THE BEDDINGTON PLOT – Page One
by Robert E. Robinson
In an adventure in which women play no prominent roles, a stupid blunder helps unmask a professional criminal who, under one or more aliases, has used the promise of monetary gain to recruit an advertisement-answering dupe into a non-existent coterie so as to remove him from the scene of the contemplated theft of a third party's belongings.
There, in a single sentence, is the plot of not one, but three, distinct Sherlockian episodes-"The Stockbroker's Clerk", "The Red-Headed League", and "The Three Garridebs". They are here listed in the order of their occurrence, i.e., June 1889, October 1890, and June 1902.1
The professional criminals were Beddington, John Clay, and Killer Evans, whose aliases were Arthur and Harry Pinner, Vincent Spaulding, and John Garrideb; the dupes were Hall Pycroft, Jabez Wilson, and Nathan Garrideb; the non-existent coteries were the Franco-Midland Hardware Company, the Red-Headed League, and the three Garridebs; and the third parties were the firm of Mawson and Williams, the City and Suburban Bank, and the estate of one Rodger Prescott.
As for the blunders, it was a silly mistake for the same Beddington to portray both of the Pinners. If the London Beddington had impersonated the London Pinner and the Birmingham Beddington the Birmingham Pinner, Hall Pycroft could not have seen through their ruse. John Clay's fatal error was to dissolve the League of Red-Headed Men before he had robbed the bank, thereby avoiding the payment of one week's wages to Jabez Wilson, but bringing Sherlock Holmes down on his neck. Killer Evans, of course, gave himself away by inserting in a Birmingham newspaper an advertisement which was replete with flagrant Americanisms.
Other similarities involve but two if the three accounts. In both "The Stockbroker's Clerk" and "The Red-Headed League", the dupe accepted a job paying four pounds a week, and also reported for work (not necessarily the four-pound job) in a very austere office. The crime was scheduled for a Saturday, and physical force was applied to the criminal's neck. Both "The Stockbroker's Clerk" and "The Three Garridebs" occurred in June, and in each account the dupe was sent off to Birmingham. The criminal was physically injured, and someone was struck on the head. In "The Red-Headed League" and "The Three Garridebs", the dupe was a man who seldom ventured out of his house, the scheme involved a non-existent rich American, Holmes and Watson waited in the dark for the criminal, and Holmes attacked the villain physically.
Having noted most of these similarities, W. E. Dudley has concluded that "The Stockbroker's Clerk" and "The Three Garridebs" never took place at all, but were actually fictional works created by Dr. Watson and based on "The Red-Headed League".2 Unfortunately, Mr. Dudley is unable to provide a credible motive for such an unspeakable hoax. With an overflowing reservoir of unreported cases at his elbow, why should the doctor choose to rehash an old one, and why always the same one at that? Russell McLauchlin has suggested that "The Three Garridebs" is really a pastiche written as a prank on Dr. Watson by one of his lifelong friends, an obscure British knight by the name of Doyle.3 Both Watson and this friend were well into their 60s at the time, however, which certainly is not the usual age at which men suddenly take up practical joking. Furthermore, British knights, obscure or otherwise, simply don't do such things. No, all three accounts must be regarded as authentic, and what remains is to learn what we can from their similarities.
1Some authorities have made an attempt to place "The Red-Headed League" at an earlier time than 1890. Although there is admittedly some confusion as to newspaper dates, Watson is quite consistently explicit that the year was 1890.
2”Dr. Watson’s Triple Play”, BSJ,23: 1 (March 1973), pp. 22-27.
3Letter, BSJ (OS), 1:4 ( October 1946), pp. 475-476.