Lovely little nutcracker, isn’t it? Well, this nutcracker has a very interesting story behind it. This nutcracker is both a trophy and a reminder of the time I assisted Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in solving a murder at the Victorian Villa in Union City, MI.
I had alluded to this story when I wrote my remembrance of the inn back in 2014, but enough time has passed that it is now safe to share the tale. Some elements must still remain hidden, so some names may be changed and some details removed and altered, but those that know the truth will understand.
Many believe Holmes and Watson to be fictional characters, but that is a myth perpetuated by Dr. Watson’s literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who published Dr. Watson’s stories under his name. In truth, they are real and much older than one would believe.
In his retirement, Holmes had cultivated a royal jelly elixir and ingestion of it had greatly extended his life span and that of Dr. Watson. Over the years Holmes and Watson had regularly visited the Victorian Villa as its owner, Ron Gibson, is the great-grandson of Senator Neil Gibson referenced in the case known as “The Problem of Thor Bridge”. Aside from their friendship, Holmes also enjoyed visiting Union City as, in his own words, “it is a hellhole of crime of great depth and brilliance”.
When I learned that Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson would be visiting, I immediately booked a weekend stay to meet the famed detective and his trusted associate.
It was September of 2005 and I was making my second foray out to the Villa. I was a bit weary as I had mistakenly forgotten to schedule myself as unavailable for Hamlet rehearsals the night before so I had put in a long night of rehearsing before setting off on my drive at 10pm. By midnight, I was exhausted and collapsed at a Motel 6 in Des Moines, IA before driving another 8 hours to Union City the next morning. The welcome sight of the gorgeous Victorian mansion served as a salve to my spirits and boosted my energy level as I pulled into the tiny parking lot.
Once more, I was greeted by Ron and his two sons, Zach and Josh, before being led to my room for the weekend: the Victorian Country Bedchamber. As I got myself situated, I found a note under my pillow. It was rather snarky and, I noted, written in a feminine hand. I put it away before freshening up and reacquainting myself with the Villa.
Around 6pm, Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson arrived at the inn. I introduced myself to Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson who politely shook my hand. Holmes was just as Watson had described him with his aloofness and unmistakable air of authority. Watson was friendly and every bit the gentleman.
I retired to the parlor with Holmes and Watson and the other guests who had come to meet the legendary duo. Among them were Ted and Rhonda Cowell and their Holmesian scion society, The Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay; the Mallon family; George Ault; and Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Harbaugh.
We opened up the night with a round of Sherlockian Trivial Pursuit. We formed into two teams and Mr. Holmes asked diabolically difficult questions relating to the many cases he had investigated. As the two teams battled back and forth, Mr. Holmes would vacillate between contentedly smoking his pipe and brooding about some vexing problem. On several occasions he alluded to a case he was working on before returning to the game.
By the end of the game, the two teams were locked into a tie, though I ended up stealing a symbolic victory for my side when I answered the question “Who killed Victor Savage?” After the hard-fought game, we entered the dining room where Mr. Holmes gave us a demonstration on the art of observation and deduction while we dined on one of Ron’s fine meals which consisted of English Cheshire Cheese Soup and roasted loin of boar among other delicacies. I did note that Ron had brought on some help for the event as a placard on the table said the meal had been partially catered by Maxine Simons.
Upon finishing our meal, we returned to the parlor where Mr. Holmes told us he was investigating a murder that had taken place at the Villa a few days prior. A man had shown up at the Villa around 11am on the fateful day and asked Ron if he could have a room. As Ron had no reservations, he rented a room to the man who gave no name, but simply went upstairs to his bedroom with his dressing bag. A short while later, Ron saw him descend the stairs sans bag and enter the parlor. Ron left him to his own devices as he had to leave the Villa to run some errands. When he returned later, he found the man collapsed on the floor, arm outstretched in front of him, and clearly dead. Ron contacted the police who found no identification on the man nor in his room. The labels on his clothes had been cut off and the only items found on him were a handkerchief, some cigarettes, and a pen. Ron had told Mr. Holmes of the baffling death and he agreed to look into it.
Mr. Holmes wanted us to be his eyes and ears and help him investigate. He asked us to discover the following:
- Who was the victim?
- How was he killed?
- Who killed him?
- Find a way to link the killer to the crime and unmask him or her.
Certain rules were set in place for us. As Mr. Holmes had already investigated the private areas of the mansion, we were not to enter them. He also told us not to snoop into Ron’s desk as only he would be allowed to investigate it. Short of that we were free to investigate as we chose. If we managed to discover any evidence, we were only to hold onto it for 10 minutes before returning it exactly where it was found. Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson bade us good evening and left the Villa promising to return after breakfast in the morning.
Exhaustion had found me again so I retired to my bedroom, vowing to rise early and begin looking into the case.
I arose the next morning feeling refreshed. After heading to the dining room and enjoying some of Ron’s special scrambled eggs and sausage patties, I began to look into the case.
From re-reading Ron’s statement, I realized that the victim had not carried his dressing bag back down with him so I immediately went to the second floor and began searching for it, but was unable to find it. I searched the mansion from top to bottom and then made my way over to the Carriage House. Up in the Sherlock Holmes Bedchamber, I discovered George Ault and Glenn Harbaugh discussing something and they froze when they saw me. I asked if I could enter and Glenn said I could. I quietly closed the door and noted they had the dressing bag.
“So you found it,” I said.
Realizing I had already deduced the clue, George and Glenn opened the bag and we all looked into it. Among the toiletries, we found a letter addressed to James Fitzsimmons requesting a meeting in the parlor of the Villa to discuss the matter of a deadly toxin that had been developed by the writer of the letter. Apparently Fitzsimmons had been the letter writer’s boss and had aspirations of selling the toxin to the highest bidder who would likely weaponize it. The toxin caused almost instantaneous paralysis before shutting down the body’s vital organs. Death would occur in a matter of minutes. The writer wanted Fitzsimmons to destroy the toxin and begged for a meeting to convince him of this. It was simply signed Max, though I recognized the handwriting as being the same as that on the note in my bedroom.
After examining the evidence, I asked the two men if they had found notes as well. They admitted they had and let me read them. Red herrings and smart alecky comments. After reading this, we looked at each other and I suggested pooling our resources to which George and Glenn readily agreed.
“All right, we’re now a team,” I said.
Upon forming our alliance we headed down to the parlor to meet Mr. Holmes who asked if anybody had anything to share. I casually blurted the bag clue to which Mr. Holmes looked at me and said, “You’re a rather blithe young man, aren’t you?”
After unintentionally giving out the clue, the race was on. Though we were investigating a crime, it was treated more like a competition and ended up as a three way battle between The Stormy Petrels, the Mallons, and my little triumvirate. The Petrels played for keeps and were not above providing a few red herrings. The Mallons were smart and crafty, though I engaged in a little quid pro quo with Mrs. Mallon which I’ll get to in a bit.
Mr. Holmes was always available for private consultation where we could bring our discoveries and theories and he would make comments and subtle suggestions to help light our path. When we first informed Holmes about the letter we found, Glenn kept referring to the writer as a he, to which Mr. Holmes asked, “Why do you keep saying ‘he?’”.
“What do mean?” asked Glenn.
“He means how do we know it’s a man,” I replied.
“Precisely,” said Holmes as he clasped my shoulder.
A vital clue, indeed. While not a guarantee, we did have to open our minds to the possibility that Max, if that was the real name, was a woman.
We continued to investigate. I realized that no matches or lighter were found on the corpse, though cigarettes had been discovered. No smoker would ever lack those items and there was no reason for the killer to take them. Remembering the outstretched arm, I assumed the position of the corpse and found a book of matches under the coal scuttle.
Taking them, I opened up the packet and found a scrawled message which said “Beware TR-70”. The name of the toxin had been found!!
Outside the parlor, I found a business card book on a stand and began thumbing through it and saw Mrs. Mallon watching me. When I leafed to the third page, she suddenly coughed. I looked up and saw her smiling at me, I took a hard look and found the business card for Maxine Simons—Caterer. However, “caterer” had been written in pen over a blacked out word. Reversing the card and holding it up to the light, I saw “chemist” written under it. I had the name of the killer!! I then shared with Mrs. Mallon the name of the poison out of gratitude.
My team had another consultation with Holmes where Glenn spun an amusing, but outlandish, theory that Ron Gibson was the killer or, at least involved with her. Mr. Holmes and I shared some glances and after Glenn finished his theory, Holmes simply stated, “I sense you have some misgivings about his theory.”
“One or two,” I replied.
I then finally had a chance to fill in Glenn and George on my discoveries and had a private conversation with Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Mallon while I made my deductions. When I finished, Mr. Holmes looked to Mrs. Mallon and said, “You know, I have great faith in this young man. He’s quiet, thoughtful, and observant and everything he says is based soundly on logic.”
Then we took a break and had a reading of one of Watson’s stories followed by a pop quiz. I ended up winning the quiz contest and surprised Mr. Holmes with one of my answers.
“This number is the square root of the number alluded to by Watson,” said Holmes.
“Sixteen,” I readily answered.
“Sixteen is correct!!” said Holmes with some wonderment. “Tell me, young man, how did you come up with that answer?”
“Watson mentioned the wait was like the night the two of you faced the Andaman Islander which was a reference to the case known as The Sign of Four,” I said.
Holmes smiled and nodded approvingly.
After the quiz we had afternoon tea where Ron had prepared a whole turkey and we helped ourselves to little sandwiches with a bit of homemade mustard and fixings.
The case was solved, but there was still one last item: how to unmask Maxine. There was no real proof tying her to the death and all my deductions wouldn’t hold water in court. I had a final consultation with Holmes where I told him everything I had learned, but felt I was just one step away from the total truth.
“Think of the problem of the three Moriartys. All of them were named James and were identical. How would one tell them apart?” said Mr. Holmes.
I began to see the light when he gave me one final nudge.
“You have two pieces of vital evidence. What you need is a third.”
The truth hit me like a thunderbolt. The letter on my pillow plus the letter in the bag were my pieces of evidence. What I needed was a way to get a third example of Maxine’s handwriting to connect her with the other two. Handwriting was how you’d distinguish the Moriarty boys from each other.
I expressed this problem to Glenn and George and we threw around ideas until I said, “Maybe we could get a card of some sort.”
“My son is serving over in Iraq. We could get him a Wish You Were Here card,” said George.
“Yes, and we’ll have everybody in the inn sign it!!” I exclaimed.
The three of us dashed to Mr. Holmes where I laid out the scheme.
“An excellent plan,” said Holmes.
I shook hands with Holmes and Watson and dashed to the bar area where I found Ron.
“Is there a drug store nearby?” I asked.
“Yes, just a few blocks up on Main Street,” said Ron.
“Thank you,” I said.
Then I speed walked through the front door and vaulted over the steps to the sidewalk. I then sprinted and I do mean SPRINTED to the drug store where I bought the card and repeated the process back to the Villa where I hurdled the steps once more. George later said it was the funniest thing he ever saw.
As I walked back in, I heard Mrs. Mallon’s daughter ask if there were a drug store nearby. I then politely coughed and gently waved the card. Knowing that the game was up, the Mallons signed the card and Mrs. Mallon’s daughter assisted me with finishing the job by asking Ron if there were any other people in the kitchen as Maxine was also helping to cater tonight’s dinner. Ron stepped into the kitchen and asked Maxine to step out. I told her about the card while George showed a picture of his son and Maxine signed the card.
I then led my team back to the parlor where the other guests had gathered.
“Do you have something to show me, young man?” asked Mr. Holmes.
I presented the card to him and he looked at it.
“Were there any witnesses?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. Myself, (Mrs. Mallon’s daughter), George, Ron, Zach, and Josh all witnessed this.”
“Very good,” said Mr. Holmes. “This case has been solved.”
Then we proceeded to have a debate about what to do with the killer. Her motivations were understandable. Fitzsimmons would have unleashed a plague of death on the world. He had committed no crime, but would have had the blood of countless people had he sold the toxin. Maxine shouldn’t have killed him, but her act had thwarted a much greater evil so I pled for leniency. Holmes said he would consider the situation.
Glenn gave me a hug and then bought George and myself a drink at the bar. Mr. Holmes approached me privately and asked me to present the denouement after dinner.
A splendid dinner was served and after we were all satiated, Mr. Holmes signaled for silence, indicated my two partners and then clasped my shoulder acknowledging our victory. He then presented me with the nutcracker as a trophy for the case. Then he brought Ron, his two sons, and Maxine into the dining room where I presented my findings.
I walked the group through the maze of the case, casually keeping an eye on Maxine who whitened with every revelation. When I explained about the card we had purchased and how the killer had sealed her fate by signing it, I calmly looked at Maxine and said, “Isn’t that right, Maxine?”
At that point, Maxine begged for mercy and Holmes gently led her out of the dining room while discussion resumed. Shortly afterwards, he returned and he and Watson made their final farewells and exited.
And that was how I helped Mr. Holmes solve The Adventure of the Nameless Corpse. I would later learn that Holmes did show mercy to Maxine, letting her leave the country. George did send the card to his son with an incredible story. I had made new friends and had a reminder of the case forever gracing my mantle. And the next morning, I enjoyed some of Ron’s incredible cream cheese stuffed French Toast.
Little did I know that I would return to the Villa a few years later with my trusted friend, Mat O’Donnell, to engage in a peculiar investigation centering around a crying woman.
But that is a story for another time.