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"The Ferrers Documents" is the fourth and last episode of Series 4 of the BBC Radio 4 series The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, written by Bert Coules. It was first broadcast on January 16, 2009. In it, Sherlock Holmes suspects a killing in the East End is not as simple as first appears when the only witness disappears and the suspected killer is found murdered.

Plot[]

At 221B Baker Street, Holmes and Watson receive a visit from a Mrs Radcliffe and her son, George. The lady explains that her husband, Jonathan, had been murdered just over a week prior, stabbed to death in the street as he returned from a public meeting in Aldgate. Mr Radcliffe had been engaged in a high-profile campaign against the appalling conditions in London's East End, and on the night of his murder he had denounced a notorious slumlord named Robert Ferrers. Ferrers had been arrested three days later when an eyewitness identified him as the killer, but the police were forced to release him when she never appeared to testify. Mrs Radcliffe says the police are still looking for her, but they consider the search hopeless - Holmes agrees, as since the woman was a prostitute using an assumed name, she would be impossible to trace. George interjects that Ferrers obviously had her killed as well, but Watson cautions him against making those accusations public and suggests the woman may have simply changed her mind about testifying.

Holmes declines to take the case, as it offers few distinguishing features. Mr Radcliffe's murder occurred in an area known for frequent assaults; furthermore, Ferrers dealt with frequent criticism, so why should he have considered Radcliffe enough of a threat to kill him? This infuriates George, who storms out to his mother's embarrassment. Before she leaves, Holmes offers Mrs Radcliffe some advice: if Ferrers discovered that Radcliffe had some criminal evidence against him, but had not yet made it public, he would have had a motive for the crime. He suggests she search her husband's papers again, and return to him if she finds anything. After the Radcliffes leave, Watson suggests it is possible the prostitute lied for whatever reason, and later changed her mind. However, Holmes is unwilling to write off Jonathan Radcliffe's death as a robbery gone wrong without first meeting Ferrers.

Holmes visits Robert Ferrers at his home. Ferrers guesses that Holmes has been hired to investigate Radcliffe's death, and denies he had anything to do with the crime. He expresses sympathy towards the man, saying that he seemed good and sincere. However, he also says Radcliffe was naïve, a misguided do-gooder who didn't understand the realities of life in the East End. Ferrers explains that he sees his housing as providing a vital need in the city, at the only price the poor can afford. Holmes is briefly interrupted by Ferrers' daughter Alice, who strikes him as unusually strong-willed. Back at Baker Street, Holmes tells Watson that he considers the case to be over, as he thinks it unlikely Mrs Radcliffe will find any evidence that implicates Ferrers.

Some time later, Alice visits Mrs Radcliffe, who greets her icily. Alice warns the Radcliffes not to reopen the case against her father. George asks her what she intends to do if they persist, but Alice refuses to say more and leaves. Later that night, Mrs Radcliffe is awakened by a loud noise. She discovers George searching for the incriminating documents, disheveled and obviously drunk. George admits that he has been out, but responds belligerently when his mother asks where he has been.

As morning breaks, Holmes awakens Watson with important news: Robert Ferrers has been murdered overnight. They meet with Inspector Lestrade in a derelict house in the East End where Ferrers' body was found. The house is a ruin; Lestrade informs them that it burned in a fire six years ago. Showing them the corpse, he points out that he was stabbed over twenty times with particular violence. Lestrade also introduces Detective Constable Thomas Dawkins, his assistant on the case; to Holmes' annoyance, Dawkins tells him he is a great fan of Holmes' exploits in The Strand. Lestrade expresses regret that he will never be able to bring Ferrers formally to justice. Ferrers' buildings were death-traps, and havens of criminality, but he had always been able to stay ahead of the law. In fact, Ferrers owned the burned building his body was found in. Someone had obviously lured or forced Ferrers there, then killed him; however, there are no signs of a struggle. Watson and Holmes agree to meet Lestrade at Scotland Yard once he has finished. On the way there, Holmes tells Watson that the lack of marks is highly significant, as it means the killer thoroughly cleaned the site.

At Scotland Yard, Holmes meets with Lestrade and explains how he was engaged by the Radcliffes. Lestrade comments on George's temper, and tells Holmes that George threatened Ferrers when he was released from prison. Meanwhile, Watson and Dawkins examine Ferrer's corpse in the morgue, and are shocked by the savagery of the stabbing. Watson notices an unusual square mark at one end of the cuts, but cannot determine its significance. He points these out to Holmes later, who infers that they show the knife had a distinctive asymmetrical cross-guard. Having heard Lestrade praise Dawkins' intelligence, Holmes asks Watson what the constable made of the marks, and gloats that Dawkins had no answer. Holmes suggests they return to Baker Street, as he is sure they will soon be getting another visit from Mrs Radcliffe.

At Baker Street, Holmes is proved right when the widow arrives to announce that Lestrade has arrested George, as Holmes expected. Mrs Radcliffe asks if the inspector has any evidence against her son, which Holmes finds curious as it implies such evidence might exist. They insist Mrs Radcliffe tell them what happened the previous night. She tells them that George appeared intoxicated, and looked as if he had fallen down - or been in a fight. She denies that George owned a dagger. Although George has no real alibi, Holmes tells Mrs Radcliffe that without any hard evidence, Lestrade will have to let him go; however, he perceives that Mrs Radcliffe actually wants to prove that her son is innocent to herself.

Holmes and Watson return to the burned house. Holmes finds a a piece of wood with one side covered in ash, which the criminal used to cover up his traces. Holmes grabs the wood to take back to Baker Street. He sends Watson to talk to Alice Ferrers, while he visits the newspaper library. Alice thanks Watson for his condolences, as he is the only person who has done so; her father was disliked by their neighbors, who regarded his wealth as ill-gained. She tells him that neither she nor the servants heard a struggle on the night of the murder. Watson also learns that Alice has no siblings, leaving her to inherit her father's properties.

Watson reunites with Holmes to return to Scotland Yard. Holmes tells Watson that he spent a somewhat unsuccessful afternoon investigating the fire. It was a terrible incident, killing an unknown number of residents, four firemen, and a couple of passersby. However, while the papers went into great detail about the terrible conditions of Ferrers' building, it did not name any of the residents.

At Holmes' request, Dawkins brings him the clothes George Radcliffe was wearing last night. To Dawkins and Lestrade's surprise, he asks whether Radcliffe had any brown woolen gloves. Fibers from the plank he recovered at the crime scene indicate the culprit was wearing such gloves, which Radcliffe did not have when he was arrested. However, Lestrade is irritated that Holmes wants him to release his only suspect on such meagre evidence, and insists on holding Radcliffe for another twenty-four hours. He and Watson decide to regroup later to determine what to do next.

When Holmes returns to Baker Street that evening, he finds Watson waiting for him with a message from Constable Dawkins. It informs them that the missing witness from the Radcliffe murder has been found dead, stabbed over two dozen times with a broad dagger. They immediately head to the crime scene. Holmes admits that this means he was wrong, and that Radcliffe's murder is connected with that of Ferrers. However, he believes that the new murder is the key to the case. He notes the knife used to kill the witness was the same as the one used on Ferrers, and that the killing displays the same ferocity. Holmes also finds a scrap of paper in the woman's hands, which Dawkins overlooked. On it is written Holmes' address, implying the woman was coming to see him.

Hoping to find out more, Holmes heads off alone to find his informant Shinwell Johnson, and finds him threatening a thug. Johnson tells Holmes that he had helped the woman, whose name was Catherine Long, just a few days prior. She had been persuaded to lie to the police about the Radcliffe murder, under threat of violence. Though Johnson did not know who was behind the threats, Holmes has an idea. He collects Watson from Baker Street and together they go back to the Radcliffe house.

At Scotland Yard, Dawkins releases George Radcliffe due to the discovery of the second murder. Lestrade briefs Radcliffe on the witness' death, and confirms that without her they have no evidence pointing to his father's killer. At that moment Holmes enters with a stack of papers. He announces that he has just been to the Radcliffe house, where he successfully found Jonathan Radcliffe's proof against Robert Ferrers in a hidden compartment in his desk. He explains to the assembled men that Radcliffe had documented every part of Ferrers' life, and that the packet had some surprising revelations. Lestrade and Dawkins demand that Holmes turn it over to them as vital evidence, but Holmes asks Lestrade to trust him until the next day and the inspector relents. However, he insists on absolute secrecy. Holmes assures him only he has seen the packet's contents, and that no one knows of its existence apart from the four of them, Mrs Radcliffe, Watson, and Alice Ferrers, whom Watson has just informed.

That night, there is a break-in at Baker Street. However, Holmes has set the trap to catch the killer: Detective Constable Dawkins. Dawkins manages to wound Holmes with his knife in an attempt to get away, but Watson draws his gun on him. Holmes collects the dagger, which provides the final piece of evidence. Dawkins is immediately arrested and taken back to Scotland Yard.

Lestrade is disgusted by his former protégé, but Dawkins is unrepentant. Dawkins tells the group how his father, a heroic fireman, was killed in the fire that destroyed the tenement building. Holmes explains that Dawkins had waited patiently for an opportunity for revenge. When Jonathan Radcliffe was killed in a random attack, Dawkins saw his opportunity, as Ferrers was an obvious suspect. He had bribed Catherine Long to say that she had seen Ferrers kill Radcliffe, but she had been unwilling to commit perjury and condemn an innocent man. Furious at Ferrers getting out of his trap, he decided he had to go outside the law and kill Ferrers himself; when Holmes criticizes him, Dawkins calls Holmes a hypocrite, as the detective has frequently done the same during his investigations. Dawkins broke into Ferrers' house and threatened the old man at knifepoint, then led him to the burned-out ruin; Ferrers had been too afraid to put up a struggle or call for help until it was too late. Dawkins thanks Holmes for telling him about the gloves, saying that he had no idea they were incriminating but has now burned them. He also explains that he killed Catherine when he learned she was going to Holmes from his informant network, which he modeled on the detective's. With her dead, the only evidence that could have connected him to the crimes was if his father's name was mentioned in Radcliffe's dossier, so he had to destroy it. He asks Holmes whether the this was the case. When Holmes gives him the documents to see for himself, he starts laughing on realizing that the pages are blank.

Back at Baker Street, Watson asks Holmes how long he had known about Dawkins. Holmes explains that his father's name had been in the newspaper, but he hadn't had sufficient evidence to prove it was more than coincidence; in fact, there had been more or less the same amount of evidence against George Radcliffe and Alice Ferrers. Holmes had therefore created the ruse of the discovered papers to see whether any of the three would attempt to steal them. Finally, Holmes shows Watson a photograph that indicates the dagger used in the killings was a London fireman's dress dagger, which would have had a poetic justice for Dawkins. Holmes laments that a mind like Dawkins' was wasted on crime.

Cast[]

Trivia[]

  • The case was inspired by a reference in "The Adventure of the Priory School". Holmes tells Dr Thorneycroft Huxtable that he is reluctant to take his case because "'we are very busy at present. I am retained in this case of the Ferrers Documents, and the Abergavenny murder is coming up for trial.'" "The Abergavenny Murder" was dramatized in the program's second series.
  • Shinwell Johnson appears in the canon case "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client". Watson describes him as a reformed criminal who became a valuable asset to Holmes in his later years because of his connections in the London underworld.
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