CHAPTER XLI. PICKPOCKETS.
Strangers coming to New York should always be on the watch for pickpockets, and even natives are not careful enough in this respect. Picking pockets has been reduced to a science here, and is followed by many persons as a profession. It requires long practice and great skill, but these, when once acquired, make their possessor a dangerous member of the community. Women, by their lightness of touch and great facility in manipulating their victims, make the most dangerous operators in the city. The ferry boats, cars, stages, crowded halls, and public places afford the best opportunities to pickpockets for the exercise of their skill.
A lady, riding in an omnibus, discovers that she has lost her purse, which she knows was in her possession when she entered the stage. A well-dressed gentleman sits by her, whose arms are quietly crossed before him, and his fingers, encased in spotless kid gloves, are entwined in his lap, in plain sight of all the passengers, who are sure that he has not moved them since he entered the stage. Several persons have entered and left the vehicle, and the lady, naturally supposing one of them to be the thief, gets out to consult a policeman as to her best course. The officer could tell her, after a glance at the faultless gentleman who was her neighbor, that the arms so conspicuously crossed in his lap, are false, his real arms all the time being free to operate under the folds of his talma. The officer would rightly point him out as the thief.
On all the street cars, you will see the sign, "Beware of pickpockets!" posted conspicuously, for the purpose of warning passengers. These wretches work in gangs of two, or three, or four. They make their way into crowded cars, and rarely leave them without bringing away something of value. An officer will recognize them at once. He sees a well-known pickpocket obstructing the car entrance; another pickpocket is abusing him in the sharpest terms for doing so, while, at the same time, he is eagerly assisting a respectable gentleman, or a well-dressed lady, to pass the obstruction. One or two other pickpockets stand near. All this is as intelligible to a police officer as the letters on a street sign. He knows that the man, who is assisting the gentleman or lady, is picking his or her pocket; he knows that the man who obstructs the entrance is his confederate; he knows that the others, who are hanging about, will receive the contents of the pocketbook as soon as their principal has abstracted the same. He cannot arrest them, however, unless he, or some one else, sees the act committed; but they will not remain long after they see him - they will take the alarm, as they know his eye is on them, and leave the car as soon as possible.
A detective one day noticed a pickpocket riding in a crowded stage on Broadway. Stopping the vehicle, he mounted the step, and said,
"Gentlemen, there is a notorious pickpocket in this stage. It must stand still until he leaves it."
This announcement created no little consternation amongst the passengers, and each one commenced to feel for his valuables. Fortunately, no one missed anything, but all began to feel uncomfortable, as it was plain each man suspected everybody else in the vehicle. Five minutes of painful silence elapsed, the officer keeping the stage at a halt; and, at length, a venerable, highly respectable-looking old gentleman got up, and made for the door, exclaiming,
"I have a large sum of money on my person, gentlemen, and I can't consent to remain in such company."
He left the vehicle, the detective making way for him. As he did so, the officer closed the door, and called to the driver, "Go ahead, he's out now!"
The relief of the passengers was equalled only by their surprise.
The ferry-boats, which reach or leave the city late at night, or early in the morning, with loads of sleepy and tired travellers, are much frequented by pickpockets. The passengers are more off their guard at such times than at others, and the results are greater.
Persons with prominent shirt pins, or watch chains, are amongst the principal victims of the fraternity. Those who are foolish enough to show their money in public places, suffer in the same way. The best plan is never to take money or valuables into public places.
Female pickpockets, in stages, often rob gentlemen while the latter are raising or lowering a window for them. A watch, or pocketbook, or a valuable pin, is easily taken then, as the attention of the victim is entirely given to the act of courtesy he is performing.
Women even carry their thieving into the churches. The Catholic churches, where the aisles are generally filled, and where the devout worshipper can easily be approached, are usually chosen for such exploits. The city papers frequently contain notices of such robberies.
A woman will approach a man on the street at night, and, accosting him by a familiar name, will seize his arm and walk on with him. As most men are fond of adventures, the chances are that no effort will be made to throw off the woman, who, after walking and chatting for several squares, will suddenly turn to him, and exclaim, with a start.
"Why! you are not Harry after all; I have made a mistake!"
And, with the most profuse apologies, she will make her escape. An immediate search will show the man that she has carried his wallet or his watch with her.
Young boys, termed "Kids," are very dangerous operators. They work in gangs of three or four, and by pushing against their victim, seize what they can and make off. Sometimes one of this gang is arrested, but as he has transferred the plunder to his confederates, who have escaped, there is no evidence against him.