The world’s greatest detective
If asked to name the most illustrious British detective, would the fictional Sherlock Holmes immediately come to mind? Probably, although there was a time, particularly in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, when Robert Fabian, who had risen through the ranks of the London Metropolitan Police Force to become detective superintendent of Scotland Yard, was popularly known as the world’s greatest detective.
After his retirement, Fabian put pen to paper and wrote a memoir chronicling his most interesting cases. The success of Fabian of the Yard was instant and a weekly television program soon followed that ran for a couple of seasons in Great Britain. Similar in format to the American show Dragnet, each episode depicted a police case, with the added attraction of Fabian providing the epilogue.
Even Hollywood beckoned and he was flown out to be a consultant on the movie made of his exploits, now renamed “Fabian of Scotland Yard” for the American audience to avoid confusion with gardening.
While I did cross paths with Fabian, strangely enough it wasn’t while we were both on the London force. The occasion arose when I was newly arrived in Canada to join the Toronto police and Fabian was brought over in an attempt to solve a baffling disappearance.
In late 1953, 17 year-old Marion McDowell’s boyfriend reported that Marion had been abducted from his car at gunpoint while they were parked in a secluded lover’s lane. The boyfriend came under immediate suspicion, but was cleared upon determination that his injuries couldn’t have been self-inflicted. In a novel approach at the time, her beau was also sent to Buffalo to take a lie detector test, which he passed with flying colours.
The McDowell case became the largest manhunt of its time in Toronto. Pretty much everyone who’d ever known Marion was interviewed and an intensive and exhaustive search was conducted, which brought no results after following up hundreds of leads. Needless to say, Toronto police investigators were beyond frustrated.
In desperation, Marion’s father reached out to the Toronto Telegram newspaper in the summer of 1954, begging them to bring the great detective to Toronto to solve the case. Fabian, preparing for a visit to the US for a speaking engagement, agreed to stop by Toronto first and bring his expertise to the investigation.
As would be expected, Toronto Police considered this news little more than a publicity stunt and were not only resentful of being thought incompetent, but reluctant to share their massive files with the visiting celebrity.
On Fabian’s arrival, the newspaper hosted a reception for the acclaimed detective and, in a gesture of goodwill, invited a number of Toronto police officers to the event, myself included. We were warned by our superiors to be on our best behavior.
Figuring the newspaper would lay on a good spread, I brought along one of my colleagues, Harry. However, knowing Harry’s reputation for being a bit of a card, I cautioned him not to draw attention to himself.
We went our separate ways to mingle at the reception and I lost track of Harry. The next time I saw him, he was in the receiving line to meet Fabian. I quickly headed over, arriving just in time to hear Harry introduce himself as “Chester Drawers”. We then made a quick exit.
After declaring the McDowell disappearance one of the toughest cases he’d ever tackled, Fabian headed Stateside without shedding new light or coming to any conclusions about the incident. Still, I’m sure a lot of newspapers were sold.
No trace of Marion McDowell was ever found and the case remains open on the police books. It’s hard to believe the missing teen would now be 80 years old.
I eventually received my glossy 8 x 10 group pic taken by the Toronto Telegram photographers, autographed by Fabian with the encouraging words “The best of luck boys!” Easily finding myself in the back row and the guest of honour in the front holding onto his pipe, I was amused to also see a familiar face grinning over Fabian’s shoulder. It was none other than my pal Harry aka “Chester”.
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