In the old days, pickpocketing used to be punished by death. Today, it has become an entertainment. Many magicians are adding pickpocketing to their act : they steal watches, wallets, checkbooks, keys, belts and neckties from volunteers. Some of them have become masters in the world of this underground art, and claim to be the best.

So I wonder, who's the best pickpocket in the world?

Bob Arno?
He is known primarily as a comedy pickpocket entertainer and more recently as a criminologist. He and his wife study street crime, interview pickpockets, give seminars to thousands of travelers every week and train police and security officers. Bob Arno is able to steal from actual pickpockets in order to get close to them, and he wrote a book on thieves, "Travel Advisory!". Find out more in my last post Fast Fingers.

David Avadon?
Avadon developed a stage act featuring his talent as a pickpocket. He promoted himself as "a daring pickpocket with dashing finesse", and became a recognized expert on pickpocketing. In addition to his stage act, he educated police officers and security guards on techniques for spotting pickpockets and lectured on the topic. He wrote a book about the history of pickpocketing, "Cutting Up Touches: A Brief History of Pockets and the People Who Pick Them." Read more on Wikipedia.

James Freedman?
British entertainer, magician, pickpocket, entrepreneur and consultant. As an entertainer he is most well known for his skill as a pickpocket and magician and his ability to secretly pick the pockets of volunteers. Time Out magazine wrote that he is "possibly the world's best pickpocket". Freedman was the Magic Consultant for the movies The Illusionist (2006) and Oliver Twist (2005). Read more on Wikipedia.

And plenty more. But how can you compare them? How can you compare two different thefts? It is impossible (unless you've seen the movie Ocean's 12). However, when on stage, it is even easier to pickpocket : the magician has any pretext he wants to get close to the victim. He can make the mark hold on to a ball while stealing his watch; and the mark has the stress of standing in front of an audience, from which the magician doesn't need to hide his actions.

No matter how good a magician is as a pickpocket, I'm not sure any of them can be considered as the best in the world. So who's the best? No one will ever know. I tried to come up with a list of famous pickpockets, but I couldn't. For the simple reason : the best pickpockets have never been caught, and never will, because they're the best. They are still out there, lurking in the shadows, looking for their next prey, unnoticed...

20100225-hanging

When pickpockets were punished by hanging in England, other thieves exercised their talents in the crowds surrounding the scaffold where their fellow was being hanged.