Detective Solves Crime - He Did It!

Hi everyone, long time lurker, first time poster here…

Years ago I read a story about a detective, investigating a murder, who discovers that he committed the crime himself. It turned out he had a split personality. IIRC, the story was set in France at the end of the nineteenth century, and the crucial clue was a four-toed footprint.

Google turned up nothing, so I’m throwing myself on the mercy of the teeming millions - did this really happen, or was I taken in by fiction written in case-history style? Has a crime ever been investigated by the perpetrator?

I don’t know how to create a sig line so I’ll just say thanks.

Wow that sounds familiar! Something about finding footprints on the beach, and pacing around and around until deciding to turn himself in because he recognised the footprint? And he was allowed out during the day but had to be locked up at night because he was a sleepwalker and commited the crimes at night?

I read that in one of those “Strange but True” (likely not the actual title) books many years ago. There was also a chapter about the links between Lincoln and Kennedy’s assassinations, and something about a woman falling out of an airplane and landing in a forest unharmed or at least alive. Another about a dog that wouldn’t go to certain spots of a house after another dog had died.

I wish I could help you more - I wonder how true those stories were. I was probably about 12-13 when I read it. I doubt we still have that book, but if we do, it’s somewhere in a box 800km from here. Good luck!

The story, which has been heavily anthologized, is by John Lutz and is The Real Shape of the Coast. If I recall correctly, all the suspects, including the narrator, are residents in a mental hospital. It’s definitely a work of fiction.

I remember reading this, about a million years ago. Complete with the bit about him having to be locked up at night, but free to go during the day. Even that it was supposed to take place in Europe.

I’m guessing it’s fiction, but that’s all I can offer.

I had forgotten the part about only being allowed out by day.

Mnemosyne - I remember the stories about the dog and the falling lady too - we must have read the same anthology. Was there also a story about a guy jumping from a lighthouse?

Papermache Prince - thanks for the link.

But I’m still curious - has this ever happened in real life? Not someone committing a crime while asleep, but the crook being put in charge of the case? It happens often enough in TV and the movies…

Yeah, I remember reading some of those “strange but true” books when I was a pre-teen, and that detective story sounds vaguely familiar. As an adult, it seems to me that a lot of those stories were probably early versions of what we would today call an urban legend (vanishing hitchhiker kind of stuff).

A gentle suggestion for an honored guest. If you have any what book is this questions it is easier to get the answer in Cafe Society. Its very hard to stump anyone in there. Here either but some of the experts stick to one or two forums only.

Sort of related – I once read a (fiction) story where the investigator found out that he himself had committed the crime, but it involved time travel. (Something like when he went back in time to investigate the crime, he inadvertantly triggered something that caused the alien to get killed.) Probably in a mystery and/or sci-fi short story mazazine, such as Alfred Hitchcock or Isaac Asimov. I used to read those a lot.

Thanks for the tip, Loach (and also for referring to me as an ‘honored guest’ - I’m blushing!)

I put this in General Questions because at the time I thought it might be an actual case history. I had only a vague recollection of the story itself and no memory at all of where I had read it.

As I think about it, this is actually a fairly common plot twist. I can think of several books and movies where the criminal is also the investigator, such as…

BTW - How do you make those spoiler boxes?

You start with a [spoiler ] tag and end with a [ /spoiler] tag (remove the spaces for it to work)

Don’t bother using it in this case, though. you’d have to tell us what movie you’re spoiling, which would defeat the point of the spoiler box.
As for it happening in real life, I remember in the UK a few years ago there was an attempt to extort money from (I think) Heinz with a threat to contaminate jars of baby food, put broken glass in them and leave them on supermarket shelves to be sold to unsuspecting mothers. It turned out that a senior policeman was responsible, and he was directly ionvolved with the investigation, though I don’t think he was leading it.

Well, let me just try it…

Some books, plays & films where the investigator did it: The Mousetrap, Eyes of Laura Mars, Minority Report, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (if you’re willing to stretch a point).

Wow, that’s cool…

And I think there was a case in Arizona (the southwest, anyway) not to long ago where a police officer tried to poison his neighber.

For ‘to’ read ‘too’ and that should be ‘neighbor.’ And here I thought I would be the first SDMB poster never to have a typo.

I read that in one of those “Strange but True” (likely not the actual title) books many years ago. There was also a chapter about the links between Lincoln and Kennedy’s assassinations, and something about a woman falling out of an airplane and landing in a forest unharmed or at least alive. Another about a dog that wouldn’t go to certain spots of a house after another dog had died.


Oddly enough, it did indeed appear in a book called Strange But True, by Donald J. Sobel. My old copy from the early 1980s (or maybe it was my sister’s; ownership was fluid back in those days) may still be somewhere in my parents’ house.

The story in question was called “The Clue in the Sand,” and the detective’s name was Robert Ledru. There are also some scattered references to him on the web and in crime books on

Thanks, AmyG, that sparked some memories. IIRC Sobel wrote a whole series of strange but true books - Strange But True Baseball Stories is one I remember reading.

So is the strange case of Robert Ledru and the 4-toed footprint actually true? On the one hand, the baseball book was filled with stories that were strange but definitely true. (And I think the woman falling from the airplane has also being documented.) OTOH, the Lincoln - Kennedy coincidences have been throughly debunked by now.

There is a book published in 1963 called The Two Lives of Robert Ledru: An Interpretive Biography of a Man Possessed by Frederick Oughton. I know nothing about it except what I’ve been able to Google for. One website describes it as a novel.

Thanks, Wendell. I’m assuming “interpretive biography” means the same as “based on a true story.” Anywho, I’ve ordered a copy from Alibris so I’ll know for sure in a couple weeks or so.

Thanks everyone! The teeming millions once again deliver!

I just got the book. The “Author’s Note” confirms that this novel was based on a true story.

I’ve only had a chance to skim it so far, but apparently Robert Ledru was a celebrated member of the Surete who led a double life. Widely considered the most brilliant detective in the country, he was also corrupt, often taking bribes or resorting to blackmail. He also suffered from mental and physical breakdowns, caused by a case of syphillis which was never properly treated.

As for the incident that started this thread, it occurred in 1887 when he was sent to investigate the disappearance of a number of sailors from Saint-Addresse, near La Havre. While there, a body was found shot on the beach, and the local police asked the famed Parisean detective to look into the case…

He was diagnosed as having “homicidal somnambulism” and spent the rest of his life in protective custody on a secluded farm outside Paris. He died in 1937 at the age of 85.