Obits & headstones & hope, oh my! (contest winners)

Last month, I invited all Friends of Russell to speculate on that good woman’s death: was it in 1925, or recently—or in the future? How did her obituary in The Times of London read, or what did her headstone look like.

(I really have to stop doing these contests: judging them just pulls me to pieces, since I want to give every entry a prize…)

But with the caveat that the differences between these winners and the runners-up is small, here are your winning entries:

Bob Rude:

Tombstone_ Bob Rude

(Note both pipe and throwing knife…)

Jane Sellman:

From the London Times, 1925

Sussex—July 14th—Mary Holmes (nee Russell), consulting detective and scholar and wife of the famous Sherlock Holmes, died yesterday in what first appeared to be an accident but may well have been deliberate murder. Mrs. Holmes was found near the beehives at the Holmes property in Sussex by a local lad, one Thomas Paddington, who works odd jobs. “She weren’t breathin’ or nuthin,” the 14-year-old asserted.

Local police at first put her death down to misadventure, possibly a reaction to an ordinary bee sting. However, when Mr. Holmes and Scotland Yard arrived on the scene, they soon determined that she had been stung by a group of hybrid bees; corpses of these insects were found nearby. They were larger and lighter than normal honeybees and had longer and sharper stingers, according to police sources. Mr. Holmes and Inspector Lestrade are trying to determine if someone brought the bees deliberately to the property. People in the area reported seeing a stranger walking the country paths, carrying a wooden case. Those who encountered him remembered a German accent.

Despite his grief, Mr. Holmes continues on the case along with the Yard. Mrs. Holmes is to be buried on the Sussex property tomorrow. The funeral service will be held at the Eastbourne Hebrew Congregation.


Linda Hay:

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Friston, East Sussex and

Graveyard, final resting place of Mary Russell Homes?

Mary Judith Russell Holmes  1900 – 1925

April 1, 2016    Today in Santa Cruz, California, Laurie R. King, the literary agent for Mary Russell Holmes, announced the passing of her client in 1925. Known chiefly for her memoirs, Russell was a partner with her husband, Sherlock Holmes, in the world’s first consulting detective firm, based at that time near the village of East Dean, Sussex rather than at the more famous Baker Street address. She was also an up and coming scholar of some renown in the field of theology and had recently finished her PhD thesis on the women of the Hebrew Bible. It was expected that she would soon be awarded her Doctorate at Oxford where she also did her undergraduate work.

As it is more than ninety years since her death, fans of the memoirs are skeptical, pointing out that her husband’s death had been announced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1893, followed ten years later by a story explaining his faked death and reappearance. Speculation among the followers of Ms. King’s  blog postings, novel-memoirs, and short stores seem to favor the theory that Ms. Russell did not die in 1925 and await further developments. Online speculation has been intense.

Leslie Klinger, Holmes expert, friend, and colleague of Ms. King, has drawn the public’s attention to a badly weathered tombstone in the graveyard at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Friston, East Sussex. Carved in marble and rendered nearly illegible by salt filled air and acid rain, the only word which can be deciphered is “Mary” and the date “1900”. The traces of the rest of the inscription deepen the mystery.  Mary Russell preferred to use her maiden name, however, in deference to the social norms of her day, she sometimes went by Mary Russell Holmes, to make clear the relationship with her husband, when not to do so might make things awkward. She also sometimes used her full name, given her at birth. The space after the word “Mary” would accommodate quite a long version of her name, or perhaps a description such as “beloved wife of.”

Sadly the records for the graveyard were damaged during WW II when a leak in the roof of the vestry went unnoticed for some time. Thus far, in the hours since the announcement, no death certificate has been found either.  Some would argue that as there is no obituary for her in The Times in 1925, that like her husband, she can not be dead. Ms. King has yet to comment on the speculations, but a book “The Murder of Mary Russell,” coming out on April 5 may answer the question.


Jerry & Cae Burge:

March 1, 2016

Declaration of Death in Absentia

Having been satisfied that all processes were followed, the High Court of Justice declared Mary Judith Russell Holmes deceased on 29th February 2016 after having been missing for seven years. The senior members of Scotland Yard believe her to be dead.  There were several reported sightings of her since the time of her disappearance but none of those could be verified.  In addition, detectives assigned to the case noted several cryptic advertisements in the Personals sections of various newspapers in the U.K. and several in San Francisco, California, USA. They believe that Miss Russell, as she was known, may have placed the notices herself but they could not prove this with certainty.

Following this High Court ruling the coroner will convene an inquest at which time a death certificate will be issued if no further information comes to light.  At that time, Miss Russell’s American lawyers, who are named as executors, will be able to settle her estate.  Miss Russell’s birth date has been given as 2 January 1900. She was believed to be 109 years old at her last known appearance.  Her executors have said they will place a memorial marker at Oxford University ‘at the proper time.’



Rebecca Rodden:

Headstone Rodden

(Love the throwing knife in the tree…)

But for the grand prize, I wanted something that grasped the point of the exercise most thoroughly, that reflected the despair and the hope and a willingness to Play the Game that spoke for us all.  And so, in a sentiment we can all agree with, we have:

Katie Magnusson:

The Times erroneously reported the death of Ms. Mary Russell in yesterday’s edition. We have been informed, by the woman herself, that she is alive and well. We regret our mistake, and apologize to Ms. Russell, her respected husband, and the rest of their family.


  1. Rebecca Rodden on April 4, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    This makes my month! I can’t wait to read it!

  2. Diane on April 4, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    I like the last two the best as they indicate that she did not die in 1925. I went back and read your Editor’s Prefaces in the first 4 books, all of which indicate that the sender of the manuscripts is still alive.

    The contest was fun, and I was trying to think of what to write, but wasn’t fast enough (I think a lot before committing to paper)

    Good show, everyone!

  3. Joanne on April 4, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    My persistent hunch is that, like Miss Pettigrew, Marry Russell died when she became Mary Russell Holmes. What’s in a name, indeed.

  4. Merrily Taylor on April 4, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    I think all were very clever, and especially like the ones that acknowledge that Miss Russell is still alive!

  5. Sabrina Flynn on April 4, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Congratulations to the winners! Love the grand prize entry. 🙂

  6. Kathy Reel on April 4, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    So much fun to see the winning entries here. Great job by all!

  7. Chuck Haberlein on April 4, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Great stuff! Just what’s needed to keep me going until the Big Day (ie: tomorrow)!

  8. Joyce Green on April 4, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    Katie Magnusson’s entry is absolutely perfect! Live long, Mary Russell.

  9. Mary Achor on April 5, 2016 at 5:04 am

    Jane Sellman’s was glorious and fun to read…

  10. rachael hungerford on April 5, 2016 at 5:40 am

    Mary Russell hadn’t better be really dead – I couldn’t take it! She’s too important a role model.
    Thanks for the series, Laurie.

  11. Sylvia on April 5, 2016 at 6:49 am

    Great entries. I’m with Ms. Hungerford above; surely not! May she live into her hundreds. I am downloading my audible edition of the book as I write. Thank you Mrs. King!

  12. Julie Harlan on April 6, 2016 at 10:24 am

    As I stated, when I first heard the title, Mary can not be dead. In my minds eye she was the person who sent you the the memoirs. She chose you totally ell her story. I am waiting by the mailbox for my copy. I have been informed by email it is on the way. I can not wait to read it. Keep writing friend we wait for more with the excitement of children on Christmas morning! Thank you for all you do.

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