“It is my business to know what other people do not know.”

Sherlock Holmes


I have found evidence of two neighborhood killings. While there is a suspect, the potential murderer has not been seen. I paused in the morning chill to consider the evidence. There was no splash of blood or bits of bone; only small tufts of fur.

Then out of the foggy morning woods two specters appeared. The men were nattily dressed in woolen tweeds. The tallest of the pair, wearing a wool deerstalker hat, smoked a calabash pipe. The shorter gentleman shuffled behind the direct gait of his companion.

Ghostlike, the pair stopped at my side and fixed their gazes on the clues at hand. All I could offer was a quiet “Good Morning” and added, “My name is Tom Anderson and I live here. I came out to fetch some firewood and found . . . ”

With a quick, slight bow, the taller man interrupted my greeting with “Holmes. Sherlock Holmes.”

Before the other man could say anything Holmes knelt down to grasp a pinch of fur. “Well Watson, with the combination of gray pelage tipped in brown and its uniquely soft nature I can positively deduce that the victim is a Sylvilagus floridanus.”

Watson nodded but then asked, “Please Holmes, while I am not unfamiliar with the universal tongue of Latin, could you remind me of the common name?”

Holmes stood up straight, puffed on his robust pipe and said, “Certainly dear Watson, this most common of North American lagomorphs is known as a cottontail rabbit.”

Watson knelt over the fluffs of fur with his hand cupping his chin. “With so few clues are we sure a death was involved? Perhaps this individual was a female and was simply removing some fur to line a nest in which to deliver her litter.”

Holmes joined Watson in squatting and deciphering. “Look here Watson, this clump of hair is brown-tipped, which tells me it is dorsal pelage, from the rabbit’s back. I dare say it would be impossible for the rabbit to reach its back with its incisors to clip away soft fur for the nursery bed.”

Standing, Holmes nodded and continued his assessment. “Clearly, each of these murders was delivered by a raptorial being and given that the evidence was found in the early morning hours, I am fairly certain that the raptor is nocturnal in nature. Hence, it must be an owl.”

Excited, I shared that in our township we have resident great horned and barred owls. Two months ago I could hear a pair of great horned owls courting in the night. Barred owls are also around here but I haven’t heard them all winter.

Watson stood up and glanced with quizzical admiration at Holmes and asked, “Please dear friend, back up a moment. Raptorial? Indeed, your quick analysis has me wondering how you can make that judgment?”

Holmes puffed from his pipe, and swept his outstretched finger around the killing site. “A mammalian murderer, such as a canid, like a coyote or fox, would have had to venture very close to the garage and house. And being timid in nature and properly shy of humans and their affairs they would have to be in dire straits to move in so close to human quarters.

He paused while Watson follows the arc of the detective’s gesture.

Holmes continued, “Typically when owls make a kill they grip their prey with both taloned feet and hold it strongly until it suffocates or bleeds to death. While their prey dies, the raptor will peck at its back, thus the tufts of fur. And given your acute knowledge of anatomy Dr. Watson, you might find it fascinating, as I do, that the crushing power in the grip of a great horned owl ranges from 200 to 500 pounds per square inch.”

“Why Holmes,” Watson sputters, “that is nearly ten times the strength of the grip of an average human being!”

“Oh Watson, I am continually amazed at what the natural world can accomplish without the arrogance and selfishness of our Homo sapien tribe.”

Watson nodded in admiration and glanced at me with raised eyebrows, “Case closed!”