Vidocq could carry on a normal conversation with a file in his mouth. As soon as he left the unremunerative world of crime for a steady job with the forces of order, he became significantly more intelligent. His transformation into a policeman was a coming of age, though not necessarily a step in the right direction. Vidocq may not, as his admirers claim, have invented fingerprinting and the science of ballistics, but he did show the importance of keeping detailed criminal records.
He proved, on occasion, that reason could be applied to problems previously left to chance and leg-work. This was surely one of the main attractions for Balzac. When he first went forth with pliers and crowbar, belief in wizardry was still widespread. The judicial system was perceived as an evil intrusion, even by victims of crime: a common prayer asked for deliverance from Satan and Justice; the trickster with supernatural powers was the hero of many folk-tales. One day my father followed him, and just as he was going to put his hand on his collar, he grasped only a wisp of hay.
He was the first folklore bandit to have an office and a salary, the first to lend himself to political violence. As a detective, he was far more dangerous than he ever was as a crook. Vidocq came to power at a time when state justice was becoming pervasive. The first paragraph of his memoirs, significantly, mentions Robespierre, who was born a few doors from the Vidocq bakery in Arras.
He was the human face — or faces — of a system that spent more time rooting out subversives than catching thieves. The idea that Vidocq was a self-made hero rather than a criminal in the service of a criminal state has been the dominant view ever since the publication of his memoirs in At the same time that he was pursuing the guilty, he was also freeing the innocent. It makes an interesting contrast to historical fact.
At this rate, it would have taken fewer than fifteen Vidocqs to arrest every criminal in the country. His dodgy memoirs are ultimately more thrilling than the open-and-shut casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Readers of Vidocq must be either fools or detectives. His memoirs are suspiciously like the selective confession of a prisoner with time on his hands and a captive audience too polite or scared to interrupt the relentless self-exoneration.
True, he might have carried a knife, but it was only for eating meat or for carving a carrot into a mould for a key made of prison spoons melted over a fire of rags and lard. His hands, admittedly, were covered in blood when his mistress Francine was found with five stab wounds inflicted by his knife, but he just happened to have cut his hand on some broken glass and Francine, by her own admission, had borrowed the knife for a suicide attempt. Even the crucial story of the crime that first sent him to the galleys went through different versions. According to the original one, he was unjustly accused of forging an order of release for a prisoner at Lille.
In a later version, he claimed to have been convicted for forging a key at Douai prison. This is not to say that Vidocq was not sometimes well-intentioned; he would hardly be such an interestingly sinister figure if he had never believed in the rightness of his mission.
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He knew from his own experience the near impossibility of forging a new life after prison. The factory did not fail, as his English translator sneeringly supposed, because it was run by convicts, but because Vidocq lost the money gambling. Why was an ex-convict who was known to be a habitual gambler put in charge of the Police des Jeux, which supervised casinos? Why did so many different regimes ask for his help when they were threatened by popular revolt?
According to some official reports, Vidocq and his agents were super-thieves who arrested the competition and made off with the spoils. Vidocq would have had him shot. A former convict with a gift for self-promotion and a fantastic record of arrests was never going to be popular with his colleagues. But Vidocq himself boasted of his exploits as a counter-terrorist and agent provocateur.
Stead said in Vidocq: A Biography , with the customary benignity of his admirers. The old showman who turned up in London in with his costumes, his manacles and his tropical fruits was still on active service. The cosy tales of stake-outs and disguises look increasingly like the convenient fables of a state that habitually farmed out its policing to former criminals. According to Stead, Vidocq was an enthusiastic double agent well into his seventies.
In , he returned to the Conciergerie, ostensibly as a prisoner but in reality to spy on Auguste Blanqui and other socialists arrested in the June uprising. You have saved and regenerated France.
This sinister sycophant, for whom loyalty to the state was the guarantee of his virtue, remained a swindler to the last. He changed his name to M. Bourgeois and applied for poor relief. He still had a handsome collection of paintings and a steady supply of young actresses.
The funeral was not well attended. He also used his time wisely, learning about crimes that had been committed and ferreting out crimes that were being planned. In fact, he supposedly participated in a couple of felonies and then betrayed his partners by arresting them. If and when he became suspect, he assumed false identities or used disguises to hide his true identity.
It initially had eight secret agents, whom he personally trained, and the majority were ex-criminals like Vidocq.
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The brigade proved to be so valuable that within a year, it became an official unit under the Prefecture of Police and Vidocq was appointed to head it. The prison director also continually requested that Vidocq be incarcerated and pay for his crime.
- Advanced Machining Processes: Nontraditional and Hybrid Machining Processes (Mechanical Engineering).
- Eugène François Vidocq: The French Sherlock Holmes;
- Le journal de Katie Sutton (GRAND FORMAT DI) (French Edition).
In addition, rumors circulated that he was organizing crimes and arresting the perpetrators to further his own reputation. Eventually, however, that same year he reportedly achieved a record arrests. Additionally, was the year he married again. Part of the reason for his resignation had to do with the fact that he disliked the newly appointed police prefect. After his resignation, he wrote his memoirs using a ghostwriter because he had broken his arm.
Eugène François Vidocq | LibraryThing
His memoirs were critiqued and many critics complained that the book contained nothing but fictitious tales. Snippets of three of these critiques from different sources found their way into one newspaper article:.
And there is in it an impress of truth and sincerity which carried a strong internal evidence of integrity. In , Vidocq married a third time. This time he married his cousin Fleuride, who had been living with him. A new police prefect was also appointed around this time, and he requested that Vidocq return and work for him.
Once again, on 15 November , Vidocq resigned, but this time he claimed his resignation was due to Fleuride being ill. Marriage certificate for Vidocq and Fleuride. His new business operated on behalf of private citizens but occasionally used illegal means to nab crooks, fraudsters, and bankruptcy artists.
Police officials began to quarrel with him and question his tactics and on 28 November , a search and seizure warrant was executed. He was charged with three crimes: swindling or acquiring money by deception, corrupting civil servants, and usurping public functions. A trial was held in February Supposedly, 3, witnesses testified. Although his agency was flourishing, so were his enemies. Vidocq was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail and a fine of 3, francs. However, he immediately appealed and thanks to some influential political friends, he got a new trial.
The second trial occurred on 22 July , and within a matter of minutes, he was set free, but bad publicity cost his business to suffer, the trial cost him a lot of money, and his reputation was permanently damaged. In addition, Delessert unsuccessfully attempted to get him expelled from Paris for his former crimes.