kottke.org posts about Apollo Robbins

A pickpocket's storyJul 21 2014

Until his recent incarceration, Wilfred Rose was a very successful pickpocket operating on the streets of NYC.

Some of the thieves have a shtick. There is Francisco Hita, who when caught touching someone's wallet, pretends to be deaf, the police say, responding with gesticulations of incomprehension. There is an older man who pretends to be stricken by palsy while on a bus, and then uses a behind-the-back maneuver to infiltrate the pocket of the passenger next to him.

There are flashy dressers, like the 5-foot-3 Duval Simmons, whose reputation is so well known among the police that he says he sometimes sits on his hands while riding the subway, so he cannot be accused of stealing. Mr. Simmons, an occasional partner of Mr. Rose's, said he honed his skills on a jacket that hung in his closet, tying bells to it to measure how heavy his hand was.

Mr. Rose's notoriety stems from how infrequently he has been arrested, and how, at least in the last 15 years, he has never been caught in the act by plainclothes officers.

See also Adam Green's fascinating piece on Apollo Robbins from The New Yorker. Especially the bit about surfing attention:

But physical technique, Robbins pointed out, is merely a tool. "It's all about the choreography of people's attention," he said. "Attention is like water. It flows. It's liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way."

Robbins uses various metaphors to describe how he works with attention, talking about "surfing attention," "carving up the attentional pie," and "framing." "I use framing the way a movie director or a cinematographer would," he said. "If I lean my face close in to someone's, like this" -- he demonstrated -- "it's like a closeup. All their attention is on my face, and their pockets, especially the ones on their lower body, are out of the frame. Or if I want to move their attention off their jacket pocket, I can say, 'You had a wallet in your back pocket -- is it still there?' Now their focus is on their back pocket, or their brain just short-circuits for a second, and I'm free to steal from their jacket."

More Apollo Robbins pickpocketing amazingnessFeb 06 2013

In January, I linked to a piece in the New Yorker about master pickpocket Apollo Robbins.

One day, over lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in a Las Vegas strip mall, Robbins demonstrated his method on me. "When I shake someone's hand, I apply the lightest pressure on their wrist with my index and middle fingers and lead them across my body to my left," he said, showing me. "The cross-body lead is actually a move from salsa dancing. I'm finding out what kind of a partner they're going to be, and I know that if they follow my lead I can do whatever I want with them."

Robbins was recently a guest on the Today show and the amount of criminal shenanighans he pulls off in this four minute video is astounding:

(via digg)

How to pick a pocketJan 06 2013

If you read the piece on pickpockets in the New Yorker last week (and if not, I encourage you to), you've got to check out this video they made of Apollo Robbins taking all sorts of stuff from Adam Green, who plays the bewildered NYer writer part perfectly. Way better than the YT video I embedded last week.

The neuroscience of pickpocketsJan 01 2013

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Adam Green profiles Apollo Robbins, by most accounts the world's best pickpocket. How he goes about engaging his prey is fascinating:

One day, over lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in a Las Vegas strip mall, Robbins demonstrated his method on me. "When I shake someone's hand, I apply the lightest pressure on their wrist with my index and middle fingers and lead them across my body to my left," he said, showing me. "The cross-body lead is actually a move from salsa dancing. I'm finding out what kind of a partner they're going to be, and I know that if they follow my lead I can do whatever I want with them."

Robbins needs to get close to his victims without setting off alarm bells. "If I come at you head-on, like this," he said, stepping forward, "I'm going to run into that bubble of your personal space very quickly, and that's going to make you uncomfortable." He took a step back. "So, what I do is I give you a point of focus, say a coin. Then I break eye contact by looking down, and I pivot around the point of focus, stepping forward in an arc, or a semicircle, till I'm in your space." He demonstrated, winding up shoulder to shoulder with me, looking up at me sideways, his head cocked, all innocence. "See how I was able to close the gap?" he said. "I flew in under your radar and I have access to all your pockets."

Hard to choose just one passage from this story, so I will also include this bit about attention:

But physical technique, Robbins pointed out, is merely a tool. "It's all about the choreography of people's attention," he said. "Attention is like water. It flows. It's liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way."

Robbins uses various metaphors to describe how he works with attention, talking about "surfing attention," "carving up the attentional pie," and "framing." "I use framing the way a movie director or a cinematographer would," he said. "If I lean my face close in to someone's, like this" -- he demonstrated -- "it's like a closeup. All their attention is on my face, and their pockets, especially the ones on their lower body, are out of the frame. Or if I want to move their attention off their jacket pocket, I can say, 'You had a wallet in your back pocket -- is it still there?' Now their focus is on their back pocket, or their brain just short-circuits for a second, and I'm free to steal from their jacket."

This routine is a pretty good demonstration of how Robbins diverts attention for the purpose of theft.

Tags related to Apollo Robbins:
crime video magic Adam Green

this is kottke.org

   Front page
   About + contact
   Site archives

You can follow kottke.org on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Feedly, or RSS.

Ad from The Deck

We Work Remotely

 

Enginehosting

Hosting provided EngineHosting