Born in Arras
on July 24
, Eugène François Vidocq is credited with the foundation of what would become modern criminal
investigation, a fact made all the more remarkable due to his beginnings on the other side of law enforcement. While in prison, Vidocq became an informant
, and proved so adept in this capacity that prison and police officials went to great lengths, possibly even illegaly forging
documents, to secure Vidocq's eventual release.
After his release, Vidocq founded the Paris Sûreté. He began training ex-convicts as undercover agents, eventually commanding a force of 28 detectives. He became the first chief of the agency in 1811 and during his tenure introduced techniques such as ballistics, criminal record keeping, undercover investigation, fingerprinting, blood tests and handwriting analysis.
Vidocq left the Sûreté in 1827 to start a paper mill, employing primarily ex-convicts. The business was a failure, and in 1832 he returned to the Sûreté. Within a month, however, he faced allegations of perpetrating crimes in order to collect the bounty paid for solving the cases, and was forced to resign.
Soon after, Vidocq founded Le Bureau des Renseignements, the first private detective agency. Until his death in 1857, he would continue the work he began at the Sûreté. His exploits had made him somewhat of a national hero, and he inspired a number of fictional characters such as Edgar Allan Poe's Auguste Dupin from Murders in the Rue Morgue as well as both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Four volumes of his memoirs would be published, entitled, oddly enough, Memories.