The figures Conan Doyle used to make his character Sherlock Holmes were the great minds of their age in criminology. They were Dr. Joseph Bell, Sir (Dr.) Henry Littlejohn and Jerome Caminada who was a great detective and became head of the Manchester Police Department. Every one of these people was a powerhouse in solving criminal cases in the later 1800s through all of the abilities which would materialize in the fictional Holmes.
Bell studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and received an MD in 1859. He attended Queen Victoria as her surgeon. Incredibly, Bell dressed the way Sherlock Holmes would dress. He was famous for striding around campus in his long coat and hat. Bell was from the same class as Sherlock. Robert Louis Stevenson, who also went to the University with Doyle, recognized Bell upon reading the Holmes’ first story. The students adored Bell. He was a fascinating and gripping lecturer. Doyle credits Bell with being the main influence for Sherlock. Bell was enormously proud of being credited for Sherlock although he also thought that Doyle had based Sherlock upon himself. Most authors do embody themselves in their fiction and all fiction is to some extent autobiographical.
Dr. Bell stated, "In teaching the treatment of disease and accident, all careful teachers have first to show the student how to recognize accurately the case. The recognition depends in great measure on the accurate and rapid appreciation of small points in which the diseased differs from the healthy state. In fact, the student must be taught to observe. To interest him in this kind of work we teachers find it useful to show the student how much a trained use of the observation can discover in ordinary matters such as the previous history, nationality and occupation of a patient.” In his instruction, Bell used close observation in making a diagnosis. He would pick a stranger, observe him, then deduce his occupation and recent activities. This skill made him a pioneer in forensic science, especially forensic pathology. He could tell a person’s occupation by studying his hands. He could diagnose a medical condition by observing the patient before the patient ever opened his mouth. He liked watching people move and could tell a great deal about the person from that. He listened for small differences in his patient's speech patterns. It was all relevant to Bell.
Serving as Edinburgh's Police Surgeon and as Medical Advisor to the Crown in Scotland in criminal cases, he was often called upon as an expert witness. He was a forensic expert involved in police investigations. Sir Henry taught Arthur Conan Doyle forensic medicine when Doyle was studying at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh. He was appointed to the Chair of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh in 1897. Sir Henry was also was from the same class as Sherlock. Sir Henry was a formidable expert witness in criminal cases. He gave gruesome evidence, in which he dissected in intricate detail his postmortem findings. If it was part of his exam, he would describe the smell from the victim’s stomach which he opened or his shattered skull. No detail was too small for him.
One of his most sensational trials was known as the Ardlamont case. His evidence should have convicted Alfred Monson, a “gentleman’s tutor”, but the jury returned a not guilty verdict. Manson had gone shooting on the Ardlamont estate with a friend, Edward Scott, and Cecil Hambrough in August 1893. They claimed Hambrough accidentally shot himself. Their story was accepted until Monson tried to use two life insurance policies in Hambrough’s name, taken out a few weeks earlier, benefiting Monson’s wife. Littlejohn gave two hours of gripping testimony about every detail of the shooting and why it was not accidental. But this time he did not prevail. One in which he did though was the Chantrelle case. Eugene Chantrelle’s wife Elizabeth fell ill and died, overcome by escaping gas. Littlejohn attended her. His keen knowledge of poisons alerted him to probable opium poisoning. Chantrelle was charged and convicted of her murder. Littlejohn’s ability to dissect a crime scene and a victim’s remains were considered formidable by all.
He was born in Manchester, England in 1844, growing up in a slum known as “Devil’s Gate,” which was filled with brothels, saloons, and criminals. Caminada joined the Police Force in 1868. He became famous in the mid 1880s. This was when Holmes made his debut, in 1887 in A Study in Scarlet. Caminada has the cases. Caminada was responsible for imprisoning about 1,225 criminals during his long career. He came from the same class as the criminals but chose to work for law and order instead. He was a master of disguises and had fooled even his own police captain as to who he was. He could fraternize with the criminal underclass easily and he gleaned information from these fellows constantly. He was a keen observer and could identify criminals by their mannerisms. Upon his retirement from the force, he worked as a consulting detective, just like Holmes. His main difference from Holmes was that he was not from the gentleman class and Holmes was. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of course, was from the same class as Holmes and could only “flesh out” a hero who was from his own class.
Bob Horridge was a murderous thief. In 1870 Caminada arrested him for stealing a watch. Horridge swore revenge. Upon his release, Horridge became a much worse criminal. He was also brilliant at escapes including making dives into water and running through connected attics. The second time he was in prison he was able to break out even though guards shot him during his escape. When Horridge shot two officers, the authorities sent Caminada after him. He tracked Horridge’s wife to Liverpool and shortly thereafter found Horridge whose walk he could recognize due to his unusual gait. They had a dramatic confrontation and the detective drew his own pistol just a fraction faster than Horridge did. He was able to shoot him first.
Part II is here