The Underworld

Vidocq: Hardened Criminal and Detective


The System

Famous Crime






"Eugene Francois Vidocq brought crime fighting to a higher plateau, up from a disorganized and often-negative milieux and into a social science."


 "For a short time, he made one of a gang of smugglers at Ostend, but soon he was arrested for being without papers,"reports author Stead. "(Escaping again) he joined a theatrical troupe as a mime, but the clown became jealous and denounced him. This time they imprisoned him at Douai, center of the judicial system of the North...and once again he got away."


(Picture from Geringer.)

Vidocq had the ultimate story of a fall and redemption. Falling in with a bad crowd after escaping an unwanted marriage, young Vidocq joined the army and developed a penchant for dueling. He eventually challenged a superior and was sought for courtmartial Later, he attacked some soldiers, and landed himself in jail. This was the start of a long string of sensational escapes, recaptures, crimes and stories for the popular media.

On a constant run from the law, Vidocq assumed many identities and several times tried to live a normal life (similar to the experiences Jean Valjean has in Les Miserables), but was exposed each time. Realizing the futility of his situation, he cut a deal with the police. He would trade information for his liberty.

Notorious in the underworld, Vidocq was the perfect spy. He inserted himself into the thickest of plots and delivered the criminals over to justice en masse. This is parallel to Javert's great success in fighting crime in Les Miserables.

Vidocq published his memoirs (or a doctored copy of them, rather), and they became the inspiration for writers and criminals alike.

• On the one hand, Lacenaire read them, and was inspired to attempt to learn the criminal trade as Vidocq suggested, from mixing with the other prisoners while incarcerated.

• On the other hand, memoirs of Vidocq and other criminals served as colorful detail for those writing about crime, and an insiders guide to the logistical workings of crime.