Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Vidocq Society - A Private Crime Fighting Organization

Union League Building in Philadelphia - Vidocq Society Meeting Place.
While doing research for Terror in Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked, I came across an interesting organization of forensic investigators called the Vidocq Society. This is a non-profit organization of dedicated crime fighting professionals who are known to law enforcement agencies but generally unknown to the public.

The Vidocq Society views themselves as "crime solution catalysts who operate outside the limelight." The group is dedicated to the service of society and shuns publicity. Any case or crime details released to the press are handled by the referring crime enforcement agency and not the society.  They prefer to work in the background. Their credo is "Veritas Veritatum" [The Truth of Truths].

The Vidocq Society is a highly regarded organization with closed membership rolls. The privilege to wear the society's unique red, white, and blue rosette has been bestowed on fewer than one hundred and fifty men and women. When a position opens up, potential new members must be sponsored by existing members. Seasoned investigators with verifiable skills often volunteer their forensic skills before being elected to Vidocq Society membership.

The group was co-founded in 1990 by Richard D. Walter [forensic psychologist], Frank Bender [forensic sculpture], and William Fleisher [FBI/U.S. Customs Special Agent] in Philadelphia at the Olde City Tavern in the Down Town Club. The society currently meets every third Thursday of the month at the Union League of Philadelphia.

At the Society's monthly meetings, they dissect the evidence under review hoping to rekindle or refocus the investigation. Unsolved cases are brought to their attention by some police investigating agency or a family member of the victim of an unsolved death or homicide. The Society serves in the background at the pleasure and direction of law enforcement.

Eugene Francois Vidocq
The Vidocq Society is named after Eugene Francois Vidocq, who in the Eighteenth Century was a crook turned cop. He is considered the father of modern criminal investigation. Vidocq was named the first chief of the Surete, founded in 1812. The Surete was originally the criminal investigative bureau of the Paris Police, but in 1966 it became the National Police Force of France. The Surete was the inspiration for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States and Scotland Yard in London. It is considered the pioneer of all crime fighting organizations in the world.

First Edition Cover
Eugene Francois Vidocq knew author Victor Hugo. In Hugo's novel Les Miserables, Hugo modeled both of his primary characters, Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, after Monsieur Vidocq. Edgar Allen Poe based Inspector C. Auguste Dupin in The Murders in the Rue Morgue on Vidocq also. Hermann Melville mentioned him in Moby Dick, as did Charles Dickens in Great Expectations. These authors were all inspired by Vidocq's real life exploits which contributed to his legendary crime solving reputation.

Among other things, Vidocq introduced to the Surete a card-index record system cross-referencing criminals and their crimes. He also pioneered the use of undercover surveillance, disguises, informants, and plainclothesmen. Vidocq was an innovator who applied the new science of criminology to police work. When he retired from the Surete, he opened the first private investigation agency and the first credit reporting bureau. Every private-eye in real life or in fiction owes Monsieur Vidocq a debt of gratitude.