Eugene Vidocq – The Father of Criminology

Eugène François Vidocq
(1775 – 1857)

During the night of 23 to 24 July 1775, French criminal and criminalist Eugene Vidocq was born. Vidocq is considered the world’s first private detective and father of modern criminology. His life story inspired several writers, including Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac.

Surprisingly, the later criminalist had a pretty turbulent childhood and youth. He stole his parent’s silverware at the age of 13 and was sent to prison for 10 days. Just one year later, he stole more money from his parents, trying to get to America but again he was unsuccessful, wherefore he spent some time living as an entertainer on the streets of France. Vidocq later joined the French Army and fought several battles after France declared war to Austria in 1792. He became very unpopular after deserting several times and ‘hiding’ in new regiments wherefore he quit soon. At the age of 18, Vidocq was sent to prison several times for dueling, cheating, stealing and whatsoever.

Even though Vidocq’s whole life sounds like a huge adventure, the years beween 1795 and 1800 are known to be his adventurer years. He joined a special army called armée roulante. It consisted of a group of fake officers without regiments or even orders, who wore fake uniforms and promoted themselves. Vidocq for example became Hussar captain. He left his group after a while and lived in the French undergrounds until being sent to prison once again for beating up several people. In the following years he was sent to prison multiple times and managed to flee almost as often.

In the early 1800’s, Vidocq was again captured and offered the police to spy on other inmates in order to solve more crimes and to figure out their secret identities. The inmates trusted him and his mission was a great success. He was released very soon and began his work as a spy in the French underground with an amazing success rate. In 1811, Vidocq managed to found an official security organisation, approved by Napoleon Bonaparte. Vidocq became its head and in between only 10 years, the organisation grew up to 28 secret agents. After 18 years of successfully leading the organisation, a few changes in the police’s headquarters occurred wherefore Vidocq decided to withdraw from his position in 1832.

The turbulent adventures of Eugene Vidocq became famous already during his lifetime. Vidocq himself began writing about his life and authored several essays on prison life and death penalty. Vidocq’s memoirs were published in the late 1820’s and were an instant success. Several police men and journalists began to write about their adventures with the criminal and criminalist, wherefore numerous writings on Vidocq evolved. Several writers like Vidocq’s befriended Honoré de Balzac also took a lot of inspiration for future works on detective stories and murder mysteries leaned on the life of the father of criminology.

Eugene Vidocq revolutionized criminology with new methods concerning the handling with criminals psychologically, concerning secret investigations and forensic methods using the latest achievements in science and even patenting a few himself. At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture on the newest achievements considering Forensic Psychology and new methods in criminology on real life examples by Dr. Jeffrey Kieliszewski.

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