A Case of Identity
When she had left, I asked Holmes about the case.
'The young woman is quite interesting, but her little problem is not very
difficult or unusual. Would you mind reading me the description of Hosmer
I then read it to Holmes:
Missing, a gentleman called Hosmer Angel. About 5ft. 7 in tall. He's
strongly built with black hair, black sideboards and moustache; he's a
little bald in the centre; he wears dark glasses; and he's got a speech
defect. He has got a sallow complexion. He was wearing a black coat,
black waistcoat, grey trousers and brown boots. Please contact Miss
Sutherland etc. etc.
'That is enough,' said Holmes. 'Now look at these letters which Hosmer
wrote to her. What do you see?'
'They are typed,' I said.
'Not only that, but the signature is typed too. The point about the signature
is very suggestive — in fact, we can call it conclusive.'
'My dear fellow, can't you see how important this fact is to the case?'
'No, I can't,' I replied, 'unless Hosmer didn't sign his letters because he
didn't want to be legally responsible for what he promised.'
'No, that was not the point,' said Holmes, 'but now I will write two letters
which will solve this mystery. One of the letters is to Mr Windibank's firm
in the City, and the other one will be to Mr Windibank himself to ask him
to come here to meet us tomorrow evening at six o'clock.'
A few minutes before six the next day I returned to Baker Street. When I
walked in, Holmes was doing chemistry experiments.
'Well ,have you solved it? 'I said as I walked into the room . 'Yes ,it was
the bisulphate of baryta.'
'No, Miss Sutherland's mystery!' I cried.
'Oh, that! I thought you were asking me about the chemistry experiment.
There was never any mystery in the matter. The only problem is that the
scoundrel did not do anything illegal, so he can't be punished.'
'Who was Hosmer Angel, and why did he abandon Miss Sutherland?'
But Holmes did not have time to answer me, because just then we heard
someone knock at the door, and then someone walking towards Holmes'
'This is the girl's stepfather. He wrote to me to say that he was corning,'
The man who entered the room was a strongly built fellow without
sideboards or moustache, with a sallow complexion and he looked at us
with a pair of penetrating grey eyes. He was wearing a black top-hat.
'Good evening, Mr James Windibank,' said Holmes. 'I believe this is the
typed letter that you wrote to me to say that you were corning here!'
'Yes, sir. I am sorry that Miss Sutherland has troubled you about this little
problem. Also I don't like other people knowing about our family
misfortune. Anyway, I don't think that you will ever find this Hosmer
'On the contrary,' said Holmes quietly, 'I am almost certain that I will find
Mr Windibank started violently, and dropped his gloves. 'I am happy to
hear that,' he said.
'It is a curious thing,' remarked Holmes, 'that a typewriter is just as
distinctive as a man's handwriting. For example, in this letter of yours, I can
see that this part of the 'r' has a slight defect. There are also fourteen
other characteristics of your typewriter. '
'We write all the letters in the office with this typewriter,' said Mr
'And now,' continued Holmes, 'I will show you what is really very
interesting. In fact, I am thinking about writing a book on the typewriter and
its relation to crime.'
Mr Windibank jumped out of his chair and picked up his hat. 'I cannot
waste time over this ridiculous talk. If you can catch the man, catch him, and
let me know when you have caught him.'
'Certainly,' said Holmes, walking over to the door and locking it. 'I let you
know that I have caught him.'
'What! Where?' shouted Mr Windibank becoming white, and looking
around like a rat in a trap.
'You can't get away, Mr Windibank,' said Holmes. 'This case was really
very easy. Now sit down and we can talk about it.'
Mr Windibank fell back into the chair.
'I did not do anything illegal,' he stammered.
'I am afraid that you are right. But, Mr Windibank, it was a cruel, selfish
and heartless trick. Now, let us look at what happened,' said Holmes.
Then Holmes sat down and began to talk.
'The man marries a woman older than himself for her money. He can also
use the money of the daughter as long as the daughter lives with him and
the mother. The daughter has a lot of money so it is important not to lose it.
But the daughter is friendly and affectionate, so it is clear that she will
soon find a husband. At first this man tells the daughter that she cannot go
out, but this will not solve the problem forever. Then one day the daughter
says that she wants to go to a ball. What does the clever stepfather do then?
With the help of the wife, he disguises himself. He wears dark glasses, and
puts on a fake moustache. Then he changes his voice and speaks very
softly. He is even more certain that his plan will work because the girl is
short-sighted. Then at the ball this man keeps away other lovers by
becoming the girl's lover himself.'
'It was just a joke at first,' groaned Mr Windibank. 'We didn't think that
the girl would fall in love.'
'Yes, that is probably true,' continued Holmes. 'But the girl really fell in
love, and you decided to take the situation to the extreme. You began to
see her often, and the mother said that she liked him very much. Then you
decided to ask Miss Sutherland to marry you so that she would never again
think about other men. But it was difficult for you to pretend to go to
France every time Miss Sutherland had to see Mr Angel. You had to end the
situation dramatically. In some way, you had to keep Miss Sutherland from
thinking about other men in the future. Therefore, you made her promise on
the Bible, and you told her that something could happen on the very morning
of the wedding. You took her to the church, but obviously you could not
marry her. You disappeared by using the old trick of entering one door of
a cab and walking out the other. I think this is the chain of events, Mr
'Yes, maybe that is true,' replied Mr Windibank, 'but I did not do anything
illegal, and now you are breaking the law because you will not let me leave
'You are right. You did not do anything illegal,' said Holmes as he
unlocked and opened the door, 'but you really deserve to be punished, and I
would like to do it.'
Then Holmes picked up a riding-crop, but Mr Windibank ran out the door
and out of the house.
'Now, he certainly is a cold-blooded scoundrel!' said Holmes laughing.
'That fellow will continue doing worse and worse crimes until he does
something really bad and finishes on the gallows. In any case, this case had
some interesting points.'
'I cannot completely follow your reasoning in this case,' I said.
'Well, it was clear from the first, that Mr Hosmer Angel had a very good
reason for his actions, and that the only man who could really profit from the
situation was the stepfather: he wanted to keep the hundred pounds a year.
Then it was very suggestive that Mr Windibank and Mr Hosmer Angel were
never together, and so were the dark glasses, the soft voice and the
moustache; they all suggested a disguise. The final point was the typed
signature. This made me think that the handwriting of the man must be very
familiar to Miss Sutherland, and that if she saw even a small portion of it,
she would recognise it.'
'And how did you verify these ideas?' I asked.
'First I wrote to Mr Windibank's firm. In the letter I described Mr Angel
after I had eliminated everything that could be a disguise, like the glasses,
the moustache and the voice, and I asked them if they had an employee like
They wrote back to me and said that I had described Mr James Windibank.
Then I wrote to Mr Windibank to invite him here, and as I expected he typed
his reply to me. Then I compared his letter with the letters of Mr Angel.
'And Miss Sutherland?' I asked.
'If I tell her, she will not believe me,' replied Holmes.
'Maybe you remember this Persian saying, "It is dangerous to take a tiger
cub from its mother, and it is dangerous to take a delusion from a