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Prof. Moriarty’s skull delivered to University of Minnesota

By April 1, 2015September 16th, 202318 Comments
We hope you enjoyed our story on April Fools Day! By the way, we really do have the largest collection of Sherlock Holmes material in the world.

Stunning discovery confirms death of Sherlock Holmes’ archenemy

Moriarty's skull with TIm Johnson and noteA mysterious box containing the skull of Professor James Moriarty — archenemy to renowned detective Sherlock Holmes — was delivered last month, anonymously, to Timothy Johnson at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

“I was stunned, somewhat delighted, and skeptical when I first opened the box,” said Johnson, a well-known Sherlock Holmes expert and curator of Rare Books and the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries. “My immediate thought was that it can’t be Moriarty because the skull has less frontal development than I would have expected from a man of his intellect.”

Johnson sent the skull to forensics experts in the University of Minnesota Medical School for DNA testing. On Monday, Johnson got the news that it is — indeed — Moriarty’s skull.

Moriarty’s death at Reichenbach Falls now considered a certainty

Moriarty was a criminal mastermind of the late 19th century and Holmes’ chief nemesis. Holmes often referred to Moriarty as the “Napoleon of crime.” Nearly all law enforcement officials, historians, and Holmes aficionados concluded that Moriarty fell to his death following his epic 1891 struggle with Holmes atop Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.

But until now, there was no physical proof of Moriarty’s death. This stunning discovery at the University of Minnesota apparently puts this mystery to bed. Johnson said that grass, leaves, and mud found on the skull were linked to the Reichenbach Falls region, providing further evidence that the skull was recovered in the gorge beneath the falls.

The skull and a note that said simply “Professor Moriarty” was inside a box addressed to Johnson. It had no return address. Ultimately, Johnson said, the skull will become part of the Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota, which, in fact — no fooling — is the largest collection of Sherlock Holmes material in the world.

Watch a slideshow of Johnson opening the box

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Maggie Ragnow says:

    That is soooo awesome!

  • It’s nice to know the U has a sense of humor. Poisson d’ Avril…

    (Actually, I still have the authentic skull in my basement under my stairs. I take it out from time to time and place a candle on it.)

  • Heidi Anderson-Ferdinand says:

    Alas, poor Moriarty! I knew him, Mr. Johnson, a fellow of infinite
    evil, of most excellent intellect.

  • Gary Thaden says:

    Great April first gift.

  • Scooby Doo! says:

    Yes, but where is the REST of him??? I smell a new mystery!
    and, I think I need a Scooby-Snack!

  • Karen Kinoshita says:

    Definitely a call for further investigation… the mystery of how it came to be sent to the collection… deduct… muse… ponder…

  • Emilie Quast says:


    Very GOOD!

  • jeriwho says:

    Indeed this does raise the call for further investigation:

    Who has been hoarding the skulls of the evil dead?

  • Randy B says:

    And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!

  • Deb Torres says:

    I love this day. And the Holmes Collection.

  • Emilie Quast says:

    Great Scott! Look at the size of that skull in the photo that only shows Tim’s hand and the skull.

    It appears that the skull is less than 7″ long since Tim’s hand fits neatly around it.


    An average person’s height is about 9 times the length of his hand, Moriarty tops out at 5’4″ tall.

    No wonder he was so ornery! Had to hit hard and first to prove he was as tough as any on the street. Probably a bit of a Napoleonic syndrome, don’t you think?

    (I also love the Holmes Collection, and it’s nice to have Moriarty better explained at long last.)
    I don’t think this is enough for a BSI paper, though.

  • Lynell WIlliams says:

    What a coup for the U.
    This will make the already stunning collection even stunning-er. 😉

  • Lynette Johnson says:

    A proud day for Minnesotans and for the U. Moriarty! O rarity of cunning devilry, the skull of him who did so fiendishly engage our dear Mr. Holmes’ attentions. Brother Timothy, your office is blessed.

  • Lynette Johnson says:

    A proud day for Minnesotans and for the U!

  • Sorry, but Emile Quast’s trenchant analysis of the height of the corpse based on skull size — i.e., about 5 feet 4 inches — puts paid to the notion this could be Moriarty. In FINA Holmes gave a physical description of the Professor, beginning with the statement “He is extremely tall and thin . . . .” That belies this is Moriarty’s skull, but the mystery remains: Who has pranked the U of M? Who, indeed,, more likely than Moriarty himself (or at least a descendant of the Professor, or one of his gang)?

  • Win Heron says:

    hehe – April Fool’s Day – just have to love it 😉

  • Claudia Hexter says:

    Said skull cannot possibly be that of Dr. Moriarty, for he still lives. He has been living in the sub basement in a a tiny
    apartment located at : 222-21st Ave. S, Mpls., Mn. 55455. Since 1891, for reasons I am unable to share, he took refuge
    underneath a factory which at that time was called Semi-Automatic XXXXXXXX. ( name has been withheld to protect
    the heirs of the owners of that factory. The building and the property upon which it stood was purchased by
    the University of Mn. Eventually,the building was converted into a glass-blowing studio which splendidly suited
    Professor Moriarty for he was in the habit of blowing the glass containers which held his toxic brews. Unfortunately,
    when the building was torn down and cement was poured to form foundation for the Anderson Library,
    Moriarty misjudged the amount of time during which the cement would harden and, because it was poured while the professor was sleeping off the effects of the previous night’s celebration, he became imprisoned and has only managed to
    survive by ingesting the tiny bodies of his numerous roommates.

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