"The Five Orange Pips" is one of the cases of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is the fifth of the twelve stories that are collected as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It was first published in The Strand Magazine in November 1891.
John gives Holmes and Watson some background about his life. He grew up in England with his father and he had one uncle who had gone to Florida as a young man. John’s uncle Elias was a confederate soldier in the American Civil War. A few years after the surrender of General Lee, Elias returned to England and took to a reclusive life in the provinces.
Elias became very attached to John and gave him authority and control over his household. One morning John’s uncle received a letter from India which contained five dried orange pips and had “K.K.K” marked upon the envelope. John thought the communication must have been a joke but his uncle’s extreme reaction to it persuaded him otherwise. Elias exclaimed that the letter was a herald of death and without explanation he brought out a brass box full of papers and hurriedly burnt the contents. John observed the letters “K.K.K” on the lid of the box.
After this incident Elias intensified his reclusiveness except for infrequent occasions when he would run outside and declare that he would not be cooped up like an animal. These drunken declarations made, however, Elias would run back inside and lock the door behind him. One night Elias never returned and was found face down in a pool in the garden. A jury delivered a verdict of suicide which John did not believe since his uncle had been so frightened of death.
John’s father came into possession of Elias Openshaw’s house and the two of them lived there without incident for a year. One morning however John’s father received a letter, postmarked from Dundee, containing five dried orange pips and bearing the mark “K.K.K". The letter contained the instruction “put the papers on the sundial.” John realised that the letter must be referring to the papers burnt by Elias and wished to call in the police but his father forbade it. Three days later John’s father died in what was apparently an accidental fall.
Over two years passed with no further incident and John hoped that the curse upon his family had ended but then he received an envelope containing five dried orange pips and bearing the mark “K.K.K.”. The letter had a London postmark and also reiterated the instruction given to John’s father to put the papers on the sundial.
Holmes is very concerned by this news and outraged that the police have dismissed the matter as a practical joke. John Openshaw has a single piece of paper that survived the burning and Holmes urges him to place this on the sundial in the brass box with a note to say that the other papers were destroyed.
John hurries off to fulfil this task and Holmes explains to Watson that K.K.K stands for Ku Klux Klan. The K.K.K was a secret society formed by ex-confederate soldiers after the American Civil War. Holmes believes that the papers Elias burnt may have contained incriminating evidence against some men who had been involved with the Klan.
The next morning Holmes prepares to set out upon the case but Watson sees from the morning paper that Holmes is too late, John Openshaw is reported to have drowned by Waterloo Bridge apparently after an accidental fall.
Holmes is deeply affected by the death of the young man and sets a trap for the gang responsible for the murder. That night he returns to Baker Street and puts five orange pips in an envelope and addresses it to Captain James Calhoun. On the inside flap he writes “S.H for J.C.”
Holmes explains to Watson that this captain is the leader of the gang. By tracing vessels which touched port in accordance with the date and postmark of the K.K.K letters Holmes traced the murderers to a barque called the Lone Star. Holmes has informed the police in Savannah that three wanted men are aboard the ship. He hopes that the orange pips will give Calhoun a sleepless night before he is arrested.
The Lone Star never reaches port. A shattered wreck supposed to be the ship’s remains is discovered and this is all that is ever known about the fate of the vessel and those travelling aboard it.
- The 1945 film Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear bases some of its plot on the story's plot elements.
- BBC Radio 4 adapted the short story under the same name in 1990, as part of a long-term series of BBC radio adaptations of the whole Sherlock Holmes Canon, directed by playwright and radio drama director Bert Coules. The radio adaptation starred Clive Merrison and Michael Williams.
- "The Blind Banker", the second episode of the first series of the BBC series Sherlock, borrows several elements from this story. The main adapted element is a secret criminal organisation pursuing one of Holmes' client. The episode also drew from the short story The Adventure of the Dancing Men, the only other story where Holmes is unable to prevent the death of his client. Further references to The Five Orange Pips in Sherlock are seen in the following episode The Great Game, and then in the 2015 special The Abominable Bride.
- "The Five Orange Pipz", an episode of Elementary, borrows some minor elements from The Orange Pips, but is largely an original story.