Sherlock’s Solution to March’s Mystery
Thank you for helping us solve March’s Sherlockian mystery. Competition is already heating up for our April Detective of the Month. If you want to be considered, send us a letter or message with your theory on how to solve the case before the final letter goes out. The detective with the most clever or eloquent solution will win the award.
If you’d like to know how Holmes solved March’s mystery, a letter from Dr. Watson is presented below.
All the best,
The Dear Holmes Team
221b Baker Street
14 April 1907
Dear Miss Leckie,
My colleague Sherlock Holmes has asked me to write to you about the case you set out in your four letters to him.
He is unfortunately unable to do more than confirm your fiancé’s remark that your inquiry is probing into matters that are affairs of state; accordingly, he must decline to provide you with a solution.
Mr. Holmes did, however, ask me to commend the skill and industry with which you have conducted your own investigation, as well as the courage you showed in taxing your fiancé with your suspicions.
“These actions,” my colleague remarked, in a rare expression of admiration for one of our petitioners, “bespeak a woman of ingenuity, integrity, and insight. I am in no position to advise her on how to conduct her life, and she is indeed more than capable of doing so herself; but should Miss Leckie choose to terminate her betrothal with Mr Foley, I suspect she will not suffer from a want of alternative suitors.”
I must say that based on your correspondence, which Mr. Holmes has shared with me, this is an opinion with which I wholeheartedly concur.
I apologise for this response which I am sure you will find unsatisfactory but remain,
Yours very sincerely,
Notes to the Case of The Tangled Web filed by Dr Watson on 10 April 1907 at Cox and Co and not to be read for one hundred years
These notes are to be appended to the four letters from Miss Leckie received in the late winter and early spring of 1907.
The last few months have seen my friend as occupied as I have ever seen him, and it was only after the receipt of the fourth letter from Miss Leckie that he was able to find time in his schedule to dedicate his attention to her petition. This very morning, he read all four letters for himself. After lunch he despatched a messenger and then asked me to read the letters out loud, saying he wanted to make sure he had their content clear in his mind. The case solved, I am now writing down notes to it as a matter of record and with no view to publication.
As I read out the letters, Holmes puffed at his pipe and, when I had got to the end of the fourth letter, remarked, “Miss Leckie has managed to give us a case that is at the same time trivial in its solution, grave in the way it would be perceived by the public, and of great consequence to her personally. I fear that clarifying the case for Miss Leckie without risking calamity both for her and for the state is something that is beyond even my powers.”
“Perhaps you could explain.”
“I will start with the resolution of the case which is facile in the extreme although I will have to conduct one brief interview to confirm my opinion.”
“So, what were these documents?”
“It is clear that neither of the documents Miss Leckie retrieved were personal to Mr. Foley. It is also clear that he had no idea of precisely what documents he was carrying as he attached great importance to their recovery when he dropped them but failed to realise subsequently that he had he had been unsuccessful in retrieving them all.”
“But you have not explained what these documents were,” I insisted.
“Mr. Foley was under interrogation by his betrothed when he said that the documents were of a purely administrative nature and that they had not been addressed to him. These two facts make it likely that he was telling the truth on both points and this theory is born out by the two documents that Miss Leckie found.”
“So why was he carrying a sheaf of administrative documents that belonged to other people?”
“An intellectual scintillation is required by you here, good Watson. Where might you find administrative documents in large numbers belonging to several or many different people?”
“I would say at the post office, but I hardly think that Mr. Foley would be abstracting documents from a post office.”
“Not in a post office, dear Watson, but in an accounts office. Mr. Foley has broken into an accounts office and scooped up as many accounting documents as he could lay his hands upon.”
“Can you prove which accounts office?”
“I shall do so shortly.”
“How will you do that?”
“We have an appointment this evening at the Diog…”
“Mr. Mycroft Holmes to see you, Mr. Holmes,” the voice of our buttons interrupted us as he opened the door to my colleague’s brother. I described Mycroft Holmes (to whom I shall now refer to as Mycroft while I refer to Sherlock Holmes simply as Holmes) as being somewhat portly in the Bruce-Partington case of 1895. Now in 1907 he almost filled the gap between the jambs of our doorway.
“Well, what is it Sherlock?” he asked with a most injured air. “I felt an epistle threatening me with a visit from you this evening accompanied by a member of the constabulary was just cause to come to you post haste rather than awaiting your arrival.”
“Good afternoon, brother Mycroft,” said Sherlock Holmes. “I have remarked to my friend Watson here, that you often are the British government – the great clearing house of all its thinking on diverse matters such as the bimetallic question and India. I suspect you are about to demonstrate this for us now.”
A slightly more emollient look came over my Mycroft’s face at my colleague’s flattery.
“Pray be brief then, good brother,” he said. “It is most undesirable that I be away from Westminster for any length of time. It gives the prime minister and his acolytes the wholly erroneous impression that they can run the country without me.
“Very well,” replied my friend. “Why then, may I ask, as a good citizen of this country, have you not called the police in to investigate the recent burglary of the accounts office of the Houses of Parliament or the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office, as it is normally called?”
Mycroft started violently. “How do you know about that? I have taken the most extreme measures to make sure that that does not get into the press just yet.”
“Perhaps you would like to expand on your remark.”
“Parliament has been rocked with rumours that members have been submitting inappropriate expense claims. If proof of this was brought to the attention of the public, there would be general outrage and the role of our parliamentary representatives, aye even of parliament itself, would be called into question.”
“Just over a month ago, an intruder was apprehended by one of our night security staff. The trespasser was just leaving the office of the Serjeant-at-Arms where the expense records of members of parliament are kept. After a struggle, the intruder made his escape but not without leaving a large briefcase in the corridor outside the office. When the matter was reported to me, I had the area round the office sealed off and made sure I was the only person present when I forced the case open.”
There was a pause and Mycroft took a large pinch of snuff.
“When I did so I found it contained all the expense claims from members of parliament whose surnames ran from N to T. And the claims were for some of the most outlandish things. Alongside claims for things one would expect such as overnight accommodation and travel, one member had claimed to have turrets added to his house, and another had claimed on an invoice from an establishment the nature of which I could not possibly disclose even to you, good brother.”
“And, I take it, you approached each member of parliament to recover the money falsely claimed.”
“On the contrary, good Sherlock, I went down to the office of the Serjeant-at-Arms and made sure all the filing cabinets with members’ expense claims were completely emptied and their contents burnt. We cannot have the reputation of the mother of parliaments sullied by the egregious behaviour of its members getting into the press.”
“So, what will you do next?”
“The burglary is known about by very few people – I have no idea how you found out about it – but it gave me the opportunity to destroy the evidence of wrong-doing. In a few days’ time, I shall ensure that a discrete mention is made of the burglary in some minor organ of the press.”
“Why will you do that?”
“Well, obviously, if the main body of the national newspapers should subsequently get hold of the much bigger story of fraudulent expense claims by members of parliament, I can then tell them that all documentary evidence of expense claims has been destroyed and refer them to the burglary, an account of which will already have been published. Their embarrassment as having failed to notice this story will be quite sufficient to dissuade them from pursuing the matter of the expenses of members of parliament any further particularly as there will be nothing material to show what has happened and why.”
“And did you get all the incriminating evidence of inappropriate claims?”
“As well as destroying any documents still in the office of the Serjeant-at-Arms, we got the intruder’s case. But it was stuffed absolutely full, and it is possible that the intruder had further documents on his person when he made his escape.”
“And what are you going to do to prevent such a situation arising again, Mycroft?”
“The only thing I propose to do now is to issue instructions on what expenses members of parliament can legitimately claim for to ensure that no similar scandal can threaten the reputation of this country’s political representatives in the future. The misdemeanours of the past are, happily, unprovable, and hence unactionable. I will take any action necessary to allow this happy conjunction of circumstances to continue.”
Mycroft declined to divulge any further information and was soon on his way.
Holmes leaned back in his chair after his brother had gone.
“You see Watson, I had no idea that a burglary had take place in the office of the Serjeant-at-Arms, but no other explanation fitted the facts. Only an accounts office would hold personal invoices from a number of different people, and only one located in the Houses of Parliament would hold invoices from politicians. And only a burglary would explain how Mr. Foley could have been in possession of such personal documents which clearly did not relate to him. And only an attempt to cover up a scandal would explain why no news of the break-in had leaked out.”
“And you do not want to investigate this matter further?”
“All the king’s horses and all the king’s man are arrayed against an investigation, and there is no one commissioning me to conduct one.”
“Perhaps you could explain.”
“I think it is very likely that the prime minister asked Foley to carry out the theft, probably with the connivance of the leaders of the opposition parties as all of them, I am sure, will have members who have submitted fallacious expense claims. As they are all guilty, there is no political gain to be made from this but plenty of political loss for all of them if news of this gets out. I assume that the appointment of Ignatius Foley to the office of attorney general – with its lofty salary and its knighthood – was his reward for performing the commission. And having Foley as attorney general will facilitate the suppression of any investigation into the theft should anyone press for one.”
“And why would an establishment such as the Bar of Gold issue an invoice?”
“Because the member of parliament who frequented it asked for one.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Well, obviously, so that he could claim it on his expenses. Being a member of parliament is very far from being an occupation that fills all one’s time, so our representatives seek other diversions for which they then seek to get recompensed.”
“And what do you want me to tell Miss Leckie about her fiancé?”
Having answered my questions until now with an almost dismissive fluency, my colleague paused at this latest one and knocked the ash from his pipe into the grate before responding.
“I cannot give her and her alone information that will undermine the foundations of the country and the possession of which will put her into grave danger. You saw how eager Mycroft is to prevent the matter becoming public knowledge, and I cannot exclude him taking the most extreme measures to protect his secret. Accordingly, you will have to tell her that her discoveries are a matter of state that I cannot divulge. You should not present my refusal to disclose anything more as an endorsement of the conduct of her betrothed. You may also wish to commend her for her investigative ability which is of a calibre far in advance of that displayed by the professionals at Scotland Yard.”
“And how do you think she will react?”
“Phrase your letter to her judiciously, good Watson. If you do so, you will convince her not only of my wisdom in declining to provide her with a resolution of her petition, and but also of the wide range of options in life which are open to a young woman of her qualities.”