The Resident Patient
What happens when a suicide isn’t really a suicide? That’s the easiest way to murder someone and get off right? Make it look like a suicide; put the gun in their hand; make it look as if they hung themselves. We see this practice not only on tons of television shows, but in real life.
Sherlock and John are sitting in Baker Street on a rainy day in October when they decide to go out for a walk. They return several hours later to find a carriage waiting at Baker Street for them. Sherlock determines the man waiting is a doctor. They go up and find a man named Percy Trevelyan and he is a doctor. This doctor has a strange case that he comes to present to John and Sherlock. John recognizes the name and asks if Percy has written a book on lesions. It turns out that Percy has written a book on lesions, but being smart doesn’t pay the bills.
Percy gives the story that he could not open his own practice after completing medical school and writing his book. A man approached him with an offer. This man’s name was Blessington. He proposes that he will front the money to set up Percy’s practice. He will rent the building. He will buy the supplies, and Percy should return to him 75% of his fees and Percy is to keep %25 in order to repay the loan. Percy really doesn’t have any other options and he is in fact set up rather nicely with Blessington.
Blessington becomes one of his patients. It seems he suffers from a heart condition. He lives on Brook Street with Percy. Percy also lives there and sees his patients there. The arrangement has worked out really well for both of them over the past several years.
In the days past it seems that Blessington is unnecessarily concerned about a robbery quite a ways away from the house. Percy doesn’t really think anything of it. One day two men come in. One claims to be a patient, while the other claims to be his son. They claim to be some sort of Russian aristocracy and the story is that the older of the two suffers from epilepsy. While in the examination, the older gentlemen suffers from what sounds like a petty maul seizure. Percy goes away to find some nitrite of amyl because he heard that might help a person who is having a seizure. When he returns, no one is there.
Blessington had been out on a walk, but comes back. The two men come back again on a following day, again, while Blessington was out. The men say they apologize for leaving. It was a misunderstanding. They leave again. Blessington comes back and declares that someone had been in his room. It’s true there are large footprints in the carpet there.
This is the point that Percy is at. John and Sherlock go to Brook Street to see Blessington. Blessington pulls a gun on them and threatens them. Percy says they’re friends and the gun is put away. Blessington has a box and he says it’s where he keeps his life savings because he doesn’t trust banks. Sherlock says he’s not telling the truth and says he can’t do anything unless Blessington wants to tell the truth. Sherlock and John go home.
Sherlock says it’s clear the two supposed Russian men are after Blessington for some reason and that the seizure was a fake. John suggest that maybe Dr. Percy is in on all of this, but Sherlock doesn’t really think so.
The next morning John and Sherlock are summoned to Brook Street very early in the morning. There they find Percy who says that Blessgington has committed suicide. It seems he has, but Sherlock says he was murdered. There are some odd objects in the room, a screwdriver and some screws. Several cigars have been smoked in the room, seemingly by different people. Sherlock says there had been three people there. Two of them were the supposed Russian men, while another worked inside the house. He had learned that the page had only recently come into employment at the household. He was also nowhere to be found. Sherlock says if the identity of these men can be figured then the crime will be solved.
Sometime later three men are named. Their names are Biddle, Hayward, and Moffat. They’re members of the Worthington bank gang, of which there used to be five members. One man was hanged on conviction of his crimes, but that was only because one of the men in the group turned informer, a man named Sutton, who up until recently called himself Blessington. It seems it was a crime of revenge. The three murderers are never heard from again.
Arthur wasn’t really short on his descriptions of crime scenes. He by no means makes them as bloody as some of our books and television shows do today, but he’s still graphic. I had kind of a hard time reading the scene in which Blessington is found, supposedly having committed suicide, because there has been a recent death in my circle of people and the whole idea of it is just really fresh in my mind. I’m actually kind of glad Blessington turned out to be murdered rather than having committed suicide.
John Watson uses a phrase I’ve never heard before, ” Between Scylla and Charybdis,” which is basically a fancy way of saying, “between a rock and a hard place,” or, “choose the lesser of two evils.” In mythology Scylla and Charybdis were sea monsters, but not really. Scylla was a rock shoal on one side of the strait of Messina and Charybdis was a whirpool on the other side of the strait of Messina. Basically this was a fabled dangerous strait to navigate for sailors. If they tried to avoid one danger, they would most assuredly have to face the other.
Arthur actually refers to Edgar Alan Poe in this story, which is interesting. Many say that Arthur may have very well based Sherlock Holmes off of Poe’s character C. Auguste Dupin from The Murders of Rue Morgue.
John has two portraits in his possession that are mentioned by Sherlock in this story. One is of General Gordon and the other is of Henry Ward Beecher. General Gordon was a famous British war hero essentially. John formerly belonging in the military, would most likely have admired someone like General Charles Gordon very much. Charles Gordon was something like the Chuck Norris of his day. Henry Ward Beecher was a famous abolitionist. His sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. John is apparently of the abolitionist sentiment, that was before his time though. These stories take place in the later 1800s, not the mid-1800s when abolition was a thing that was actually going on. Most likely, these two men were something like John’s most admired people.
Brook street is a real street in London. It’s not in one of the vicinities that we’ve been reading about before in the Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s near Grosvenor Square. It’s also not too far from Cavendish Square, which has been mentioned in the Sherlock stories before, including this one.
At first, while reading this story, I thought that catalepsy was just another name for epilepsy. It’s not. Catalepsy is not a condition in and of itself; it’s a symptom characterized by muscle rigidity and decreased sensitivity to pain. The person in question also may not respond. Think catatonic. The description of it very much sounds like a petty maul seizure. Catalepsy does actually manifest itself in relation to epilepsy, but might also be present in Parkinson’s disease sufferers, people who are going through cocaine withdrawal, people treated with certain antipsychotic medications, and people going through a large emotional shock.
The drug Percy wants to treat this supposed Russian noble with is what we today use to treat heart attacks. We call it Amyl Nitrite these days and not nitrite of amyl. It’s a vasodilator, which means, when administered, it’s going to lower your blood pressure and relax your muscles.
I don’t think the Bruce Pinkerton Prize as mentioned in this story is a real thing.
Now, you may think it weird that Percy decides to move into his new position on Lady’s day. Is this guy trying to insinuate that Percy is somehow a woman and therefore needs a womanly discount? Nope, that’s not it. Lady-day used to be a fairly common practice in England. It happened four times a year. This was the day your hired your servants on. This was the day that contracts between landowners and tenants would be up. The days roughly coincided with the equinoxes and solstices. Basically, there used to be four busy days a year in which England did a heck of a lot of business. It makes sense that Percy would start his new business on Lady’s day.
There was actually a ship named Norah Creina. It was a paddle steamship. It didn’t tragically sink, but was scrapped.
We make up all these crazy stories about the witness protection program, but it turns out there is actually a need for it. If Blessington had such a thing as the witness protection program, he wouldn’t be dead right now. The authorities in question should have done a better job at thanking him for turning informer on this gang. No wonder the man had a heart condition. He was constantly worried that the other gang members were going to seek revenge and murder him, which they did.
They also chose a very prominent method of murder. They wanted to make it look like a suicide. How many times have you been watching a movie and the investigators find a gun placed in the hand of the deceased only to find out that there is no way they could have shot themselves at said angle with that hand? Some theorize that perhaps Lewis Merriwether’s(of the Lewis and Clark expedition) death was a suicide, but if so, he shot himself twice. People who are committing suicide usually don’t shoot themselves twice. For all the times this method doesn’t work, there are plenty of times in which it does work. Sometimes a death is a ruled a suicide when it was really murder.
It can be very difficult to tell that a person hasn’t actually committed suicide. If the perpetrator has the fingerprints in the right places and other things in the right angles, then it can be very, very difficult to tell that this person was murdered. This is where our modern-day understanding of forensics and physics come into play. Was this person really strong enough to do this? Is someone else’s DNA on the crime scene? What’s that bloody looking stuff under the deceased’s fingernails? The deceased had a bad knee and couldn’t climb X number of steps, why was he found at the top of more than X number of steps?
Sherlock helped this man’s death be written as a murder rather than a suicide. You may not think that’s a big deal, but it is. The 1800s were still an age in which people were really superstitious about suicide. They would cover it up. They would make up a story. Oh, she’s so clumsy, leaving the stove on when she was cleaning it, always so forgetful. She didn’t mean to kill herself. At one point in time, people who committed suicide weren’t allowed to be buried in the graveyard with everyone else. If you died of good old-fashioned syphilis, doesn’t matter what you did to get it, you could still be buried in the fenced graveyard with everyone else, but if you were bi-polar and hung yourself, you had to be buried in the cemetery outside of the fence.
There are real-world connotations and superstitious connotations to being buried outside of the fenced graveyard. In a superstitious sense, your former peers believed that you had lost your immortal soul by taking your own life. You would not be with them in heaven. You would go to Hell or limbo, or whatever it is you believed in. They would shun your family. Something just wasn’t right about that guy, maybe the rest of the family is like that too, maybe they caused it. In a real-world sense, graves outside of the fenced in graveyard were more likely to be robbed, remember, we’re still in a time when people went grave robbing for not only your valuables, but also for your body itself. There was a very large black-market for dead bodies in the medical community at one point.
Of course, our poor Blessington isn’t around to reap any of the benefits of being buried in the church yard, but if he had had family, Sherlock would have helped them out a great deal. As it is, Percy will probably be making all of Blessington’s funeral arrangements.
Poor, poor Blessington. I’m glad he at least found a sort of friend in Percy towards the end. It seems he was living a somewhat noble life and had repented of his days of crime.
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Doyle-Sir Arthur Conan, Sherlock Holmes