Paris-crime IVème: François-Marie Arouet, detective
Jean Calas was a draper in Toulose in 1761, a Calvinist at a time when it was not always healthy to be one in France. In October of that year, his son Marc-Antoine was found dead. A hue (and also a cry) went up among the population that Calas had murdered his son to prevent him from converting to Catholicism. Calas' family was dispossessed, and he was taken into custody, eventually to be tortured publicly and executed.
The affair became a rallying cry for religious toleration, the inspiration for Voltaire's famous treatise on the subject. Here are some excerpts from an introduction to the edition of that treatise, Traité sur la tolerance, that I bought when I was thinking elevated thoughts at the Panthéon this week:
"Did (Marc-Antoine), when he came down to the ground floor, commit suicide by hanging in the store? The answer depends on the position of the body when it was discovered. On this chief point, the Calases disagreed, which aggravated the presumption of their guilt. The evening of the 13th, Pierre, pressed by his father, affirmed that the body was stretched out on the floor, the first version and no doubt the truth. Such a position does not exclude the thesis of suicide by hanging, but it accords better with murder by strangulation. Also, the Calases changed their story the next day. ... an acrobatic suicide, but these exist.With the scene thus set, allies of the Calas family called in Voltaire, who took the case and solved it in three months, eventually winning a posthumous exoneration for Calas and a royal pension for his family. What most impressed this crime-fiction reader, though, was the introduction's readiness to cast the story in detective-story terms, and this from an academic.
"The investigator, David de Beaudrigue, was no Maigret, much less a Sherlock Holmes; He failed to follow tracks that might have led to the truth. In the afternoon, Marc-Antoine had exchanged some silver for [gold] louis d'or for his father's account. These louis d'or were never found. What became of them? Beaudrigue never asked that question. Did Marc-Antoine lose them, gambling or some other way, which would explain his suicide? Did an assassin wait for him in the rear of the house, watching for him to rob him, or for some other reason? (The investigation did not interest itself in this 28-year-old man's relations with women."
And now, readers, can you name other historical figures who have turned detective?
© Peter Rozovsky 2007