The Real-Life Sherlock Holmes?


By | August 16, 2014

Ever since he showed up in A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has fascinated readers with his powers of deduction and arrogant eccentricities. But is this iconic investigator purely fictional, or was he based on a real-life hero?

Die-hard fans probably know the answer already. According to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes is a combination of Joseph Bell and Henry Littlejohn, both skilled doctors who assisted police and possessed the amazing ability to size up a person with a single glance. But while they influenced Doyle’s detective, they didn’t actually investigate crimes or battle any British baddies.

Jerome Caminada, on the other hand, was Sherlock Holmes in the flesh. While historians debate if he actually inspired Doyle’s classic character, this Victorian investigator was definitely England’s number one super sleuth. Both brainy and brawny, Caminada traveled all across the UK to catch the realm’s most conniving crooks, and his adventures rival the plot of any Sherlock story.

10 The Garibaldi Of Detectives

The 19th-century European Giuseppe Garibaldi was a master of guerilla warfare, fought in revolutions across two continents, and is considered one of the founders of modern Italy. To newspapers of the day, Jerome Caminada was known as the “Garibaldi of Detectives.” To the criminal underworld, he was the “terror to evildoers.”

Born in 1844 to immigrant parents, Caminada had a rough life growing up. In addition to losing both his brother and father, he grew up in a neighborhood affectionately known as “Devil’s Gate,” one of the worst slums in Manchester. Caminada was surrounded by brothels, underground saloons, and criminals from every walk of life. Fortunately for law-abiding citizens everywhere, he put his background to good use when he joined the police force and became Manchester’s first Detective Superintendent.

But Caminada wasn’t your run-of-the-mill detective. Instead, his exploits sound like they were ripped straight from the pages of a penny dreadful. When tracking down crooks or hunting for clues, Caminada often disguised himself as a drunk or a common worker and hung out in streets and bars to gather information. His costumes were so impressive that he once fooled his own chief constable.

In addition to his vast array of disguises, Caminada had a network of spies working across Manchester, and he’d often meet his sources in the back of a church. And when Caminada wasn’t looking for clues, he could be found visiting prisons and studying the ways criminals moved and talked. The detective was a big believer in the power of observation, and his skilled eyes would come in quite handy later on.

9 Cleaning Up The Streets

Despite his slender frame, Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a man you wanted to mess with. Over the course of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, readers discovered that Sherlock was a practicing martial artist, was strong enough to bend a steel poker, and knew how to throw a pretty good punch. His real-life counterpart was no slouch when it came to laying down the law, either. Even though he wasn’t a big guy, Caminada could more than hold his own in a fight.

In 1874, a reporter for the Manchester Evening News went undercover in the city’s slums, gathering material for a 10-part series on Manchester’s criminal element. Over the course of his investigation, he encountered thieves and prostitutes and even attended the wake of a famous pickpocket, but his most exciting story took place one cold Saturday night when he ran across two people slugging it out in the streets.

What had started as a private brawl—punching, hair pulling, the works—erupted into a massive street fight with spectators taking on spectators in a bloody battle royale. That’s when Caminada strolled straight into the fray, cool as ice and without any weapons. In the words of the reporter, “He was of average build, but broadly set, and he ‘went for’ the crowd instantly with a quiet determination.”

His first move was to separate the instigators. He shoved one woman into the mob and hurled the other inside a house. Next, Caminada turned to the men and ordered them to “be off.” One lowlife decided to get tough and threatened the detective instead. The punk found himself “seized by the collar, run barrow-fashion down the street, shoved into his own residence, and told to remain inside.” The rest of the men quickly dispersed.

8 Womanizing Ways

Anyone here a fan of Steven Moffat’s modern-day Sherlock TV show? If so, you’ll no doubt remember the episode where Sherlock finds some sensitive documents on behalf of a client by pledging his undying love to a secretary. Sure, toying with someone’s affections isn’t terribly considerate, but when you’re a detective, you don’t have time to play nice.

And it isn’t just Benedict Cumberbatch who’s charmed his way into solving a case. Jerome Caminada was quite the flirt as well and had no qualms about manipulating women to catch a crook. On numerous occasions, he took ladies to the park or perhaps out on a boat in order to ply them for information.

During one investigation, Caminada was trying to find a fraudulent businessman on the lam. Figuring his servants might know his whereabouts, Caminada hired a band to play music outside his house. When the maids came out to listen, the detective was able to interrogate each one.

The case was solved when Caminada took one of the maids to Leeds and even spent a bit of cash to buy her a fancy umbrella. Quite smitten, the maid gave up her employer’s location, and after Caminada got his man, he sent the poor girl a letter claiming he’d died.

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Category: Liberty
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