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Tale of Mitchell's Sherlock Holmes is one of mystery, tragedy

March 7, 2010
photo - Sherlock Holmes is remembered by some as the top high school player from the area.  Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE
Sherlock Holmes is remembered by some as the top high school player from the area. Photo by THE GAZETTE FILE 

Sherlock Holmes soared to such heights, and for those who watched him he remains there, flying through the air, safe from all menace of a grimy world below.

Holmes, a 6-foot-6 left-handed forward, reigns as Colorado Springs’ most dazzling basketball showman. In his senior season at Mitchell High School in 1983, Holmes averaged 21 points, 14 rebounds and five assists and packed gyms across the Pikes Peak region.

Street & Smith magazine named him one of the top 30 players in the country, and national powers Georgetown, Memphis State and UNLV recruited him.

So much seemed ahead. Holmes, known to close associates as “Lock,” was blessed with speed, on-court wisdom, shooting touch, hops, everything.

And he had a name that jolted everyone to attention.

“Who would you ever meet in real life named Sherlock Holmes?” asks Mike Welling, a Mitchell classmate and friend.

His promise proved a mirage. After Mitchell, he wandered through two junior colleges before returning home. He never came close to touching his vast potential.

“I expected to see him on TV,” Mitchell teammate Rolando Williams said. “I really expected to see Sherlock Holmes on TV.”

Instead, hundreds of Sherlock’s friends saw him in a coffin.

At 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day 1993, he was shot dead at an apartment complex alongside Interstate 15 in Las Vegas. He wanted to see his former girlfriend, Nicole White, and broke into the apartment of her new boyfriend.
Marlon J. Cullors, the new boyfriend, fired twice into Holmes’ chest. He had just turned 29.

Holmes’ long-before-his-time death leaves him eternally youthful in the minds of his friends. His hair never turned gray. He never struggled with a middle-age gut. He never lost his ability to fly.

He remains, always, liberated from compromise and decay.

“I can’t even picture him as some 40-something today,” Welling said.

Those who watched can’t forget the show. They don’t want to forget.

Dan McKiernan has coached local high school teams for 38 seasons, but he’s never seen anyone quite like Holmes.

McKiernan coached Holmes in summer leagues and remembers a trip to Phoenix for a national tournament. Holmes had earned a place in a dunk contest, but forgot the starting time.

He was there, wearing old-fashioned canvas tennis shoes, when competition began. He dunked, shirtless and sockless, in his jeans.

“He tries stuff that was absolutely impossible,” McKiernan said. “Some of the most amazing dunks I’ve ever seen in my life.”

He missed all five dunks, but his failures were so sensational the crowd offered an extended standing ovation. He failed. He still was a hit.

Darren Dunlap lives at the corner of Zion and Tahoe, where he is surrounded by Sherlock memories.

This home has been in the family since 1970. Dunlap and Holmes watched “Mork and Mindy” and “I Dream of Jeannie” in the basement rec room and played basketball in the backyard.

They were inseparable. They were grade-school and junior high teammates who lost only three games in five seasons before splitting for high school. Dunlap became the star at Palmer, and Holmes the star at Mitchell.
Dunlap thinks constantly of his departed friend.

“I try not to cry too much,” he said, tears gathering in the corner of his eyes. “But it still gets to me.”

This Sherlock Holmes story, he said, ended far too soon.

The story began in Colorado Springs at Memorial Hospital on Nov. 6, 1964.

Raymond Holmes Sr. had long planned to name the baby of the family Sherlock. He knew this would make a splash.
“It was just something I wanted to do,” said Raymond, who lives in retirement in Denver. “I thought that would be a pretty unusual name.”

Sherlock was born into an athletic family. Raymond Sr. had been a fine baseball player, and Raymond Jr. starred in basketball at Mitchell and played at Colorado State University.

Still, Sherlock startled his father.

Raymond Sr. remembers the first time he showed Sherlock, who was a bouncy 6-year-old, the proper technique for shooting layups. Father and Sherlock were dribbling in the family’s driveway on Placid Road.

“First time, Sherlock laid that basketball up into the basket so smooth,” Raymond said. “So smooth. He caught on real, real quick. He was an unusual kind of guy.”

Yes, he was.

Holmes became a basketball celebrity at now-closed South Junior High, where he delivered spectacular dunks as an eighth-grader. He would rise in the air, turn in a complete circle in a move known as the 360, and slam the ball with his left hand.

Sam Dunlap, Darren’s father, coached Sherlock at South.

“He would be so damn high above the rim,” Sam said. “It was …”

Sam stared at the floor. He considered Sherlock a son, and thinking back to those air shows leaves him shaken. His eyes glistened.

“It was amazing.”

Even in junior high, Holmes played the part of a star. He purchased a deerstalker hat, the same kind Basil Rathbone wore in Sherlock Holmes movies, and wore the hat and a pinstripe suit to games.

The Gazette called him the city’s most acclaimed sophomore “ever” and later described Mitchell’s team as “The Sherlock Holmes Traveling All Star Circus and Air Show.”

Amid the joy of the circus, Holmes played sound, fundamental basketball. His coach, Bill Wright, made sure of that.
“We had a great time together,” Wright said. “He was a hard-working, hard-nosed kid.”

Hundreds of fans watched Sherlock fly, but his flights served as camouflage for his struggles. He walked through his brief life battling a reckless side.

“He was just one of those guys who hung out with the girls, partied and played basketball,” said Williams, his Mitchell teammate. Several of Sherlock’s friends confirmed this description.

He struggled in school. Because of a disability, he learned little from class lectures. He was a visual learner.

His studies suffered after his parents separated and divorced not long after he enrolled at Mitchell.

The split devastated Sherlock, who missed the reassuring calm once found on Placid Road.

“It’s really sad it all happened,” Holmes told The Gazette after his senior season. “All I wanted to do back then was play ball, and that’s all I ever did. It was the only thing that kept me going.”

He had risen to near mythic status in the Springs. People raved — and still rave — about his windmill dunk against Doherty and his helicopter dunk against Harrison.

But those dunks only suggested the wonders ahead. Or that’s what everyone believed.

His grades kept him from jumping to a marquee college program, so he headed to South Plains Junior College in Texas.

He never adjusted to college life in the flatlands, where he was far from the mountains, far from his friends.

He couldn’t keep up with his classwork and failed to earn a starting position on the team. Dennis Harp, a South Plains assistant coach, said expectations crippled the young player.

Holmes left at the end of his first semester and enrolled at Lon Morris Junior College in Texas. This turned into a repeat of South Plains.

He returned to the Springs.

The show was over.

He drove a food delivery truck. From 1987 to 1990, he served in the Army, spending most of the time in New York. He was honorably discharged after tests revealed a sickle-cell anemia trait.

He moved to Las Vegas, where his mother and stepfather lived. He worked in various casinos.

He met Nicole White. Dave Hatch, a Las Vegas detective, described Sherlock’s stubborn attachment to White as “this fatal attraction.”

The romance didn’t last. White found a new boyfriend, but Holmes declined to walk away.

Hatch, in a 1993 interview with The Gazette, said Holmes was stalking White. The detective also said Holmes had nothing on his police record.

On the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 22, Holmes was back in Colorado Springs, and he drove to the Dunlap home. He stepped out of his gray Ford Escort, and talked with Darren beside the stop sign at Zion and Tahoe.

Dunlap’s message was simple:

Stay here with your best friend and your oldest friends.

Holmes balked. He yearned to see White in Vegas.

Dunlap persisted. Holmes resisted.

They talked for more than an hour.

The sun was going down over Pikes Peak when Holmes climbed into the Escort, waved to Dunlap and started his journey, his final journey, to Vegas.

Dunlap returned to his house with an overwhelming premonition.

He believed he would never again see his friend.

On Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day, Marlon J. Cullors called 911. He begged police to rush to his apartment, where Holmes was banging on the door.

Then, the door came crashing down.

Cullors fired two shots from a small-caliber pistol. He told police he intended to frighten Holmes into retreating.

The two shots, fired from a second-floor balcony, struck Holmes in the chest and quickly killed him.

Vegas police determined Cullors had acted in self-defense.

Hundreds gathered Dec. 1, 1993 at Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church in Colorado Springs to say goodbye to Sherlock Holmes.

Sam Dunlap couldn’t remain in the building. He went to his car, where he thought of nights spent driving Darren and Sherlock in the family’s 1962 Chevy pickup.

On those nights, Sam rolled down his window and listened as Darren and Sherlock talked in the open air about future adventures. The boys sat in the back, no matter how cold, planning many tomorrows together.

As Sam sat in his car, Sherlock reclined in a coffin.

“The ability that young man had,” Sam said, his voice cracking. “The ability …”

On a gloomy afternoon late last month, Sam and Darren relaxed in the family living room, talking and laughing and crying about Sherlock.

Darren walked to the sliding door at the back of his home and pointed through the glass at a tattered concrete court and rim.

“We played there,” he said. “Me and Sherlock, we played so many games there.”

He often gazes through the big window and remembers:

This is where Sherlock Holmes used to fly.

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