Meet David Nunes Carvalho, the Jewish Investigator Who Rivaled Sherlock Holmes

Brilliant Sleuth Followed a Trail Made of Ink

Elementary, My Dear Carvalho: The Jewish investigator contributed to the ultimate exoneration of Franco-Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus.
Getty Images
Elementary, My Dear Carvalho: The Jewish investigator contributed to the ultimate exoneration of Franco-Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus.

By Harold Heft

Published April 01, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 4)

While David’s book showcases his erudition, it is Claire’s book, “Crime in Ink,” that reveals how that expertise was applied. Each chapter reads like an episode of a contemporary detective series, as she examines her father’s role in investigations of some of the most sensational criminal cases around the turn of the century.

The book begins with the story of his involvement in the case of William Marsh Rice, a millionaire who had died in his Madison Avenue apartment in September 1900. Following Rice’s death, a series of large checks, as well as a will, bequeathed the fortune to his lawyer.

David was asked to verify the legitimacy of Rice’s signature on the will and checks; he convinced the jury that the signatures had been forged because they were too good. “It isn’t possible for any human being — let along a feeble old man — to write his signature exactly in the same way twice.… I was able to show that each of those four signatures was patterned like the others.” Based on this testimony, Rice’s lawyer and valet were imprisoned, and his fortune was used to establish Rice University in Houston.

Although Claire was 41 when the book was published, she tells each anecdote by recalling the childhood dialogues with her father in which she followed his different cases and asked him innocent, probing questions. Like Sherlock Holmes himself, each of her recollections seems to involve her father being engaged in leisurely intellectual pursuits until he is interrupted by officials of the law requiring his assistance in cracking a case.

One exception is the anecdote of the Dreyfus Affair, which begins with father and daughter traveling one day in 1896 into Manhattan to buy a hat, and stopping into a French restaurant where David happened to see a page of the French newspaper Le Matin that reproduced the document that was used to convict Dreyfus.

“If my father never had seen that newspaper,” she writes, “I believe it is quite likely that Captain Dreyfus might have ended his days in the penal colony to which he had been condemned as a traitor to France.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.