When binge watching our favourite TV shows, we always wonder about what kind of TV show characters could actually exist. One character that seems too good to be true is Sherlock Holmes. When the genius detective goes on his criminal hunting spree, it's hard to believe that someone with deductive skills that great could be real. But guess what? There was a guy who could give Sherlock a run for his money.
Meet Eugene Francois Vidocq.
Not only could he have matched Holmes' detective skills but he also could have put them to a tough test. Before he became known as the "Father of modern criminology", Vidocq was a serial criminal. He went to jail on several occasions, but not once could they keep him in there for the durations of his sentence. Why? He escaped each and every time.
By the age of 14, he had become so good at fencing that accidently killed his fencing instructor. He then joined the army and there too, he killed several people fencing. He had to quit, though, because after a conflict with his supervisor, the supervisor refused to duel with him. All this at the ripe old of 17!
Soon he got bored of running from the long arm of the law, and decided that he'd use his smarts to help lengthen the reach of the very arm he was running away from. He contacted Jean Henry, Head of the Criminal Department in Paris, and proposed that in exchange for amnesty, he would become a police informant.
An undercover agent, with the brains of a hardened criminal and the backing of the authorities, he became any criminal's worst nightmare.
In 1809, Vidocq suggested that they create a new undercover detective agency whose primary duty would be to follow former convicts and suspected criminals as they moved around in the city. This led to the founding of the Sûreté, probably the first detective agency in the world.
Vidocq started with only 4 detectives, and soon expanded to 28 . He insisted on hiring only former criminals because he believed they were street-smart and tough, which were essential for the job. And thanks to them, crime in Paris fell by as much as 40% by 1820.
Other crime-fighting organizations like Scotland Yard and the FBI were inspired by Sûreté, which in French stands for 'security'.
Because of his experience with crime and hardened criminals, Vidocq pioneered a lot of new techniques related to crime fighting that are now ubiquitous. The most important one of these is fingerprinting.
Yes, he was the first to start taking fingerprints of the criminals and recording them.
Crime scene security was another thing that Eugene Vidocq started. Wonder if Sherlock Holmes could have come up with these methods himself!
After his death in 1857, Vidocq became an inspiration for many literary greats. These include writers like Victor Hugo, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens and Agatha Cristie, who based many characters on Vidocq.
Soon, however, history forgot him. And he's rarely mentioned anywhere nowadays. It's only after you read the story of his life that you realize he is someone the world should know about.