Cover art for an eBook edition of "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax".[1]

"The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in 1911, appearing in the December issue of The Strand magazine in the United Kingdom and the December issue of the American Magazine in the United States. It was published again in October 1917 as part of the anthology His Last Bow.

The plot is set in motion after Mrs. Dobny, the former governess of Lady Frances Carfax, writes to the private detective Sherlock Holmes. Lady Frances used to write to her former governess regularly. Mrs. Dobny becomes concerned when she receives no mail from her for some time. Lady Frances Carfax is known to have recently stayed at a Swiss hotel. Claiming that he cannot leave London, Holmes sends his friend Dr. John Watson to Switzerland to investigate. Watson follows a trail to Germany, where he hears that Lady Frances has returned to England in the company of a clergyman and his wife. Sherlock Holmes suspects that the clergyman is really a dangerous Australian criminal.

"The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" has been adapted for radio, film and television.


The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax Cover SM 1911

Front cover of the December 1911 issue of The Strand magazine in which "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" was first published in the United Kingdom.

After Dr. Watson complains of feeling old and rheumatic, his friend, the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, suggests that he should take a vacation in Lausanne, Switzerland. It soon emerges that Holmes is asking Watson to go to Switzerland alone in order to help investigate a case. Holmes claims that it is impossible for him to leave London at that time.

Holmes has received a letter from Mrs. Dobny, the former governess of Lady Frances Carfax. Lady Frances Carfax is a single middle-aged woman. She is described as being handsome now and having been a great beauty when she was younger. Her family fortune was inherited by some distant male relatives. The only possessions of any value that she has are some pieces of old Spanish jewelry made of silver and diamonds. She always carries those pieces of jewelry with her when she travels. For four years, Lady Frances wrote a letter to Mrs. Dobny every two weeks. However, it has been five weeks since she last wrote. As a result, the former governess fears that something has happened to her. The last letter which Lady Frances sent was from the Hotel National in Lausanne. Holmes also knows that Lady Frances cashed a check for a large amount of money in Lausanne and that Marie Devine, Lady Frances' former maid, cashed a check for fifty pounds from Lady Frances in Montpellier, France.

In Lausanne, Watson finds out from the manager of the Hotel National that Lady Frances Carfax left suddenly and without giving any notice. She had already paid to stay at the hotel for another week. Lady Frances appeared to be very happy in Lausanne and both she and her maid Marie Devine were very popular. Marie Devine had become engaged to Jules Vibart, the head waiter at the hotel. Jules Vibart thinks that Lady Frances' disappearance has something to do with a tall, dark, bearded Englishman, whom Vibart describes as being truly savage. Lady Frances was seen talking to the man. The man later asked to see her but she refused to see him. She left Lausanne immediately afterwards.

The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax 01

Dr. Shlessinger with his wife and Lady Frances Carfax on either side of him. 1911 illustration by Alec Ball.

From a local travel agency, Watson finds out that Lady Frances Carfax went to the German spa town of Baden.[2] In Baden, Watson finds out that Lady Frances stayed for two weeks at a hotel called the Englischer Hof. From the hotel manager, Watson finds out that, during her stay there, Lady Frances befriended a clergyman called Dr. Shlessinger and his wife. Dr. Shlessinger had recently been doing missionary work in South America and had contracted a disease there. Lady Frances helped Shlessinger's wife in nursing him back to health. When Dr. Shlessinger recovered, he, his wife and Lady Frances Carfax left for London together. Dr. Shlessinger paid Lady Frances' hotel bill. Marie Devine the maid announced that she was leaving Lady Frances' service and left the hotel a few days before Lady Frances. The manager of the Englischer Hof tells Watson that another Englishman, a large, bearded, sunburned man, had previously been asking about Lady Frances. The hotel manager agrees that "savage" is a fitting description of the man.

Holmes sends Watson a telegram which asks for a description of Dr. Shlessinger's left ear. Watson dismisses it as a joke,

In Montpellier, Watson visits the home of Marie Devine. He finds out that, although Lady Frances recently seemed to question her maid's honesty, the two parted on largely good terms. The only reason why Marie Devine left Lady Frances' service was her upcoming marriage to Jules Vibert. The check for fifty pounds which Marie Devine cashed was a wedding present from Lady Frances. Marie Devine is also worried about the big, bearded Englishman. She saw him speak to Lady Frances and violently grab her wrist. To Marie Devine's surprise, she suddenly sees the man from her window,

The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax 02

Holmes, disguised as a French laborer, comes to Dr. Watson's assistance. 1911 illustration by Alec Ball.

The big, bearded man is looking closely at the house numbers on the street, obviously looking for Marie Devine's residence. Watson approaches him. He grudgingly admits to being English but refuses to give his name. When Watson asks him where Lady Frances is, why he pursued her and what he did with her, the man gets angry and attacks Watson. A French laborer comes to Watson's aid by striking the big, bearded man with a wooden club. The laborer is then revealed to be Sherlock Holmes in disguise.

Later, Holmes introduces Watson to the big, bearded man. He is the Honorable Philip Green. He apologizes to Watson for getting angry when he was accused of abducting Lady Frances. Many years earlier, Philip Green had loved Lady Frances and she had loved him in return. However, when Lady Frances found out about some unspecified scandals in Green's past, she decided to have nothing more to do with him. Green went to South Africa and made his fortune there. Finding out that Lady Frances was still unmarried, he went to see her in Lausanne. However, she still refused to have anything to do with him. Green is also worried about Lady Frances' sudden disappearance.

Sherlock Holmes announces that he and Watson are returning to London and advises Philip Green to do the same.

On arrival back in London, Holmes finds a telegram waiting for him. It is from the manager of the Englischer Hof and describes Dr. Shlessinger's left ear as jagged and torn. From this description, Holmes knows that Dr. Shlessinger is really Holy Peters, an Australian criminal who plays on the religious feelings which are said to be typical of single women. The woman who passed herself off as his wife is just his accomplice, an Englishwoman called Fraser. Holmes believes that Peters and Fraser are in London and are keeping Lady Frances Carfax prisoner.

For some time, neither the police nor Holmes' informants are able to find Peters, Fraser and Lady Frances. Several times, Philip Green asks Holmes to give him something to do to help but Holmes is unable to give him any task. A new lead develops when Holy Peters pawns a piece of Lady Frances' jewelry. Holmes arranges for Green to wait each day in the same pawn shop that Peters visited.

Three days later, Fraser, Peters' female accomplice, goes to the pawn shop. Green follows her to an undertaker's on Kennington Street. He hears the woman behind the counter apologize for something not having been delivered yet and say, "It took longer, being out of the ordinary." Green follows Fraser back to 36 Poultney Square, Brixton and sees a coffin being delivered to the house.

The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax 04

Holmes shows Peters that he has a gun. 1911 illustration by Alec Ball.

Holmes sends Green to Scotland Yard to get a warrant to search Peters and Fraser's house. Knowing that the warrant will not be issued that evening, Holmes decides that he and Watson should go to search the house themselves. On the way, Holmes sends Watson into the undertaker's on Kennington Street to ask when the Poultney Square funeral will be. He is told that it will take place at eight o'clock the following morning.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson manage to gain entrance to Peters and Fraser's house. Peters admits that he stayed in Baden under a false name, met Lady Frances Carfax there.and accompanied her back to London. He claims, however, that Lady Frances ran off when they reached London and that she left behind two pieces of jewelry, the value of which is less than all the money which Peters spent on her. Holmes shows Peters that he has a gun and demands to search the house.

Holmes finds the coffin. When the lid is removed, he sees that a small and extremely elderly woman is lying at the bottom of it. The corpse is obviously not that of the middle-aged and handsome Lady Frances Carfax. Peters explains that it is the body of Rose Spender, Fraser's former nurse. He says that they recently brought her to their home from Brixton Workhouse Infirmary and gives the name and address of the doctor who cared for her until she died.

Sherlock Holmes Museum The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax 02

Exhibit based on "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Baker Street, London.

Two policemen, summoned by Fraser, arrive. They do not arrest Sherlock Holmes because they recognize the great detective. However, they prevent him from searching the house any further. Holmes and Watson visit the hospital and the doctor named by Peters. They find his story about Rose Spender to be true.

At 7:20 the following morning, Holmes realizes that he has only a short time left in which to save Lady Frances' life. He and Watson arrive at the house in Poultney Square just as the coffin is being carried out. Holmes announces that a police warrant to search the house will soon arrive and that the coffin should stay inside the house until it does. The coffin lid is removed. Holmes sees Lady Frances Carfax lying on top of the body of Rose Spender. Lady Frances' face has been covered in cotton wool which has been soaked in chloroform. With some difficulty, Dr. Watson is able to fully revive her after thirty minutes. During that time, Peters and Fraser make their escape.

Sherlock Holmes later reveals that he realized what had happened when he remembered that, according to Philip Green, the woman in the undertaker's said, "It took some time, it being out of the ordinary." It occurred to Holmes that she was talking about the coffin. He also remembered that Rose Spender's coffin appeared unusually large for a small old woman. Holmes has to admit that Peters and Fraser have shown great criminal talent and expects to hear of their deeds again in the future.


Terror by Night 1946

Screenshot from the 1946 film Terror by Night.

A short silent British film based on "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax", starring Ellie Norwood as Holmes, was released in 1923.

The 1946 Hollywood movie Terror by Night, which stars Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson, draws inspiration from "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax', "The Adventure of the Empty House" "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" and The Sign of the Four.

"The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax' was adapted as the twelfth and final episode of the BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes, starring Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson. It first aired in the United Kingdom on May 8, 1965.

The first episode of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, the third Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett, is an adaptation of "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax". It first aired in the United Kingdom on the ITV network on February 21, 1991. Most of the first half of the episode takes place in the English Lake District. The vacationing Dr. Watson (played by Edward Hardwicke) is staying at the same hotel as Lady Frances Carfax, Shlessinger and his nurse. Lady Frances disappears from the hotel in order to escape both Philip Green and her brother, with whom she has argued about money. She disappears again after she sees Green at a London bank and goes voluntarily to the home of Shlessinger. Although Holmes and Watson arrive in time to prevent Lady Frances from being buried alive, she is left deeply emotionally scarred by the experience. Holmes does not think that she will ever fully recover. For that reason, he considers the case to be one of his few true failures and refuses to accept any reward from Green for saving Lady Frances' life.

A radio adaptation of "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax", starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, first aired on BBC Radio 4 in the United Kingdom on February 9, 1994. In the adaptation, Watson is initially reluctant to travel to Switzerland because it brings back bad memories of when Holmes faked his own death, as related in "The Final Problem". For the same reason, Watson feels uneasy when he hears that Lady Frances went to stay at a hotel called the Englischer Hof.


  1. The image on the eBook cover is an illustration by Arthur Twidle for the 1908 Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge".
  2. The town is now called Baden-Baden. Its name was officially changed in 1935.

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