "Blustering Gales," "White Rose Irregulars," and "Speckled Band," to name just a few, are everywhere. The 1,500-member club in Japan, for example, is one of the largest. An Internet network is extensive, but www.sherlockian.net is an ideal start.
These folks are protective, devoted, creative and good-humored there are societies, clubs, pubs, inns, museums, clothing, statues, operas, re-enactments, festivals and study groups devoted to all things Holmes.
It is, said the Red Circle's Mr. Blau, "what we like to call playing the game."
"Yes," agrees the University of Minnesota's Mr. Johnson, "Sherlock fans talk of him as being real, as if he's out there in Sussex, keeping his bees."
For now, the situation is a cliff-hanger. There are no new clues, no official actions and to date, Mr. Garrick-Steele has not quite landed himself a publisher.
South Africa's Daily Express, meanwhile, disputed his claim, theorizing that Mr. Garrick-Steele "duped" Scotland Yard, who had only agreed to give him "friendly advice," rather than serious police work.
But some await the conclusion.
"Conan Doyle had a lot of help from Fletcher Robinson," said Cristopher Frayling, a Doyle authority. "There was a growing froideur between them. If the evidence of poisoning is properly sourced, I can't wait to read it in full."

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