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Like Sherlock Holmes, Detective Jerome Caminada loved nothing more than a puzzling case to test his skills of deduction, and one such teaser involved romance, a volatile lover and a man of many guises.

Lucilla Roberts was found unconscious in her bed in Marylebone by the CID. There was an unlabelled bottle of chloroform on a chair next to her, but no note. After removing her to the local ‘insane ward’, she recovered sufficiently to tell the police her sorry tale: she had been married for six months but, as yet, she had not been reunited with her husband since the wedding, and she had sold all her properties, handing the money over to his agent. Instantly suspicious, the police handed the case over to Detective Caminada, (as the victim came from Manchester) to investigate further.

Before long, Caminada had unravelled a case ‘which read more like fiction than fact’. Lucilla Prescott (she was never married) was the victim of a complicated plot of deception and betrayal. A close family friend, James Thompson, had convinced her that Thomas Roberts, a solicitor, wanted to woo her, but he had to rid himself of a jealous Italian ex-lover with a Mediterranean temper first. Through his go-between, Roberts gave instructions for Lucilla to buy a wedding ring, pretend she was married and dispose of her property, entrusting the cash to Thompson, who would look after it for her.

It is no surprise that Caminada discovered that Roberts was a figment of Thompson’s imagination and he had employed this elaborate ruse to get his hands on Lucilla’s substantial fortune. He revealed in his memoirs that the downfall of this capable and successful businesswoman was due to the fact that she firmly believed that all the men she met fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. Thompson had exploited her delusion for his own gain.

Detective Caminada met other unscrupulous men (and plenty of women too), including a chorister from Manchester Cathedral who committed bigamy and a fake Frenchman who conned women who applied to work in his new Parisian store in Manchester. When young female applicants came to the city for interviews, Alphonse Redfern committed ‘acts of indecent assault’ whilst measuring them for their uniform. His appalling behaviour led Caminada to give this grave warning to other potential victims:

There are few frauds of a worse kind than those by which respectable girls are induced to leave their homes. Finding themselves destitute amongst strangers they become an easy prey to the wily seducer.

Happy Valentine’s Day…