Gerard Jacob Van Helden was born in the Netherlands in 1848. He joined the Birmingham Borough Police (as it was then) in 1871. He had a very successful career, being promoted to sergeant by 1872 and inspector by 1881.
He spent much of his career in the CID and was chief inspector of detectives by 1885.
He had many different skills which helped him to successfully solve numerous cases, earning him national accolades. These included an incredible memory for faces and the ability to speak Dutch, German and English. An example of his extraordinary memory is recorded whereby he recognised a prisoner at court whom he had arrested 20 years previously.
At one time, he acted as bodyguard to the Right Honorable Joseph Chamberlain, (1836–1914). He had an unusually eventful career and experiences and became known as "The Famous Detective". He could have retired on superannuation in 1898 but he chose to remain doing the job he loved.
In one case which received quite a bit of publicity he hid himself in a small cupboard on several occasions, waiting to catch burglars in action at a jewellers who had been frequently broken into. After seven weeks his efforts paid off when a man with a revolver entered the premises, which saw Van Helden leaping from his hiding place and handcuffing the burglar.
Wikipedia states 'In the spring and summer of 1901, Gerard Van Helden undertook a gruelling journey to Ireland and the north and west of England on behalf of The Force. On the journey home to Birmingham he was taken ill on the train and a doctor sent for on his arrival home. He was immediately ordered to bed but his condition deteriorated and he died a few days later'. His death certificate shows he died of pneumonia and exhaustion.
His death made news across the country, appearing in newspapers as far afield as Portsmouth and Sheffield, and many newspapers reported his death with an obituary. A wonderful tribute was made by The Police Review of 21 June 1901: 'Obituary: Chief Superintendent Van Helden. The lamentably sudden death of Superintendent Van Helden deprives the city of an officer whose zeal in the discharge of his duties was as noteworthy as his skill in his business was exceptional...There was a little of the Sherlock Holmes system about Van Helden's methods...' (source: Wikipedia).
The Police Review also published an article about the funeral and the impressive procession (which included Birmingham Chief Charles Haughton Rafter and several other Chief Constables who had previously worked for the Birmingham police, 125 policemen and 25 firemen) completed the six mile journey from Van Helden's residence to Lodge Hill Cemetary, Selly Oak.
Wikipedia also states: 'Previously in December 1900 Van Helden and his wife had a son, Anthony Gerard Van Helden, but he died on 1 April 1901. Anthony is included in that census. In consequence of the sudden death of Detective Superintendent Van Helden, the Birmingham police sports, which was to have been held on 13 June, was postponed on an order from the Chief Constable'
His story was recently uncovered and he will be added to the West Midlands Police Roll of Honour, with his death being directly linked to his police duty.
Memorial (broken) of Gerard Van Helden, who died 12 June 1901, Detective Chief Superintendent in the Birmingham City Police Force, Lodge Hill Cemetary.
Pictures by TimothyWF, Wikimedia Commons