Sherlock’s Solution to May's Mystery
Thank you for helping us solve May’s Sherlockian mystery. If you’d like to know how Holmes solved “The Case of the Indignant Indigent”, a letter from him is presented below.
All the best,
The Dear Holmes Team
To: All concerned parties
20 February 1902
Thank you all for involving Doctor Watson and myself in what has proven to be a rather peculiar and quite interesting variation on a theme of kidnapping. In order to understand what transpired in the case of the man Doctor Watson has called the Indignant Indigent, we must examine the circumstances of his predicament and his individual relations with each of you.
On an early February evening, a young man, ostensibly a derelict, crosses the paths of members of a charitable organization and eventually the Liverpool City Police. He was found by a constable of the Liverpool River Police, a separate agency, in a state of unconsciousness on the docks of the Mersey River and brought to The Society for Help for the Unfortunate. He seems to be near death, suffering from hypothermia, exposure to the elements, and frostbite. He further seems to be undergoing alcohol-induced delirium tremens and severe congestion of the lungs. He has no outer clothing other than a suitcoat, trousers and shoes, all unmarked and unlabeled; no wallet or other source of identification. Unfortunately, he spends most of his time in a semi-coma, unable or unwilling to identify himself or his circumstances. When he does reach consciousness, he is loud and abusive and accuses his saviours of attempting to poison and kill him. He then lapses back into his comatose state.
However, thanks to the efforts of Doctor Bascomb and Sister Lucy Talbott of the Society, certain facts begin to emerge. First, he is not an incurable alcoholic. Rather, he is suffering from serious and repeated dosages of a powerful opiate. From the positions of the needle marks, it is obvious that the drugs were not self-inflicted. In short, someone has indeed plotted to render him incapable of sustained consciousness and self-defense.
When he does finally speak, the doctor and nurse mistakenly understand his name to be the Scottish “Ian.” In fact, he is Romanian, and his name is Ion Nicolescu, a nephew of King Carol I. I shall elucidate on this fact in short order.
He makes several attempts to leave the Society’s assistance center and eventually is found hopelessly wandering by a constable of the Liverpool City Police and taken into custody. A police sergeant had earlier advised the good people of the Society to turn him over to the Merseyside Lunatic Asylum. To their credit, Reverend Conroy, Doctor Bascomb and Nurse Talbott would have none of that. It is at this point that Reverend Conroy approaches Chief Constable Bradley and solicits his help in unraveling this case.
The Chief Constable communicates with nearby law enforcement as well as Scotland Yard. They have no reports of a missing person fitting the man’s description. All of the principals agree that “Ian” has been a victim of foul play, but for what reason is unclear. Except for his highly sedated and frozen condition, there are no indications of any physical attacks. That seems to eliminate the idea of attempted murder although the injected drugs could have proven fatal. He may have been the victim of a robbery, since any valuables he had are no longer in his possession. But does that explain the opiate injections? One theory is that robbery was a secondary offense committed by a dockside pilferer who came upon “Ian’s” unconscious body. So, the consensus seems to rest with kidnapping for reasons as yet unknown.
I had been in receipt of three letters, two from the Society and one from the Chief Constable, outlining the situation and asking for my assistance. I was happy to help my friend Chief Constable Bradley, Reverend Conroy and his two able associates, Doctor Bascomb and Sister Lucy Talbott. But in the absence of all but the scarcest of identification and no missing persons’ reports, this seemed to be a problem that only time would solve.
I discussed this with Doctor Watson, and he agreed that it seemed the opiate attack was designed to render the victim senseless and subject to captivity. In short, a form of kidnapping. Who in Liverpool would want to abduct a person such as our subject? The police and the Society drew no helpful information from any of their sources. Watson then asked, “Do you suppose the crime did not originate in Liverpool?”
My first reaction was to cite the lack of any reports from Scotland Yard, other cities and surrounding precincts. Then I received a fourth letter from His Excellency, the Romanian Ambassador. It spoke of the abduction of the Embassy’s cultural attaché, Ion Nicolescu, nephew to the King. It further indicated that the King and therefore the Embassy, did not want to involve the police of any jurisdiction, especially Scotland Yard, because of the political implications if the story appeared in the British and international press.
Was Watson correct? Did this episode begin in London? Indeed, did it begin on Romanian diplomatic territory? Were “Ian” and Ion Nicolescu the same person?
First, the descriptions of “Ion” and “Ian” were quite similar, if not identical. Secondly, and this is most important, Liverpool is one of Britain’s largest seaports, a perfect venue to carry out an international abduction. Third, in spite of his heavily drugged condition, did our Indignant Indigent escape his captors and elude them in the complex Merseyside docklands before he succumbed to hypothermia and the long-term effects of the opiates in his system? We needed to find out!
I sent a wire to Chief Constable Bradley and Doctor Bascomb, asking them to attempt to communicate further with “Ian,” now ensconced in a bed in Liverpool Hospital. I asked them to use his Romanian name and official identification. He was still semi-conscious but after a little persuasion that he was no longer in danger, he admitted that he was indeed the cultural attaché and King Carol’s nephew. I immediately shared the news with His Excellency who placed the new Embassy limousine at my disposal and ordered the resident physician, the deputy ambassador and the chief of security to accompany me on the 120-mile road journey to Liverpool.
Upon our arrival, all of these worthies attested to the identification of Ion Nicolescu. The Embassy doctor conferred with the hospital officials and they agreed that the attaché was fit to travel in the limousine’s relative comfort, especially with the doctor in attendance.
Traveling back to London, I pieced together the fragmentary facts of this adventure as haltingly told by the attaché. Both Ion and his bodyguard were struck down and subdued by two men wearing masks. His hands and feet were loosely bound, and he was subjected to injections that slowly numbed his entire system. Using an Embassy basement exit, he was thrown into a waiting vehicle and spirited off. At this point, he fell unconscious and did not awaken until he found himself at an unknown dockyard. He was hustled aboard a small freighter and subjected to further injections. His abductors seemed to be in a hurry to vacate the area and left him locked in a small stateroom, no doubt awaiting a new group who would supervise the rest of his journey.
The kidnappers did not realize with whom they were contending. Ion was and still is, a champion gymnast. Slowly fading under the opiate’s influence, he nevertheless shook off his bonds, kicked open the stateroom door, ran out to the deck and slid down one of the ship’s hawsers to the dock. Totally disoriented, he ran for shelter away from the ship and hid under one of the goods wagons waiting to be unloaded. At that point, he passed out. The rest is surmise until he was found by the River Police. We believe the goods wagon was moved; someone discovered his unconscious body, robbed him of his valuables and left him there to die in the deep February cold. Fortunately, as we now know, a River Police constable came upon him and took him to the Society’s admissions center – an action that no doubt saved his life.
There remain two questions: Who planned and executed this abortive attempt and why?
During our return journey, the Embassy Chief of Security and I discussed these issues. It turns out that Ion’s bodyguard, Conrad, was not his usual protector. He arrived at the Embassy from Bucharest only two months earlier to replace a guard who was being rotated back home. When Ion’s long-standing bodyguard suddenly fell suspiciously ill, Conrad, volunteered for the duty. His physical stature and aggressive attitude seemed well-suited for the role of bodyguard and he was assigned the interim role.
Back at the Embassy, we discovered that Conrad had disappeared. We conclude that his basement captivity was a charade and once he knew the kidnapping of the attaché had turned into a debacle, he could no longer remain in the residence. He has yet to be found. We doubt that he returned to Romania.
Further research uncovered the fact that Conrad was living a double life: a respected guard for the Royal Family in Bucharest and a leader of an insurgent group set upon toppling the King and his government. They planned to use Ion Nicolescu as a bargaining chip, little realizing that King Carol would refuse to be compromised. Ion could not identify the ship in which he was to be transported as a prisoner, but a freighter bound that evening out of Liverpool for the port of Trieste in the Austro-Hungarian Empire seemed a likely candidate.
The attaché is rapidly recovering from his ordeals and has been ordered to return to the Romanian capital as soon as he is able. His original bodyguard has shaken off the effects of what we believe was intentional food poisoning and has been restored to duty. The search for Conrad and his associates continues.
The King has authorized a very substantial contribution to The Society for Help for the Unfortunate as well as a large donation to the Liverpool City Police Benevolent Association. He has also sent a personal gift to the River Policeman who rescued the victim. Doctor Watson and I are to be treated to an evening of Romanian music and dance as well as exquisite cuisine by the Ambassador and his cultural attaché. All told, an unexpectedly happy ending to what Doctor Watson calls “The Case of the Indignant Indigent”. I prefer The “Case of the Identified Indigent”.