New Book Claims Detective Caminada was The Real Sherlock Holmes

Detective Jerome Caminada, who has Italian roots, is believed to be the inspiration behind the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Detective Jerome Caminada, who has Italian roots, is believed to be the inspiration behind the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

A new book by Angela Buckley, a British historian and trustee of the Society of Genealogists, claims that Sherlock Holmes, the Victorian-era detective featured in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, was based on a real-life sleuth named Jerome Caminada, the son of an Italian father and Irish mother.

The biography of Caminada reveals a series of striking similarities between him and the fictional Sherlock Holmes character and finds strong echoes between the real detective’s cases and plot lines used by Conan Doyle. The book even establishes that Caminada’s casework involved tackling an alluring criminal similar to Irene Adler and that the detective had a Moriarty-like nemesis who plagued him over the course of several years until a final, dramatic confrontation.

“Caminada became a national figure at just the time that Sherlock Holmes was being created. There are so many parallels that it is clear Conan Doyle was using parts of this real character for his,” the author stated.

Real life sleuth Jerome Caminada was based in Manchester, England, but was involved in cases which took him across the country. He enjoyed a national profile in the press, where accounts of his exploits were widely reported. Most of his career was spent with the 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; then parallels soon emerged between the two.

As the fictional character relied on a 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.

Actor Basil Rathbone was the original Sherlock Holmes.

Actor Basil Rathbone was the original Sherlock Holmes.

Like his fictional counterpart, Caminada was particularly noted for his tendency to prowl the streets of the roughest neighborhoods 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 laborer, his own chief constable was unable to recognize him. Other disguises included 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 “Garibaldi of Detectives,” Caminada was reputed to be able to spot a thief by the way he walked, apparently as a result of many visits to prisons to watch inmates walking around the yard to familiarize 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.” The case tells of two men who had taken a horse drawn cab. On the journey one jumped out and the other was found dying inside. There was no obvious cause of death and few 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.

Jeremy Brett was the most popular and realistic Sherlock, as his lines came right from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books.

Jeremy Brett was the most popular and realistic Sherlock, as his lines came right from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books.

Buckley identifies Caminada’s “Moriarty” figure as Bob Horridge, an intelligent and violent career criminal, with whom he had a 20-year feud. The two decade battle began when Caminada arrested him for stealing a watch, landing him with a sentence of seven years because of his previous convictions. This harsh sentence for a relatively small crime angered Horridge so much that, as he was sent down, swore revenge on the detective. On his release, Horridge’s criminal enterprises grew in size and scope and was usually able to stay one step ahead of the authorities, often effecting dramatic escapes.

Horridge’s spree finally ended after he shot two police officers. Caminada tracked him to Liverpool where the detective, disguised once more, eventually apprehended him, 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. She was actually a consummate forger and experienced crook who was wanted across England 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.

Buckley, whose book is called “The Real Sherlock Holmes,” believes that Detective Caminada’s life 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.

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