Article from The Telegraph
He enthralled Victorian England with his unrivalled skill at cracking cases, based on astute logical reasoning and grasp of forensic science, not to mention a mastery of disguises and encyclopedic knowledge of the criminal underclass.
But this detective was not Sherlock Holmes but a real life investigator, Jerome Caminada, who, new research suggests, helped inspire Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated hero.
A biography of Caminada out this month reveals a series of striking similarities between him and the fictional character, in terms of their unorthodox methods and character. It also establishes strong echoes between the real detective’s cases and plot lines used by Doyle.
The author, Angela Buckley, has even established that Caminada’s casework involved tackling an alluring and talented criminal, similar to Irene Adler, and that the detective even had a Moriarty-like nemesis who plagued him over the course of several cases until a final, dramatic confrontation.
Mrs Buckley said: “Caminada became a national figure at just the time that Sherlock Holmes was being created. There are so many parallels that it is clear Doyle was using parts of this real character for his.”
The son of an Italian father and Irish mother, Caminada was based in Manchester, but was involved in cases which took him across the country, and he enjoyed a nationwide profile in the press, where accounts of his exploits were widely reported.
Most of his career was spent with Manchester City Police Force although he later operated, like Holmes, as a “consulting detective”.
He emerged to prominence in the mid 1880s, shortly before Sherlock Holmes made his debut in A Study in Scarlet and parallels soon emerged between the two.
As the fictional character relied on an network of underworld contacts – the Baker Street Irregulars – so Caminada was known for his extensive web of informers, whom he would often meet in the back pew of a church.
These characters helped him build up an encyclopedic knowledge of the criminal fraternity, among whom he would often move in disguise – another tactic in common with Holmes, who is played, in his most recent reincarnation, by Benedict Cumberbatch,
Like his fictional counterpart, Caminada was particularly noted for his tendency to prowl the streets of the roughest neighbourhoods alone at night, fearlessly intervening in any crimes he encountered.
His skill with disguises was so renowned that on one occasion, while tracking a group of thieves at the Grand National dressed as a labourer, his own chief constable was unable to recognise him.
Other disguises included as drunken down and outs, as well as working class roles. However, he also posed as white collar professionals, once while bringing a bogus doctor to justice.
Dubbed the ‘terror to evil doers’ and, later ‘the Garibaldi of Detectives’, he was reputed to be able to spot a thief by the way he walked – apparently as a result of visits he undertook to prisons, to watch inmates walking around the yard to familiarise himself with their appearance and gait.
Over the course of his career, he was reportedly responsible for the imprisonment of 1,225 criminals. His most famous case – and perhaps the one which most closely resembles a Holmes story – was the apparently baffling “Mystery of the Four-Wheeled Cab”.
Two men had taken a horse drawn cab. On the journey, one leapt out and the other was found dying inside.
There was no obvious cause of death and few obvious clues to go on, but through a series of deductions of which Holmes himself would be proud, Caminada eventually identified the culprit as Charles Parton, who had drugged the other man before getting into the cab, in an attempt to rob him.
Another notable case involved him playing a prominent role in the nationwide hunt for Fenian terrorists, who were responsible for a series of explosions around the country.
Mrs Buckley, a family historian and trustee of the Society of Genealogists, identifies Caminada’s “Moriaty” figure as Bob Horridge, a violent, intelligent career criminal, with whom he had a 20-year feud, which began when Caminada arrested him for stealing a watch, landing him with a sentence of seven years’ penal servitude because of his previous convictions.
This harsh sentence for a relatively small crime angered Horridge so much that, as he was sent down, he swore revenge on the detective.
On his release, Horridge’s criminal enterprises grew in size and scope, but he was usually able to stay one step ahead of the authorities, often effecting dramatic escapes.
His spree finally ended after he shot two police officers. Caminada tracked him to Liverpool where the detective, disguised once more, eventually apprehended him, after pulling out his revolver a fraction faster than the criminal. Horridge was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Caminada’s “Irene Adler” was Alicia Ormonde, an apparently well-educated woman with an aristocratic background and expensive tastes, who was actually a consummate forger and experienced crook who was wanted across the country for a string of frauds and thefts.
Caminada tracked her down and arrested her, but – in an echo of Holmes’ fascination with Adler – the detective apparently became captivated by her.
The case took place in 1890, a year before Adler appeared in A Scandal in Bohemia.
Caminada – who published his memoirs on retiring – died in 1914, the year the last Holmes book was set.
Other individuals have previously been put forward as the basis for Holmes, who first appeared in publication in 1887 and featured in four novels and 56 short stories.
Doyle himself said he had taken inspiration from Dr Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for whom Doyle had worked as a clerk. Like Holmes, Bell was noted for drawing large conclusions from the smallest observations. Sir Henry Littlejohn, a former police surgeon, is also cited as an inspiration for the detective.
However, Mrs Buckley, whose book is called The Real Sherlock Holmes, believes that Caminada was used to give Holmes a better grounding in actual casework among the criminal fraternity, inspiring his detecting styles and some of the baffling cases he encountered.