A Book of Remarkable Criminals HTML version

The case of Holmes illustrates the practical as well as the purely ethical value of
"honour among thieves," and shows how a comparatively insignificant misdeed
may ruin a great and comprehensive plan of crime. To dare to attempt the
extermination of a family of seven persons, and to succeed so nearly in effecting
it, could be the work of no tyro, no beginner like J. B. Troppmann. It was the act
of one who having already succeeded in putting out of the way a number of other
persons undetected, might well and justifiably believe that he was born for
greater and more compendious achievements in robbery and murder than any
who had gone before him. One can almost subscribe to America's claim that
Holmes is the "greatest criminal" of a century boasting no mean record in such
In the remarkable character of his achievements as an assassin we are apt to
lose sight of Holmes' singular skill and daring as a liar and a bigamist. As an
instance of the former may be cited his audacious explanation to his family, when
they heard of his having married a second time. He said that he had met with a
serious accident to his head, and that when he left the hospital, found that he had
entirely lost his memory; that, while in this state of oblivion, he had married again
and then, when his memory returned, realised to his horror his unfortunate
position. Plausibility would seem to have been one of Holmes' most useful gifts;
men and women alike--particularly the latter-- he seems to have deceived with
ease. His appearance was commonplace, in no way suggesting the conventional
criminal, his manner courteous, ingratiating and seemingly candid, and like so
many scoundrels, he could play consummately the man of sentiment.
The weak spot in Holmes' armour as an enemy of society was a dangerous
tendency to loquacity, the defect no doubt of his qualities of plausible and
insinuating address and ever ready mendacity.