When I began this PhD I was told the urban legend that Doyle once sent someone (or in other versions 12 people) a telegram saying, ‘all is discovered! Flee at once!’ And this person supposedly followed instruction and was never seen again (or in the other version, all of them did). I have always wondered where this came from, but now I know! I have found an early copy of the story in the archive.
In Tit-Bits, a magazine edited by the same man as The Strand, George Newnes, there was an article published on September 18, 1897 (No. 831 – Vol. XXXII) saying the following:
This story has been attributed to Mr. Conan Doyle: A friend of his had often been told that there is a skeleton in the cupboard of every household, no matter how respectable that household may be; and he determined to put this opinion to a practical test. Selecting for the subject of his experiment a venerable Archdeacon of the Church, against whom the most censorious critic had never breathed a word, he went to the nearest post-office, and dispatched a telegram to the revered gentleman: ‘All is discovered! Fly at once!’ The Archdeacon disappeared, and has never been heard of since.
This is probably one of my most exciting finds in the archive so far, simply because no one knows where this story came from and now, I can follow it back as far as 1897! Of course, this does not mean the story is true. Tit-Bits was full of fanciful pieces of writing, but at least we know it was an urban legend even in the Victorian era.