Pickpockets prove adept at their nefarious trade

October 05, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

He was getting out of a cab near a nightspot on Chicago's Rush Street when a woman who wanted the cab started to brush by and bumped into him hard.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, smiling apologetically and putting her arms out to steady him.

Because she was uncommonly pretty, he just smiled and said: "That's OK, take it easy."

But then he sensed that something wasn't right, and he reached for the pocket where he kept his wallet. The pocket was empty.

He stared at her for a moment. Her smile faded, and she glared back. "Damn you," he said, "give me my wallet."

But she was already turning and moving away. He started to go after her, but he was jolted from behind.

"I turned," he said later. "Actually, I was kind of spun around by the way I was bumped. There was a big guy, bigger than me and obviously in better shape. All he did was point a finger at me. He didn't say anything. He just pointed a finger at me as if he was warning me that something could happen.

"But the way he looked at me, he wasn't the kind of person you would want to mess with over a hundred bucks, which is what I had in my wallet.

"So I wasn't going to tangle with him. The woman was walking away, and he turned and went after her.

"I don't know. I just got mad and I pointed at them and started yelling: 'Murder, that guy is a murderer. Hey, that woman is a murderer.' I have a loud voice, and I was yelling as loud as I could.

". . . some people on the sidewalk stopped and looked at where I was pointing. One of them said: 'What's going on?'

"I yelled: 'Yeah, them, those two. . . . They're wanted for murder.' Boy, I really let out the word MURDER.

"The next thing I knew, my wallet flew up in the air and the two of them took off.

"All I can figure is that my yelling shook them up. They were so smooth at picking my pocket, I guess they didn't expect anything like that.

"They took off around a corner, and I went over and got my wallet. The money was still there. Everything was there. I guess she didn't have a chance to pass it off.

"Anyway, I thought I'd call you. I had read what you wrote about pickpockets. . . I don't think people realize how often it happens. I was really lucky."

He was. Every day, people are boosted in Chicago. Someone bumps into them in a perfectly understandable way. In an elevator, getting in or out of a cab, going through a revolving door. Then their wallets or purses are gone. A minor crime? On the worldwide scale of pain and suffering, yes. But if it's your wallet or purse and you are suddenly broke, your credit cards and checkbook are gone, and all your IDs are in the hands of thieves, it can be a disaster.

Especially in this suburban family man's position.

"I wasn't supposed to be on Rush Street," he said rather sheepishly. "I was supposed to be with a client. If my wallet was stolen, I can't report it because I didn't want the cops calling my home."

So he learned a lesson: Get the train, and, as the folk song advises, go home to the wife and children and sit by the fireside bright.

But pickpockets aren't conscious of class or need. As my calls and mail tell me, if the thieves think you are a patsy, they don't care what your problems are.

"I was in a restaurant in Hoffman Estates," the woman said.

A pickpocket in suburban Hoffman Estates? Can that be? Sure.

"I was with relatives and had opened my wallet to give some of the younger ones money to play the video machines. Then when we were leaving, this woman stopped and bent over and fell down like she was having cramps.

"A man pushed past me to help her. It wasn't until the next day, when I looked in my purse, that I realized he had lifted my wallet and checkbook. And by that time, they had bought things with my credit cards and checkbook. I can't believe this could happen in a nice suburb."

How about the Lincoln Park Zoo?

"I was standing in a crowd looking at the gorillas feeding," the lady from suburban Waukegan said. "Suddenly, a young man in front of me stepped back quickly and I was thrown off balance. Another young man caught me as I staggered.

"Both young men apologized. When I left the building, I reached into my shoulder bag for ice cream money. My wallet, containing $140, was gone. And I actually thanked those bozos for apologizing to me."

Pickpockets are smart. Even if caught, they will be punished as gently as hubcap thieves or shoplifters. So the answer is to amputate their hands. Or maybe only one hand. Even a thief should have the right to blow his nose.

But you won't see it. We are just too kind a society.

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