I did a little research into a real-life crime that inspired one of the Notebooks of Solar Pons entries by August Derleth. This appeared in Issue Three of the Solar Pons Gazette.
‘From the Notebooks of Dr. Lyndon Parker’ can be found in A Praed Street Dossier. The Notebook entry for December 14, 1919, features a discussion between Pons and Inspector Jamison regarding a woman’s body found in the Merstham Tunnel.
The basis for this snippet is a real life murder committed in 1905. August Derleth borrowed the specifics of the killing for his entry and then offered a speculative solution involving blackmail. Though the real killer was never caught, there is no doubt that Derleth used the sad story of Mary Money for this Notebook entry.
|The corpse of a young woman is found in Merstham Tunnel||The corpse of a young woman is found in Merstham Tunnel|
|The body was mangled by a train, one leg nearly severed||The body was mangled by a train, one leg severed|
|The girl, Angela Morell, was a clerk in a dairy||The girl, Mary Money, was a clerk in a dairy|
|She was of good reputation||She was of good reputation|
|She left her lodgings, saying she was going for a short walk and was killed shortly thereafter||She left her work place, saying she was going for a short walk and was killed shortly thereafter|
|A piece of a veil was found in her mouth||A scarf was found stuffed down her throat|
|She was likely gagged and pushed out of the moving train||She was gagged and pushed out of the moving train|
|The killer was never identified or caught||The killer was never identified or caught|
Elements of the Merstham Tunnel Mystery appeared in a better-known detective story: The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plans, featuring Sherlock Holmes. The body of Cadogan West was disposed of in a tunnel; for all appearances, having been thrown from a train. However, this was a ruse by the killer, the murder having not occurred on the train at all.
It is quite likely that Doyle discussed the Mary Money killing at one of the meetings of The Crimes Club, since a fellow member was very interested in the case. Thus, Doyle likely had access to more information and analysis than most, laying the groundwork for the incorporation of this crime into a Holmes tale.