illustration of Sherlock Holmes in profile looking across a cityscape with a magnifying glass in the distance and a speckled band visible through the glass

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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What clues allow Sherlock Holmes to solve the case?

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There are other suggestive circumstances that should make the reader suspect that Dr. Roylott is responsible for the death of Julia Stoner and is trying to murder her sister Helen. These are not exactly clues but details of great significance. One is that Grimesby is a doctor. This, of course, suggests that he should know a great deal about poisons and could know of a type of poison which is undetectable in an autopsy. If such an undetectable poison existed, Roylott was the kind of man who would have found out about it.

Another striking detail has to do with money. Roylott would have been legally obliged to pay Julia a large sum of money if she got married and would have been obliged to do the same to Helen, who was engaged to be married within as little as one month.

She [the mother] had a considerable sum of money—not less than £1000 a year—and this she bequeathed to Dr. Roylott entirely while we resided with him, with a provision that a certain annual sum should be allowed to each of us in the event of our marriage.

Roylott is hard up for money and has his estate mortgaged for more than it is worth. He would face financial ruin if he had to pay either of his stepdaughters the money they are entitled to.

Roylott has spent many years in India and seems to know a lot about exotic Indian animals. The cheetah and the baboon symbolize his esoteric interests.

Roylott associates with a band of rather mysterious gypsies, who could conceivably aid and abet him in killing his stepdaughters. These gypsies might know of undetectable poisons.

Dr. Roylott shows that he has a terrible temper. He served a long term in prison in India for killing a servant. He is hated and feared by everybody in the neighborhood of Stoke Moran. When he bursts into Holmes' room at Baker Street he makes a display of his strength, temper, and potential violence.

“Don't you dare to meddle with my affairs. I know that Miss Stoner has been here. I traced her! I am a dangerous man to fall foul of! See here.” He stepped swiftly forward, seized the poker, and bent it into a curve with his huge brown hands.

“See that you keep yourself out of my grip,” he snarled, and hurling the twisted poker into the fireplace he strode out of the room.

The reader is sure that Dr. Roylott is responsible for Julia Stoner's death and is trying to murder her sister Helen. Roylott is a "prime suspect." The only question is how he could manage to do it.

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The first clues that help Holmes solve the mystery are derived from his investigation into the estate of Helen and Julia's mother. From this, Holmes determines that if either Helen or Julia marries, Dr. Roylott's finances would be severely impeded; if both were to marry, he would be in financial ruin. This clearly gives Dr. Roylott a motive for the murder(s).

Next is Dr. Roylott's demand that Helen move into a particular room in his home, Stoke Moran. This seems a strange request and leads Holmes to believe that this room must, in some way, present Dr. Roylott with the opportunity to carry out his crime. Now, motive and opportunity have been established, Homes and Watson only have to infiltrate the room and await for the details to reveal themselves.

From the seemingly pointless ventilation shaft and the equally useless bell rope, Holmes is able to deduce that these two elements must be involved in the murder attempt in some way--why else would they be there? From the other details of of the whistling sound, the metallic clank, and the exotic pets that Dr. Roylott keeps on the grounds, Holmes deduces that some sort of animal must make its way through the vent and down the rope toward its victim.

Holmes only has to await the arrival of the swamp adder to confirm his theory.

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There are at least three things that Sherlock Holmes would notice that would make him think that Roylott is the one who has killed Julia and is trying to kill Helen.  These are all things that Roylott has done that do not make a lot of sense if he is not the murderer.

  • Why does he have Helen move into the room where Julia died?
  • Why did he have this vent constructed that does not lead to the outside?  It just goes to another room -- that makes no sense.
  • Why does he put in this bell pull that is not attached to a bell?

All of this stuff makes no sense so it must be connected to the murder.


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Discuss three clues that Sherlock Holmes uses to solve the case.

When Helen Stoner first visits Sherlock Holmes, she describes sounds that she has been hearing in the night:

during the last few nights I have always, about three in the morning, heard a low, clear whistle. . . .


As I opened my door I seemed to hear a low whistle, such as my sister described, and a few moments later a clanging sound, as if a mass of metal had fallen.

Holmes mentally files away this information and will retrieve it when he is staying at Stoke Manor during his active investigation.

In the same initial interview, Helen Stoner tells Holmes that, because of some renovations to Stoke Manor,

I have had to move into the chamber in which my sister died, and to sleep in the very bed in which she slept.

These are two clues that Holmes uses to determine that the death of Miss Stoner's sister was a murder. Holmes also deduces that these strange occurrences figure prominently in the imminent threat to Miss Stoner's life. The sounds are significant, as is the location of her new bedchamber, and Holmes recognizes that right away. He has only to determine the particulars.

When he arrives at Stoke Manor and begins inspecting Helen Stoner's quarters, he notices the nonfunctioning bell pull. He observes

that it is fastened to a hook just above where the little opening for the ventilator is.

He easily sees that it is used to create an opening in the room—an opening large enough for the snake to enter.

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Discuss three clues that Sherlock Holmes uses to solve the case.

I want to talk about four clues that seem important here.

First, you have the fact that Dr. Roylott has moved Miss Helen Stoner into the room that used to be her sister's room.  This suggests that there is something in particular about that room that helps him kill people.

Second, you have the fact that Roylott put the bell pull in without Julia asking for it.  Why would he do that if it did not have to do with her death?

Third, the bell pull is not attached to a bell -- just to a hook in the vent.

Last, the vent leads to the next room, not to the outside.  It would make more sense and be easier for a vent to hook up to the outdoors.

So the vent and bell pull are weird and they are put in this room where Roylott wants Helen to sleep.  Very suspicious.

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