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Conan Doyle murder tale 'totally unreliable'

By This is Devon  |  Posted: September 12, 2008

  • Left, a photograph of the legendary author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle taken a few years before his death in 1930. Above – on the trail of Arthur Conan Doyle. The former Daily Express journalist Bertram Fletcher-Robinson (seated centre) and Arthur Conan Doyle (behind his left shoulder) aboard the SS Briton during July, 1900. Fletcher-Robinson died in January, 1907

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CLAIMS that Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle murdered a friend to hide a literary scandal have finally been laid to rest – by a church court.

The Exeter Diocese Consistory Court has blocked a bid to exhume the remains of Devon journalist and writer Bertram Fletcher-Robinson who died on January 21, 1907.

Claims had been made that Fletcher-Robinson was poisoned by Conan Doyle to cover up an adulterous affair the author had with his wife and to hide the fact that he stole the plot of the Hound of the Baskervilles from the journalist.

The accusations were the results of research carried out by former driving instructor Rodger Garrick-Steele who wanted to exhume the corpse from its place of rest at Ipplepen near Newton Abbot and test it for traces of poison.

Now Sir Andrew McFarlane, the chancellor of the ecclesiastical court, has ridiculed Mr Garrick- Steele's research and branded the historian "totally unreliable".

The theory that Conan Doyle murdered his friend to hide his plagiarism attracted worldwide attention from fans of the author.

At the time of his death it was recorded that Fletcher-Robinson, who was a Daily Express journalist, died at the age of 36 from typhoid fever and peritonitis following a visit to Paris.

But Mr Garrick-Steele claimed he had been murdered by an overdose of laudanum administered by his wife Gladys, who was engaged in an affair with Conan Doyle.

Not only did the theory implicate the adulterous pair, it also relied on a cover-up involving Gladys's brother, the doctor who signed the death certificate, the undertakers and the then rector of Ipplepen.

Having examined the evidence, Sir Andrew said: "This court has been driven to the conclusion that it cannot place any reliance on as assertion made by RGS which is not backed up by an independent piece of evidence or source. On the basis of the material that he has placed before this court he appears to be a totally unreliable historian."

Sir Andrew added that Mr Garrick-Steele had been able to allege murder, adultery, profiteering and plagiarism without fear of libel action as all those involved are dead.

Sixty objectors wrote to the diocese to protest against an exhumation, including the rector of Ipplepen, the parochial church council and the chairman of the Arthur Conan Doyle Study Group, Squadron Leader Philip Weller.

Mr Garrick-Steele's former colleague Paul Spiring, who is also a published author on Conan Doyle, made a separate application to have the body exhumed from St Andrew's Church at Ipplepen on the grounds that it would prove he had not been poisoned.

He said: "This all blew up three-and-a-half years ago and it's been apparent since then that Mr Garrick-Steele did not have much evidence to back up his claim.

"I had a team of experts ready to test the body, but that doesn't matter. The theory is discredited and it would have been a pointless exercise."

Mr Spiring's latest book – a biography co-written with Brian Pugh – is Bertram Fletcher Robinson: A Footnote to the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Mr Garrick-Steele was not available for comment.

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  • iant52  |  December 26 2012, 4:37PM

    Why not just have Bertram Robinson Fletcher's body exhumed and solve this allegation once and for all? If the objectors to the exhumation think that's all it is, an allegation and there is no truth in it, then what are they afraid of? It is of note that out of those who wrote to the diocese to protest against an exhumation, included the rector of Ipplepen, the parochial church council and the chairman of the Arthur Conan Doyle Study Group. All of which would have a good reason for not wanting the "truth" to come out. If there had been a cover up involving Gladys Fletcher Robinson's brother, the doctor who signed the death certificate, the undertakers and the then rector of Ipplepen then the Church in particualr would want this kept under wraps. Also if Conan Doyle was having an affair with Robinson's wife the thought of exposure would have caused him great anxiety as well as the fraudulent claim of having written The Hound of the Baskervilles. The fraud alone would definately have cost him his new knighthood and the public knowledge of the adultery would have been a social disgrace. So the allegation that Conan Doyle persuaded Robinson's wife to murder her husband with an overdose of laudanum is a possibility. It is a medical fact that Laudanum causes similar symptoms to typhoid, the cause of death shown on Robinson's death certificate, something Conan Doyle, who had medical training, would have known. This theory of deception, adultery and fraud will not go away unless BFR's body is exhumed and tested. Come on you protestors out there what are you afraid of? There have been many literary frauds throughout history are you worried Sir ACD is another one?

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    Prasad Sengupta, Calcutta, India  |  December 28 2008, 12:47PM

    B.F.Robinson lived for some years after A.C.D.'s "The Hound ..." was published, and he saw the popularity (and hence guessed the royalty figure) , although he did express no dissatisfaction. How could R.G. invent a story like that without finding even a slender root of suspicion ?

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    Paul Spiring, Karlsruhe - Germany  |  September 12 2008, 3:54PM

    Perhaps we might now remember the true literary legacy of the collaboration between Arthur Conan Doyle and Bertram Fletcher Robinson - and forget the baseless allegations directed towards the former gentleman by Rodger Garrick-Steele!!! RIP BFR!

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