Detective Caminada and the Manchester Cab Mystery

The Real Sherlock Holmes coverToday, Criminal Historian is privileged to have a very timely guest post by Angela Buckley, author of new book The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada.

Here, Angela focuses on a particular case that needed the skills of Victorian detective Caminada…



Manchester Cathedral125 years ago today, the perpetrator of the Manchester Cab Mystery stood trial for a sickening crime that had shocked the citizens of Victorian Manchester and tested Detective Chief Inspector Jerome Caminada to the limits. This was Caminada’s most baffling case and he would need all the brilliant powers of deduction of Sherlock Holmes to solve it and bring the killer to justice.

From the Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives

From the Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives

On the evening of 26 February 1889, a well-respected businessman hailed a cab on the steps of Manchester Cathedral with a young man. Just over an hour later the cabman found John Fletcher dead. His companion had vanished. As the shocking news hit the headlines the following morning, this puzzling mystery was placed in the capable hands of Detective Caminada.

There were no marks of violence on John Fletcher’s body and the initial report of the hospital surgeon suggested that he had died of alcohol poisoning (the paper merchant was a habitual gin drinker) due to a lethal, and probably accidental, mix with chloral hydrate, but the absence of money and valuables on his body indicated a far more sinister explanation.

Detective Caminada opened his investigation by interviewing possible witnesses, including the cabman who had discovered the victim, and the landlady of a public house where the two men had stopped for a drink. He gradually began to build a picture of the final movements of John Fletcher and a description of his elusive acquaintance.

Despite the fact that the post mortem was inconclusive about whether Fletcher had been deliberately poisoned, Caminada followed his instinct and deduced that there was a connection between the presence of chloral hydrate in the victim’s stomach contents and illegal prizefighting, as the drug was used to subdue opponents in the ring.

From the Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives

From the Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives

Using his encyclopedic knowledge of the criminal fraternity, he compared the description of his suspect with likely candidates and soon came to the conclusion that the perpetrator might have been Charlie Parton, son of a beerhouse keeper, who used chloral to drug fighters to rig the betting. The unravelling of this baffling case would bear all the hallmarks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Detective Caminada linked the murder with the theft of chloral hydrate from a druggist’s in Liverpool, Parton’s home city, and found two previous intended victims who had had similar experiences of being drugged and robbed.

In a startling twist, he located a key witness who had actually seen Parton pouring liquid from a vial into Fletcher’s beer on the night of his death. 18-year-old Charlie Parton was arrested and, on 19 March 1889, just three weeks after the crime, he was convicted of the murder of John Fletcher (his death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment).

The successful and speedy resolution of the Manchester Cab Mystery was undoubtedly Detective Caminada’s finest moment and became his signature case after it was widely celebrated in the national press.

The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen and Sword Books. For more details, see Angela’s blog at