This is the monthly lunch of one of the world's most exclusive clubs that, as its motto – Cuisine & Crime Solving – suggests, is devoted to the twin obsessions of food and murder. And unlike me, the members are well accustomed to the peculiar combination of fine food and grizzly gore.
The assembled gourmands include some of the best detective brains in America and from across the globe – public prosecutors, FBI profilers, murder detectives, forensic scientists and artists, psychologists and anthropologists, security consultants and coroners. At my table, there is a woman who specialises in forensic anthropology (the analysis of human bones) at the Mütter museum, Philadelphia's famous collection of medical oddities (she was the one who warned me about the cheesecake), a leading forensic toxicologist and an authority on ritualistic murders and mutilations.
They are members of the Vidocq Society, a network of detectives that not only acts as a social meeting place, bringing members and their guests together on the third Thursday of every month, but also as a sort of giant game of Cluedo, pitting their enormous collective wealth of forensic and sleuthing expertise against some of the 100,000 murders that remain unsolved in America today. Between them, they come from 17 states across America and 11 countries.
The society grew rapidly until it had filled its quota of 82 members – a symbolic number as Vidocq died in 1857 aged 82. The membership remains at 82, with members holding their positions for life. New members have to be nominated by existing ones, though the overall ranks of lunch-goers has swollen as a result of guests and associates tagging along. They quickly established a format for meetings – first would come the fine cuisine, then the hard work. Each lunch would be addressed by an interested party – relatives, police officers or prosecutors – who would set out the basic details of an unsolved case that was at least two years old. They would then open the floor to questions and comments from Vidocq Society members.