Even the most clever of us fall for hoaxes, which
Who better to catch a thief than an ex-con? Not only was Australia’s first police force composed of convicts, in France a master criminal founded their detective branch, while in the United Kingdom the Thief Taker General actually set up the crimes he solved.
#1 Australia’s Convict Police Force
With the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove, the initial policing of New South Wales was in the hands of the Royal Navy. A more permanent solution was needed, so by 1789 The Night Watch was formed to keep law and order and enforce the rules laid down by the Governor. The problem was that the only available manpower was the transported convicts! The Governor selected twelve of the most well-behaved convicts and put them into four gangs and tasked them to begin patrols. It worked well and by 1790, more convicts were selected to form the Sydney Foot Police. The Foot Police and the Night Watch kept order effectively, probably due to their in-depth knowledge of criminal operations!
#2 Eugène-François Vidocq – ‘The Master of Crime’
Vidocq was a thief, forger and confidence trickster whose skills were put to use on the other side of the law when he was put in charge of the French Sûreté detective branch. By 1811, he had recruited a group of ex-convicts like himself, using their skills to solve crime. His life remained full of scandal – his police allegedly moonlighted as criminals, and he was accused of setting up crimes then taking the credit for solving them, and for stealing police funds. His memoir is startling reading: he breaks out of jail, fights duels, raids criminals, visits circuses, pirate ships, boudoirs, and prisons. He died in bed at the age of 82, having been immortalized by Edgar Allen Poe as Inspector Dupin in ‘The Murders in the rue Morgue.’
#3 Jonathan Wild – ‘The Thief Taker General’
In the 18th century, London Jonathan Wild was a master criminal. On the surface, he was a magistrate, chasing down criminals, bringing them to justice and returning to stolen property. He was so effective the public began to call him: “Thief-taker General of Great Britain and Ireland.” In reality, he was actually organizing crimes then collecting the reward money for their detection or the recovery of stolen goods! He ran protection rackets, ruled organized gangs that operated across the country in prostitution, robbery, burglary and smuggling. He engaged in blackmailing and even arrested and executed his criminal rivals. He was eventually hung at Tyburn before a massive crowd in 1725, but there was no denying that streets were actually a lot safer during his period of operation.