It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief: The Legacy of Eugène François Vidocq
Posted by Pamela S. on Monday, February 6th, 2012
“They say that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains,” he remarked with a smile. “It's a very bad definition, but it does apply to detective work.” Sherlock Holmes, in “A Study in Scarlet”
It’s all his fault. Sherlock Holmes is responsible for the ubiquitous use of the deerstalker cap and magnifying glass as a symbol of private investigation. No one looks good in a deerstalker cap. You may think you look sophisticated smoking a Calabash pipe, like Holmes, but trust me, you don’t.
Holmes may be the most famous private eye in history, but he is a figment of imagination. The tale of the real father of private investigation is far more scintillating.
Eugène François Vidocq (July 23, 1775 – May 11, 1857) was a former thief, fraudster and womanizer, born over 100 years before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first book. He left his life of crime to become Chief of the Sûreté Nationale, (French National police) which was the FBI of its day. Like Holmes, Vidocq was a visionary, and an iconoclast. When he turned his brilliance from crime to crime fighting, he turned police work on its head. After he tired of police work, Vidocq founded the first Private Investigation agency in history, Le bureau des renseignements (“Office of Information”).
I love to watch those CSI type shows, but I had no idea that Vidocq introduced forensic investigative techniques to police work. We all hate writing reports. You can thank Vidocq, re
cording keeping is one of his legacies. He was a master of disquise, and initiated the use of ballistics and plaster cast impresssions. Vidocq was also a writer. I know many private investigators who have never heard of Vidocq, yet he was the inspiration for the two main characters in Les Misérables.
I’m not his only fan. On the third Thursday of the month, an unique group of forensic minds meet at the historic Union League of Philadelphia building to discuss cold cases over lunch. Vidocq Society Members work pro bono, helping law enforcement agencies with unsolved deaths or cold cases. Family members of a victim of an unsolved murder are also invited to approach the society for help.
The Vidocq Society was founded in 1990 by William Fleisher, V.S.M., Frank Bender, V.S.M., and Richard Walter, V.S.M. Members of this elite group include private investigators, retired or active police and federal law enforcement agents, and other private citizens. All have a common interest in combining their forensic talents for the greater good.
One of the founders, Frank Bender, is a forensic sculptor and Reconstructionist. His work has been featured on America’s Most Wanted. Society member and former FBI Special Agent Robert K. Ressler, V.S.M. is credited with interviewing more serial killers than any other person. He defined the term “serial killer”. Ressler spent 16 years with the FBI Behavioral Science Unit.
Membership in the society is closed, and new members are only accepted when a position becomes vacant. You do not have to be a member of the society to contribute your forensic skills.
If you are a current or former member of law enforcement, an investigator, or forensic expert, you can contribute to the work of the society. You may have another skill that the society can use. Volunteers can help with the website or the newsletter, the Vidocq Journal. Read about the cases that the society has helped solve.
You can contact the society, or members, through their website at www.vidocq.org or call 215-545-1450. The Vidocq Society is a non-profit charitable organization and welcomes donations.
Former FBI Assistant Director Tom Sheer has recruited the best from the FBI, DEA, IRS and Secret Service to build a formidable team at Sheer Investigations. Our private investigators have the sensitivity and experience to handle the most delicate investigations.