I am reading Oliver Twist once more. This time, it is not the abridged version and I can’t help feeling sad for Oliver who seems to have the worst of luck. However, it is not Oliver that caught my attention this time, but John Dawkins aka the Artful Dodger, Charley Bates and their master Fagin.  Reading about them made me wonder about pickpockets. Don’t they feel even a dot of fear when they go to steal from people in broad daylight? Aren’t they usually fearful that someone else might see them pick-pocketing and alert the victim? Is it that people are not attentive as they walk along or……how is it possible to watch someone being pick-pocketed and say nothing?

I got curious about this and tried to find the history of pick-pocketing; how the habit came about and famous pickpockets. Sadly I did not find a Kenyan book about pickpockets but there are famous ones from America. Some pickpockets ended up as entertainers for example David Avadon, who presented his pickpocket act at the Magic Castle in Hollywood and all over the world. Magicians use the skill to take something from their audiences or to return that thing unnoticed.

Of course not all pickpockets were famous in a good way. There is a lady known as Chicago May who lived at the turn of the 20th century. She was mainly a pickpocket and a blackmailer but was also involved in swindling, betrayal, conspiracy, revenge, assault, barbarity, brawling, cruelty, beggary, drifting, dereliction and attempted murder of her former lover. I would imagine she received such nasty reviews in newspapers being a prostitute as well and not withstanding being woman criminal in a very male-dominated society.

In the past people in Nairobi could not even pick their phones in certain streets for fear of pickpockets. Opening the window of the car for some fresh air while in the jam was also un-heard of. In fact, pickpockets would even grab a strapped watch from your wrist or earrings from your ears. We thank God that one now can safely pick their phone on any street in Nairobi or open their window for some fresh air while in the jam. Or am I wrong?

As seen above pickpockets moved from just picking things in pockets without the victim’s notice. They have become more and more audacious despite the cruel mob- justice that happens when they are caught. At least I would imagine a fellow thief being set on fire would deter me from the trade.

I have heard the Rome is the City of pick pockets. They are well trained and quite audacious. Is it true? Please share your pick-pocketing stories, those that happened to you or those that you have witnessed.


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