Arlanda airport, Stockholm—When I first saw this box from a distance, I took it to be some sort of dispenser. As in, get your teargas here. On closer inspection, I realized the locked box was a place to deposit your voluntarily forfeited pepper spray.
LONDON—Anthony Powell hovered on the fringes of Princess Diana’s funeral, lifting wallets from the handbags and pockets of devastated mourners. Princess Diana’s funeral! He edged up to his grieving marks as they waited in line to photograph the brilliant floral tributes piled against the Kensington Palace gates. Powell had a female accomplice to whom he passed his ill-gotten gains. She exchanged sorrowful glances with each intended victim before stuffing their cash and valuables into a bag suspended from her waist.
At 32 years old, Anthony Powell may have been at the height of his specious career. Or perhaps he’d have gone much further, making international “business trips” in order to attend major world events where pickings are plentiful.
Like all successful pickpockets, Anthony Powell knew the operating maxim put so succinctly by Detective Crawford of New York: distraction before extraction. It’s fair to assume that most of the funeral crowd were upset, distressed, and experiencing emotional turmoil. What a perfect milieu for a pickpocket.
In court, a witness described watching the thief “twitch his fingers like a gun fighter in a cowboy film” as he reached toward a mark’s bulging hip pocket. The observant citizen had used her cellphone to call police. She forfeited the formalities of the funeral and kept her attention on the pickpockets until the police arrived. The couple was arrested and found to be carrying a large amount of cash in sterling and at least ten foreign currencies, several wallets, and credit cards not in their names.
Their apartment in southwest London was searched later on that unfortunate September 6th, and the evidence was damning. Well over a hundred empty wallets were found, and under the mattress a rainbow of currency from around the world. With typical British understatement, it was suggested at the court hearing that the couple might, perhaps, have been practicing this activity even before September 6, 1997 at Princess Diana’s funeral.
What kind of human being could prey on distraught mourners at a funeral, I wonder. How heartless must one be to prowl and pilfer on such a heart-wrenching day of international sadness? Was the man entirely lacking in compassion? Was he deranged?
“Totally unscrupulous parasites,” a judge called Powell and his partner, as they were each sentenced to three years in jail.
Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Five: Rip-Offs: Introducing… The Opportunist