Who was Eugène François Vidocq?
Eugène François Vidocq (1775 – 1857) was a French outlaw, thief, and detective whose life and tales would inspire many French writers. He came from a wealthy family but had a turbulent youth.
In his youth, Vidocq was described as “fearless, rowdy and cunning, very talented, but also very lazy”. He would eventually create a private investigation agency which would actually be the prototype of modern detective agencies. Vidocq was also known for wearing many different disguises to go undercover in the criminal world. Here are 5 of the most hilarious and awesome facts about him:
1. He stole his parents silver to sell for money but his father had him arrested.
Vidocq was a troublemaker from an early age. When he was thirteen, he stole his parents’ silver plates so he could sell them and the spent all the money from the proceeds in a day.
Three days later, his father arranged for him to be arrested to teach him a lesson. He ended spending 14 days in jail, which did not deter him from thieving in the future.
2. He was fired for flirting with his boss’s wife.
Early in his life, Vidocq worked with travelling entertainers who would beat him and after a while he couldn’t take it anymore and he quit to work with a group of puppeteers instead.
This did not end well for Vidocq, who was eventually banished from them. Why? He apparently coudn’t resist flirting with his boss’s young wife. Oops.
3. On the day of his military promotion, he challenged a superior officer to a duel.
Vidocq went on to join the military and within six months (according to him), challenged 14 people to duels. Vidocq was an expert fencer, reportedly.
In 1792, he was promoted to corporal, but during his ceremony, he challenged a sergeant major to a duel. He refused, so Vidocq hit him. Since this could have led to a death sentence, he deserted and enlisted elsewhere, hiding his true history.
4. He dressed up as a sailor and then a nun to escape prison.
Vidocq, being Vidocq, of course eventually ended up in prison. He befriended other criminals and even learned a French martial art, called savate.
After being transferred to serve time toiling on a ship, he ended up somehow escaping dressed as a sailor.
When he was unable to provide papers upon being stopped, he was taken to a holding cell. And it was there that he put on a nun’s habit and escaped once again in disguise. You really can’t make this stuff up.
5. He often went undercover in disguise to infiltrate the criminal world as a detective.
Vidocq would eventually work as an informant, or “secret agent” for the Paris police. He would dress up as an escaped convict and go inside in the criminal scene to learn about planned crimes. He would actually participate in crimes just to have his partners arrested.
When criminals started to have suspicions, he would just disguise himself again and become someone else.
Sheesh, this guy.
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