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Autobiography; a collection of the most instructive and amusing lives ever published online

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their imprisonment for life. Noel, whose talents as a
musician, and in his quality of teacher of the piano-forte,
gdt access to all the rich houses, took impressions of
the keys which Fossard then fabricated. It was an art
in which he defied Georget and all the locksmiths in
the world to surpass him ; however complicated the
lock, however ingenious and difficult the secret, nothing
resisted the efforts of his skill.

It may be easily conceived what advantage he made
of such a pernicious talent ; being, moreover, a man
who could insinuate himself into the company of honest
persons, and then dupe them. Besides, ne was a close
and frigid character, to which he added courage and
perseverance. His comrades regarded him as the
prince of thieves ; and in fact amongst the ^' tip top
cracksmen" (grinches de la haute pegre,) that is, in the
aristocracy of robbers, I never knew but Cognard,
Pontis, Comte de St H^lSne, and Jossas (mentioned in
the first volume of these. Memoirs,) who were at all
comparable with him.

After I had reinstated him at the bagne, Fossard
^(len attempted to escape* Some liberated prisoners
who have lately seen him, have assured me that he only
longs for liberty, that he may avenge himself on me.
They say he has threatened to kill me. If the accom-
plishment of this kind intention depended solely on
him, I am sure he would keep his word, if it were only
to give a proof of his intrepidity. Two circumstances
that have been told me, will give some idea of the man.

One day Fossard was about to commit a robbery in
an apartment on the second story : his comrades, who
were watching without, were stupid enough to allow
the proprietor to ascend the staircase; and he, on
putting the key into the door, opened it, went through
several rooms, and on getting to an inner closet, saw
the thief at work ; but Fossard, putting himself on the

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defensive, escaped. A window was open near him,
and, darting out of it, he fell into the street without
injury, and disappeared as swift as lightning.

Another time, whilst he was escaping, he was sur-
prised on the tiles of Bicdtre, and fired at. Fossard,
never disconcerted, continued to walk along without
stopping or hastening his steps, and getting to that side
which looks into the fields, he slid down. The fall was
enough to have broken a hundred necks, but he received
no nurt ; only the slide was so rapid, that his clothes
were rent in shreds.

Y 2

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ciuPTER xxxr.

A general clearance at la CourtUle^The white croa^I am called a
qpy— The popular opinion ooncemine my axents^^uininary of the

- results of the Brinde de Sftrete — Biogn^hy of Coco-LaooOr, M.
Delavau, and the Trou-Madame — The frrant of my pardon— R«tro-
speotire glance pyer these Memoirs^I can speak, I will »peak.

At the period of Fossard's arrest, the brigade of secu-
rity was already formed ; and, since 1812, when it was
first established, I had ceased to be a secret agent
The name of -Vidocq had become popular, and man)
persons identified me as the person thus known. The
first expedition which had introduced me to notice, had
been directed against the principal places of rendezvous
in la Courtille. One day, M. Henry having expressed
an intention of making a general search at Denovez^s
house, that is, a pot-house the most frequented by
riotous persons and rogues of erery denomination,
M. Yvrier, one of the police-officers present, observed*
that to put this measure in execution, nothing less
than a battalion was necessary. '< A battalion,** I
cried out, instantly ; ** why not the great army I As
for me," I added, " give me eight men, and I will
answer for success.'* We have already had a specimen
of the acerbity of M. Yvrier's temper, and, on this oc-
casion, his face actually blazed with rage, and he as-
serted that it was all empty talk.

Be that as it might, T maintained my proposition,
and received my orders to proceed at once to the en-
terprise. The crusade which I was about to enter
upon, was directed against thieves, fugitives, and many
deserters from the colonial regiments. Having pro-
vided myself with an ample supply of manacles, I set
forth with two auxiliaries and eight gendarmes ; and,
on reaching Denoyez's, I entered the public room, fol-
lowed by two of my attendants. I commanded the

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musicians to be silent, and they obeyed me ; but in-
stantly a cry arose, which soon became general — •* To
the door, to the door.** * There was no time to hesitate,
and it was necessary to repress the most forward of
the party before they became so violent as to pro-
ceed to blows. I immediately produced my authority,
and, in the name of the law, ordered every one, fe-
males excepted, to leave the room. Some murmurs
were heard at this injunction, but after a few minutes, -
the most riotous surrendered and began to depart. I
then stationed myself in the passage, and, as 1 recog-
nised one or more of the individuals whom I sought,
I marked a cross on their backs with white chalk,
which was a preconcerted signal, to point out to the
gendarmes, who were in attendance without, to seize
them and fetter them as they went out. In this man-
ner we secured tliirty-two of these noted offenders, of
whom we formed a string, which was conducted to the
nearest guard-house, and thence to the prefecture of

, The boldness of this coup-de-main made much noise
amongst the persons who frequent the barrier; and,
in a short time, it was reported amongst all the thieves
and blackguards of Paris, that there was a spy amongst
them called Vidocq. The most notorious threatened
to " do for me" on the first opportanity, and some of
them attempted it, but were defeated most wofuUy ;
and the repulses they met with begot for me such an
extensive renown, that it was at length equally spread
over all the individuals of my brigade ; and there was
not a stripling amongst them who had not the reputa-
tion of Alcides himself; and, to such a pitch was this
idea carried, that, forgetting occasionally of whom they
were discoursing, I experienced a sentiment almost
amounting to fear, when the people, without knowing
- who I was, conversed, in my presence, of me or my
agents. We were colossal in stature, and the *• old
man of the mountain*' was not more terrible ; his emis-
. saries, the Seids, wtre not more devoted or more to
V 3

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be dreaded. We broke legs and arms unsparingly ;
nothing resisted us ; and we were everywhere. I was
invulnerable ; and some asserted that I was enveloped
in armour from head to foot ; which may be said, per-
haps, to be true, when one is not reputed a coward.

The formation of the brigade soon followed the ex-
pedition of la Courtille. I had at first four agents,
then six, afterwards ten, and finally twelve. In 1817,
I had no more ; and yet, with this handful of men,
from the 1st of January to the 31st of December, f
effected 772 arrests and 39 perquisitions or seizures of
stolen property.

Tlie following table, which is a recapitulation of the
arrests during the year 1817, shows the importance of
the operations of the ** Brigade de SAret^ " —

Assassins or murderers

Uol)bers or burglars

Ditto with false keys, &c.

Ditto in furnished houses


Pickpockets and cut-purses


Receivers of stolen property

Fugitives from the prisons

Tried galley slaves having left their exile

Forgers, cheats, swindlers, &c.

Vagabonds, robbers returned to Paris

By mandates from his excellency

Captured and seizures of stolen property





Total 811

nent that the robbers knew that I was
inctions of principal police agent, they
up for lost ; and what most distuil^ed
me surrounded by men, who, having
;ed" with them, kntw them thoroughly.

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The captures I made in 1813 were not so numerous as
in 1817, but quite sufficient to increase their alarm.
In 1814 and 1815, a gang of Parisian, robbers, freed
from the English prison ships, returned to the capital,
"where they were not slow in resuming their former
avocations : they had none of them ever seen roe, nor
had I seen them ; and flattering themselves with the
hope of eluding my vigilance, they commenced their
campaign with surprising activity and audacity. In
one single night there weie in the faubouig St. Ger-
main, ten robberies by forcible entry ; during more than
six weeks nothing was talked of but such hardy exploits
as these. M. Henry, despairing of any mode of repress-
ing this system of robbery, was constantly on the
watch ; and 1 could discover nothing. At length, after
many ambuscades and much vigilance, an experienced
thief, whom I apprehended, gave me some information ;
and in less than two months I placed in the grasp of
justice a band of twenty-two thieves, one of twenty-
eight, a third of eighteen, and some others of twelve,
ten, or eight ; not to say anything of the single ones,
and the many " fences ** (receivers), who were all forr
warded to increase the population of the bagnes. It
was at this period that I was authorized to augment my
brigade with four new agents, chosen from amongst
those thieves who had the advantage of knowing the
new importation of robbers before their departure.

Three of these veterans, named Goreau, Florentin,
and Coco-Lacour, who had been long confined at
Bicetre, earnestly prayed to be employed; they said
they were entirely reformed, and swore they would
henceforwaid live honestly by the produce of their
labours, that is, upon the salary allotted to the police
officers. They had been steeped in crime from infancy ;
and I thought that if their determinations of reformation
were sincere, none could render me more important
services than themselves, and I thereupon applied for
their pardon ; and although I was told of the chance of

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their return to evil courses, particularly the two last,
yet by dint of solicitations and representations founded
on the utility they could be to me, I obtained their
freedom. Coco-Lacour, against whom the greatest
prejudice existed, because, when a secret agent, he had
been accused (rightly or wrongfully is a question) of
stealing the plate of the inspector-general Veyrat, is the
only one who has given me no cause to repent of having
in some degree become answerable for his conduct.
The two others soon compelled me to expel them, and
they have since been condemned at Bourdeaux. As
for Coco, I thought he would keep his word, and I was
not deceived. As he was very intelligent, and had some
knowledge of his business, I made him my secretary.
Subsequently, in consequence of some remonstrances I
made him, he gave me in his resignation, as did two of
his comrades, Decostard, called Procureur, and another
named Chretien. Coco-Lacour is now the chief police
agent ; and until he publishes his Memoirs it may not
be uninteresting to show the vicissitudes through which
he has passed in attaining the post which I so long
filled. There are many palliatives for his course of life ;
and in his radical reformation from capital crimes, are
shown potent reasons why we should never despair of the
return of a man of perverted courses of life to the paths
of rectitude. The documents from which I sliall ex-
tract the principal features of the history of my suc-
cessor, are most correctly authentic. Here we have
the first traces of his existence left at the prefecture of
police. I open the <* Registres de siirete,*' and thus
transcribe :— •

'' hkcouR, Marie-Barthelemy, aged eleven years, re-
siding Rue du Lyc^e ; sent to La Force 9th Ventose,
year 9, charged with an attempt at robbery: eleven
days afterwards sentenced to a month's imprisonment
by the Correctional Tribunal.

'* The same, .apprehended 2nd Prairial following, and
again sent to La Force accused of stealing lace in a

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shop. Set at liberty the same day by the judicial po.
lice magistrate of the 2rid arrondissement (division).

*< The same, sent to Bicetre 23d Thermidor, year lo,
by order of M. le pr^fet; discharged 28th Pluv.iose,
year 11.

** The same, sent to Bic^tre 6th Germinal, year 1 1 ,
by order of the pr^fel ; remanded to the gendarmerie
2nd Flor6al following, to be conveyed to Havre.

" The same, aged 17; a notorious pickpocket, and
already frequently in custody as such ; sent to Bic^ire
in July, 1807, to serve (voluntarily) in the colonial
corps, and remanded 31st of the same month to the
gendarmerie, to be conveyed to the fixed destination.
Escaped from the Isle of Kh^ the same year.

** The same Lacour called Coco (Barthelemy), or
Louis Barthelemy, aged 21 ; bom at Paris, a porter,
living faubourg St. Antoine, No. 297. Sent to La
Force 1st December, 1809, accused of theft. Sentenced
to two years' imprisonment by the Correctional Tribu-
nal on the 18th of January, 1810, and then handed over
to the minister of the marine department as a deserter.

*' The same, sent to the«Bic^tre 22nd January, 1812,
as an incorrigible thief. Sent to the prefecture 3d of
July, 1816.''

The youth of Lacour presents a sad picture of the
dangers of a bad education. All I can say is, that
since his liberation he has shown every symptom of an
excellent natural disposition. Unfortunately, his pa-
rents were poor ; his father, a tailor and porter in the
Rue du Lyc^e, did not bestow any thought or care on
the guidance of his early years, on which so frequently
depends the destiny of most men. I believe, besides,
that he was left an orphan at a very tender age ; but
certainly he grew up, nursed on the knees of his neigh-
bours the courtezans and milliners of the ** Palais
Egalit^ ;" and as they found him a nice little fellow,
they were prodigal of their favours and caresses ; they,
at the same tiiiik^ instilled into him what they termed
^' acutencss/* Those were the ladies who took earo of

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bis iafancy, and with whom he was constantly to be
found. He was '* the ladies* toy, the charming boy ;"
and when the duties of their calling took them away
from a leisure of so much innocence, little Coco went
into the garden, and played with the throng of black-
guards, who, between the games of hockey and peg-top,
kept a school of initiation into the mysteries ox sleignt
of hand. Nourished by prostitutes and taught by
pickpockets, there is no need to descant at length on
the *< trade ** in which he acquired an early proficiency.
The road he trayelled was a dangerous one. One
female, who perhaps thought herself entitled to give
a better direction to his << studies,*' invited him to her
house ; her name was Mttrechal, who kept a notorious
house in the Place des Italiennes. Tliere Coco was
well nurtured; but complaisance was the only moral
quality which his hostess sought to develope, and very
complaisant he became* he was at everybody's beck
and call, and made himself subservient to the minutest
wants of the establishment, whose every detail was
perfectly familiar to him. However young, Lacour
had his days and hours fojpr walking abroad, and it
appears that he did not pass them idly; for before
he attained his twelfth year, he was quoted as one of
the greatest adepts at stealing lace, and in a very little
time his frequent arrests would have procured for him
the first rank amongst the shoplifters, called knights
of the post (chevaliers grimpants). Four or five yeara
detention at Bic^tre, where he was confined as a dan-
gerous and incorrigible thief, did not amend him ; but
there he learned the trade of a cap-maker, and received
other instruction.

Insinuating, plastic, with a soft voice, aad a face
efR&minate but not handsome, he took the fancy of a
M. Mulner, who, sentenced to sixteen years of hard
labour, had obtained permission to await the expira-
tion of his sentence at Bic^tre. This prisoner, who
was brother to a banker at Anvers, was a man of good
education ; and to divert his thoughts, took Coco

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under his care, and must have aided his studies with
much attention, as in a short time Coco could speak
and write his own language in' a tolerably correct
manner. The good graces of M. Mulner were not the
only advantage which Lacour derived from an agreeable
exterior. During the whole of his imprisonment, a
female, called Elisa TAUemande, (German Eliza) who
was enamoured of him» bestowed all possible favours on
him ; but this girl, to whom he owes life itself, has,
according to report, experienced only ingratitude from
him in return.

Lacour is a man whose height does not exceed
five feet two inches;* he is fair and bald-headed, with
a mean, nay, almost servile look ; his eyes blue, but
dull ; a care-worn countenance, and nose slightly
rubicund at the tip, which is the sole part of his face
that is not as pale as a corpse. He is passionately
fond of dress and trinkets, and makes a great show
of chains and gewgaws of all sorts : in his conversation
he affects great refinement, and makes use of fine
words upon every occasion. It is impossible to be
more polite, nor more humble ; but at tne first glance
it is perceptible that his manners are not those of
well-bred society ; Ihey are rather those derived from
the genteel part of the inmates of prisons, and those
places which Lacour has frequented. He has all the
suppleness of loins needful to keep a man in place ;
and moreover has a wonderful aptitude for genuflexion.
Tartuffe himself, and the resemblance is striking in
more than one particular, could not acquit himself
more satisfactorily.

Lacour having become my secretary, could not be
made to understand, that, to preserve the decorum of
his post, his lady companion, who had turned fruiteress
and washerwoman, after giving up a certain other em
ployment, would do well to choose a business some-
what more respectable. A discussion on this subject

♦ Nearly 5 feet 8 inches English measure.

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occurred between us, and rather than yield the point,
he resigned bis situation. lie became a pediar, and
sold pocket-handkerchiefs in the streets ; but soon, as
fame reports, he became a church-goer, and enrolled
himself beneath the banner of the Jesuits, and thence
grew into the " odour of sanctity** with MM. Duples*is
and Delavau. Lacour has all the devotion which
could recommend him in their eyes. One fact I can
testify, that at the period of his marriage, his confessor,
who deemed a heavy penance necessary, inflicted one
upon him of a most rigorous nature, which he endured
to the fullest extent. For a month, rising at dawn of
day, he went with bare feet to the Rue Sainte-Anne
au Calvaire, the only place where he was to meet his
wife, who was also expiating offences committed.

After the appointment of M. Delavau, Lacour had
an accession ot religious fervour; he lived then in
Rue Zacharie, and although his parochial church was
that of Saint Seven n, yet he went to mass eyeiy
Sunday at Notre-Dame, where chance (of cout^e)
always placed him in front of the new pr^fet and his
family. That Lacour was so thoroughly reformed
must be a matter of congratulation ; but it is to be
lamented that it did not comnJence twenty years
earlier ; but better late than never.

Lacour has very mild manners, and if he did not
get dead drunk occasionally, we should think that he
had no other passion tban a great love of fishing, lie
throws his line in the yicinity^of the Pont Neuf, and
frequently devotes whole hours to this silent enjoy-
ment. Constantly near him 4s a female, who gives
him from time to time the worm with which to bait
his hook; it is madame Lacour, formerly celebrated
for offering other baits still more captivating. Lacour
was enjoying this innocent recreation, the taste for
which he partakes with his " Britannic majesty," and
the poet Coupigny, when honours came in quest of
him. The messengers of M. Dekvau found him under
the Arche-Marion, and took him, line in hand, as the

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officevs of the Romnn senate took Cincinnatus from
his plough. There are always in the lives of great
men, deeds of similarity, and perhaps madame Cincin-
natus also sold dresses for the accommodation of the
young ladies of her time. This is now the trade of
the legitimate better moiety of Coco-Lacour. But
" something too much of this." I have said enough
about my successor, and now to return to the history
of the " Brigade de SOret^.'*

It was in the course of the years 1823 and 1824
that it received its greatest increase of numbers, the
amount • of agents of which it was then composed
being, on the proposition of M. Parisot, extended to
twenty, and even twenty-eight, including eight indi-
viduals supported by the profits of gambling tables,
which the prefet authorized them to keep in the public

When millions (francs) were allowed for the ex-
penses of the police, it is scarcely conceivable how
recourse can be had to such pitiful measures. From
tha 20th of July to the 4th of August, the gambling-
tables held under the authority of M. Delavau pro*
duced 4,364 francs, 20 cents. This was the money of
mechanics and apprentices, who were thus inoculated
with a lust for the most destructive of all passions.
It will scarcely be believed, that a functionary, a ma-
gistrate professedly so religious, could lend himself to
sucb immorality; but the perusal of the following
document will remove all doubts : —

i « Paris, 13 Jan. 1823.

I ** We, councillor of state, prefet of police, &c. ordain
as follows : —

•* To include from this date, the Sieurs Drissenn
and Ripaud, formerly authorized to keep in the public
streets a gaming-table of * trou madame/ in the par-

VOL. II, z

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254 MEMOIRS or vidocq.

ticular * Brigade de Surete,* under the orders of Sieur

Vidocq, chief of this brigade.

** They shall continue to keep the gambling-table,
but six other persons shall be added to their numbers,
who shall also perform the services of secret agents.

" The councillor of state, pr^fet, &c.

. (Signed) ' " G. Delavau.

** Copied by the secr^taire-g6n^ral.

" L. Defoungeres."

It was with a troop so small as this that I had to
watch over more than twelve hundred pardoned con-
victs, freed, some from public prisons, others from
solitary confinement: to put in execution, annually,
from four to five hundred warrants, as well from the
pr^fet as the judicial authorities; to procure infor-
mation, to undertake searches, and obtain particulars
of every description ; to make nightly rounds, so per-
petual and arduous during the winter season ; to assist
the commissaries of police in their searches, or in the
execution of search-warrants ; to explore the various
rendezvous in every part ; to go to the theatres, the
boulevards, the barriers, and all other public places,
the haunts of thieves and pickpockets. What activity
must be exercised when only twenty-eight men were
appointed for such details on so vast a space, and at
so many points at once ! My agents had almost the
talent of ubiquity, and I, to keep alive the spirit of
emulation and zeal amongst them, incited them by
unremitting exertions. In no expedition, however
perilous, did I spare myself; and if the most notorious
criminals have been brought to justice by my vigilance,
I may say, without boasting, that the most daring were
the capture of my own hands, the prize of my bow and
spear. As principal agent of " La police particulifere
as chief, have kept quiet at my
!-Anne ; but more actively, and
ully employed, I only went there

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to give my orders for the day, to receive reports, or to
give audiences to persons who, having been robbed,
came to me with their complaints, trusting to have the
thieves detected.

Up to the moment of my quitting ofiBce, the police
of safety — the only requisite police, that which should
have received the greater portion of the funds allowed
^y the budget, because it is on it principally that re-
liance has been placed — the police of safety, I say, has
never employed more |han thirty men, nor cost more

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Online LibraryDeutsche Numismatische GesellschaftAutobiography; a collection of the most instructive and amusing lives ever published → online text (page 21 of 22)