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The Unsolved Case of the Garroted Sherlockian

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This is truly a case worthy of a Sherlock Holmes. It concerns a macabre death, conspiracy theories and what has been dubbed “The Curse of Conan Doyle.” 

Richard Lancelyn Green (10 July 1953 – 27 March 2004) was generally considered to be one of the world’s foremost Sherlockian scholars. He was an award-winning author of a Conan Doyle bibliography and other books on Sherlock Holmes and at the time of his bizarre death, the 50-year-old millionaire bachelor had amassed what is considered to be the largest private collection of Sherlockiana in existence.

He began his collection at age 7 and created his own version of 221B Baker St. in an attic room at Poulton Hall, Oxford. The collection has since been bequeathed to the City of Portsmouth, where it is still being cataloged. The patron of the collection is Stephen FryPacking it took two weeks and a team of 10. It filled 12 vans and comprised about 14,000 volumes and some 200,000 other items.

Prior to his death, Green had become frantic over the auction sale of 3,000 letters, notes and drafts for books that would have provided insight into Conan Doyle’s life. Dominated by private American bidders, the sale at Christie’s also included correspondence with family and friends, including Winston Churchill, PG Wodehouse, Theodore Roosevelt and Oscar Wilde.

Green believed the collection should go to the British Library, where he and the public could access it, not dispersed to private collections across the U.S. He tried to block the sale, but was unsuccessful. 

Following the sale, Green was found lying in his double bed, surrounded by stuffed toys and a bottle of gin. Around his neck was a shoelace and a wooden kitchen spoon, which had been used to twist the cord tight. 

Family and friends testified that shortly before his death Green’s behavior had become increasingly paranoid. He also had contacted a national newspaper and warned: ‘Something might happen to me.’

The coroner concluded suicide was the most likely explanation, but many have grave doubts and, as the anniversary of his death nears, the controversy surrounding Green’s death continues.

Among the wilder theories is that Green feared he was being spied on by the Pentagon. The inquest heard from Lawrence Keen that the scholar believed “an American was trying to bring him down.” One friend, who wished to remain nameless, said he had become paranoid about Jon Lellenberg (another preeminent Sherlockian whose name came up again recently in regard to a current fierce battle over who has rights to Holmes and also the “Shreffgate” controversy [x]).

Lellenberg was at that time a policy strategy analyst in the office of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Himself a highly respected author of books about Holmes and prominent in the U.S. appreciation society The Baker Street Irregulars, Lellenburg contributed to Christie’s catalog for the sale and was in London for a meeting with the Sherlock Holmes Society during the week of Green’s most erratic behavior.

Speaking from his home in Washington, Lellenberg said: “I have no knowledge of why he was paranoid about it. It would be silly and delusional to be concerned about me because the work I do has nothing to do with intelligence and surveillance at any level. The last time I met or spoke to Richard was a year ago in Chicago at the dedication of a collection at the Newberry Library. He was fine and gave a terrific talk. He was almost bubbly.”

Scotland Yard said it would reopen the case only if fresh evidence came to light. 

Let me make clear that it is not my intention, in any way, shape or form, to point a finger at anyone by reiterating this information.

All I can say is I find it hard to believe someone can actually strangle themselves in this way. As they lost consciousness, their grip would loosen before they would actually die. If anyone has any theories/updated information, I’d like to hear it.

Here are the sources I used for this article: [x], [x] and [x]

Also see Always1895’s warm retrospective on Green on Tumblr: [x]

Richard Lancelyn Green, requiescant in pace.