The world-famous author of Sherlock Holmes was quite the detective himself, evidenced by Christopher Sandford's biography The Man Who Would Be Sherlock.
The other and more likely explanation of the affair is that the average semi-rural English police force of the 1890s all too often substituted selective experience and guesswork for real scientific reasoning, and that in this case there was the powerfully aggravating factor of race to fuel their suspicions about the “Hindoo lad," as they called George.
The mystery of the letters went unsolved, but the story took a dramatic new turn in 1903, when the authorities began to investigate a series of brutal animal mutilations in the area. When a horse was found disemboweled one night that August, the police returned to the Edaljis’ vicarage to arrest the now 27-year-old George. He vehemently denied any knowledge of the crime. He had an alibi. There was no physical evidence linking him to the assault. Nonetheless, he stood trial for the offence, and on October 23, 1903, a jury found him guilty. Following that, the panel of five presiding judges announced that they would retire to another room in order to give “full and due” deliberation to their sentence. Three minutes later, they returned to announce that George would go to prison for seven years.
Stung by what he perceived as the “immortal injustice” of it all, Conan Doyle took up the proverbial deerstalker cap and pipe to investigate the case. There were to be numerous twists and turns along the way, but in time he was able to discredit much of the prosecution evidence against George Edalji, and to win the young man a conditional pardon after he had served three of his seven years’ imprisonment. Doyle never wavered in his belief that Edalji had been the victim of a toxic combination of police incompetence and racial prejudice. “The poor boy [was] convicted largely because of his vacant, staring appearance [and] dark skin … in other words, because he looked guilty,” he later wrote. He was still tirelessly campaigning for proper compensation on Edalji’s behalf right up until the end of his own life in 1930.
The inscription on Doyle’s gravestone reads simply, “Steel True, Blade Straight.” It stands as a reminder of his determination not to abandon the struggle on behalf of the weak or oppressed, and never to give up in the face of adversity.