Thursday, March 31, 2016

Arthur Conan Doyle Versus the Evil Holmes

The twelve months beginning in December 1893 were unkind to people named Holmes.

In the December 15, 1893 issue of The Strand, Sherlock Holmes met his death at Reichenbach Falls at the hands of the evil Dr. Moriarty. Author Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle claimed self-defense, saying that writing Holmes stories was killing him.

On October 7th of 1894, the man who inspired Conan Doyle to use the name "Holmes," Oliver Wendell Holmes, poet, author, professor, and dean of Harvard Medical School, died. Arthur Conan Doyle would later say of him, "Never have I so known and loved a man whom I had never seen."

On November 17, 1894, Dr. Henry H. Holmes was arrested in Boston, Massachusetts, ending his murderous reign.

Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle, left, and Dr. Henry H. Holmes, right.

Arthur Conan Doyle Versus the Evil Dr. Holmes: The Mystery Tour.

The Author: On September 23rd, Arthur Conan Doyle left England aboard the steamship Elbe, setting off to begin a lecture tour of twelve states, Washington, DC and Ontario, Canada.

The Killer: In early September, Dr. Henry H. Holmes killed his assistant Benjamin Pitezel. On September 27th, Holmes pocketed the life insurance money. As part of his plan to kill the rest of the family, Holmes collected three of the Pitezel children, Alice fourteen years old, Nellie, eleven, and Howard, eight, and began hopping from city to city in eight states and Ontario, Canada. 

The exploits of Dr. Holmes were at this time unknown to the world at large, the concordance between their journeys is coincidental.

Although Dr. Holmes had the jump on the author, they would wind up in the same city at the end of Holmes' career.

Cincinnati, Ohio. September 28th - 29th. Dr. Holmes and the Pitezel children arrive from St. Louis. Alice Pitezel wrote to her mother, calling Cincinnati a dirty town. Holmes never mailed her letters.
Indianapolis, Indiana. September 30th - October 10th. Dr. Holmes takes the Pitezel children to Indianapolis for an extended stay. Perhaps he is hesitant to kill them, perhaps he is trying to lure the mother there to kill them all.

New York City, New York. October 2nd - 7th. Dr. Conan Doyle arrives in Manhattan and settles in, meeting with the prominent citizens of the metropolis. The author would later state in an interview, "I'm sorry to say I was disappointed in the general aspect of New York City."

Hudson Valley and the Ticonderoga, New York. October 7th through 9th. Dr. Conan Doyle visits the wilderness and gets in some hunting.

New York City, New York. October 10th. Dr. Conan Doyle delivers a lecture.

Irvington, Indiana. outside Indianapolis, October 10th. Dr. Holmes kills eight-year-old Howard Pitezel. Alice, unaware of her brother's fate, writes home, saying, "Howard is not with us now."

Chicago, Illinois. October 12th. Dr. Conan Doyle delivers a lecture in the city most associated with Holmes and his murders. The author would later describe Chicago as ". . .that city like a half-grown boy, always outgrowing his clothes . . ."

Detroit, Michigan. October 12th - 17th. Dr. Holmes arrives in Detroit with the two Pitezel children. He tries to lure Mrs. Pitezel to a house to kill her but is unsuccessful.

Indianapolis, Indiana. October 15th. Dr. Conan Doyle gives a lecture, missing Holmes by five days. In a later interview, the author would describe Indianapolis as his second favorite city in the United States, after Philadelphia.

Cincinnati, Ohio. October 16th. Dr. Conan Doyle gives a lecture.

Chicago, Illinois. October 18th. Dr. Conan Doyle returns for a day's stay.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada. October 18th through the 25th. Holmes and the two remaining Pitezel children in his charge stay for a week. 

Toledo, Ohio. October 19th. Dr. Conan Doyle gives a lecture.

Detroit, Michigan. October 20th. Dr. Conan Doyle arrives in Detroit, missing Holmes' stay by two days.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin. October 25th. Dr. Conan Doyle delivers a lecture.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada. October 25th. Holmes kills Alice and Nellie .

Prescott, Ontario, Canada. October 26th. Holmes travels with one of his three wives to this town which borders New York.

Chicago, Illinois. October 26th. Dr. Conan Doyle returns for another lecture.

Ogdensburg, New York. October 27th. Holmes crosses over the St. Lawrence River to New York.

Brooklyn, New York.
October 29th. Dr. Conan Doyle returns east for another lecture. At this time, Brooklyn is a separate entity from New York City and the fourth largest city in the United States.

Northampton, Massachusetts. October 30th. Dr. Conan Doyle delivers a lecture.

Burlington, Vermont. October 31st. On Halloween, Dr. Holmes takes up residence in the city where he first attended medical school. Now both Holmes and Conan Doyle are in New England.

Boston, Massachusetts. October 31st. Dr. Conan Doyle lays a wreath at the grave of Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Worcester, Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, Norwich, Connecticut. November 1st, 2nd and 3rd, respectively. Dr. Conan Doyle delivers lectures in mid-sized towns.

Burlington, Vermont. November 5th. Holmes borrows money from his third wife and departs for home in New Hampshire to meet with his first wife.

Washington, DC and Baltimore. November 5th and 6th. Dr. Conan Doyle bounces between these two cities delivering lectures and sightseeing.

Gilmanton, New Hampshire. November 5th to November 16th. Holmes visits his family bringing them money. He does not know that insurance detectives have followed him here.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. November 8th and 10th and 15th. Dr. Conan Doyle visited Philadelphia three times. He would describe it as "the finest city in America." In a few days, Dr. Holmes would be in prison there.

New York City, New York. November 12th, 13th, and 16th. Over the course of the week, Dr. Conan Doyle would lecture in Manhattan, Yonkers, New Rochelle and New Jersey.

Boston, Massachusetts. November 17th. Holmes is arrested. Considering all of his crimes, it is remarkable that he is charged on an outstanding warrant for swindling on a cattle deal.

Boston, Massachusetts. November 19th. Holmes makes his first confession but says Benjamin Pitezel is alive and that a recently exhumed body was set in his place to get the life insurance.

Boston, Massachusetts. November 19th-20th. Dr. Conan Doyle visits Boston for the final time on this tour. He shares newspaper space with the newly captured, Dr. Henry H. Holmes, whose crimes are just beginning to be revealed.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. November 20th. Holmes and Mrs. Pitezel are taken to Philadelphia on the charges of insurance fraud. Holmes would spend the rest of his life in Philadelphia ending in his execution.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. December 6th. Mrs. Pitezel confesses to her part in the insurance scam and implicates Dr. Holmes. She believes her husband is alive. Mrs. Pitezel would be set free when it is discovered that Holmes had murdered four of her family.

The remainder of Dr. Conan Doyle's tour would take him to mid-size and small cities in New York, Vermont, New Jersey, and to Toronto, Canada and Niagara Falls. Years later Conan Doyle would comment that Sherlock Holmes should have been killed at Niagara Falls, not Reichenbach.

New York City. December 8th. Dr. Conan Doyle heads off to England aboard the steamship Etruria. Perhaps as a reference to Dr. Henry Holmes, in "The Case of the Retired Colourman," Conan Doyle had a murderer who locked his victims in a vault and gassed them. 


The Holmes-Pitezel case; a history of the greatest crime of the century and of the search for the missing Pitezel children by Frank P. Geyer, Publishers Union, Philadelphia, 1896.

Welcome to America, Mr. Sherlock Holmes: Victorian America Meets Arthur Conan Doyle by Christopher Redmond, Simon & Pierre Publishers, 1987.

Additional quotes from newspapers of the time.

Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are all characters in my thriller, A Predator's Game.

A Predator's Game is available in soft-cover and ebook editions through Amazon and other online retailers.

A Predator's Game, now available, Rook's Page Publishing.


Back page blurb.

Manhattan, 1896.

When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, features Nikola Tesla as detective.


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