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Pickpocketing

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This article is about the crime. For the Robert Bresson film, see Pickpocket (film).
/wiki/File:Frontispiece_from_the_memoirs_of_George_Barrington.jpg

/wiki/File:Frontispiece_from_the_memoirs_of_George_B
arrington.jpg
/wiki/File:Frontispiece_from_the_memoirs_of_George_Barrington.jpgEighteenth-
century engraving showing pickpocket George Barrington being apprehended in action.

/wiki/File:Hieronymus_Bosch_051.jpg
/wiki/File:Hieronymus_Bosch_051.jpg
/wiki/File:Hieronymus_Bosch_051.jpgHieronymus Bosch: The Conjurer, 1475-1480. A
pickpocket, in cahoots with the conjurer, is shown at far left.
Pickpocketing is a form of larceny that involves the stealing of money or other valuables
from the person of a victim without them noticing the theft at the time. It may involve
considerable dexterity and a knack for misdirection. A thief who works in this manner is
known as a pickpocket.
Contents
[hide]
0 1 As an occupation
1 2 As entertainment
2 3 Famous pickpockets
3 4 Pickpocketing in the 17th-18th centuries
4 4.1 Gender
5 4.2 Methods of Operation and Targets
6 4.3 Prosecution
7 5 See also
8 6 References
9 7 Further reading
10 8 External links

As an occupation[edit]
Pickpockets and other thieves, especially those working in teams, sometimes apply
distraction, such as asking a question or bumping into the victim. These distractions
sometimes require sleight of hand, speed, misdirection and other types of skills.[1][2]
Pickpockets may be found in any crowded place around the world. However, Barcelona
and Rome were recently singled out as being particularly dangerous pickpocket havens.
[3][4][5] Thieves have been known to operate in high traffic areas such as mass transit
stations, even boarding subway trains so they can use the distractions of crowds and
sudden stop-and-go movements from the train to steal from others. As soon as the thieves
have what they want, they simply get off at the next stop leaving the victim unable to
figure out who robbed them and when.

As entertainment[edit]
Pickpocketing skills are employed by some magicians as a form of entertainment, either
by taking an item from a spectator or by returning it without them knowing they had lost
it. Borra, arguably the most famous stage pickpocket of all time, became the highest-paid
European performer in circuses during the 1950s. For 60 years he was billed as "the King
of Pickpockets" and encouraged his son, Charly, to follow in his cunning trade, his
offspring being billed as "the Prince of Pickpockets". [6] Kassagi, a French-Tunisian
illusionist, acted as technical advisor on Robert Bresson's 1959 film Pickpocket and
appeared as instructor and accomplice to the main character. George Barrington is also
referenced in the film. James Freedman, also known as "The Man of Steal", created the
pickpocket sequences for the 2005 film Oliver Twist directed by Roman Polanski.
[citation needed] Professional illusionist David Avadon featured pickpocketing as his
trademark act for more than 30 years and promoted himself as "a daring pickpocket with
dashing finesse" and "the country's premier exhibition pickpocket, one of the few masters
in the world of this underground art.".[7][8] Smith Journal of Australia has described
America's Thomas Blacke as one of the top pickpockets in the world.[9]

Famous pickpockets[edit]
Famous fictional pickpockets include The Artful Dodger and Fagin, characters from the
Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. Famous true-life historical pickpockets include the
Irish prostitute Chicago May, who was profiled in books; Mary Frith, nicknamed Moll
Cutpurse; the Gubbins band of highwaymen; and Cutting Ball, a notorious Elizabethan
thief. George Barrington's escapades, arrests, and trials, were widely chronicled in the
late 18th century London press.

Pickpocketing in the 17th-18th centuries[edit]


The 17th and 18th centuries saw a very important number of men and women
pickpockets, operating in public and/or private places and stealing different types of
items. Some of those pickpockets were caught and prosecuted for their theft, however, in
most cases, they managed to avoid punishment (whether they were skilful enough not to
get caught or they were acquitted in Court). Although we refer to them as "pickpockets"
today, this is not necessarily how they were called in the 17th century: they were
sometimes referred to as "cut-purses", as can be seen in some 17th century ballads.[10]
Indeed, at the time, pockets were not yet sewn to clothes, as they are today. This means
that pockets were a little purse that people wore close to their body. This was especially
true for women, since men's pockets were sewn "into the linings of their coats".[11]
Women's pockets were worn beneath a piece of clothing, and not "as opposed to pouches
or bags hanging outside their clothes".[12] These external pockets were still in fashion
until the mid 19th century.[12]
Gender[edit]
Pickpocketing in the 18th century was a gender diverse crime, meaning that many men
and many women committed this crime (looking at prosecuted cases of pickpocketing, it
even seems to appear that there were more female defendants than male[13]). Alongside
with shoplifting, pickpocketing was the only type of crime committed by more women
than men.[14] It seems that in the 18th century, most pickpockets stole out of economic
needs: they were often poor and did not have any economic support (see Shoemaker[15]),
and unemployment was "the single most important cause of poverty",[16] leading the
most needy ones to pick pockets.
In most cases, pickpockets operated depending on the opportunities they got: if they saw
someone wearing a silver watch or with a handkerchief bulging out of their pocket, the
pickpockets took the item. This means that the theft was, in such cases, not premeditated.
However, some pickpockets did work as a gang, in which cases they planned thefts, even
though they could not be sure of what they would get (Defoe's Moll Flanders[17] gives
several examples of how pickpockets worked as a team or on their own, when the
eponymous character becomes a thief out of need).
The prosecutions against pickpockets at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1808 show that
male pickpockets were somewhat younger than female ones: 72% of men pickpockets
convicted at the time were aged from under 20 to 30, while 72% of women convicted of
picking pockets were aged between 20 and 40.[13] One reason that may explain why
women pickpockets were older is that most of women pickpockets were prostitutes (this
explains why very few women under 20 years old were convicted for picking pockets).
Indeed, at the end of the 18th century, 76% of women defendants were prostitutes, and as
a result, the victims of pickpockets were more often men than women.[13]
In most cases, these prostitutes would lay with men (who were frequently drunk), and
take advantage of the situation to steal from these clients. Men who were robbed by
prostitutes often chose not to prosecute the pickpockets, since they would have had to
acknowledge their "immoral behaviour".[16] The few men who decided to prosecute
prostitutes for picking their pockets were often mocked in Court, and very few prostitutes
ended up being declared fully guilty.[13]
The men who were prosecuted for picking pockets and who were under 20 years old were
often children working in gangs, under the authority of an adult who trained them to
steal.[16] The children involved in these gangs were orphans (either because of having
been abandoned or because their parents had died), and the whole relationship they had
with the adult ruling the gang and the other children was that of a "surrogate family".[16]
Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist provides a good E.g. of how orphans were recruited and
turned into street criminals.
Methods of Operation and Targets[edit]
Men and women pickpockets tended to operate in different locations: 80% of male
pickpockets operated in public areas while 78% of female pickpockets operated in private
places.[13] This can be explained by the fact that most women pickpockets were
prostitutes, robbing their victims in their lodging after having laid with them. Men
pickpockets, on the other hand, tended to operate in public places because they did not
have the opportunity that prostitutes had.
The fact that men and women did not operate in the same places led to them stealing
different types of items: men stole mostly handkerchiefs,[13] because they were one of
the easiest item to take from someone without them noticing it. Women tended to steal
watches (some pickpockets also stole watches in public places, but it was more difficult)
and bags with money in them. When defending themselves in Court, prostitutes often
argued that the money had been a gift from the victim and managed to be acquitted, as
the men prosecuting them were often drunk at the time of the theft and were not taken
seriously by the Court.[15]
Prosecution[edit]
In the eyes of the law, pickpocketing was considered a capital offence from 1565 on:[13]
this meant that it was punishable by hanging.[16] However, for the crime to be
considered as a capital offence, the stolen item had to be worth more than 12 pennies,
otherwise it was considered to be petty larceny,[13] which meant that the thief would not
be hanged. The 18th century law also stated that only the thief could be prosecuted - any
accomplice or receiver of the stolen item could not be found guilty of the crime: "This
meant that, if two people were indicted together, and there was