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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Crime to Remember--John Norman Collins Episode--"A New Kind of Monster"

In early 2013, I was asked to participate on a new Investigation Discovery Channel series named A Crime to Remember. One of the producer's staffers read a number of my Fornology blog posts on John Norman Collins and the Washtenaw County murders of 1967-1969. At Discovery Channel's expense, I was flown to New York for my first television appearance. What a thrill!

Also included in the program to provide commentary were former Washtenaw County Sheriff Douglas Harvey, forensic psychologist and author Dr. Katherine Ramsland, former Eastern Michigan University campus patrolman Larry Mathewson, and reporter Marti Link. The episode is entitled, "A New Kind of Monster."

After five years of research and interviewing people connected with these cases, my treatment of this subject matter Terror in Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins has the benefit of fifty years of hindsight and will be available in July on Amazon and Kindle. In addition to the seven murders and the restored court proceedings (trial records were purged by Washtenaw County officials) my book will include for the first time, John Norman Collins' prison years and his attempts to circumvent his life sentence without parole.

"A New Kind of Monster" was the second most popular episode of the Emmy winning first season of the series. It can be accessed at the link below, or it can be seen On Demand, at YouTube, Amazon Prime, IMDb, or Netflix.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Terror in Ypsilanti Book Talks

 Presenting at Eldercare. Photo: Ryan M. Place
While in Michigan this April, I gave two presentations regarding my upcoming true crime book Terror in Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked--one in Ann Arbor and one in Saline.

On April 22, 2016, I gave a presentation for Elderwise Continuing Education in Ann Arbor at the Red Cross building on Packard Road. About forty people attended the two hour talk which included a PowerPoint slide show of photographs used in the book. This was the first time I spoke publicly about my book. I want to thank John Stewart for inviting me.

The next day, I gave another talk at Brewed Awakenings on Michigan Avenue in Saline. I would like to thank owner Kim Kaster for her support. Her coffee house gives independent authors an outlet for their books and provides a venue for local authors to meet interested readers. My presentation was about ninety minutes long with no PowerPoint. About twenty-five people came to hear about the Washtenaw County murders that happened almost fifty years before.

Claudia Whitsitt. Photo: Ryan M. Place
I was happy to be greeted by one of my former Ypsilanti High School students Jan Asher who came to show her support. Special thanks to Michigan author Claudia Whitsett for introducing me. Claudia recently won an Independent Publishers Book Award in Multicultural Fiction with her novel Between the Lines. Below is a link to Claudia's author page. Check her work out.

And to my great surprise, former Washtenaw County Sheriff Douglas Harvey showed up to hear me speak. Doug was the police officer who brought charges against John Norman Collins. The former sheriff has supported this project from the beginning. At the end of the talk, he gave my researcher Ryan M. Place and me a rousing endorsement for our work. This is the kind of validation I don't get sitting in front of my computer screen. I look forward to more such moments.

Douglas Harvey and I at Brewed Awakenings. Photo: Ryan M. Place
Terror in Ypsilanti comes out in July and will be available on Amazon.com in quality paperback and Kindle ebook editions. Now that I have two speaking engagements behind me, I'm ready to schedule more presentations in Ypsilanti and Detroit in August and again in September or October when I'm in Michigan. This time around I will be armed with books. More details as I arrange them.

Thank you to everyone who came out to hear me speak about this dark period in Ypsilanti's history.

Claudia Whitsitt's author page: http://claudiawhitsitt.com/

Monday, May 9, 2016

Terror in Ypsilanti Book Cover Reveal

Between the summers of 1967 and 1969, a predatory killer stalked the campuses of Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan seeking prey, until he made the arrogant mistake of killing his last victim in the basement of his uncle's home. All-American boy John Norman Collins was arrested, tried, and convicted of the strangulation murder of Karen Sue Beineman.

I chose this photograph for my book cover because it sets an evocative mood of foreboding and establishes the setting of the story. Of the many photographs I've seen of the Ypsilanti Water Tower, none compares with this one taken by Ypsilanti Township resident Anthony Cornish. Two short blocks beyond this iconic landmark, John Norman Collins lived and preyed on his victims. Rather than choose a lurid image for the front cover, I wanted something to set a somber tone.

Many former and current EMU students may initially respond to the cover photo with a smirk remembering the Water Tower's legend: If ever a virgin graduates from EMU, the tower will topple. But reading the first few pages of my book will disabuse them of any such sophomoric notions.

My version of the Washtenaw County murders will be fundamentally different from The Michigan Murders. First, my rendition isn't a novelization--it is true crime. I use the real names of the victims and their killer. In addition, Terror in Ypsilanti benefits from almost fifty years of hindsight and includes insights from participants in the investigations and reflections from people who knew the victims and/or their assailant.

I've restored the essential details and dialogue of the contentious court battle from hundreds of newspaper articles obtained from the Michigan Press Clipping Bureau. Thank goodness for the Fourth Estate.

The official transcripts for the most notorious case in Washtenaw County history were purged from county records in the mid-nineteen seventies. If it were not for reporters hanging on every word of the trial, these proceedings would be lost to time. It is from their work that I've reconstituted the trial.

For the first time anywhere, using documents from the Michigan Department of Corrections, I've written a survey of Collins' tenure at Jackson and Marquette prisons. These accounts reveal a side of Collins never before seen by the public.

Included within my book will be an area map showing the body drop sites, twenty-six photographs, a timeline of significant events, a listing of the people's names, a listing of places mentioned, and a comprehensive index. These reader aids should be helpful because of the scope and quirky nature of this tragedy.

Speaking at Brewed Awakenings in Saline, Michigan. Photo: Ryan M. Place.
Five years in the making,Terror in Ypsilanti is in its final production stages and will be available from Amazon.com in July 2016. A Kindle version is being formatted for ebook readers. Books can also be purchased at my book talks which I'm only now beginning to schedule. Stay tuned for more details.