Sherlock Holmes is known around the world as history's greatest fictional detective, but in the real world, his creator wasn't that far behind. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was best known as a writer, but he was also a doctor and, in two remarkable instances, an amateur crime investigator. In 1906, Conan Doyle helped exonerate George Edalji, who had been wrongly convicted of animal mutilations. And most famously, Conan Doyle used his "Holmes method" -- and his own money -- to petition for the release of Oscar Slater, who had been accused of murdering 82-year-old Marion Gilchrist in 1908. Slater already had some black marks against him, including running an illegal gambling operation and possibly being a pimp. He thus became an easy target of police and was sentenced to death, although this was later changed to life in prison. The case eventually grabbed Conan Doyle's attention. He used all of his deductive reasoning skills to uncover a number of inconsistencies, including questionable witness testimony, and used his considerable influence -- both publicly and politically -- to get Slater released in 1927.
The ending wasn't entirely happy, though. Slater was never legally cleared, and although he received compensation from the government for his conviction, he never paid back Conan Doyle for his expenses in setting Slater free. In other words, even Conan Doyle learned not only that crime doesn't pay, but neither do alleged criminals.
A closer look at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:
- Although he penned his first novel at 23, Conan Doyle's manuscript got lost on the way to a publisher, and he rewrote it from memory.
- Doyle fell for a phony picture of a girl surrounded by fairies and allegedly spent $1 million trying to prove their existence.
- Too overweight to be admitted to the military service as a soldier, Doyle became a surgeon and sailed to Africa as an onboard medical officer.