On a cold winter’s evening in December 1886, Arthur Foster left the Queen’s Theatre, Manchester, England, with a pocket full of gold and a bejeweled lady on his arm. Stepping carefully through the throngs of hawkers and street sellers, the striking couple hailed a hansom cab. As they settled inside the carriage, a shadowy figure slipped in behind them. The yellow light of a gas lamp revealed him as an older man, dark-haired, with a full beard and moustache. Foster, also known as the Birmingham Forger, was wanted by the police for a serious fraud, and the intruder sitting in his cab was Detective Chief Inspector Jerome Caminada, who had once again caught his man.
When Sherlock Holmes made his debut a year later in A Study in Scarlet, Detective Caminada was at the top of his game. He had been policing the notorious underworld of Victorian Manchester for more than two decades. A master of disguise and an expert in deduction, he could spot a thief by the way he walked and sniff out a swindle with unerring success.
Jerome Caminada did not come from the landed gentry or have a university education like Holmes, but his ability to solve complicated cases using unorthodox methods bore an uncanny similarity to the exceptional skills of the famous “sleuth-hound.” Born in the slums of Manchester in 1844, Caminada was the son of immigrant parents. His father was an Italian cabinetmaker and his mother had Irish roots. Jerome’s impoverished childhood was marked by the early death of his father, which forced the family to move into one of the city’s most disreputable quarters. In the closed courts and labyrinthine alleys of his crime-infested neighborhood, Caminada gained an intimate knowledge of the thieves and crooks who lived there, which would become one of his most effective weapons when he joined the Manchester City Police Force at the age of 23.
Dubbed in the press “a terror to evil doers,” Detective Caminada tackled all manner of criminals, from burglars and pickpockets to clever con artists and cold-blooded killers. In his early investigations, he developed the groundbreaking techniques that would link him, in the minds of the contemporary public, with the newly penned stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Like Sherlock Holmes, Caminada regularly operated undercover and on one occasion, his disguise was so convincing that his own chief constable failed to recognize him. Another time while in disguise, he lifted the imprint of an address of a Fenian suspect from a blotting pad, a clue that led him to Paris. By night, like his fictional counterpart, Caminada wandered the dark alleyways of the city, gathering intelligence and keeping an eye out for crime. He even had his own “Baker Street Irregulars” with whom he exchanged information in the back pew of the church where he worshiped.
In 1887, Detective Caminada faced his own Professor Moriarty in a deadly encounter. His long-term adversary, Bob Horridge, was a violent thief who committed daring robberies and sought to preserve his freedom at all costs. When Caminada arrested the felon for the first time, Horridge vowed that he would kill him. Their rivalry lasted almost twenty years, until Horridge shot two policemen, and Detective Caminada vowed to end his reign of terror for good. This led to a life-threatening confrontation between the armed antagonists. With Horridge finally behind bars, Detective Caminada went on to face his most baffling case yet: “The Manchester Cab Mystery,” which would require all the brilliant powers of deduction of Sherlock Holmes to solve.
On February 26, 1889, a respectable businessman hailed a cab from the steps of Manchester Cathedral in the company of a young man. An hour later, John Fletcher was found dead and his companion had disappeared. This mysterious case was placed in the capable hands of Detective Caminada, who deduced that the victim had been poisoned by chloral hydrate, often used in illegal prizefighting. He tracked down the culprit and brought him to justice in the record time of just three weeks. This sensational case bore all the hallmarks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and catapulted Jerome Caminada to national fame, earning him the reputation as “Manchester’s Sherlock Holmes.”
Detective Caminada fought crime tirelessly for three decades, rising rapidly through the ranks to the position of superintendent. Many of his cases bore a remarkable resemblance to the increasingly popular Sherlock stories: he undertook covert missions for the government, infiltrated a military plot to sell intelligence to foreign powers and was even captivated by a real-life Irene Adler. After his retirement in 1899, the worlds of the fictional Sherlock and the flesh-and-blood Jerome merged even closer when Caminada became a private inquiry agent. One of the greatest detectives in the history of Manchester, Jerome Caminada was a true Victorian super-sleuth and a real-life Sherlock Holmes.
The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada, by Angela Buckley, is published by Pen & Sword Books.