He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of twenty-one he wrote A Treatise on the Binomial Theorem, which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it he won the mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities, and had, to all appearances, a most brilliant career before him. But the man had hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers. Dark rumors gathered round him in the University town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his chair and come down to London. He is the Napoleon of Crime, Watson, the organizer of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city...
~ Sherlock Holmes about Professor Moriarty in "The Final Problem".

Professor James Moriarty is the archenemy of Sherlock Holmes and is often considered one of the first supervillains in fiction - he appeared in only two novels and despite rarely encountering Holmes personally he is considered the main antagonist of the entire Sherlock Holmes series, being famously described as the "Napoleon of Crime".

Moriarty is widely considered to be the greatest fictional archenemy in fictional history. He has been portrayed by George Zucco (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), Jared Harris (A Game of Shadows) and most recently Andrew Scott (Sherlock).


It seems a pity, but I have done what I could. I know every move of your game. You can do nothing before Monday. It has been a duel between you and me, Mr. Holmes. You hope to place me in the dock. I tell you that I will never stand in the dock. You hope to beat me. I tell you that you will never beat me. If you are clever enough to bring destruction upon me, rest assured that I shall do as much to you.
~ Professor Moriarty in "The Final Problem".

Professor Moriarty's past is vastly unknown and even the parts that are known are debatably untrue. He is noted to be of good birth and excellent education, and was a scientific and mathematical genius. He is introduced in the series as someone who is publicly worshiped for his accomplishments in science and technology, and is a mathematics professor at a famed university. It is explained in one particular adaption that he grew apart from his family because of his diabolical ambitions. He has at least one brother, a colonel also called James.

Moriarty was eventually put into contact with several criminals in Britain and quickly realized that they lacked any organisation or precision, which - as a mathematical genius - he would be perfectly capable of reating with tactical magnificence. He was already renowned as extremely accomplished, having written works on the Binomial Theorem that have been internationally acclaimed. However, underneath his mask of benign and benevolent professorship at the university, he was in fact a cunning and formidable figure in the criminal underworld.

He operated as follows: he organised burglaries, heists, extortion and so forth on a regular basis, but with a certain sophistication that lacked brutality or unnecessary bloodthirst. If one of the people working for him was caught in their crimes, then Moriarty would anonymously place a substantial amount of money to pay for their defence in court. The money was not only to enable him to go free, but also to subtly order him not to expose the identity of his employer.

Meeting Sherlock Holmes

My dear Watson, I write these few lines through the courtesy of Mr. Moriarty, who awaits my convenience for the final discussion of those questions which lie between us. He has been giving me a sketch of the methods by which he avoided the English police and kept himself informed of our movements. They certainly confirm the very high opinion which I had formed of his abilities. I am pleased to think that I shall be able to free society from any further effects of his presence, though I fear that it is at a cost which will give pain to my friends, and especially, my dear Watson, to you. I have already explained to you, however, that my career had in any case reached its crisis, and that no possible conclusion to it could be more congenial to me than this.

Indeed, if I may make a full confession to you, I was quite convinced that the letter from Meiringen was a hoax, and I allowed you to depart on that errand under the persuasion that some development of this sort would follow. Tell Inspector Patterson that the papers which he needs to convict the gang are in pigeonhole M., done up in a blue envelope and inscribed "Moriarty." I made every disposition of my property before leaving England, and handed it to my brother Mycroft. Pray give my greetings to Mrs. Watson, and believe me to be, my dear fellow. Very sincerely yours, Sherlock Holmes

~ Sherlock's letter, predicting the results and consequences of him meeting Moriarty - his final farewell to Watson

Professor Moriarty's incredible methods of organizing crime on such a great scale eventually attracted the attention of the detective Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes made a series of inquiries and personal missions into the investigation of Moriarty's gang. He eventually succeeded in exposing certain high-ranking members of the gang to the police, provoking Moriarty to personally take matters into his own hands. He visited Sherlock Holmes at Baker Street, where they both established both of their respect for the other's intelligence and accomplishments.

During this confrontation, Moriarty established that Sherlock's continuing investigations into Moriarty's operation has left Moriarty with no other alternative but to personally rain hell on the detective. He declared that, if he didn't cease to pursue Moriarty, Moriarty would destroy him in the worst possible way. Holmes - though being scared and extremely nervous around Moriarty - calmly refused to stop his investigation, rebuking Moriarty's threat by daring him to try and destroy him, and to reap the consequences that followed. Unable to persuade Holmes, Moriarty left.

However, throughout the rest of the day, Moriarty made it abundantly clear that he was not to be trifled with at all. He organised three attempts on the detective's life: firstly, one of his men tried to drop a brick on Holmes's head, which missed by the breadth of a hair. Later on, another of his men tried to run him over with a speeding hansom. Thirdly, Holmes arrived back at Baker Street only for a thug to ambush him with a bludgeon. Holmes overpowered the thug and arrested him, but Moriarty anonymously paid for his release as per his code of honor. These were not meant to kill him, as it turns out, but to intimidate him into relinquishing his investigation, which he did not.

In an apparent attempt to flee from the ruthless megalomaniac, Holmes and Watson travelled to Switzerland for the week, specifically to Meirignen,the village residing next to the famous Reichenbach Falls (A colossal waterfall dropping into a frothing and violently churning whirlpool). Moriarty used the last remaining member of his gang - Sebastian Moran, the misanthropic expert marksman from the British Army - to hunt down Holmes and to manipulate people into diverting Watson out of the equation, leaving Moriarty to face Holmes himself.

The two men met one final time on a ledge atop the Reichenbach Falls. Holmes took his time to write a farewell letter for Watson to find, expressing that he was about to confront Moriarty and that, one way or another, Holmes had rid the world of any terrible effects his gang may have had in the future. He also sorrowfully expressed the belief that he would not survive the confrontation with Moriarty, and his excrutiating acknowledgement of how it would affect Watson. He later left the note along with his deerstalker for Watson to find, and turned to face Moriarty. The two men engaged in a climactic fight, in which they were both a painfully even match. However, lost in the intensity of the struggle, the two men fell from the precipice and plummeted down the Falls.

The two men separated during the fall, and Sherlock survived when he hit the whirlpool. It is as yet unknown if Moriarty survived, but, him being Holmes's arch-nemesis, fans widely theorized that he had.

Moriarty is mentioned but not seen in the novella The Valley of Fear, which is set before "The Final Problem." Here he is depicted as running a "criminal consulting agency," which liaises with various criminal organizations. Moriarty arranges the death of John Douglas, a former Pinkerton detective, as a favor for the Vermissa Valley Gang, a group of corrupt union officials who had been arrested by Douglas. Moriarty's men killed Douglas in spite of Holmes's attempt to save him, an act which puts Holmes forever at odds with Moriarty.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Main article: James Moriarty (A Game of Shadows)

Anthony Horowitz's spin-off series

In the widely acclaimed book Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, Professor Moriarty appears as the titular main protagonist. However, his identity is not revealed until the very end - he introduces himself as American detective Frederick Chase. In the book, he works alongside Detective Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard - who has appeared briefly in an actual Conan Doyle work. Athelney Jones has been indirectly humiliated by Sherlock Holmes in the past, and this has rendered him unhealthily obsessed with Holmes' methods so that he could one day be worthy of the Great Detective.

Throughout the book, the two of them are tasked with hunting down an American criminal mastermind named Clarence Devereux - whom Chase claims to have been hunting down throughout his life. They are hunted across London by Devereux's henchmen - named the Mortlake Brothers - as well as a juvenile sadist named Perry and the mostly unseen Sebastian Moran. A violent game of cat and mouse erupts between Chase and Jones, versus Devereux, right up until they are captured by Devereux and nearly killed - Devereux is planning to replace Moriarty as the criminal mastermind of London. The two men escape and Devereux is captured.

After being sentenced, Chase and Jones transport the man via a Black Maria coach. However, Perry and Moran appear and ambush the coach. Chase - or Moriarty - is forced to kill Athelney Jones, a decision he admits he regrets inside. Moriarty then tells the reader about the events of The Final Problem: he was in fact on the run from Clarence Devereux - Devereux had moved from America to take Moriarty's empire all for himself. Moriarty deeply disliked Devereux: The American's methods were sadistic, brutal and extremely violent, not at all like the calculated, subtle 'sportsmanship' that Moriarty utilizes. At the same time, he was in danger of being overthrown by Sherlock Holmes.

He arranged to hunt down Sherlock Holmes, sending assassins after him throughout The Final Problem to exert pressure - to hurt, not to kill - each of which Holmes had overcome. It turns out that Moriarty had planned the events surrounding his conflict with the detective right down to their final fight. When they finally met at Reichenbach and fought, Moriarty and Holmes fell but they both escaped - Holmes remained unaware of Moriarty's survival, but Moriarty knew Holmes survived but wouldn't bother him if he thought he was dead. Then, Moriarty changed his appearance and identity to become Detective Frederick Chase.

At the end of the novel, Moriarty takes Clarence Devereux prisoner and plans to interrogate the American until he exposed every location, identity and strategy in his organization so Moriarty could start another criminal empire in America. He then plans to murder Devereux in recognition of the difficulties the American put Moriarty through.

Sherlock (TV series)

Main article: James Moriarty (Sherlock)


Main article: Jamie Moriarty

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen


Professor Moriarty in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

In Alan Moore's series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moriarty serves as the main antagonist of Volume 1. In this iteration, Moriarty states that MI5 hired him out of university and had him pose as a crime lord so that the British government could control and monitor the criminal underworld. After his battle with Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, Moriarty quickly ascended to the rank of director while his minions took care of his criminal organization. After a rival crime lord named The Doctor stole the Cavorite, an anti-gravity metal, from MI5, Moriarty had his underling Campion Bond assemble Mina Murray, Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde and Hawley Griffin to get it back for him, and went under the alias "Mr. M" to avoid suspicion (the League ironically believing that "M" was Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother). After having the Cavorite returned to him, Moriarty subsequently used it to power his War Chariot and began bombing London't East End in an effort to kill both The Doctor and the League (the latter to avoid having witnesses).

However, the League caught wind of Moriarty's plan and assaulted his War Chariot. Moriarty was ultimately foiled when Murray smashes the container holding the Cavorite, which starts to float towards the atmosphere. Refusing to lose such a potent part of his plan, Moriarty clings to the Cavorite and subsequently drifts into outer space. In a later volume, Century: 1910, Moriarty is found frozen solid in space while still clinging to the Cavorite.

Tom and Jerry meet Sherlock Holmes

In this cartoon movie, Moriarty is behind some diamond thefts which are done by three cats. When Tom, Jerry, Tuffy and Sherlock Holmes' client Red are following the cats while Holmes and Watson follow false clues, Red tries to hide herself and the others at the house of a family friend. This friend actually turns out to be Moriarty, who waited for Red who got the diamond the cats have just stolen.

Moriarty explains his plan: using all the mirrors placed in London, he uses the diamonds for a laser canon to burn a hole into the Tower, planning to steal the jewels. After stealing the jewels and being followed by Holmes and Watson, Moriarty finally falls into the Themse, then he's arrested along with the cats by Droopy. Like in A Game of Shadows, Moriarty's got a beard in this movie. 

This characterization is voiced by Malcolm McDowell.

The Real Ghostbusters

Moriarty appeared in an episode of The Real Ghostbusters "Elementary, My Dear Winstin".

Professor Moriarty was once an academic genius who resigned from his position at a college. He relocated to London and became a criminal mastermind responsible for at least half the crime in the city. Moriarty met his end when he and the titular detective fell to each other's deaths in a battle at Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland (though it was later revealed that Sherlock actually survived). Even though none of the characters in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels were real, many fans believed them to be real, which caused ghostly versions of them to manifest. James Moriarty's ghost went to New York with the Hound of the Baskervilles in search of evil energy, which would enable him to solidify into a real person.

Moriarty went to the Containment Unit and attempted to open it to absorb the evil energy of the ghosts imprisoned within it, but he retreated when he heard the Ghostbusters coming. He then went on to absorb evil energy from various items often associated with evil, such as weapons at the Museum of Crime uptown and crime novels at the New York City Public Library.

He then decided to return to the Firehouse and succeed where he had failed. He opened the Unit and began to absorb the evil energy, but was foiled because the Ghostbusters had also met Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson's ghosts. Holmes went into the Unit with Moriarty, mirroring their climatic battle. Watson then went into the Unit with the two. Moriarty was last seen in the Containment Unit covering his ears as Holmes played the Ghostbusters theme song on his violin.



  • Professor Moriarty is wildly considered to be the first supervillain ever.
  • Professor Moriarty was famous for being the villain that Sherlock Holmes fought and apparently fell to his doom with in The Final Problem - however due to a large public outlash Arthur Conan Doyle was forced to retcon these events so that both Holmes and Moriarty did not die as was originally planned but rather miraculously survived so that the series could continue.
  • In the 1899 stage play Sherlock Holmes: A Drama in Four Acts - co-written and authorized by Conan Doyle - Moriarty is given the first name Robert. He is first referred to by the name James in the 1903 short story "The Adventure of the Empty House".