Female Pickpockets and Shoplifters 1869


FEMALE pickpockets are not abundant in New York. What is the precise reason for this is not exactly known. Though very expert, they do not make as good pickpockets as those of the opposite sex. It is more difficult for them to pick a pocket without being
detected, owing to the manner in which women dress, and from the fact that females are nearly always more observed than men. And yet there are a goodly number of females in the great metropolis who make their living by picking pockets, and who possess a degree of shrewdness which, under the circumstances, is quite wonderful.

Female thieves are professionals. Of the depraved in the female sex they are the most depraved ; of the abandoned, the most abandoned. They are lost to all sense of honor and all sense of duty. There may be hope for the Cyprian, with her gaudy colors and indecent ways. She may have a good heart and an honest desire to reform. But for the female thief there is no hope. Society to her is only a vast collection of beings to prey upon ; and to make money by stealing from others is her only work and ambition in life, until justice and law bring her to a stop in her criminal career.

The female pickpockets travel principally in the Broadway stages during the day-time. In the omnibuses there is a very good chance to ply their avocation, and they make very large hauls of money here. It is a very common and a very old practice for a lady pickpocket to request a gentleman sitting next to her in an omnibus or a car to raise or lower the window. The lady is good-looking and the gentleman polite, and the latter executes the request of the fair one. While he is in the act of performing this service, the " lady" relieves him of his watch, and shortly after leaves the stage and is lost in the crowd. This is a very old practice, however, on the part of female pickpockets, and sometimes they are caught at it.

Not long since a woman riding in a Third avenue car picked the pocket of the lady sitting next to her. She saw at once that the lady suspected her, and adopted a very novel mode of screening herself from the crime. She asked the lady if she would be so kind as to put her hand in her pocket. The lady asked the reason why ; when the pickpocket answered that she had rheumatism in her arms and could not use them, and would therefore like the lady to take her purse out for her. The lady did as requested, but no sooner had she done so than the pickpocket cried out, "Stop thief! stop thief!" and ordered the conductor to have the car stopped, and the lady who had performed the service for her was arrested. The innocent lady was taken to court, and would very probably have been convicted, as the evidence was certainly strong enough against her, but just as she was about to be committed to prison, after averring over and over again her innocence of the crime, on putting her hand in her own pocket, she missed her purse, and asked that the woman who accused her of being a pickpocket should be searched. At the lady's earnest request this was done, and the missing purse found and identified. By this means the lady escaped and the real pickpocket was brought to justice.

There are few female or male pickpockets who ever get rich by following their profession. They are wasteful and extravagant in the expenditure of money, and consequently never save anything. They live only for the present, and when the future comes, bringing with it sickness and poverty, they have nothing to fall back upon, and generally end their days in the poor-house or become victims of suicide. While they live they live, however, partaking of the best of the sensual delights that the world affords and enjoying physical existence to the highest possible extent. There are women in New York at present who pursue this avocation who board at the best hotels the whole year round, taking the best rooms, owning fine horses and elegant carriages, having their private boxes at the opera or the theatre, and who dress in the most stylish and expensive manner.

It would hardly be thought that a female pickpocket would ever be very deeply loved by one of the opposite sex, and yet such is the fact. Many of these women have good husbands, who are kind and indulgent to them, and who respect and love them as though they were not criminals. In the winter of 186 a young Kentuckian had come to the city purely for pleasure. Of great wealth, and by no means careful of his personal associates, he soon plunged into a career of dissipation, which rapidly fitted him to become the victim of one of the most remarkable female pickpockets of the metropolis. She had once plied her vocation almost daily, but of later years had given up the profession, having no actual necessity to pursue it. The person was the wife of a noted
gambler. She had apartments at the most fashionable hotel in the city, and occasionally acted as a decoy to her profligate and unscrupulous consort. She was a Spanish Creole, and possessed every fascinating trait which has so distinguished the women of her race ; but, added to the exquisite beauty of her person, she possessed an educated mind, and was in reality fitted to adorn any sphere in society. Always dressed in robes that ever enhanced her rich tropical beauty, easy of access, and to the uninitiated
and susceptible youth, upon whom she lavished every bewildering charm of manner and address, it is not surprising he soon became a creature at whose shrine both heart and sense were gladly surrendered. He accompanied her to theatres, balls and parties, and, as the influence of her artfully-woven meshes became each day stronger and he less capable of resisting them, she gradually drew him within the pale of her husband's evil designs. Her elegantly-appointed parlor became the theatre of little card-parties, at which costly wines and the blandishments of female beauty formed a combination of attractions which his blinded perceptions could not resist. Step by step he was led along the road to ruin.

He never saw his peril, or if he did it was discerned only to be forgotten in the smile of his dark-eyed enchantress. Vast sums had now swollen from the pittances hazarded at first. His own means had been exhausted ; his friends had been appealed to until they would loan no longer ; still unmindful of his perilous career, a criminal step was taken, and a forged draft supplied him with the means he could not otherwise procure. Another and another followed, until the vast sums he squandered had absorbed every dollar of his inheritance. And now he awoke from his dream of passion to realize the utter hopelessness of his condition. Bankrupt and criminal, a single hope still lingered around the memory of his wrecked life and fortune one ray only of possible happiness was left to him as he brooded over his sin ; and that the love of the beautiful woman who had ruined him. To him she had become as an Elvira to Lamartine, the Heloise of Abelard, and now in the cleft of his torn heart he cherished her as a beautiful flower in sweet memorial of a happier time. He knew she had ruined him ; he knew that the beautiful casket shrined no jewel of purity ; but he knew he loved her despite her crime and his own. Flight was still left him the magnanimity of his friends and creditors had left him this. From the consequences of his crime and the scorn of his friends he perceived the necessity of this last alternative of the criminal and wretched outcast of society. But before he went he solicited and obtained an interview with the woman he had looked upon as an angel and worshiped as such. What passed at the interview was never known, nor ever will be. He had been in her presence perhaps an hour, when the scream of a woman in deadly fright echoed through the house, followed by the report of a pistol. The startled servant rushed to the apartment, in horror. In the centre of the room, a bullet through his brain, lay the body of the young Kentuckian a suicide ; beside him, rigid and pale as death, stood the woman, but the light of reason had fled from her eyes; a just retribution had paralyzed her mind. The spell of her dark enchantments was loosened ; her exquisite beauty and fascinating charms were gone and the gambler's wife was a maniac.

The shoplifters of New York are composed of both sexes, but there are probably more women in the business than men. Their field of operations is principally in the Broadway or Bowery stores. They always have a confederate to attract the attention of the merchants while the purloining takes place. They are very shrewd much more so than the pickpockets. They adopt all sorts of methods to carry on their avocations, and are compelled to get up new ones very often, as the old ones are quickly found out. They are very skillful from long practice in their art, and can purloin a piece of goods, a watch or a set of diamonds almost from under the very eyes of a clerk in a manner that would do credit to a professional magician.

Many shoplifters compel their little children to engage in the business. After being educated up to it, the little ones become adepts in this ingenious way of robbing. The genius of the mothers in this direction descends even unto the third and fourth generation. Children are not suspected like grown folks, and that is another reason why they make good shoplifters.

Some female shoplifters often have large bags into which, while the clerk is looking in another direction, they throw large quantities of plunder, and make off with it.

The female criminals of New York seldom, if ever, reform. A woman who has once taken the downward road to vice never turns back, unless she be a Cyprian, when, possibly, her heart may be touched by memories of her past pure life, and she may endeavor to reform. But the pickpockets, the thieves, the shoplifters, and, in fact, all criminals of the female sex in the great metropolis, go on from bad to worse. For them the trumpet call to duty and the right sounds its alarm in vain, and all attempts to bring them in the right paths prove of no avail. Lower and lower down they go on the road of vice. After pocket-picking, shoplifting ; after shoplifting, an accomplice of burglars ; then drugging men and robbing them of their money thus playing in the characters of the Cyprian and the robber; after that it may be murder, when the strong arm of the law grasps them and holds them in solitary confinement for a lifetime, or they expiate their sin upon the scaffold, and so pass away from the world.

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Female Pickpockets and Shoplifters 1869
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Women of New York; Or, The Under-world of the Great City by George Ellington  The New York Book Company 1869
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