More than a century has gone by and yet the benchmark of a great mystery solver remains Sherlock Holmes, but not many know that Holmes’ alter ego also solved a real-life mystery once with similar finesse. 

In 1906, a 30-year-old man wrote a desperate letter to ACD and got an appointment to meet him in his hotel. ACD was late to reach the hotel lobby and by then, the young man had already appeared. So, he took the opportunity to observe him while he was reading the newspaper.

As ACD continued to observe the young visitor, he saw that the young man had held the newspaper unusually close to his eyes and kept it sideways. Two conclusive evidence of someone suffering from myopia and astigmatism. 

The young man was George Edalji, a reputed solicitor from Great Wyrley, but currently convicted of assaulting cattle and killing them. The state had enough evidence against him and yet ACD was convinced of the extreme improbability of him being the guilty.

Let us take a deep dive into the gravity of the crime and the subsequent history behind it. George was the eldest of the 3 children of Mr. Shapurji Edalji, a man of Parsee ancestry whose family used to live in Bombay, India.

In 1874, Shapurji married Charlotte Stoneham and converted to Christianity. With the help of Charlotte’s uncle, Shapurji became the vicar of Great Wyrley. Despite his ancestry, he lived with utmost dignity and discretion among the white British neighbourhood.

His skin color and liberal political views however, made him an “Unsuitable Christian” preacher among his parishioners. To demolish his image and respect, a series of anonymous letters spread around the vicarage and the neighborhood from 1888-1895.

The letters contained threatening messages towards other Staffordshire clergymen over George’s forged signature. Accusations of indecent behavior from the vicar towards a maid named Elizabeth Foster were also written on the church wall.

With the help of the local police, Foster was arrested for conspiracy and later released. A seed of vengeance was sowed against George and his family without his knowledge and even before he was a teenager.

The final nail on the coffin came at the turn of the 20th century. A series of mutilated animals were found throughout Great Wyrley and anonymous letters were sent to the Chief Police Constable of the county accusing George.

The Chief Constable was already prejudiced against George from the earlier incidents and after the fresh suspicion, his house was searched where a pair of muddy shoes, pants with dirt around the cuffs, and clothes with blood stains were found.

George was arrested and imprisoned for 3 years. His career was destroyed and so was his family’s reputation. In an attempt to seek justice, he reached out to ACD, hoping that the creator of Sherlock could act as one. And he wasn’t wrong.

ACD started his investigation by analyzing the very first letter received by George’s father, linking each of them as a chain of evidence. Several astonishing facts started getting revealed as ACD dug deeper.

ACD argued that the initial letters forged under George’s name were in formed handwriting which couldn’t possibly have come from a 12-year-old boy. The razor claimed as the murder weapon by the police didn’t have any trace of blood.

The mud found in George’s clothes was of a different kind than the one found at the crime scene. Furthermore, someone who allegedly cut open an animal couldn’t possibly have only a few drops of red stains on their shirt.

And to top it all, George was a patient of acute myopia and a high degree of astigmatism which would make it impossible for him to mutilate the animals during the darkest hours of night and flee the crime scene without getting noticed by the patrolling police officers.

ACD published his findings in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ and marked it copyright-free so that the words could be spread around using every newspaper available. ACD’s findings sparked an outrage amongst the public as thousands came forward to demand a retrial of the case.

For a man without any power or position in the legal system, this investigation would have been enough but not for ACD. If George didn’t do it, then who did? Hence the quest for the actual criminal began. ACD, even without Watson proved to be as good as Sherlock himself.

With ACD’s observations published, the real criminal started sending anonymous threatening letters to ACD, one of which contained severely harsh comments about a former headmaster of the Walsall Grammar School in Staffordshire.

This rang a bell in ACD’s mind. The earlier chain of evidence he collected recorded a theft of the same school’s key which was also suspected to be done by George. He immediately contacted the retired headmaster.

As he struck up a conversation with him, he learned about a former student of the school who was expelled by the same teacher for his uncontrollable and destructive behavior.

The same student went on to become a butcher later in his life and was seen by one of his friends, using a lancet during the time of these animal mutilation.

ACD’s findings cleared George of all charges. However, a retrial would point out the incompetence of the government hence an official compensation never came from them for destroying 3 years of his life and effectively his law career as well.

Justice was delayed but it wasn’t completely denied. Suffice to say that ACD lived up to Watson’s expectations and if Sherlock would have come to life, he would have been proud of his alter ego. 


The Case of Mr George Edalji by Arthur Conan Doyle