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Duncan Ross was a student and Olive Green's fiancé before his death.
A Non-runaway Death
- Main article: The Memoirs of the Clouded Kokoro
Duncan Ross was a student at Thorndyke Academy of Fine Arts. While enrolled, he met and eventually became engaged to fellow student Olive Green, with whom he fell deeply in love. He once showed Green how to pick a lock using a wire and some turpentine.
In order to finance their wedding, Ross decided to move into a room on Briar Road. He did so for two reasons: the rent was incredibly cheap compared to other rooms in the area, and the room also had a history. It had previously been inhabited by Selden, one of London's most notorious thieves, who had died shortly after leaving the room when he was arrested. Selden was notorious not only because he had committed many crimes, but because Scotland Yard had never been able to locate the treasures he amassed from crime.
Tragedy would soon befall Ross after moving in. Before Selden's death in prison, the thief had bestowed the secret whereabouts of his treasures as well as the key to them to his fellow prisoner and caretaker: William Shamspeare. Upon Shamspeare's release, Shamspeare intended to immediately retrieve the treasure that he was promised. However, he encountered an obstacle in the form of Duncan Ross, who was living in what was formerly Selden's room. With Ross occupying the room, it would be impossible for Shamspeare to search for the treasure without alerting suspicion. Desperate to retrieve the treasure, Shamspeare concocted a plan, which involved moving into the room on the first floor. His plan involved scaring Ross to the degree that it would convince him to move out of the room, allowing Shamspeare to switch his room to Selden's former room. To this end, Shamspeare exploited a flaw in the gas systems of buildings. By blowing into the gas pipe present in his room, Shamspeare was able to make all gas-based items in the building, such as lights or stoves, flicker and even extinguish. Shamspeare believed that if he were to do this enough, then eventually Ross would become fearful for his life, and move out.
Shamspeare's plan would have gravely unintended consequences. While the repeated, unexpected extinguishments of the gas-based items in his room concerned Ross and pressured him to seek a new living space, he delayed in finding immediate alternatives. The night before his death, Ross's fiancée Green begged him to immediately move out and live with her, in order to make sure that he would be safe. However, Ross refused: he didn't want to move in with her, as he wanted to graduate school before meeting her parents. That night, Ross asphyxiated to death: Shamspeare had extinguished the flame of Ross's gas stove, and Ross had not been awake to notice it. The circumstances of his death were investigated, but no one was able to find out the mystery behind what had caused Ross's room to fill up with gas and suffocate him to death. The mystery behind Ross's death caused his room to develop even greater notoriety: many believed that Ross's death was caused by the lingering spirit of Selden, who haunted and cursed the inhabitants of his former room.
A Vengeful Fiancée
- Main article: The Adventure of the Clouded Kokoro
One day, Green made a visit to a pub, where she overheard Soseki Natsume, the new tenant of what had been Ross's room, rambling about how his room was cursed. The stove in his room kept extinguishing, and on a number of occasions had almost killed him. Believing that this was not a coincidence, Green remembered a conversation between two gas company employees, where they had described the flaw in gas systems. Having realized Ross's death might have not been an accident, but had perhaps been caused by a person intentionally extinguishing Ross's stove and suffocating him, Green decided to investigate the possibility. The most likely culprit in Ross's death was William Shamspeare, as at the time of Ross's death, nobody else lived in the building besides the landlord and his wife. To test this hypothesis, Green sent a letter to Shamspeare, instructing him to meet her at the local pub The Slug and Salad. While Shamspeare waited for her at the pub, Green trespassed into Shamspeare's apartment, and slathered strychnine she had purchased at a black market onto the sole gas pipe of his room. If Shamspeare was innocent, then nothing would happen to him, as he would not expose himself to the poison. If he was guilty, and exposed him into the poison by blowing his gas pipe, then the strychnine would kill him and punish him for his role in causing Ross's death. After setting her trap she tried to meet Shamspeare at The Slug and Salad, but didn't make it due to being inadvertently stabbed by Joan Garrideb and subsequently hospitalized for a number of days.
At St. Bartholomew Hospital, she kept a picture of Duncan Ross on her desk.
- "Duncan Ross" is the alias of one of the criminals in The Red-Headed League.
- His name could also be a reference to both King Duncan and Ross from Shakespeare's play MacBeth.