The Whaling News (July ’21)

Welcome to the FIFTY-SEVENTH online edition of The Whaling News, the periodic newsletter of the Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn (the Sherlock Holmes Society of St Charles, MO).

This month’s edition of the Whaling News is going to be a major experiment. Unfortunately, time has caught up with me and not only has this edition not completely made it to press, but in a few short days we have a Zoom meeting that I still need to prepare.

It would also unfortunate if I simply let things go completely undone with this publication before we have our meeting. So here’s what I propose: I am going to publish this eNewsletter in sort of a piecemeal fashion. Whatever is finished will still be on this page. Whatever has NOT been completed will be features from last month’s edition but are crossed out (it may be a point of interest for some that each month I typically copy over the previous month’s stuff to produce each new edition; it’s done in the hopes of maintaining consistency, though sometimes it can show immediate errors when I forget to update some important upcoming event that is suddenly history).

There will likely be updates to this part that you read now, The Rostrum. Any updates will have a date before it showing when it has been entered.

My intention also is to send all of you the usual email about this online publication being updated for the month (almost), paired with the notification of our meeting this Friday, 16-July (while also notifying everyone via Social Media as well). Periodic updates to this edition will not be paired with any extra emails EXCEPT for a final one notifying everyone that it is finally complete.

I thank you for your patience with this, and hopefully this will go fairly well. Until then, let’s get started with what we can….

Canonically yours,

J. Andrew Basford, HSU, Pilot Whale/Editor 🐳

  • Our next meeting will be Friday 16-July, 2021, at 19:00 (7pm) CDT via the Zoom app. More details can be found on our Bulletin Board.
  • The schedule for our future meetings can be found at this link.
  • If you wish to contribute a presentation for a future meeting, read our Edicts & Expectations for more information on what we’re looking for and how to submit.
  • Want to read past issues of The Whaling News? Come to our Archives Page.


By Rich Krisciunas ©

Presented to Harpooners of Sea Unicorn 06/18/21

Tonight, I’m here to join the people world-wide who have come to the defense of Beppo. When we read the stories of Sherlock Holmes, we never see him go to court to testify. Usually, the case ends when the perpetrator confesses his guilt to Holmes and we read about how he was sentenced, unless it’s a case where Holmes lets the criminal go or the bad guy escapes only to sink in a boat or die in a foreign country. The reason an author provides a confession is that is we need closure at the end of the story. We want to see the offender get punished for his crime. In real life, cases are tried in court and convictions are harder to secure. Remember the first O.J. Simpson trial?

That’s because courts have rules regarding the admissibility of evidence. Rules like hearsay, which require that a witness must have personal knowledgeof the things they testify about and witnesses can’t simply speculate and guessabout what happened.

“The Six Napoleons” is a story where Sherlock Holmes deduces that an “Italian piece-work man,” Beppo, was guilty of killing Pietro Venucci.  Holmes connects the dots to conclude that someone has been smashing busts of Napoleon and the killing of Venucci is related. Beppo’s photo is found in the dead man’s pocket and Beppo used to work at the place where the busts were made.

Holmes catches Beppo after he breaks into the home of Josiah Brown and Beppo has a bloody knife in his pocket. Holmes concludes that Beppo must have been the one who smashed all of the busts and that Beppo killed Venucci, leaving every reader with the belief that Beppo will be convicted and hanged for his crimes.

As a criminal trial lawyer for almost half a century, I like to look at the cases in the Canon from the point of view of how a case would be tried in court before a judge and jury.

How would the Crown try to prove that Beppo was guilty of Venucci’s murder?  Which witnesses would be able to testify? What evidence would be admissible? What arguments would the defendant’s barrister make to cast doubt on the Crown’s case?

I suggest that proving that Beppo was guilty of murder in court would be extremely difficult. Let’s examine the facts more closely.  We know that Beppo worked at Gelder and Co., where six Napoleon busts were made and sold; three each to Morse Hudson and Harding Brothers. 

Holmes concluded that Beppo alone was the man responsible for all of the thefts of the busts. “We have this Beppo as a common factor, both in Kennington and in Kensington.” But could this conclusion be proven in court? Let’s look at the testimony of each witness carefully.

  • The assistant at Morse Hudson in Kennington where the first bust was broken could not link Beppo to the store. He can’t identify the perpetratorbecause he left the shop before the bust was smashed.  Insp. Lestrade said, “He rushed out into the road, but, although several passers-by declared that they had noticed a man run out of the shop, he could neither see anyone nor could he find any means of identifying the rascal.
  • The Manager of Harding Brothers in Kensington who bought the busts from Gelder & Co., was shown a picture of Beppo and admitted he had never seen Beppo, saying, “You would hardly forget it, would you, sir, for I’ve seldom seen an uglier.”  
  • Dr. Barnicot who had two busts stolen from his home and office could not link Beppo to either of his two thefts. He can’t testify about the thief or thieves saying “when he came down in the morning he was astonished to find that his house had been burgled during the night.” Later Dr. Barnicot was amazed to find that his office had also been broken into and his other bust was stolen and smashed.
  • Horace Harker, the newspaper reporter, could testify that someone had broken in to his house and stolen a bust of Napoleon, but Harker would not be able to say that Beppo was the thief. There is no evidence that the smashing of busts was done by the same person.

It is important to note that the case against Beppo was purely circumstantial. No one actually saw Beppo stab Venucci. Harker would only testify that he found Venucci’s body outside his house.

Insp. Lestrade investigated the dead body at Harker’s home, but he could not say who stole or broke the bust. Lestrade identified the dead man as Pietro Venucci, from Naples, one of the greatest cut-throats in London. But everything Lestrade concludes about Venucci’s killer is speculative and inadmissible.

Lestrade speculates, the killer “is probably an Italian also, and a member of the Mafia. He has broken the rules in some fashion.” These are all guesses. Lestrade has no direct evidence to support his conclusions. Lestrade also jumped to the conclusion that Venucci’s killer was the person whose photograph was found in his pocket, “Probably the photograph we found in his pocket is the man himself, so that he may not knife the wrong person. He dogs the fellow, he sees him enter a house, he waits outside for him, and in the scuffle he receives his own death-wound.” All inadmissible guessing that no court would allow at trial. Venucci was a Mafia hitman, isn’t it just as possible that he made a few enemies who may have wanted to kill him?

Lestrade has no eyewitness evidence. No witness who can point to Beppo and testify that Beppo killed Venucci but he comes to the conclusion that it must have been Beppo.

In court, all Lestrade could say was what he saw; he found the body of Venucci, and Beppo’s photo was in his pocket. Period. But, let’s take a closer look at what Lestrade suspects. Venucci is a hired killer looking to kill Beppo. He has Beppo’s photograph in his pocket so that he doesn’t, mistakenly, knife the wrong manHe waits for him “and in the scuffle, Venucci receives his own death wound!” Lestrade said he found a knife lying in a pool of blood beside him.

If this is what Beppo did after he was stalked and attacked by an armed Venucci, this is a classic example of legal self-defense.

Beppo is not guilty of murder. Beppo had a right to use deadly force to defend himself when attacked by another person using deadly force. Even if Beppo had been committing a crime, Venucci wasn’t a homeowner trying to stop a felony, Venucci was there to kill Beppo.

When you look at Lestrade’s analysis of Beppo’s wrongdoing, keep in mind that Lestrade’s prior speculations and conclusions in other stories in the Canon have routinely been proven wrong by Holmes. Lestrade was the same guy who was quick to lock up two people and charge them with murdering people who never died.

Remember, in “The Noble Bachelor,” he locked up the danseuse Flora Millar, for the alleged murder of Hatty Doran who disappeared after her wedding, and in “The Norwood Builder,”

Lestrade locked up attorney John Hector McFarlane for the alleged murder of Jonas Oldacre. Oldacre was found alive hiding in his house. This is why the barrister at Beppo’s trial would object to any of Lestrade’s speculative testimony and it would be prohibited. 

I will admit that Beppo is guilty of burglary for breaking into Josiah Brown’s home because of the eyewitness testimony of Holmes, Watson and Lestrade. They saw him do it, but that doesn’t mean Beppo was the one who stole and smashed the other busts and there is insufficient evidence to convict him of murder.

Some of you may be thinking, Rich, what about the bloody knife Lestrade found on Beppo?

Well, what about it? The evidence about the blood on the knife is inconclusive. The date of “The Six Napoleons” was June, 1900. At the time of Beppo’s arrest, there were no scientific procedures in the world that would prove the source or type of that blood on the knife. Blood typing in the traditional blood types of A, B, O and AB, was discovered by Austrian physician, Karl Landsteiner but that wasn’t until a year after after Beppo’s arrest. The first reported case where blood evidence was allowed in any criminal trial wasn’t until a year later in Germany.

DNA evidence which could scientifically prove whose blood was on the knife was not admitted in a criminal trial in the United States until 1985. Why is this important? No one will be able to conclusively identify the source of the blood found on Beppo’s knife. Was the blood on the knife from a human or from an animal?

Was the blood Venucci’s or could it have come from a goose that Venucci killed for an evening dinner? No one will be able to link the knife found on Beppo to the killing. And no one will be able to tie Beppo to the initial theft of the pearl from the Princess.

Don’t forget that, initially, when Holmes assisted the police in the investigation of the pearl’s disappearance he was “unable to throw any light upon it.” What did Holmes say? “Suspicion fell upon the maid of the Princess, who was an Italian, and it was proved that she had a brother in London, but we failed to trace any connection between them.”  If Holmes came to court to testify, you can be certain that Beppo’s barrister would force Holmes to admit what he said about being unable to trace any connection between her and her brother.

Holmes then, out of the blue, jumps to this conclusion, “and there is no doubt in my mind that this Pietro who was murdered two nights ago was the brother.”This is pure speculation by Holmes.  With all of the other Italians working at Gelder & Co. why wasn’t it just as likely that someone else stole the pearl? Could Beppo have heard about the theft, from an inmate, while he was in prison or from other Italians after they had committed the other break-ins?

Notice how Holmes continued to speculate, he says, “Beppo had the pearl in his possession after the stabbing. He may have stolen it from Pietro, he may have been Pietro’s confederate, he may have been the go-between of Pietro and his sister.”   “He may have, he may have, he may have.” Holmes has no clue what really happened. In court, witnesses are not permitted to guess or speculate

 None of Holmes’ testimony about Venucci or the other thefts would be admissible because he had no personal knowledge.  

Holmes piled inferences upon inferences and speculated without proof about unnamed Italian cousins and store employees, that Beppo made holes in wet plaster and hid a pearl, that Beppo or his relatives may have checked sales records at various businesses, he assumed that it was Beppo who smashed the bust at Morse Hudson, he assumed that Beppo broke into a doctor’s home and a doctor’s office and guessed that Beppo was the same person who broke into a journalist’s home and killed a Mafia assassin.  Balderdash.

The only thing Holmes could testify about with any certainty is that Beppo was guilty of burglary because he watched Beppo break into Josiah Brown’s house and steal the bust. Period. Beppo was a thief but he wasn’t necessarily a murderer.

Ladies and gentlemen, Sherlockians all, I submit that when you examine the facts closely, the Crown couldn’t prove that Beppo murdered Venucci and even if he stabbed him,  as Lestrade so skillfully pointed out, the killing would have been justified in self-defense. (39) Beppo is not a murderer and his name should not be slandered anymore. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clear his name once and for all.

–Rich Krisciunas

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