Some nights, following the data has one's brain like a virtual monkey swinging from fact-vine to fact-vine through the jungles of history. And it doesn't take much . . .
Tonight, for example, a mention of Landru by the Batman villain King Tut led to the dark villainy of Henri Desiree Landru whose eleven-widow murder spree started just four months after Sherlock Holmes made "his last bow" in August 1914 . . . almost like Landru knew Holmes wasn't keeping an eye on things with the war on.
With one mass murderer not likely to have crossed Sherlock's path, the mind had to wander to that other big name in murder of Holmes's day . . . H.H. Holmes. "Jack the Ripper" is typically the go-to serial killer of that era, though his real name was never actually known. Of course, "H.H. Holmes" was not that guy's real name either.
He started as Herman Webster Mudgett, married under that name, had a son under that name, and didn't take up his more famous name until heading for Chicago in 1886. And this is where it gets kind of weird in the whole realm of coincidence: The same year Herman Mudgett was creating his persona of Henry Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle was creating his character of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle, perhaps, was ahead of Mudgett, getting his Holmes done in the spring, but . . . well, weird, right?
One can see coincidence in such things, like Sherlock living at 221 (or "2-21s) while Henry's famous abode was on 63rd Street (3 21s), but here's the thing: Criminals like Landru and Mudgett were much, much nastier than anything we see Sherlock Holmes dealing with. Real No Country For Old Men nasty. How can we be sure of this?
In 1898, Sherlock Holmes captures Abe Slaney. Abe Slaney is touted by Sherlock's New York police contact as "the most dangerous crook in Chicago." Sherlock Holmes speaks of his own "knowledge of the crooks of Chicago" at that time, and after the sensational reporting of H.H. Holmes's crimes following his 1895 trial (and execution the year after), it would seem very peculiar that Mudgett doesn't rate a mention.
Both Mudgett and Landru were the kind of men who just used people to get what they wanted and literally disposed of them. Horribly, yes, but there were financial motives in both cases . . . the true high-functioning sociopaths just making their gruesome way in the world. Not the sort of thing Dr. Watson would write up as entertainment for The Strand Magazine.
As much as Sherlock Holmes gets mixed up with Jack the Ripper, I suspect that is only because we never got to know Jack as we did those other two fellows. For all the horror of his crimes, Jack has stayed in that realm just out of our grasp, like Sherlock Holmes . . . left as much to our imaginations as the details of the history books. If we ever did get to know his real name, I doubt he would be running into Sherlock Holmes nearly so much.
Because true crime is just plain horrible. And Sherlock Holmes?
Well, he is a dream of a better world, in his way . . . something for us to hold on to. And we do hold on to him, unlike those other fellows I had to look up tonight . . . and will quickly put them out of my head again very soon.