April 9, 2022

1833 Vidocq and the first Private investigator in history?

France is the cradle of the profession of a private investigator with the opening of the first agency in 1833 when Eugène-François Vidocq founded in Paris the "information office in the interest of commerce," which will have more than 20,000 clients.

It is, therefore, challenging to take an interest in the profession without taking an interest in the biography of Vidocq.


Origins: Vidocq, the criminal king of escape and disguise.


This son of a baker born on July 24, 1775, in Arras left home early, around his 16th birthday, following theft committed in his father's house, including misappropriation of two thousand francs following a break-in, for Ostend with the project of joining America. Still, the failure of this project following his stripping by criminals having lured him to a suspicious place made him, to survive, engage in the service of the acrobat Coste-Comusamusing Varieties where he lit the lanterns and took care of the monkeys.

It was in 1791, after his return to Arras and with the consent of his father, that he joined the Bourbon regiment of the revolutionary army, with which, at the age of 18, he took part in the battles of Valmy and Jemmapes, which he then deserted following a quarrel with a sergeant-major, joining a regiment of chasseurs. Still, the fear of being brought before a court martial him to serve under a foreign flag within the Austrian cuirassiers of Kinski before their rigor reminds him of his French quality. He decides to return to his old regiment of chasseurs and briefly rage in the north of France at the time of the Terror under the name of Rousseau, helping them various armed bands.

Following a leg injury that allowed him to leave the service temporarily, he married the sister of an aide-de-camp of Joseph Lebon,Marie-Anne-Louise Chevalier, who forced him to marry by making him believe that she was pregnant, then left her by stealing her savings and resumed her wanderings, joining the rolling army, which designates those who profit from war to live only thanks to and for the spoils, and succeeding thanks to the disorder of discipline to become lieutenant then captain of the hussars.

Graced with the sum of fifteen thousand francs by a lady with whom he was staying, he headed for Paris and then Lille.

He will quickly spend this sum in Paris, then go to the north, towards Douai, where he will be imprisoned in 1796 following an assault on an engineer officer with whom he had found a rivalry; he will then undergo correctional imprisonment.

This will be the occasion of a criminal sentence of eight years in irons for complicity in the fabrication of the false order for the release of a farmer convicted of stealing wheat.

He will teach Bicêtre the savate with Jean Goupil.

He was then incorporated into a group of convicts destined for the convict prison in Brest, where they were taken on a grueling 80-dayjourney, and from where he attempted to escape for the first time in the forest of Compiègne North of Paris and then a second time by breaking. Both ankles are trying to jump the perimeter wall.

He managed to escape in 1798 by posing as a sailor eight days after his arrival, thanks to clothes he hid in the arsenal where heworked.

Recognized and pretending to be a deserter from the navy, he will be taken to the maritime prison of Pontaniou intended for sailors, from which he will escape again in the costume of a nun.

Arrested again, he was imprisoned in the prison of Toulon,from which he escaped in 1800.

Denounced and delivered to justice again, he will be taken to the prisons of Douai, from which he will escape again to create a small business in Paris.

This trade could have prospered if he had not had to reward his former comrades' discretion in captivity continually.

His successive escapes earned him unparalleled notoriety among people in the community.


One essential thing will emerge from this first slice oflife: Vidocq is gifted with disguise and escape.

Imprisoned many times, he always knew how to find a way to escape, often one of the most inventive.


(This first slice of her life, adventurer, will inspire the character of Rodolph in the novel "The mysteries of Paris" by Eugène Sue from 1842, a feeling of princely origin who tries to solve the problems of the characters he meets in his wanderings across various layers of society, having a thorough understanding of slang and underworld circles)


Retraining: Vidocq, the policeman.


Arrested again in 1809, and finally decided to serve society, or at least for lack of better ways, he took part in offering his assistance to the security police on the condition of doing the remainder of his sentence in the house of force that one would like to designate to him.

His offer was accepted, and he joined the ranks and soon leda band of secret agents whose industry consisted in serving as double agents in prisons, applying to criminals, and seeking them out the resources that they deployed to plot their misdeeds, ranging from police trickery to clever disguises, to despicable perfidy (as he put it in his memoirs published in 1828and 1829 in four highly successful volumes).

He was unofficially appointed head of the security brigade of the Paris police prefecture (ancestor of the Paris judicial police), then officially became its director once pardoned in 1818.

His police department, made up of former convicts with unorthodox methods, obtains excellent results.

He resigned under the administration of Mr. Delaveau, whothen wanted to moralize the police.

For lack of tracks, Vidocq then decided to go in 1809 to offer his assistance to the Security Police.

Accepted among them, he will apply all sorts of methods to search for criminals, from police tricks, clever disguises, and daring infiltrations, to ignoble perfidy (according to his Memoirs written in 1828 1829).

Unofficially appointed head of the security brigade of thePrefecture of Police of Paris (ancestor of the Parisian Judicial Police), then officially the director of this Police once pardoned in 1818 by letters patent of Louis 18, he will officiate alongside former convicts with sometimesunorthodox methods with excellent results until 1827, date of his resignation.

Withdrawn to Saint-Mandé in a modest house that he had built, he founded a factory of tamper-proof papers intended to receive only the service of ex-convicts whom he tried to help with reintegration, but for lack of support from the government. And faced with the reluctance of Paris retailers to use his proceeds, he will be forced into an onerous liquidation.

In 1832, at the age of 57, he returned to the police, again made chief of security, but officiating in the form of a political force and appearing in the bands of stunners responsible for intimidating the enemies of the new order, especially during of the insurrection of June 5 and 6, 1832.

He claims three times more captures than the classic police between 1811 and 1827, with more than 16,000 arrests.


From this slice of life, we will remember that he is an excellent physiognomist, methodical, who spots anyone he has previously staredat and excels in the art of disguise and infiltration.




Apogee: Vidocq, the father of private investigation.


In 1833, he left the public service and decided to open his private police agency in Paris, the "business information bureau.”

This agency, a prototype of private policy, is devoted on the one hand to the interests of families in the context of cases of adultery, inheritance, and disappearance, on the other hand to that of merchants to whom it provides intelligence and economic surveillance on perpetrators of fraud.

This is the birth of the first private investigation agency.

Its motto is: "hatred and war on rogues, boundless devotion to trade.”

This agency will be very successful and settle at 13 passageVivienne in the 2nd arrondissement.


Finally, his talent for disguise, spinning, and infiltration will allow him to boast of having served more than 20,000 customers.

The experiences acquired throughout his life as a thug and then as head of security are here reused by Vidocq to officiate directly for his clients.




Fall: Vidocq, confirming the place of the private inquiry in the face of the enmity of the general question.


The context of Vidocq's success is particular.

The industrial revolution is accompanied by solidurbanization. The poor working classes will create a climate conducive to crime, which will be transferred from rural areas to cities with the fear of crime.

This criminal upsurge will allow Vidocq's agency to operate successfully, who then perfectly knows the workings of illegal operations and the environment, on which he will even publish an essay in 1836 entitled"Les voleurs" in which he tries to reveal the physiology of their mores and language).

But the successes he had as head of security attracted him many enemies, both in the underworld and in power.

Twice his superiors made him resign between 1811 and 1827 ;he is accused of having set up some of the hits he later arrested to inflate his ratio of three times the arrests of the classic police, allegations that justice will not retain.

These enmities will pursue him in his activity as a private investigator after 1833 within the information office.

The field of activity of the private investigation went beyond mere business advice to take an interest in the cases of fickle spouses, in a context where adultery, still considered a criminal offense and which remained so until 1975, was a matter of the font.

Thus, he will be the victim within the framework of these activities of two actions in correctional police for fraud mounted against him, in 1837 than 1843, but will be cleared by a judgment of the royal court, thanks to the intervention of influential people.

His agency will then compete with the official police, who will have to deal with him.


From the pursuit of these rivalries within the framework of the activity of his private agency will arise a frank divergence between the activities of the private investigator and the public inquiry.

This unwelcome competition led to the closure of the agency in 1837.

But the profession was born, and Vidocq will affirm the private investigator's place and perpetuate the profession's future.


This article is not intended to be exhaustive or perfect but aims to paint a portrait of this central figure in the profession.

Do not hesitate to provide any clarifications or corrections in the comments; criticism is always welcome when it is constructive!


Do not hesitate to contact Universal Investigations agency , Inc. experts in the investigation to discuss your needs and expectations in this area. Barring exceptions, our quotes are free, and we can intervene in many areas.


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By Victor Elbeze, Lead Investigator & Owner ofUniversal Investigations Agency, Inc.


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