Jabez Wilson, Holmes’s vividly red-headed client in this story, has an extraordinary tale to tell about the Red-Headed League which is apparently an organization that sets red-headed men like himself up in work. Wilson was told by his work-assistant, Vincent Spaulding, that the League was founded by an eccentric American millionaire called Ezekiah Hopkins, who had red hair and wanted to benefit other men with the same hair colour. Therefore he left his considerable sum of money to be used for the benefit of red-headed men around the world, to create comfortable positions for them, involving relatively little work for good pay. Wilson had been engaged in one of these positions, working in one of the League’s offices, only to find a notice a few days later announcing the abrupt termination of the League. It was at this point that he decided to consult Holmes.
As it turns out, the League and its founder are entirely fictitious – a most elaborate front to distract Wilson while his so-called assistant secretly digs underneath his house to a nearby bank. Spaulding is really a seasoned bank robber, John Clay, who sets the whole thing up in order to get the reclusive Wilson out of his house. Holmes, of course, finds all this out, and traps Clay. Although the story involves a serious – or potentially serious – crime, it is one of the most light-hearted, not to say bizarre cases in the whole Holmes canon, and gives Holmes and Watson not a little amusement at poor Jabez Wilson’s expense.