Announcing June's featured detective

Thank you to everyone who wrote in this month to assist Holmes in solving the case of the return of the ripper. This month’s featured detective is Bret Shefter of California. Detective Shefter wrote Holmes a detailed letter (shared below) with his theory on the case, and was one of the first to send his answer in. In addition to being thorough, Detective Shefter’s theories on the case are quite compelling. Well done, detective. This month’s featured detective will receive a special detective’s prize.

For your chance to be July’s featured detective, write in with your theories on this month’s mystery by August 3rd. To see Holmes’s full solution to June’s mystery, click here.

Special shoutout to Detective Hopkins of Massachusetts, who mailed her response into our office. Keep solving!

- The Dear Holmes team


Inspector Lestrade:

I very much fear that you will never locate Dr Henry Abbadon, nor the body of Mr Hugo Olsen. The former is already with you; the latter does not exist.

At the outset, let me assure you that Jack the Ripper has not resurfaced. As you correctly surmised, our murderer has merely borrowed some historical quirks in the hope of distracting the authorities--a stratagem that has evidently met with some success with your colleagues. Our tale does, however, begin years in the past, when Dr Midlothian was stripped of his medical license in disgrace.

Our young Midlothian certainly held no regard for the medical board that had revoked his license. He therefore determined to assume a new identity and continue his profession. You reported that Midlothian was known for his white hair. He easily concealed this by means of a black wig, heavily dyed with India ink (you found several strands under Abbadon's bed), and used a theatrical makeup kit--with particular emphasis on dark makeup, such as the antimony and burnt coal you found depleted--to create dark, bushy eyebrows and otherwise complete the illusion. Midlothian thus became Henry Abbadon whenever he liked, adopting a gruff voice and shuffling gait to further disguise himself.

As Abbadon, Midlothian took his exams again--no doubt ensuring that he "barely" passed to further distance his fictitious creation from his own former prominence--and went to work at the London Hospital, where he has served without distinction for over a decade. As Midlothian, he became an undertaker in a funeral home, who manufactured the excuse of frequent "hunting trips to the country" so no one would remark on any extensive absences. Whenever he wished to transition from one identity to his other, he adopted the simple expedience of wearing a large overcoat and deerstalker hat as he traveled, so that neither identity would be associated with the other's residence.

The continuous pressure of leading a double life took its natural toll on the man, however, leading to Abbadon's gloomy demeanor, fits of volatility, and resort to the vices from which Midlothian himself ostensibly remained free. By October he had most likely already determined to "kill off" Abbadon, and was contemplating the best way to do so without suspicion, when he had the remarkable fortune of spotting his fellow Swede, Mr Jeffrey Olson, on the evening of the 26th.

I can hear you, Lestrade, grousing indignantly as you read that I have confused the names of the brothers with the "strong family resemblance." Not so. I said earlier that the body of Hugo Olson does not exist. In fact, it is Hugo Olson himself who does not exist, and never has existed. There has always been only one Olson, and it has always been Jeffrey.

Olson, as you mentioned, was at the end of his savings and in need of funds. As a relative stranger in this country--he had moved here only recently, as you reported--he hit upon the idea of creating a fictitious brother, insuring his life, and then doing away with him and collecting the proceeds. Insurance fraud is as well known in Sweden as in England. To cover for his absence from Paddington, he spread the story that he could not work because he had broken his leg. Thus insured against anyone expecting to see him, Olson shaved off his beard, trimmed his hair, and set up lodgings in Spitalfields as his supposed brother Hugo. And "Hugo" made sure to mention his brother in Paddington, loudly and often, in Jameson's Pub.

What twist of fate brought together these two schemers we can never know. Perhaps Midlothian recognized his countryman for who he really was, and wondered at his shorn beard; perhaps it was simply a coincidence. Whatever the reason, it seems clear that Olson did not recognize Midlothian when he first spotted him in his transitory outfit. Once Midlothian and Olson met, however, they quickly realized that between them they had the perfect solution to both of their dilemmas. They would frame Abbadon as the "murderer" of Hugo Olson, thereby ensuring that no one would ever expect to see either of them again. This is why Dr Nason reported that Abbadon's mood seemed to have lightened so inexplicably before his disappearance.

Midlothian's obsession with Jack the Ripper--natural enough for someone who views the fairer sex as a "lesser class"--provided the perfect theme for their murder. Olson's subsequent visits to the funeral home as they planned were explained easily enough, by pretending that Olson was doing ordinary work for Midlothian in his capacity as a carpenter. In reality, they planned for Olson to "kill" himself, making it look like the work of the Ripper, and for Abbadon to disappear simultaneously. You, I fear, fell into their trap, reaching exactly the conclusion they wished.

One potential stumbling block to their plan: since there was no Hugo Olson, there would be no dead body. Fortunately our schemers were an undertaker and a hospital physician. The undertaker had access to numerous corpses, from which parts such as a hand or earlobe might be severed "with some skill," while the physician had access to plenty of blood. No doubt it was quite the scene when Olson was in his room splashing about buckets of the stuff on the walls and even the ceiling in his enthusiasm to set the stage for his supposed murder. Midlothian, meanwhile, cleared out Abbadon's own quarters--but not before a celebratory glass of wine.

(I do find it rather curious that Midlothian neglected to take his makeup kit, which so clearly points to Abbadon being fictitious. It is understandable that he would not want to take it home with him, but it seems a surprisingly convenient oversight that he did not remove it and dispose of it somewhere else. Perhaps he simply could no longer stand the sight of it, as it reminded him of the shackles from which he had finally freed himself.)

Olson returned to Paddington and prepared to remain there for some time, allowing his hair to grow out and his beard to return. Perhaps Midlothian, former physician, even prepared a false cast for Olson's leg as a parting gift! I fear your assurance that "Jeffrey Olson's injuries eliminate him as a possible suspect in this case" was misplaced, as the broken leg was as fictitious as Hugo Olson himself. At any rate, Olson was determined to reappear and claim the insurance proceeds only after sufficient time had passed.

A complication arose, however, when you and your men located Midlothian and began to consider him a suspect. After he was interviewed, and it was established that he had no alibi for the night of the murder, Midlothian panicked and dashed off a quick note to Olson, hoping for some assistance. Olson received the note, and brought it with him when he returned to Midlothian. Unfortunately for the latter, he was not there to assist, but rather to try to protect himself by eliminating the loose end--the only other person who knew the truth. After Midlothian admitted Olson to his home, Olson killed him and arranged it to look as if Jack the Ripper had struck again. He also left the note buried under Midlothian's papers, so it would not be traced to him. You therefore have not only the body of Mr Midlothian, but thereby also the body of his alter ego, Dr Abbadon.

Thus does the lesser crime of insurance fraud lead to the greater crime of murder. I suggest you confront Olson when he attempts to collect the life insurance proceeds. No doubt the representatives of the insurance company will be quite interested to hear that Jeffrey Olson is the very man they insured as Hugo Olson; they likely subjected Hugo to a physical examination, and subjecting Jeffrey to the same will surely reveal identical results. Dr Watson and I look forward to hearing your account of his arrest upon our return.

Yours faithfully,

Detective Bret

Michael Sitver