John Straker in The Adventure of Silver Blaze

Instructor: Joe Ricker
This lesson views John Straker's role and fate in The Adventure of Silver Blaze. A missing race horse and a murder draw Sherlock Holmes to uncover Straker's secret life and an unexpected killer.


Sherlock Holmes clears the mystery of John Straker's murder in The Adventure of Silver Blaze. In this case, despite having a suspected killer locked away, the actual villain in the story doesn't have an active role. That's because the villain is the victim, John Straker, who's been a very naughty boy all around, living secret lifestyles, attempting to sabotage horse races, and cheating on his wife. John Straker leads a double life that might mean he's a cross-dresser, a possibility today, or he has another wife with expensive tastes. It also means that he is in debt and can't afford to pay it off without doing something drastic.


John Straker was a former jockey for Colonel Ross, owner of King's Pyland training stables. At the time of his death, Straker worked for Ross as a horse trainer. A mysterious stranger arrives at the stables one evening inquiring about Silver Blaze, the horse favored to win the Wessex Cup. The next day, Silver Blaze is gone and John Straker has been found dead, thought to be murdered by the stranger. All the evidence at the scene points to the stranger, but the horse can't be found and the evidence is all circumstantial.

Straker is found in the mud in a field, his jacket hanging off a bush, a cataract knife in his hand, covered with blood, and his head bashed in. Clutched in his other hand is a red and black cravat worn by the stranger suspected of murdering him. Among the other things that Straker had on his person at the time of his death that arouse Sherlock Holmes' suspicions were some papers. One of those papers was a receipt for an expensive outfit made out to William Derbyshire, which proves to be the clue Holmes uses to free the stranger of the suspicions against him, and prove that John Straker lived a double life.


Holmes proves that the murder victim, John Straker, is not, in fact, a victim of murder, but a villain with vile and sinister motives. John Straker, who is also William Derbyshire, was leading a double life; including having a woman other than his wife, who enjoyed expensive things and luxuries Mrs. Straker did not. Straker was, in fact, a scoundrel, and his murder was nothing more than an act of self-defense.

Straker's double life forced him into debt he couldn't cover with what Colonel Ross paid him as a horse trainer, so he had to devise a way to come up with the money somehow. As the trainer for the horse favored to win the Wessex Cup, he had a perfect opportunity. He could bet against Silver Blaze to win then cause the horse to go lame by cutting one of his tendons and collect enough money to free him from the burden of debt he accrued from his double life.

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