In the nineteenth century Manchester was one of the most
dangerous places in England. The notorious rookeries were populated by all
manner of criminals, from gangs of thieves and professional beggars to ruthless
con artists and nimble pickpockets. In the sordid alleys and labyrinthine
streets were illegal beer houses, disreputable gin palaces and brothels. The
crime rate was staggering and in the 1870s, it was four times higher than that
in London. Born in the slums to an immigrant family, Detective Caminada set out
on a quest to clean up the streets of his city.
Jerome Caminada was born on 15 March 1844 in Peter Street,
Deansgate, opposite the Free Trade Hall. His father was an Italian cabinetmaker
and his mother had Irish roots. Jerome’s childhood was soon shattered by the
deaths of his father and four siblings, leaving the family in desperate
poverty. Despite the hardships, he overcame the odds and in 1868, at the age of
23, Jerome joined the Manchester City Police Force, where his firsthand
knowledge of the shady characters of his seedy neighbourhood would become his
most effective weapon in fighting crime.
Detective Caminada’s early investigations included quack
doctors, racecourse pickpockets, bogus heir hunters and even the participants
of a cross-dressing ball. Promoted into the detective team, 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,
Caminada was a master of disguise and an expert in deduction. He used his
encyclopaedic knowledge of the criminal fraternity to arrest thieves, thugs and
charlatans. He even had his own network of informants, with whom he exchanged
information on the back pew of The Hidden Gem.
In 1887, Detective Caminada confronted his own ‘Professor
Moriarty’ in a deadly struggle. Bob Horridge was a violent burglar, who
committed daring robberies and would stop at nothing to evade the law. Their
rivalry lasted two decades until Horridge shot two policemen and the detective
vowed to end his reign of terror. Their final battle took place in Liverpool
and the thief went down for life. With Horridge behind bars, Detective Caminada
went on to face his most baffling case yet: ‘The Manchester Cab Mystery’, which
he solved using his brilliant powers of deduction.
February 1889, paper merchant John Fletcher hailed a cab from the steps of
Manchester Cathedral, in the company of a young man. Later that evening, the
businessman was found dead and his companion had disappeared. Detective
Caminada deduced that Fletcher had been poisoned by chloral hydrate, used in
illegal prize fights. He brought the
culprit to justice in the record time of three weeks. This sensational case
catapulted Jerome Caminada into national fame, earning him his reputation as
‘Manchester’s Sherlock Holmes’.
Detective Caminada fought crime tirelessly in his city for
30 years. Later in his career he tackled anarchists, scuttlers and child
killers. He also revealed that he had been working undercover for the British
government tracking Fenian suspects for two decades. Jerome died on 10 March
1914 and is buried in Southern Cemetery. A true Victorian supersleuth, he was one
of the finest detectives in the history of Manchester.
Thanks to author Angela Buckley for this blog. You can find out more about Detective Caminada in The Real
Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela
Buckley. Check out Angela’s website
for more about her crime writing.
The Hidden Gem,
or officially St Mary’s Catholic Church, is located on Mulberry Street in