When a brutal murder took place in Manchester in 1889, two detectives went head-to-head to track down the culprit. Renowned sleuth, Detective Chief Inspector Jerome Caminada, of the Manchester City police, and Superintendent James Bent, of the Lancashire Constabulary. Both used their superior powers of deduction to solve this case, but only one man would catch the killer.
On 22 July, assistant pawnbroker Walter Davies opened his employer’s shop in Atherton, to prepare for the day’s business. He swept the floor and hung the watches for sale in the shop window. At 9.10 am, a neighbour entered the store and immediately became suspicious, as Walter was not in sight. After shouting the assistant’s name, he approached the cellar – Walter was lying at the bottom of the steps ‘in a dying state’. He was bleeding from several wounds from his head and face, and died a few minutes later without revealing any information about his attacker. The only clues to this ‘murder of a peculiarly savage character’, was that several watches were missing from both the shop, and a gold watch and guard from the victim himself.
Within a few hours, the stolen watches were recovered by the police from another local pawnbroker’s. The man who had pledged them had signed the book as ‘Fred Smith’. According to witnesses he was about 26 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches tall and of medium build. He had dark hair, a thin, dark moustache and a fresh complexion. Dressed smartly, he was wearing a black worsted coat and vest, dark-blue striped trousers and a billycock hat. He spoke ‘as if he were a native of Manchester’. A manhunt was launched.
Five miles east of Wigan, the town of Atherton was originally in Lancashire (now it’s in Greater Manchester), so the case was initially investigated by the county police. However, after having no success in tracking the perpetrator, the chief constable asked for help from the city police and Detective Chief Inspector Caminada was seconded to the investigation. Soon, Superintendent Bent, of the Manchester Division, also became involved and, four months later, both detectives arrested a suspect. But which one would turn out to be Walter Davies’ murderer?
On 19 October 1889, Detective Caminada and his colleagues arrested John Edward Lorn, at the fairground in Wigan. Aged 19, Lorn worked as a labourer, and matched the description given by the pawnbroker who received the stolen watches after Walter Davies’ murder, although Lorn was younger and shorter than remembered. An inhabitant of Blackburn, Lorn denied any knowledge of the crime. Nevertheless he was charged with murder and detained.
Whilst John Lorn was in custody, another man was arrested, this time by Superintendent Bent. At the time of the murder, there had been a spate of railway robberies in the area. Luggage had been stolen from a number of stations on the London and Northwestern railway, with the thief using labels to appropriate other passengers’ baggage, claiming them as his own. Bent’s enquiries led him to Eccles, where he apprehended 28-year-old William Chadwick, on 23 October. During a search of his house, stolen goods were found from robberies reported in Manchester, Preston, Crewe and Carlisle, linking him to the alleged offences. At the police station, Chadwick said to the arresting officer: ‘I expect Mr Bent will arrest me for the Atherton murder yet. I have been expecting it every day.’ He was also overheard saying: ‘They have got the wrong man for that job. Pawnbrokers will swear to anything and anybody.’
When Superintendent Bent investigated further, he uncovered some possible links. A silk handkerchief was found in a portmanteau in Chadwick’s lodgings – witnesses had seen a man arguing in the shop with Davies about silk handkerchiefs. Also, some of the stolen items from the railway robberies were pledged under the name ‘Fred Smith’. Bent asked Chadwick to write the incriminating pseudonym and found that it matched the entry in the pawnbroker’s ledger. Several witnesses identified him as the man seen in the shop with Walter Davies and in the vicinity on the day of the murder.
In the meantime, Detective Caminada’s suspect, John Edward Lorn, had appeared before the magistrate and had been acquitted, due to ‘a case of mistaken identity’. Superintendent Bent’s suspect, William Chadwick, was charged with murder and stood trial at the Liverpool Assizes the following spring.
The trial opened on 24 March 1890, and lasted three days. A number of witnesses, including a knocker-up, testified to having seen Chadwick in and around the pawnbroker’s shop at the time of the murder. Despite his arrest of the wrong man, Detective Caminada confirmed that Chadwick ‘favoured’ the description of the man who had pledged the watches. Aware of the lack of concrete evidence, the counsel for the defence concluded, ‘there may have been suspicious circumstances but it did not advance beyond suspicion.’ He reminded the jurors that in 1876, William Habron had been convicted for the murder of PC Nicholas Cock, on circumstantial evidence, and had been detained in prison for three years before the real culprit confessed. He implored them to avoid doing the same in the case of William Chadwick.
At the end of the third day, the jury retired. They took just 34 minutes to return a guilty verdict. On the passing of the death sentence, the condemned man ‘held fast to the rails of the dock, and had to be forcibly removed from the court by several warders.’ As he was being taken down the steps he shouted ‘Goodbye Polly’ to his wife, who was sitting by the dock. William Chadwick was hanged at Kirkdale Gaol, on 15 April 1890 by executioner James Berry. He proclaimed his innocence to the last.
In his memoirs, published the following year, Superintendent Bent revealed that William Chadwick had pursued a long ‘career of crime’, beginning at the age of 17, when he assaulteda cashier during a robbery, who later died of his injuries. Chadwick served seven years’ penal servitude. He was also in the habit of continually altering his appearance with hair dyes and cosmetics to avoid capture. He may have evaded Detective Caminada, but he didn’t fool Superintendent Bent.
Criminal Life: Reminiscences of Forty-Two Years as a Police Officer, James Bent (John Heywood, 1891)
Lancaster Gazette, 23 October 1889
Manchester Courier, 29 March 1890
Morning Post, 2 Nov 1889
Northern Daily Telegraph, 19 Oct and 1 Nov 1889