How Sherlock Holmes Would Have Tracked Him

It is a question that has, over the years absorbed film makers several times over.

It has also been asked in graphic novels and computer games. Members of the public, newspaper journalists and goodness knows who else has faced up to the conundrum. Would Sherlock Holmes, with all his powers of detection, be able to do what the Victorian police were unable to to – catch the unknown perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders who we now know as “Jack the Ripper.

It was also a question that was asked at the time, and, on Wednesday the 9th of July, 1894, The Yorkshire Evening Post sought the opinion of the one man who, above all others, was bound to know the answer – Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who had created Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in a train carriage.
Holmes And Watson


One thing that becomes apparent on reading the interview is that Conan Doyle evidently appears to have believed that the “Dear Boss Jack the Ripper” was actually from the murderer, whereas their was a consensus at the time – and there is still a general consensus – that the letter was not the work of the miscreant who was responsible for the murders.

But, that aside, it is intriguing to get a glimpse of the opinion of the man who gave us the world’s most famous detective:-


“Many people have doubtless wondered what Sherlock Holmes would have done in order to capture “Jack the Ripper.”

Mr. Conan Doyle, in interview with an American journalist, has explained this.

He says:-

“I remember going to the Scotland Yard museum and looking at the letter which was received by the police and which purported to come from the Ripper. It was written in red ink in a clerkly hand.

I tried to think how Holmes might have deduced the writer of that letter.


The most obvious point was that the letter was written by someone who had been in America.

It began, “Dear Boss,” and contained the phrase, ‘fix it up,’ and several others which are not usual with the Britishers.


Then we have the quality of the paper and the handwriting, which indicate that the letters were not written a toiler. It was good paper, and it was written in a round, easy, clerkly hand. He was, therefore, a man accustomed to the use of the pen.

Having determined that much, we cannot avoid the inference that there must be somewhere letters which this man had written over his own name, or documents or accounts that could readily be traced to him.

Oddly enough the police did not, as far as I know, think of that, and so they failed to accomplish anything.


Holmes’s plan would have been to reproduce the letters in facsimile and on each plate indicate briefly the peculiarities of the handwriting.

Then, he would publish these facsimiles in the leading newspapers of Great Britain and America, and in connection with them offer a reward to anyone who could show a letter or any specimen of the same handwriting.

Such a course would have enlisted millions of people as detectives in the case.”