François-Eugène Vidocq was born in Arras, France, on July 24, 1775, the son of a baker and his wife. At thirteen, he began learning the baker’s trade from his father, starting by delivering bread to customers in the city. A wild youth who loved to indulge himself, he began to steal from his parents. Finally, he absconded with the family savings, planning to flee to the New World. Ironically, he himself was robbed. After suffering a series of misadventures, he returned home to Arras. There, he easily obtained his mother’s forgiveness and his father’s permission to join the army. He enlisted and served in engagements at Valmy and Jammapes. Returning to Arras in 1794, he married Marie-Anne-Louise Chevalier but soon abandoned her on learning that she was having an affair with another man.
Going to Belgium, Vidocq accepted an officer’s commission in the army. Following a quarrel with a fellow officer, he was imprisoned at Lille. In 1796, he was sentenced to eight years of forced labor for complicity in forging an order to release a laborer from imprisonment during the Terror. Vidocq was imprisoned in Bicêtre in 1797. In 1798, he was removed to Brest, from which he soon escaped. Recaptured in 1799, he was incarcerated anew at Bicêtre. Later he was transferred to Toulon, from which he escaped in 1800. There followed a series of adventures, imprisonments, and escapes. When free, Vidocq continued to live among the thieves of Arras, Paris, and the provinces. In 1805, he was divorced from his first wife.
In 1809, Vidocq decided to offer his services to the police. In a report to the chief of the brigade of the Sûreté, in which he discussed the prevalence of crime in Paris, Vidocq suggested that no one knew criminals so well as one who had been a criminal himself, hinting at his own usefulness at criminal...
(The entire section is 754 words.)