The Chemical Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Autopsy in Blue
Thomas G. Waddell* and Thomas R. Rybolt Department of Chemistry, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga, TN 37403; *Thomas-Waddell@utc.edu
The following story is a chemical mystery with an emphasis on qualitative inorganic analysis, forensic chemistry, and medicinal substances. This is the 15tharticle in a series presenting a scientific problem in mystery format in the context of the popular and beloved characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (1, 2). There is a break in the story where readers (students and teachers) can ponder and solve the mystery. Sherlock Holmes provides his solution in the paragraphs following this break.
The Story “I have ordered an autopsy, Holmes.” “Capitalidea, Watson,” said Holmes as he set down the book he was reading about the life of Frederick the Great. “I will be most interested in what is discovered.” As these words were exchanged, London was near the end of an unusually heavy snowfall. Baker Street was packed with deep drifts. Shops, businesses, schools, and universities were all closed and the silence of the city was so striking as toseem like a constant sound in itself. It was late afternoon and Holmes and I sat in our chairs before a lively fire that cast long, angular shadows around the room. Billows of smoke from our pipes clung to the ceiling. There was an aroma of brandy and cherry wood. The atmosphere should have been warm and relaxed, but my own mood was cold and tense. An hour earlier I had arrived at our rooms at 221BBaker Street from my rounds at Bart’s, visiting my hospital patients, one in particular. Holmes had immediately noted my sadness and drew out the cause. An old friend of mine from the Afghan campaign, Mr. Reuben Hochum, had died unexpectedly. He had been admitted to Bart’s the week before with a crushed ankle, the result of an unfortunate home improvement project his wife had encouraged him toundertake. The injury as I saw it was not life threatening. Therefore, his sudden death both grieved and shocked me. Reuben was the beloved mayor of the small village of Putting Bridge. He was a loyal public servant who had expected soon to be elected to his sixth term in office. During the last days of his hospitalization, he had complained of symptoms unrelated to his injury or to a secondarybacterial infection that might occur. He complained of nausea and dizziness, along with periods of headache and severe agitation. He told me that he felt like every pore of his body was suffocating. His arms felt heavy. I was determined to learn the exact reason for my comrade’s untimely death. “The autopsy will be done this afternoon,” I replied, “and I am sure that we will be informed at once.” “Letme put forth the usual query,” said Holmes. “Did the deceased have any enemies or anyone who would profit from his death?” “Just the contrary,” I countered, “Reuben had no enemies. The people of Putting Bridge Village loved him. They have elected him mayor five times in a row. Indeed, Holmes, he was a sympathetic figure. His wife has been an alcoholic for many years and I know that she will be lostwithout his
guidance. They have a son, a student at London University who doted on his father and visited him religiously at Bart’s. What will become of him without Reuben’s support?” “Just the same, good fellow,” Holmes said, “we must maintain an open mind. If this death was not a natural one, then the waters run dark around the body of your friend. May I suggest acarriage ride in the snow, Watson? How about a surprise visit to the widow Hochum?” The late afternoon sun dimly illuminated the cold, partially cleared, snow-packed streets of London. We flagged a hansom cab, wrapped ourselves snugly in our topcoats, and settled in for the ride to King’s College Station where we would board the train for the village of Putting Bridge. An hour later we were on the...