The Empty House redirects here. For the ghost story by Algernon Blackwood, see The Empty House (Blackwood).

First page of an adaptation of "The Adventure of the Empty House" which appears in the first (and only) issue of DC Comics' Sherlock Holmes from October 1975.

"The Adventure of the Empty House" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in 1903. It appears as the first story in the 1905 anthology The Return of Sherlock Holmes. It is notable for being the story in which Sherlock Holmes, who had been killed off in the 1893 short story "The Final Problem", is revealed to be still alive and ready to have many more adventures.[1]

The plot is set in motion when Dr. John Watson, the story's narrator, reads of the unexplained murder of the Honorable Ronald Adair at his home in Park Lane and attempts to solve the mystery. Out of curiosity, Watson goes to Park Lane, where he bumps into an old man whom he later finds out is Holmes in disguise. Holmes explains to his friend how and why he faked his death. He also informs him that his life is still in danger.

There have been numerous adaptations of "The Adventure of the Empty House" to other media, often in combination with elements taken from other stories about Holmes and Watson.

"The Adventure of the Empty House" is included in a list of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's twelve favorite Sherlock Holmes compiled for the magazine The Strand in 1927[2] and a list of the ten best Sherlock Holmes short stories which were voted for by the readers of The Baker Street Journal in 1959.[3]


The Adventure of the Empty House 01

Watson does not know that he has bumped into Holmes in disguise. 1903 illustration by Sidney Paget.

The story takes place in the spring of 1894. The Honorable Ronald Adair, a young man with no known enemies, has been found dead in the bedroom of the Park Lane home which he shared with his mother and sister. He was killed by a single shot to the head, the bullet being one from a revolver. Nothing was stolen from Ronald Adair's bedroom, coins and banknotes were found stacked in neat piles on a table next to a list of names. The bedroom door was locked from the inside and there was no sign of anyone having entered or left through the window. Ronald Adair is known to have played cards for money earlier that day with Mr. Murray, Sir John Hardy and Colonel Moran. He lost a small amount of money which he could easily afford. Ronald Adair's partnership at cards with Colonel Moran had proved profitable for the young man, the two men had won four hundred and twenty-five pounds a few days earlier.

In common with most other people in London, Dr. John Watson is fascinated by the Adair murder case. Since the death of his detective friend Sherlock Holmes three years earlier, Dr. Watson has tried to use his late friend's methods to solve mysteries. In the evening, he goes to Park Lane. He hears a police detective speaking about the Adair murder but thinks that what the man is saying is nonsense. Watson bumps into an old man whom he takes for a bookseller, knocking some books out of his arms. The old man scowls at Watson as he hands his books back to him. Watson is surprised when the old man comes to his house later. He is even more surprised when the old bookseller reveals himself to be Sherlock Holmes in disguise.

Holmes - Steele 1903 - The Empty House - The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Holmes becomes aware that a member of Moriarty's gang is trying to kill him. 1903 illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele.

Holmes tells his friend that, through his knowledge of Japanese wrestling, he was able to throw Professor Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls while avoiding falling into the chasm himself. Holmes immediately concluded that, because there were still members of Moriarty's gang who wanted to kill him, it would be best to let the world believe he was dead. For that reason, so as not to leave footprints in the mud which would show he had walked away, Holmes climbed the cliffs, which Watson had incorrectly described as sheer in "The Final Problem". Holmes rested for a while on a ledge, until he noticed a colleague of Professor Moriarty throwing rocks at him. He managed to escape across the mountains and eventually arrived in Italy.

Following the trial of the members of Moriarty's criminal organization, two gang members, Sherlock Holmes' most dangerous enemies, escaped imprisonment. For that reason, Holmes kept the fact that he was still alive a secret from Dr. Watson. He feared that Watson's account of his death would be less credible if Watson knew that it was not true. However, he needed to reveal the truth to his brother Mycroft, who supplied him with money. Holmes spent the next two years traveling in Tibet (pretending to be a Norwegian explorer named Sigerson), the Middle East and Africa before doing scientific research in France. He followed news of crimes in Britain closely, certain that his enemies would do something that could lead to their arrest.

At night, Holmes and Watson take an unusual route to Baker Street. They enter an empty house opposite the apartment which they once shared. In the apartment window, Watson can see a silhouette which looks exactly like Sherlock Holmes. Holmes explains that it is a wax dummy which Mrs. Hudson, his landlady, moves slightly every fifteen minutes. Holmes watches the street for the enemy he is certain will try to attack him. Watson notices two men in a doorway but Holmes is not interested in them.


Colonel Moran is detained by the police. 1903 illustration by Sidney Paget.

Shortly before midnight, a man in formal evening dress and carrying a walking stick enters the empty house. In the darkness, he does not notice Holmes or Watson. His walking stick is revealed to be a disguised air gun of sophisticated design. From the window of the empty house, the man shoots at what he believes is Sherlock Holmes, shattering the glass of the apartment window. At which point, Holmes jumps upon him. Holmes blows on a whistle, which summons Inspector Lestrade and two policemen, the two men whom Watson had seen in the doorway.

The man is revealed to be Colonel Moran, a man who had a not undistinguished career in the British Army in India and was well known as a tiger hunter. In spite of having lived a largely respectable life, Colonel Moran turned wicked in his later years. Being probably the best shot in London, Professor Moriarty hired him for jobs which were beyond the ability of common criminals. Moran was also the man who threw rocks at Holmes in Switzerland after the death of Professor Moriarty. Holmes tells Inspector Lestrade to arrest Colonel Moran not for the attempted murder of Sherlock Holmes but for the murder of Ronald Adair.

Back at his apartment in Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson shows Holmes the bullet which Colonel Moran fired. Although it was fired from an air gun, the bullet is of the kind usually fired from a revolver. Watson asks Holmes what Colonel Moran's motive was in murdering Ronald Adair. Holmes confesses that he does not really know. However, he believes that Colonel Moran cheated at cards, Adair found that out and planned to return his share of the money that he and Moran had won. Moran prevented that by murdering the young man to preserve his reputation. Holmes remarks that the truth will be revealed at Moran's trial.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1921 stage play The Crown Diamond: An Evening with Sherlock Holmes is partially inspired by "The Adventure of the Empty House". In the play, Sherlock Holmes is the only person who knows for certain that Colonel Sebastian Moran has stolen a diamond. Colonel Moran plans to kill Holmes. He has an air gun made which is aimed at Holmes' apartment from a building across the street. Holmes has a dummy made to fool the Colonel. During the play's run, Doyle adapted it as the short story "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone". Colonel Sebastian Moran is replaced by a character called Count Negretto Sylvius in the short story adaptation.

Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone played Holmes in films including Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, The Woman in Green and Terror by Night.

Sherlock Holmes film adaptations which feature elements taken from "The Adventure of the Empty House" include The Empty House (UK, 1921), The Sleeping Cardinal (UK, 1931), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (USA, 1943),[4] The Woman in Green (USA, 1945),[5] Terror by Night (USA, 1946)[6] and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (UK/USA, 2011).

The story was adapted as the first episode of the BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes, starring Alan Wheatley, which first aired in the United Kingdom on October 20, 1951. It was adapted as the first episode of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the second Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett, which was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on July 9, 1986. "The Empty Hearse", the first episode of the third season of the BBC TV series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which first aired in the United Kingdom on January 1, 2014, is partially based on the story. The TV movie Hunt for the Tiger, part of the series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, which was shown on television in the Soviet Union in 1980, is a largely faithful adaptation of "The Adventure of the Empty House".

Adaptations of "The Adventure of the Empty House" and "The Final Problem" appear in issue #1 of DC Comics' Sherlock Holmes from October 1975. DC's Sherlock Holmes was intended to be an ongoing comic book series. However, due to poor sales, the series was cancelled after only one issue.


  1. The 1902 novel The Hound of the Baskervilles was published between "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House". However, its action takes place before that of "The Final Problem".
  2. In his 1927 list of his favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle named "The Adventure of the Empty House" as his sixth best, following "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", "The Red-Headed League", "The Adventure of the Dancing Men", "The Final Problem" and "A Scandal in Bohemia".
  3. In the list of the ten best Sherlock Holmes stories voted for by readers of The Baker Street Journal in 1959, "The Adventure of the Empty House" is ranked as the tenth best, following "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", "The Red-Headed League', "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", "Silver Blaze", "A Scandal in Bohemia", "The Musgrave Ritual", "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans", "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" and "The Adventure of the Dancing Men".
  4. The 1943 film Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon makes use of plot elements from "The Adventure of the Empty House", "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Dancing Men".
  5. The 1945 film The Woman in Green makes use of plot elements from "The Adventure of the Empty House" and "The Final Problem"
  6. The 1946 film Terror by Night makes use of plot elements from "The Adventure of the Empty House", "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone", "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" and The Sign of the Four.

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