Saturday, September 5, 2015


Found in the Haining collection - this article from 1936 on pickpockets. The author Louis Mansfield has much advice,most still relevant. The bit about a 'dip's' long, tapering fingers may be fanciful but certainly it is not a profession for one with fat fingers...

PEARSON'S WEEKLY, May 30, 1936


Pickpockets will be busy among the crowds. It is their best time of the year. Louis C. S. Mansfield, detective and crime investigator, lets you into secrets of the "dip's" profession – and they have some good ones. You have been warned!


 I have worked against pickpockets for years. Here's my advice to you if you want to return home with your notecase.
 Be careful when you see men carrying, and not wearing, their overcoats, or holding newspapers which are open–not folded.
 Grab your wallet quickly if a stranger starts brushing paint or dust off your coat.
 If somebody hits you on the back and says "Sorry," look for a touch in front–because you won't feel it.

OW is the time for pickpockets ("whizzers," "dips" and "finger-smiths," as they call themselves) to get busy. Bank-holiday crowds, summer holiday-makers with money in their pockets, and Derby crowds, all give the "dips" a chance.
 They generally work together, as many as nine in a gang, but sometimes a topnotcher works alone.

 Frequently they specialise, and some confine themselves to picking the easily-accessible pockets, such as the outside overcoat and the inside coat pockets.
 Only a real topnotcher can steal from the trouser pockets. Familiarly known as "pants pocket workers," these crooks are generally smartly dressed, middle-aged men with a long career of crime behind them. They are recognised as the real cream of the "profession."
 A pickpocket's hands are usually slim, with long, tapering fingers. The first-class "dip" often has two or three fingers about the same length.
 With this gift of Nature he uses the first two fingers as a kind of scissors while the others are folded back into the palm.

"Making a Touch"

 As a detective, I can quickly spot these thieves by the way they jostle and bump people in crowded places.
That's the time when they "make a touch" – pick your pocket.
 It is a strange thing that should anyone give you a smart blow on one part of the body and then, a split second later, a lighter one in another spot, you do not feel the second blow.
 Let me explain why. If you bumped your head, or jammed your hand in a door, you may find later that you are bleeding from a cut which you did not notice at the time. The nervous system, in registering the major sensation of the pain in the hand, completely overlooked the minor sensation of the cut.
Pickpockets know this little trick of the body and rely on it for their living.
 A split second before they "make the touch" one of them will create a diversion by lurching into the victim, by treading on his toes, or by starting to brush supposed dust off his coat with three or four vigorous blows. In the excitement the victim does not notice that he is being robbed by a second man.
 As a general rule, if any honest person sees any dust on your coat he will call your attention to it, but will leave you to do your own brushing.

Passing on the Loot

 Members of a pickpocketing gang have their own particular job. They are divided into "stalls" and "tools." The "tool" is the man who does the actual pocket-picking while the "stall" creates the diversion. He also stands by to receive the loot so that, should anything go wrong, nothing will be found on the man who "made the touch." And if the pickpocket is chased, it is the "stall's" job to get in the way of the pursuer and trip him up.
 Once a prospective victim has been marked down for robbery, two of the "tools" will range themselves on either side of him. With a few light taps they locate his money and, at the given signal, the "stall" distracts his attention long enough for his confederate to commit the robbery.
 One of their favourite tricks is to crush up against the victim and in so doing pinion one arm to his side.
In the excitement of trying to extricate his arm he doesn't notice the "tool" going through his pockets.
 The victim seldom, if ever, notices anything, and the "whizzer's" greatest danger is from passers-by who might see the pickpocketing. Because of this, they frequently carry a folded overcoat over their arm or an unfolded newspaper in their hand as "smothers," which are used to hide the body of the man they are robbing.
 The "whizzer" in stealing pocket watches often uses a special pocket-knife in one end of which there is a small pair of strong, sharp nippers. This is hidden beneath the overcoat, which is carefully arranged over his arm. At the right moment he stumbles into his victim, puts up his arm to steady himself and, under cover of the "smother," cuts the chain and lifts the watch from the pocket.
 And here is another trick practised against the business man who carries large sums of money or valuable papers in a tightly buttoned double-breasted coat.
 The thief wears a special signet ring in which is fixed a tiny piece of razor blade, which he uses to slash the front of the coat over the pocket. One slit downwards, one across, and anything the pocket contains almost falls into his hands.
 When there are not many people about, one member of the gang will often collect a crowd by pretending to faint or to have a fit. While kind-hearted sympathisers are doing what they can for him his confederates will calmly collect the spoils.
 If you carry large sums of money and frequent crowded places, you should have a special pocket made on the inside of the waistcoat.
This is the only position which cannot be robbed. Failing this, a good idea is to have pockets made in the front of the trousers instead of at the side.

Warning to Women

 Just at the moment there is an epidemic of bag-opening or robbing women's handbags in large departmental stores. This is usually done by women thieves who invariably visit large stores at sale time. Their opportunity occurs in crowded lifts and again when women are keenly examining goods, especially as many women make a habit of putting their handbags on the counter while doing so. That's the pickpocket's chance. She gets alongside and leans across in front of the victim ostensibly to examine goods on the counter. While her body cuts off the view, she opens the bag with her disengaged hand and extracts the contents.
 Another warning to women! Don't carry money in your outside overcoat pockets, because many "dips" specialise in these pockets.
 They operate during the rush hours, usually from seven-thirty to nine-thirty in the morning and from five-thirty to seven in the evening, and carefully watch every overcoat pocket for the slightest suspicion of a bulge.
 As soon as they spot one, they tap it carefully, finding out if it holds a purse or pocketbook.
 If it does, they get it–smothering their movements with the newspaper or overcoat, so that other people do not notice.
 It is a good idea to equip your handbags with "zip" fasteners, because it's hard to open these without using two hands, and, since the crook must use his "smother" with one of them, the fasteners are a problem.
A rather humorous incident I encountered occurred when a thief cut the straps of a handbag in a crowded store and walked of with it, leaving Mrs. Housewife firmly grasping the handle.

"Lost Relative" Trick

 Now, finally, let me tell you of the pickpocket who acts. She practises the art of recognising long-lost "relatives" in the street. Usually young and attractive, she rushes up to a man, crying excitedly: "Hullo, uncle, I haven't seen you for such a long time!" She throws herself suddenly into his arms and kisses him fervently.
 Then, finding her mistake, she blushes nicely, apologises confusedly, and walks away, while the victim continues smilingly along the street–minus his pocket-book.
 'Ware pickpocketes!

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