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William Terriss, born William Charles James Lewin, was a famous British actor best known for his popular interpretations of romantic roles. He was killed by a deranged out-of-work actor named Richard Prince in 1897. A fictionalized version of his murder forms the central mystery of "The Star of the Adelphi", written by Bert Coules for The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In it, Sherlock Holmes is dragged into a world of deception when he heads backstage to investigate Terriss' murder.

Early life[]

Terriss tried a number of professions as a young man, working positions as varied as sailor, banker, and tea-planter in locations as diverse as India, Argentina, and the United States. His initial attempts to make a living as an actor in England found little success. It was not his returned to London in 1873 that he managed to break onto the stage, thanks to the influence of the prominent Terry family of actors. In 1870 he married the actress Amy Fellowes, with whom he had two children, Ellaline and Tom.

By 1881 Terriss was an established actor and reached the peak of his career. He met a young actress named Jessie Millward in an 1885 production of The Harbour Lights, and the extraordinary success of the show established the two as successful romantic leads. It was widely rumored that the two had also developed a romantic relationship offstage. The two were hired to headline at the Adelphi Theater, and Terriss remained a fixture at the theater, drawing huge crowds until his murder in 1897.

The Star of the Adelphi[]

William Terriss Murder 1897

Terriss' murder depicted in The Illustrated Police News.

Terriss returns to the Adelphi Theater with his good friend John Graves after dinner. As they approach the side entrance, they notice a mysterious figure standing beside the door. When Terriss approaches him, the figure stabs him several times in the torso before fleeing into the dark.

Jessie Millward engages Sherlock Holmes to solve Terriss' murder on behalf of the Adelphi Company. She initially throws suspicion for the crime onto Terriss' son-in-law, Seymour Hicks, whom she claims seduced Terriss' daughter Ellaline just a few months previously and had been forced to marry her when she became pregnant. Millward tells Holmes that Terriss was furious over the pregnancy, as it meant the end of his daughter's career. In revenge, Terriss used his influence to prevent Hicks from getting roles. Millward also says that she and Terriss were madly in love, and that, contrary to his public image of a happy marriage, Terriss was planning to leave his wife for her.

After interviewing Mrs Terriss and Ellaline and Seymour Hicks, a different picture of Terriss emerges. All three deny Millward's allegations, accusing her of being obsessed with Terriss to the point of delusion. Mrs Terriss says that Millward simply wouldn't accept that Terriss didn't love her. She also insists that far from being angry about their daughter's pregnancy, both she and her husband were overjoyed. In fact, Ellaline and Seymour had already been married for two years. When Holmes confronts Millward, she admits to wanting to hurt Terriss for rejecting her, and to lying to implicate his family out of spite. However, she denies killing him.

Holmes' investigation eventually uncovers that Terriss had been quite generous towards other actors who were struggling, though he had preferred this to remain secret. Among these was Richard Prince, who was destitute, unemployed, and mentally unstable. Terriss helped Prince financially through a referral to the Actors' Benevolent Fund, and Prince came to believe that Terriss considered him a close friend and protégé. When the Fund voted to stop payments to Prince, he misunderstood this as being Terriss' decision and felt personally betrayed. He waited for Terriss outside the stage door, and stabbed him to death when he approached (ironically, to hand him money). However, killing his idol produced such a mental contradiction in Prince that he blocked the memory. Holmes notes that ironically, Terriss' murder had finally helped Prince achieve his dream of being the most famous actor in England.

Though the story ends with Prince's confession to Holmes, when the case went to trial it ended with a verdict of guilty, but insane. Prince was sentenced to imprisonment in Broodmoore Asylum, where he died in 1937.

Trivia[]

  • "The Star of the Adelphi" is one of the few Sherlock Holmes pastiches to showcase Holmes solving a fictionalized version of a real-life crime, apart from the Jack the Ripper slayings.
  • Terriss' last role was Captain Thorne in The Secret Service, and the drama opens with a condensed excerpt of the play's ending scene. The play's author, William Gillette, made a name for himself portraying Sherlock Holmes on stage in the late 19th century and who shaped many popular perceptions of the character.

External links[]

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