Updated: Jun 17, 2021
In this fourth installment of real-life author mysteries, let's investigate the many strange events in the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
A bit about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Most people know the famous author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for his even more famous character, Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was a doctor whose practice was not always profitable. Luckily, after his stories were published in a newspaper, readers found them interesting enough to continue publishing them as a series in The Strand magazine. Once the stories achieved success, Doyle was able to give up his practice and become a writer full time.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Fairies
Doyle lost his first wife to tuberculosis and his son to war. After these losses, Doyle became a believer in the occult, especially following his wife's death. He hired mediums, held seances, and entertained all sorts of notions about the paranormal. He even believed the story of the Cottingley fairies enough to publicly endorse the story as true. The story goes that two girls from Cottingley, England took pictures of real-life fairies frolicking around their home garden. They posted their amazing stories of dancing mini-women with wings in magazines across England. Many dismissed it as false right away, but not Doyle. Intrigued, he investigated the story by going to the town, seeing the garden for himself, and speaking with the two young girls. After deep study, he concluded the photos were real!
Unfortunately, the two girls changed their story years later. After the sisters grew to adulthood, they admitted to the public that they had staged the pictures. Naturally, every believer was disappointed by the revelation. Doyle never took back his endorsement, though. Did he know something everyone else didn't?
Were the girls lying about seeing fairies or about staging the photo?
Read more about the Cottingley Fairies:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Real Sherlock, and Jack the ripper
Interestingly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous work, Sherlock Holmes, was inspired by a real man: Dr. Joseph Bell. Dr. Bell, who was Doyle's mentor in the medical profession, supposedly possessed a mind equally as impressive as Holmes' talent for crime solving. In fact, Dr. Bell may have solved one of the most infamous mysteries of all time: the identity of Jack the Ripper.
Dr. Bell supposedly sent a letter to Scotland naming the culprit as Montague John Druitt, who may or may not have been innocent. At the time, no one knew whom Dr. Bell had named, but shortly after sending in his letter, the killings stopped. Some believed this was because he had helped catch the man, though now it's well known that he was never caught.
Of course, there are darker theories. One is that Dr. Bell had named the wrong man...because he was Jack the Ripper! Newer theories suggest Doyle was the Ripper, because of his style of writing and medical background. But neither man was ever officially considered a suspect.
Read more about Dr. Joseph Bell:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a Sleuth Himself!
Doyle likely wasn't a killer, but he was certainly a real-life sleuth! In 1888, a series of horse mutilations occurred and letters were sent to a vicarage threatening to do the same to young girls as was done to the horses. These sick letters spurred accusations to fly, particularly to a young man of mixed heritage in the town. Being half English and half Parsi and a touch shy, the young lawyer George Edalji has always felt out of place. He was an easy target for police, and was convicted of the crimes.
But Doyle found that little to no evidence actually pointed to Edalji, who always proclaimed his innocence. After his own investigation, Doyle was ultimately convinced by one fact above all: Edalji suffered from a visual impairment that had been ignored in the trial. In his opinion as a medical doctor, Edalji could not have committed the crimes. Doyle supported a campaign for Edalji's pardon, which was given in 1907.
Read more about George Edalji:
Was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle right about fairies and spirits? Did he clear the right person of a crime? Was Dr. Bell the one who caught Jack the Ripper - or could he have been the Ripper himself? Is there truth to the wild theory that the Ripper could have been Doyle?
I can't say I like the idea that Doyle may have been a serial killer. He's not on the list of usual suspects and the theory hasn't gained much traction, so I think I'm safe in saying this one probably isn't true. I also believe Dr. Bell could have caught the Ripper, or at least made the murderer scared enough of getting caught that he stopped killing. I'd hate to think the man Sherlock is based on, or the writer who wrote him, could have been the notorious Jack the Ripper. Then again, Sherlock did have a bit of a dark side, didn't he?
But would a serial killer really work hard to clear an innocent man of murder? I believe George Edalji was innocent and that Doyle recognized this and tried to help. That speaks more of a compassionate personality to me.
As to the occult beliefs, personally, I believe in the paranormal. Actually, I believe science is ignoring certain topics that it should study instead of dismissing, but that's a whole conversation. As to whether fairies exists, well, as an author of fae mysteries, I'd like to think so. And spirits? I'm a believer.