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ONE OF THE ATTRACTIONS of Stephen Browning’s On the Trail of Sherlock Holmes is its encouraging me to perform added sleuthing. For example, Browning’s “Walk 7: East End” introduced me to Detective Inspector Frederick “The Weasel” Wensley, a contemporary of Holmes’ pal Inspector Lestrade.
As noted by chronicler Dr. John H. Watson, Holmes had a good working relationship with Lestrade, who in “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” said, “We’re not jealous of you at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow there’s not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn’t be glad to shake your hand.”
One of these younger constables would likely have been Frederick Wensley, about whom tidbits follow, some from Browning’s book, others from my own Internet sleuthing.
Detective Inspector Frederick Wensley. “In 1895,” Wikipedia notes, “Wensley entered the CID [Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigation Department] as a probationary detective constable and was promoted to detective sergeant three years later.”
Recall that Holmes met Lestrade in A Study in Scarlet, the action taking place Friday-Sunday, March 3-5, 1882, (according to Jay Finley Christ’s authoritative Chronology of Sherlock Holmes). Thus, an earliest Holmes/Wensley encounter likely came some 13 years after Holmes first aided Lestrade.
In 1896, Wensley attained fame for chasing murderer William Seaman onto a Whitechapel roof and fighting it out as a crowd collected below. Seaman subsequently was hanged—purposely between two other murderers, Milsom and Fowler, who were separated at the gallows after Fowler tried to kill Milsom at their trial.
Talk about bad actors.
The Bywaters/Thompson Caper. Wikipedia also tells the tale of “Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters, both executed in 1923 for the stabbing murder of Edith’s husband Percy the previous year. This case was notable because Mrs. Thompson appears never to have been linked to the murder committed by her lover, except for letters she wrote to Bywaters suggesting she was trying to poison Percy.”
Authorities found no poison in the deceased husband, yet “Wensley wanted to test his theory of a joint murder plot.” In retrospect, Wikipedia suggests, “It is likely that Thompson was actually convicted (like Florence Maybrick over thirty years earlier) for committing adultery.”
Browning’s Assessment: Wensley “was nicknamed ‘The Weasel,’ not entirely kindly….” Curiously, in “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box,” chronicler Watson refers to Lestrade “as wiry, as dapper, and as ferret-like as ever.”
Wensley was involved with solving the Houndsditch Murders and in the Siege of Sidney Street. “In December 1910,” Browning recounts, “a group of Latvian immigrants attempted to rob a jeweller’s in Houndsditch which resulted in the death of three policemen, the wounding of two others and the death of the leader of the gang, a man called George Gardstein. Most of the gang members were quickly rounded up but two escaped police until, on 3 January, they were holed up at 100 Sidney Street in Stepney.”
The Rolling Stones knew the neighborhood: “Now she gets her kicks in Stepney, not in Knightsbridge anymore.”
“For the first time ever,” Browning says, “as the police had inadequate weapons to deal with the danger, the army was called in and Winston Churchill himself controversially commanded the operation from the street. Pathe News filmed the stand-off which lasted six hours…. The event inspired novels and at least two films, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The Siege of Sidney Street (1960).”
Browning also notes that Wensley “kept a scrapbook of his many press clippings, lovingly created by himself with scissors and glue, and which is preserved today at the Bishopsgate Institute.”
Yes, and I suspect Wensley got the idea from the commonplace books of Sherlock Holmes. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023