Book Review: Who Killed Constable Cock? by Angela Buckley

constable cock

In the early hours of 1st August 1876, Police Constable Nicholas Cock was shot and killed as he patrolled his usual beat in the quiet area of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. The fascinating series of events that followed the young constable’s murder form the second in historian Angela Buckley’s Victorian Supersleuth series: Who Killed Constable Cock?

Although only 21-years-old, Constable Cock had made some enemies during his time serving the Manchester community. As a result, Superintendent James Brent, leading the investigation, was convinced that the perpetrators of the crime were a group of Irish immigrant brothers, the Habrons, who had been heard to make threats against the policeman. Soon arrested, the brothers were brought to trial, with various witnesses giving surprisingly different  accounts of what happened in the days leading to the crime and of the shooting itself. Who was the strange man seen lurking nearby? What was the strange noise heard by residents of the area? Why were William Habron’s boots muddy on a dry day? Despite the presence of several witnesses at the time of the shooting, including student John Massey Simpson and Cock’s colleague PC Beanland, witness statements could not have been more varied. After the trial concluded, the mystery of what happened to PC Cock appeared to have been solved but when, many years later, a notorious criminal confessed his involvement, it seemed that this crime was not so clear cut after all. Did Superintendent Brent help convict an innocent man?

This book also gives a fascinating account of the origins of the forensic and investigative methods that are so familiar in policing today. For example, the use of footprints, and the casting of them in plaster of Paris, was pioneered in the early 1800s by French ex-convict and police informer, Eugène Vidocq. The technique was later refined by physician and criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne, who even began to make casts in the snow by using salt. Vidocq was also responsible for the first uses of mugshots to keep records of arrested criminals.

Who Killed Constable Cock? is a fascinating and meticulously detailed account of a Victorian-era crime, the impacts of which spread far and wide and stretched over a period of many years.

The book is available to buy now.

To find out more about Angela Buckley’s work as a Victorian Supersleuth, visit her Facebook page.

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Book Review: The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley

jerome caminada

In January 1899, the Superintendent of the Manchester Police Force announced his retirement, his police career having spanned an impressive 31 years and The Evening Telegraph describing him as ‘one of the most noted detectives of the country.’ His work in cleaning up the crime-ridden streets of Manchester had also been recognised by the Postmaster General and the Duke of Norfolk.

The superintendent in question was Jerome Caminada, a now legendary ‘Victorian Supersleuth’ who, during his career, became notorious for the tricks he used to catch criminals. Both in his lifetime and after, Caminada was often compared to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

In The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada, Angela Buckley takes us into the dark and grim streets of Victorian Manchester where she follows Caminada as he climbs the ranks of the city’s police force, joining as a 23-year-old constable in 1868.

The book tells of Caminada’s humble beginnings as the son of an Italian immigrant, in a city where the life expectancy of the working class was a shocking 18. His family life blighted by tragedies such as the premature deaths of various siblings, the alcoholism of his brother and the impact of syphilis on his mother, Caminada used his time in the police force to not only improve the lives of his fellow Manchester residents but also his own.

In such a time of poverty, many individuals turned to crime and, after he joined the police, it was Caminada’s job to ensure the law was upheld and the streets of Manchester kept safe. Cases that Caminada tackled, and solved, during his career included The Manchester Cab Mystery, the case of the infamous Birmingham Forger and many incidents involving so-called Quack Doctors. A master of disguise, the detective also foiled many criminal plots in other areas of the country, including apprehending a gang of pickpockets at the Grand National in a guise ‘so convincing it even deceived his own chief constable.’ His talent for going undercover obviously standing him in good stead, it is also revealed that for many years, Caminada worked for Special Branch, carrying out top secret missions and taking his instructions directly from the Home Office.

Buckley’s descriptions of the Manchester streets – including Deansgate, St Ann’s Square and the then ‘Little Ireland’ (now Oxford Road Station) – are vivid and detailed. Indeed, anyone familiar with the city can walk Caminada’s beat alongside him, as he polices the many illegal drinking dens, gin joints and houses of ill repute that then occupied the city. An experienced historian whose work has featured in The Times and The Telegraph, Angela Buckley brings 19th century Manchester to life in this book and The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada is a must read for all true-crime fans.

The book is available from Pen and Sword and Amazon.

This post was originally published on Humanity Hallows.