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Case of the Sherlock Holmes fanatic 'who killed himself but made it look like murder' by Elizabeth Day
A leading authority on Sherlock Holmes took his own life in a way meant to suggest that a rival had murdered him, it has been claimed.
Richard Lancelyn Green, 50, a prolific author and collector of memorabilia relating to the fictional detective, was found garotted on his bed by police in March after trying to stop a ?2 million auction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's papers.
Although the coroner returned an open verdict, friends and relatives of Mr Lancelyn Green now claim that the evidence suggests he took his own life in a manner that would implicate an American rival.
In an interview with The New Yorker magazine, James Gibson, who co-edited the first comprehensive Conan Doyle bibliography with Mr Lancelyn Green in 1983, concludes that his colleague had "wanted [his death] to look like murder", and that he had set up a trail of "false clues". Mr Lancelyn Green's body was found in his flat in Kensington, west London, on March 27 with a shoelace tied round his neck and a wooden spoon, which had been used to tighten the noose, still entangled in the cord.
In the weeks leading up to his death, Mr Lancelyn Green had expressed concern that a forthcoming auction of Conan Doyle's papers at Christie's, consisted mostly of items that the author's daughter, Dame Jean Conan Doyle, had left as a bequest to the British Library. Mr Lancelyn Green, a former chairman of the Sherlock Holmes Society, wanted access to the papers to research a biography of Conan Doyle.
Mr Gibson said that the more curious elements of the evidence - which had revived talk of a Conan Doyle "curse" - could be explained by Mr Lancelyn Green's suicide. He told The New Yorker. "He had to have used [the wooden spoon] to tighten the cord. If someone else had garroted him, why would he need the spoon? The killer could simply use his hands.
"I think things in his life had not turned out the way he wanted. This sale brought everything to a head."
Before he died Mr Lancelyn Green had made several telephone calls to friends and journalists claiming that an American whom he did not identify was pursuing him. He feared that his opposition to the forthcoming auction could result in his death and his behaviour is said to have become increasingly erratic.
Although "the American" is not named in the New Yorker, there has been speculation among Holmes enthusiasts that Mr Lancelyn Green was becoming increasingly paranoid about Jon Lellenberg, a policy strategy analyst in the office of Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, and a respected author of books about Holmes. He was in London to see the Sherlock Holmes Society in the week Mr Lancelyn Green was most erratic.
The men had collaborated on a number of Holmesian articles but fell out in the mid-1990s over the Mr Lancelyn Green's close relationship with Dame Jean.
One friend said "the American" played on Dame Jean's sensitivities about her father's reputation and "twisted" some of Mr Lancelyn Green's more candid published works to drive a wedge between them.
Shortly before Mr Lancelyn Green died he gave his sister a piece of paper containing the names of three people and their telephone numbers and told her to keep them safe. When she called his flat on the night his body was discovered, Mr Lancelyn Green's answering machine message had been replaced by an American voice, which caused her to raise the alarm.
Mr Gibson said: "I think he wanted it to look like murder. That's why he didn't leave a note. That's why he took his voice off the answering machine. That's why he sent that message to his sister with the three phone numbers on it. That's why he spoke of the American who was after him.
"He must have been planning it for days, giving us false clues. He created the perfect mystery."
The puzzle of the answering machine message was solved by Mr Lancelyn Green's sister, who said that the machine had been made in America and had a built-in automated message. When her brother took off his message, a pre-recorded American voice answered all calls. The three telephone numbers proved to be unimportant. Two of them were reporters Mr Lancelyn Green spoke to and the other was someone at Christie's.
If the theory is proved correct, Mr Lancelyn Green's death would echo the plot of one of the last Sherlock Holmes mysteries, The Problem of Thor Bridge (1922), in which a wife is found lying dead on a bridge, shot in the head at point-blank range. All the evidence points to the governess with whom the husband had been flirting but Holmes shows that she had killed herself to frame her rival.
David Grann, the journalist who wrote the article in The New Yorker, concluded that Mr Lancelyn Green could have been so enraged with the loss of the archive "that he might have done something similar, and even tried to frame the American, whom he blamed for ruining his relationship with Dame Jean".
The suicide theory was dismissed, however, by Owen Dudley Edwards, a Conan Doyle scholar who worked closely with Mr Lancelyn Green to stop the auction.
He claimed that Mr Lancelyn Green was murdered because he had transferred various of Dame Jean's papers to her solicitor's office at her request and could testify that she wished to bequeath them to the library. When the archive came up for sale, Mr Lancelyn Green suspected foul play.
"Murder: I fear that is what the preponderance of the evidence points to," said Prof Dudley Edwards. "Richard told me that he had moved [the archive papers]. So his knowledge was really quite dangerous."
After the auction on May 19, however, it was revealed that Dame Jean had made a last-minute deed of appointment while dying of cancer, splitting the archive between herself and the three heirs of her ex-sister-in-law, Anna Canon Doyle. The auction papers went to the heirs and Dame Jean left the most important papers to the library. In the event, the 3,000 letters, notes and manuscripts fetched just under ?1 million.
"The tragedy is that Richard could still have written his biography," said Mr Gibson. "He would have had everything he needed."
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