Case of George Edalji. Facsimile Documents. No. 1

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Case of George Edalji. Facsimile Document. No. 1 is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The Daily Telegraph on 23 may 1907.

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Case of George Edalji. Facsimile Document. No. 1

The Daily Telegraph (23 may 1907, p. 7)

Some six weeks ago a correspondent in the Midlands wrote to me to the effect that the police, when driven out of the position that George Edalji committed the crime for which he was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude, would endeavour to defend a second line — namely, that he had written the anonymous letters, and was therefore responsible for the mistake to which he fell a victim. The insight or the information of the writer has seemed to be correct, and this is, indeed, the defence which has been set up, with such sucess that it had prevented the injured man from receiving that compensation which is his due. In this article I ask your pemnission to examine this contention, and I hope I shall satisfy your readers, or enable them to satisfy themselves, that the supposition is against all reason or probability, and that a fresh injustice and scandal will arise if it should retard the fullest possible amends being made to this most shamefully-treated man.

During an investigation of this case, which has now extended over five months, I have examined a very large number of documents, and tested a long series of real and alleged fact. During all that time I have kept my mind open, but I can unreservedly say that in the whole research I have never come across say considerations which would make it, I will not say probable, but in any way credible, that George Edalji had anything to do, either directly or indirectly, with the outrages or with the anonymous letters. As the latter question seems to be at the bottom of the ungenerous decision not to give Edalji compensation, I will, with your permission, place some of the documents before your readers, so that they may form their own opinion as to how far the contention that Edalji wrote them can be sustained.

First, I will take the mere question of the handwriting of the letters, and secondly, I will take the internal evidence of their contents.

The exhibits, which I will call 1 and 2, are specimens of Edalji's ordinary writing, which is remarkably consistent in the many samples which I have observed. He says, and I believe with truth, that be has little power of varying his script. No proof has ever been adduced that he has such power. The specimens here given may be open to the objection that they are four years later than the time of the outrages, but Edalji was twenty-seven years of age then, and is now thirty-one, and no marked development of writing is likely to occur in the interval. I give two separate specimens that the consistency of their peculiarities may he observed:

I now, for purposes of comparison, give two samples of those letters in 1903 which Mr. Gurrin, the expert who was at fault in the Beck case, declared to be, to the best of his belief, in the writing of George Edalji. To the ruin of the young man he persuaded the jury to adopt his view, and now the committee chosen by the Home Office has endorsed the opinion of the jury, with the result that compensation has been withheld. Exhibits 3 and 4 give specimens of the anonymous letters of 1903:

Now, on comparing the two specimens of Edalji with the two anonymous letters, the first general observation, before going into any details, is that the former is the writing of an educated man, and that the latter is certainly not so. A forger may imitate certain details in writing. A curious fashion of forming a letter is within the powers of even a clumsy imitator. But character is more difficult, and more subtle. Compare the real Edalji writing with the addressed envelope of three, or with the postscript of four, and ask yourself whether they do not belong to an entirely different class. Apart from the question of educated as against uneducated writing, the most superficial observer of character, as expressed in writing, would say that one and two were open and free, while three and four were cramped and mean. Yet Mr. Gurrin, the jury, and the Home Office Committee contend that they are the same, and a man's career has been ruined on the resemblance.

Now let us examine the details. There are one or two points of resemblance which are sufficiently close to make me believe that it is not entirely coincidence, and that there may have been some conscious, though vary imperfect imitation, of Edalji's writing. One of these is a very small twirl made occasionally in finishing a letter. It is visible in the c in the fourth line from the bottom of exhibit two, and in the c of the word "clothes" fifth line from the bottom of three. A close inspection might detect it in several letters of both exhibits, and I am told that it was more common in Edalji's writing of that date. Another resemblance is the long upward stroke in beginning such words as "kindly" in two, and "known" four lines from the bottom of three. This formation, however, is not unusual. Lastly, there is the r, which might occasionally almost be an e, as in "return" in two, and in "sharp" in three. These peculiarities, especially the last, are so marked that they are, one would imagine, the first points which anyone disguising his hand would suppress, and anyone imitating would reproduce.

But now consider the points of difference. See the peculiar huddling of the letters together appearing in such words as "brought," "sharper," and "would," in 3, or in "don't," "write," and "known," in 4. Where is there any trace of this in Edalji's own writing? Compare the rounded "g" of the anonymous letters with the straight "g" of Edalji. Compare the final "r" of Edalji as seen in "Dear Sir Arthur," with the final "r" of "matter" and "your" in 3, or of "paper" and "nor" in the postscript of 4. Finally, take a very delicate test, beyond the power of observation of a clumsy forger. If you take the letter "u" in Edalji's letters you will find that he has a very curious and consistent habit of dropping the second curve of the "u" to a lower level than the first one. There is hardly an exception. But the anonymous writer, in three cases out of four, has the second curve as high as, or higher than, the first. Can any impartial and fair-minded man, examining these exhibits, declare that there is such an undoubted resemblance that a man's career might be staked upon it, or that the public exonerated by it from making reparation for an admitted wrong?

So mach for the actual writing, The matter becomes perfectly grotesque when we examine the internal evidence of the letters. In the first place, they are written for the evident purpose of exciting the suspicions of the police against two persons — the one being Edalji himself, and the other being young Greatorex, whose name was forged at the end of them. Why should Edalji, an eminently sane young lawyer, with a promising career before him, write to the police accusing himself of a crime of which he was really innocent? The committee speak of a spirit of impish mischief. What evidence of such a spirit has ever been shown in the life of this shy, retiring man? Such an action would appear to me to be inconsistent with sanity, and yet Edalji has always been eminently sane. What possible evidence is there to support so incredible a supposition? And suppose such a thing were true, how then would the introduction of young Greatorex be explained? Young Greatorex and Edalji were practically strangers. They had at most met without conversation when chance threw these into the same railway carriage on the Walsall line. There was no connection between them, no cause of quarrel, no possible reason why Edalji should involve Greatorex in a terrible suspicion, and then voluntarily come to share his danger. The whole supposition is monstrous. But it all becomes clear when we regard the letters as the work of a third person, who was the enemy both of Edalji and of Greatorex, and who hoped by this device to bring down both his birds with one stone. That Edalji had enemies, who had brought ingenious mystifications in letter writing to a fine point, is shown by the persecution to which he and his family were subjected from 1892 to 1895. One has only to show that one of those persecutors had also reason to wish evil to young Greatorex, and then it needs no fanciful theories of people writing scurrilous letters about themselves to make the whole situation perfectly credible and clear.

A priori, then, the likelihood of the letters being by Edalji is so slight that nothing but the most marked resemblance in the script could for a moment justify such a supposition. How far such an overpowering resemblance exists the reader can now judge for himself. But apart from the inherent improbability of such a theory, look at all the other points which should have laughed it out of court. Edalji was a well-educated young man, brought up in a clerical atmosphere, with no record of coarse speech or evil life. From his school days at Rugeley, when his headmaster gave him the highest character, until the time when he won the best prizes within his reach at the legal College of Birmingham, there is nothing against his conduct or his language. Yet these letters are written by a foul-mouthed boor, a blackguard who has a smattering of education, but neither grammar nor decency. They do not, as the Committee have said, actually prove that the writer was the man who did the outrages, but they at least show that he had a cruel and bloodthirsty mind, which loved to dwell upon revolting details. "I caught each under the belly, but they did not spurt much blood." "We will do twenty wenches like the horses." "He pulls the book smart across 'em and out the entrails fly." This is the writing of a hardened ruffian. When in Edalji's studious life has he ever given the slightest indications of such a nature? His whole career and the testimony of all who have known him cry out against such a supposition.

Finally, there are certain allusions in the letters which are altogether outside Edalji's possible knowledge. In one of them some seven or eight people are mentioned, all of whom live in a group two stations down the line from Wyrley, and entirely removed from Edalji's very limited circle. They were a group immediately surrounding young Greatorex, and they were put in with a view to substantiating the pretence that he was the writer, for the entanglement of Greatorex was evidently the plotter's chief aim, and the ruin of Edalji was a mere by-product in the operation. One of the people mentioned was the village dress-maker, a second the doctor, a third the butcher, all in the neighbourhood of Greatorex and out of the ken of Edalji. In his attempt to entangle Greatorex the writer actually gave himself away, as it is clear to any intelligence above that of a prejudiced official that he must be one of the very limited number of people who was himself acquainted with this particular group.

There is one other peculiarity in the first Greatorex letter which cannot fail to arrest attention. It is the reiterated allusions to the sea. Edalji had no connection with the sea, and there was no reason why be should write of it. But in this one letter there are three or four references to it. How is this to be accounted fort? When one considers that there had been a former persecution, that this had ended abruptly at the beginning of 1896, that peace had reigned for six years, and that now a new series of letters is commenced by someone whose mind is running upon the sea, one would like to make inquiry as to the possibility of some sailor having returned to the neighbourhood. Should such a man exist, as is likely enough upon a crowded countryside, the fact alone would be of small weight, but, at least, it might be worth an investigator's while to trace the matter further and see if any other points of contact could be established.

I have now dealt with the so-called "Greatorex" letters, and have enabled the reader to judge for himself as to how far the script is identical with that of Edalji. I have also shown that the a-priori reasoning and the internal evidence are absolutely opposed to the idea that the young lawyer wrote them. I am suppressing nothing in order to make a case, for I cannot find any single point in the letters which can be used as an argument that Edalji did write them. It is amazing to me that three men of position like Sir Albert de Rutzen, Sir Arthur Wilson, and the Hon. Mr. Wharton should express themselves as being in agreement with the senseless opinion of the Stafford jury. What possible facts can they allege to support such a contention? Where is the evidence of this "impish spirit" which they have themselves conjured up? It has added three more names to that long line of policemen, officials, and politicians who owe a very abject apology to this ill-used man. Until this apology is offered and reparation made no mutual daubings of complimentary white-wash will ever get them clean.

There are many other documents connected with this case which I should wish to discuss and reproduce in a later article. I should be glad, therefore, if your readers would retain the present specimens for future comparison.

Undershaw, Hindhead, May 18.