"The Boscombe Valley Mystery" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It first appeared in print in the October 1891 issue of The Strand magazine. It would be published again in October 1892 as part of the anthology The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
In the story, a young man named James McCarthy is arrested for the murder of his father. Alice Turner, James McCarthy's friend, believes that he is innocent. She asks Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard to investigate the murder, hoping that he can prove James McCarthy's innocence. Inspector Lestrade asks the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes to help with the investigation. Lestrade becomes convinced of James McCarthy's guilt. Holmes, however, believes it is possible that the murder was committed by someone else. Through consideration of the evidence and examination of the crime scene, Holmes discovers the murderer's true identity.
There have been film, radio, television and theatrical adaptations of the story.
James McCarthy of Boscombe Valley, near the town of Ross in the Herefordshire countryside, is arrested for the murder of his father Charles McCarthy. Convinced that he is innocent, Alice Turner, James McCarthy's friend since childhood, calls on Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard to investigate the crime. Lestrade asks the private detective Sherlock Holmes to assist with the investigation. Holmes asks his friend and former housemate Dr. Watson to accompany him. On the train journey from London to Herefordshire, Watson learns the known facts of the case from Holmes and from newspaper reports.
John Turner, Alice Turner's father, and Charles McCarthy were neighbors in Boscombe Valley. Both men had known each other in Australia, where both of them were said to have made their fortunes. John Turner, however, appeared to be the richer of the two men because he was the biggest landowner in Boscombe Valley. Charles McCarthy rented his property, Hatherley Farm, from John Turner. However, the two men appeared to be close and seemed to treat each other as equals rather than as landlord and tenant.
On the morning of his murder, Charles McCarthy told his servant that he would be meeting someone at Boscombe Pool, a small lake, at three o'clock that afternoon. Two witnesses saw Mr. McCarhy walking in the direction of the lake. One witness, gamekeeper William Crowder, saw James McCarthy carrying a rifle and apparently following his father. Patience Moran, the young daughter of John Turner's lodge-keeper, saw Charles McCarthy and his son at the lake. The two men were arguing. James McCarthy raised his hand as if to strike his father. Patience was frightened and ran home to her mother. Soon afterwards, James McCarthy followed Patience into the lodge house. He said that his father had been killed. James McCarthy led Patience Moran and her mother to his father's body. Charles McCarthy had been hit in the head with a blunt instrument. The wounds could have been inflicted by the butt of James McCarthy's rifle.
The following day, James McCarthy was arrested for his father's murder and was questioned by the coroner on the day after that. In response to the coroner's questions, James McCarthy said that he had been away in Bristol for three days before the day of his father's death. He returned on the morning of the day that his father died and found that his father was not at home. James McCarthy denied that he followed his father to Boscombe Pool. He said that he went there to hunt rabbits, not knowing that his father was in front of him. In response to a cry of "Cooee", the way in which Charles McCarthy and his son usually called to each other, James McCarthy rushed forward. His father seemed surprised to see him. They began to talk and then to argue. Since his father was in a very bad mood, James McCarthy decided to leave. He then heard a horrible cry. He turned around and saw his fatally wounded father. According to James, his father said something about a rat before he died. James McCarthy refused to tell the coroner what he and his father had argued about. He could not explain why his father, who did not know he had come back from Bristol, would call out "Cooee" to him. He added that he thought he saw a gray cloak on the ground when he returned to his wounded father. When he got up to go to the lodge house, the cloak had disappeared.
Inspector Lestrade meets Holmes and Watson in Ross and takes them to a hotel. Alice Turner comes to the hotel. She says she is certain that James McCarthy did not tell the coroner what he and his father had been arguing about because they had been arguing about her. Charles McCarthy wanted his son to marry Alice Turner. Although James was fond of Alice, he said that he was not yet ready to marry. Alice says that her father did not want her to marry James. Miss Turner tells Holmes that he cannot see her father because he is too ill and his doctor will not allow it. She also mentions that the area of Australia in which her father and Charles McCarthy had both lived was Victoria.
Holmes and Lestrade have permission to see James McCarthy in prison. Watson does not and has to stay in the hotel. Watson reads a full account of the coroner's inquest into Charles McCarthy's death. It is clear to Watson that Mr. McCarthy was attacked from behind. Holmes returns. He says that James McCarthy would like to marry Alice Turner but could not because he had already secretly married a barmaid from Bristol. He had been with his wife for the three days before his father's murder. James McCarthy's wife wrote to him in prison, telling him that their marriage was not legal because she was already married to another man.
The following day, Holmes, Watson and Lestrade go to Hatherley Farm and Boscombe Pool. On the way, Lestrade tells Holmes that John Turner is dying. He has been in ill health for some time but the murder of Charles McCarthy is said to have affected him badly. Turner and McCarthy appear to have been very close. John Turner allowed Charles McCarthy to stay at Hatherley Farm rent free. There are also many other stories of the kind deeds that Turner did for McCarthy.
At Hatherley Farm, Holmes examines the boots of Charles and James McCarthy. At the crime scene, Holmes sees marks of another boot, a distinctive square one. He finds that the tracks of the square boot prints lead from a beech tree. At the foot of the beech tree, Holmes picks up something which looks like dust and puts it in an envelope. He also picks up and examines a stone. He announces that he is going to go to the lodge house and leave a note with Mr. Moran.
When Holmes returns, he tells Lestrade that the stone which he picked up was the murder weapon. The stone was obviously placed under the tree recently because grass was growing beneath it. Holmes goes on to say that the murderer was "a tall man, left-handed, limps with the right leg, wears thick-sealed shooting boots and a gray cloak, smokes Indian cigars, uses a cigar holder and carries a blunt pen-knife in his pocket." Lestrade refuses to waste time looking for a man who matches that description. Holmes later tells Watson that he was able to deduce most of that information from the boot prints. From the death blow which was struck to Charles McCarthy, he knows that the killer was left-handed. James McCarthy said that he saw a gray cloak on the ground. The trail of boot prints indicate that the murderer left his cloak behind and then went back for it. At the foot of the beech tree, Holmes found ash and the butt of an Indian cigar. The end of cigar had not been in the killer's mouth and its tip had been cut off with a blunt knife.
Holmes goes on to say that the cry of "Cooee" was not intended to attract James McCarthy's attention but that of the person that Charles McCarthy had arranged to meet. Since "Cooee" is a "distinctly Australian cry", the person whom Charles McCarthy was calling out to must have been someone else who had been in Australia. Watson asks why Charles McCarthy spoke about a rat before he died. Holmes uses a map to show Watson that Ballarat is a town in Victoria. Charles McCarthy was trying to tell his son that he had been attacked by "So and so, of Ballarat."
In response to the note which Sherlock Holmes left with Mr. Moran, John Turner comes to Holmes' hotel. Knowing that he is dying and knowing that James McCarthy may be hanged for a crime that he did not commit, Turner agrees to dictate and sign a full confession. For the sake of his daughter, however, John Turner insists that his confession only be used if absolutely necessary.
In Australia, John Turner had been a highway robber. He went by the name of Black Jack of Ballarat and became leader of the Ballarat Gang. Having become rich as a result of his robberies, Turner went back to England. He left his life of crime behind him, purchased a large estate in Boscombe Valley, married and had one daughter, Alice. John Turner met Charles McCarthy on a trip to London. McCarthy recognized Turner from his time in Australia. Charles McCarthy had been the driver of a wagon carrying gold from Ballarat to Melbourne which Turner had robbed. McCarthy demanded that Turner look after him and his son James, threatening to tell the police if he did not. Soon afterwards, Charles McCarthy and his son moved to Boscombe Valley and began living at Hatherley Farm rent free. Largely because he did not want Alice to find out about his criminal past, John Turner agreed to nearly every demand that Charles McCarthy made. The one demand that Turner did not agree to was that Alice be married to James McCarthy.
John Turner admits to having murdered Charles McCarthy. He overheard McCarthy urging his son to marry Alice. He became angry because Charles McCarthy only wanted his son to inherit the Turner fortune and did not care what Alice thought about the matter.
Seven months later, John Turner dies. His confession is never made public because, thanks to doubts raised by Holmes' investigation, James McCarthy is found not guilty of murder. Alice turner never finds out that her father was an armed robber and James McCarthy never finds out that his father was a blackmailer. There is a possibility that James and Alice will marry.
A short British silent film adaptation of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", starring Ellie Norwood as Holmes, was released in 1922.
"The Boscombe Valley Mystery" was adapted as the sixth episode of the BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes, starring Peter Cushing as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson. It first aired in the United Kingdom on October 14, 1968. There are a number of differences between the episode and the original short story. Inspector Lestrade does not appear. Nobody asks Holmes to investigate the murder. He goes to Herefordshire out of mere curiosity after having read about the case in the newspapers. John Turner dies immediately after making his confession. The murder victim's name is changed from Charles to Bill McCarthy, possibly to prevent viewers from thinking about Edgar Bergen's famous ventriloquist's dummy Charlie McCarthy.
The fourth episode of the Granada TV series The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and Edward Hardwicke as Watson, is an adaptation of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery". It was first shown on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on March 7, 1991. The adaptation is a largely faithful one, although there are some differences from the original story. The action is moved from Herefordshire to Cheshire in north-west England. As in the 1968 TV adaptation, the character of Inspector Lestrade is omitted. Alice Turner contacts Holmes directly, rather than through Lestrade. Much of Lestrade's dialogue from the story is given to Inspector Summerby, the chief of the local constabulary. After he is found not guilty of murder, James McCarthy proposes marriage to Alice Turner. Holmes burns John Turners confession, which was not needed to prove James McCarthy's innocence.
"The Boscombe Pool Mystery", an episode of the American radio series CBS Radio Mystery Theater, is an adaptation of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery". The episode stars Kevin McCarthy as Holmes. It first aired on May 31, 1977. The adaptation is a largely faithful one. Curiously, however, not only is the title of the story slightly altered, the names of some of the characters are changed too. John Turner and his daughter Alice are renamed Alexander and Susan Turner. The first name of the elder Mr. McCarthy, the murder victim, is never revealed. The most significant change from the original short story is that Mr. Turner makes his full confession in front of his daughter, who already suspects that Holmes believes her father to be the murderer. As in the original story, however, James McCarthy never finds out about the criminal activities either of his father or of the father of Miss Turner.
A radio adaptation of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in the United Kingdom on November 26, 1994. There are a few differences from the original short story. While the local doctor is tending to another patient, Dr. Watson is asked to examine the sick John Turner. Watson finds out that Turner has lived in Australia when he sees the many souvenirs from that country in Turner's house. Watson is said to have spent some time in Australia when he was younger. Consequently, he is aware of the significance of the cry of "Cooee' as soon as he finds out about it. John Turner arranged the meeting with Charles McCarthy at Boscombe Pool. Having decided that he had finally had enough of McCarthy's blackmailing, Turner planned to offer McCarthy one final payment of a very large amount of money if he agreed to leave England forever. By the end of the program, James McCarthy and Alice Turner are already married.
A theatrical adaptation of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", called Murder in the Gardens, was staged in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2007. Different scenes from the play were performed at various locations around the city, to which the audience followed the actors. The murderer is ultimately revealed to be Miss Turner's mother, her father having died before the events of the play took place.