Detective Vidocq and the Fontaine Case Part 2

About the famous French detective Vidocq and the Fontaine Case, description of the ex-con investigator.


No prison could hold Vidocq for long. His repeated daring escapes made him a thorn in the side of French officialdom. Each time, he was recaptured and his sentence was increased. He was sentenced to years at hard labor in chains in the foulest of French prisons, yet always he escaped. He escaped by tunneling, by diving off a high tower into a river and swimming away, by bribery, by leaping out of moving carriages, by trickery, by filing off shackles. In his efforts to remain free, he became a master of disguise. He posed as sailor, doctor, peasant, politician. Once, while masquerading as a nun in full vestments after several womanless months in prison, he was given a bed to share with two buxom teenage peasant girls. So perfect was his disguise that the two girls freely undressed and slept naked beside him, and only Vidocq's cunning and iron will kept the night uneventful.

Finally Vidocq made good his escape to Paris and opened a small clothing shop. He lived quietly for several years, but inevitably his past returned to haunt him. Two former prisonmates recognized him and threatened betrayal to the police unless he gave them money and joined in their criminal schemes. Vidocq had to face the fact that he could never be truly free until he cleared his name, so he went to the police and offered to serve as an informer. He was sent to prison and for two years sent out a constant stream of information. So valuable were Vidocq's efforts that an escape was faked and Vidocq went to work on the outside, fighting the crime wave that followed the Napoleonic Wars. In 1812 he founded the Surete.

Vidocq would hire only ex-convicts as Surete detectives. It takes a criminal to catch a criminal was Vidocq's theory. He continually placed infiltrators in prisons, then extricated them with sham escapes or feigned deaths. Soon he had developed extensive files on all known criminals, complete with descriptions and sketches. Vidocq was paid a commission for every arrest, and he and his small band were soon arresting ridiculously large numbers of their fellow citizens. Yet while there may be some doubt about the guilt of all those arrestees, there was no doubt that when Vidocq was on the trail of a true criminal, the search was relentless, swift, and unfailingly successful.

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