"G. H. Darby" Captain of the Wyrley Gang

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
"G. H. Darby" Captain of the Wyrley Gang (1914)
Facsimile of the original available at Cheslyn Hay & DLHS

"G. H. Darby" Captain of the Wyrley Gang is a booklet written by G. A. Atkinson published in 1914 by T. Kirby & Sons Ltd. and including a preface written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Preface by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Dear Mr. Atkinson,

I read the advance copy of your pamphlet with great interest. There was never a case which was more in need of a cool, dispassionate and impartial investigation. The local authorities, with all the good will in the world, are handicapped by the fact that they made a serious blunder at the beginning by arresting and securing the condemnation of the wrong man. This has, in my opinion, biassed their judgment throughout, and made it very difficult for them to approach any other theory in a sympathetic spirit. As for the very incomplete investigation which I, living at a distance and only knowing the place by a single visit, have been able to make, I have never contended that it was in any way exhaustive, or more than an excellent foundation upon which those who had the power and the opportunity might have built.

The conclusions which I formed I still maintain, and I do not admit that any of them have been shaken by anything that has occurred.

At the same time I do not regard them as infallible, and I heartily welcome any new light which you or anyone else can throw upon the obscure subject.

In the beginning I convinced myself by very obvious reasoning that George Edalji was an innocent man. Having formed this conviction I naturally endeavoured to secure his pardon, and met with co-operation from many papers and people in my attempt. Truth had agitated upon the subject before I took it up, but it was in the Daily Telegraph that I analysed the facts and showed, I think, to the satisfaction of any Impartial man how idiotic had been the verdict of the Staffordshire jury which had sent this quiet and purblind student to gaol for seven years upon a charge of wandering round the country at night, ripping open horses, and in the intervals writing scores of anonymous letters, many of the most insulting of which were addressed to himself. The absurdity of the business forced itself upon the Commission which was appointed to re-investigate the case, and they recommended a free pardon, upon which George Edalji's name was restored in honour to the rolls of his profession.

All compensation was withheld from him, however, on the around that he had actually written some of the letters connected with the case. He had never been tried for this offence ; it was strongly denied by many who had gone into the facts, and even if it had been true it could not possibly have justified the three years of penal servitude which the young man had actually endured. I pointed these facts out at some length to three successive Home Secretaries — Lord Gladstone, Mr. McKenna and Mr. Winston Churchill — and it is much to be regretted that they contented themselves with accepting the official views of the Home Office. The fact of the reparation made to Mr. Archer-Shee, under far less aggravated circumstances, makes one feel how very different the law may be to the lowly and to the powerful.

Having helped in securing Mr. Edalji's pardon, it might be thought that my task was finished. I heartily wish that it had been so. It chanced, however, that in my investigations in proving his innocence I came upon certain evidence which appeared to indicate another person's guilt. These facts came to me partly through my own observations but mostly through the representations of some half-dozen witnesses upon the spot, all of whom seemed worthy of credence. 'Under these circumstances, I thought it my duty to forward this case for what it was worth to the authorities at the Home Office, with whom I was at that time in communication on the question of Edalji's innocence. I showed the statement to the late Sir George Lewis before sending it up, and I entirely agreed with his judgment that there was not as yet a case upon which a successful prosecution could be based, but that it was well worth following up, and possibly perfecting by the responsible authorities. On these grounds, I sent it up. When, therefore, the Home Office announced, in answer to question in Parliament, that there was no primâ facie case against the person whom I had indicated, they may have succeeded in discrediting my conclusions in the eyes of the public, but they were really simply stating what I was well aware of before I submitted the document. It was always a basis for investigation and not a completed case, and in treating it as if it were the latter they were conveying a false impression to the public.

Everything which has, occurred since has tended to convince me that the views which I then advanced were perfectly sound.

I have never believed that these crimes could be entirely the work of a single man. I believe that at least two were at work. The fact that two horses should be mutilated in the same field upon a single night makes it in my opinion most improbable that there is only one criminal. I also think that there is some reason for believing that the hand which carried out the outrages of the last year or two is different from that which committed the crimes of 1903 and also of 1907. These latter were far more sanguinary, including as a rule the disembowelling and death of the creature attacked, while the more recent cases have consisted of incisions or prods on the hindquarters and other less vital places. I believe that no animal has actually met its death in the recent series, and that few escaped it in the earlier one. If one could imagine two villains perpetrating these crimes, of whom the more desperate abandoned them at a certain time, while they were carried on in a modified form by his less thorough-going accomplice, such a theory would seem to cover the facts. If this were so, the detail mentioned by you that one of the suspected men was absent at any recent outrage would in no way invalidate the general conclusion.

The same remark applies, in my judgment, to the "Darby" letters which accompany the crimes, and would seem (though it is by no means absolutely certain) to come from the same source. The "Darby" letters have, from the beginning (and they date back ten years or so) been in an illiterate hand, which has been so consistent that it is hard to believe that it does not represent the true character of the writer, They bear no resemblance at all to the educated letters, some of them signed " God-Satan," which caused so much unhappiness in the Edalji family. I think that they may also be differentiated from those various letters signed "A Nark," "Martin Molton," and other noms-de-plume, which appeared in 1907. The latter were far more educated, both in caligraphy, in spelling and in expression. It is evident, then, that the appearance of "Darby " at a time when another suspect was away, would not in any way disprove my theory, since there is good reason to think that there may be two separate individuals. I mention the fact because, in your text: you state that my views have been disproved — which I cannot admit.

Let me say, in conclusion, that I earnestly hope that, having commenced this investigation, you will continue it So long as you arrive at a definite conclusion, and free the district from this perennial pest, I can assure you that I for one will warmly welcome your results, even if they should have the effect of utterly disproving every theory which I have advanced.

Yours sincerely,


January 14th, 1914.