By Michael Capuzzo
The world’s greatest detectives do their secret work in a grand, wood-paneled Victorian dining room in the shadow of Independence Hall. They meet monthly in Philadelphia from around the world, Scotland Yard and Interpol agents, FBI, NYPD, Egyptian army captains, mafia-busters, Al Qaeda hunters, investigators of the JFK and RFK assassinations, the finest collection of forensic specialists ever assembled — CSI to the tenth power, and real.
After a four-course white-tablecloth lunch, the fifth course is a murder. The bloodied victim appears on a power-point screen, and the room falls hushed. Each month it is a daunting case that has gone cold for years, a sad tale of embarrassed cops, suffering families, and unrepentant killers too smart for the system. Until now.
They are the Vidocq Society, the private club of pro bono crime-fighting avengers who assist police and families because the world has gone mad and somebody has to do something. For twenty years they have worked quietly as both armchair detectives and field agents redeeming the suffering and routing fugitive killers, putting them behind bars.
In a shadowy corner a bronze bust, the visage wide and arrogant, of the 19th Century detective Eugene Francois watches the proceedings.
I spent seven years reporting their story for the nonfiction book, The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World’s Most Perplexing Cold Cases. I was stunned at the passion for justice that animated these 82 men and women – one for each year of Vidocq’s life. I saw them laboring in the present for a better future and thought I had captured the story.