Baby thieves

…continuing the story Tourists and thieves: a collision course

Two teenage pickpockets in RomeROME POLICE OFFICER CELINI remembered us from previous visits and greeted us warmly. Without asking, he assembled an incident report with carbon paper, in triplicate. I filled out most of the report for Sugohara, and he wrote in his name and address. He had only lost about $100 worth of cash and two credit cards.

We offered to show our video of the crime. Celini first fetched Police Chief Giuseppe D’Emilio. Bob positioned the four-inch monitor of our digital camera and pressed play. The two policemen and Mr. Sugohara put their heads together and peered at the screen as the girl-thieves splashed their faces in the fountain.

A teenage pickpockets in Rome approaches a mark.“Si,” Chief D’Emilio said tiredly. “We know them. They’re sisters. Maritza and Ravenna.” He and Celini straightened up and turned away from the video. Sugohara still watched with intense interest.

“They have both participated in pickpocketing since before they were born. Their pregnant mother worked the buses. Then, as infants, they were carried in a sling by their mother as she worked these same streets. And when their mother wasn’t using them, one of their aunts would.”

Using children?

A teenage gypsy pickpocket in RomeSugohara’s face was close to the screen. He watched intently as the sisters caught up with him so purposefully, arranging their sheet of newspaper and positioning themselves on either side of him. He watched himself leap and skitter backwards.

“The big one, Maritza, she has her own child now,” the police chief continued. “She usually carries her baby all day. A relative must be using the child today.”

Using the child?

Sugohara turned to us, his brow knitted. “Play again,” he demanded.

Bob rewound and Sugohara leaned in. The source of his frustration became apparent. The video showed the moment of contact, but from a distance. Still, that must have been when the wallet was stolen. Then the film showed Sugohara bolting backwards and the girls hurrying away ahead of him and turning the corner. After that, the next full minute was a swinging sidewalk and Bob’s right shoe. Sugohara had hoped to see what the sisters had done with his wallet. But as they hastened along Via Alessandrina, as Bob rushed to catch up with them, as they stowed or stashed or emptied and threw the wallet, the camera filmed only a sea-sickening flow of auto-focused sidewalk. Whatever the girls had done with the wallet was done off the record.

A gypsy pickpocket in Rome.Sugohara watched the useless picture, depressed.

Chief D’Emilio went on. “The only time these kids aren’t stealing is between the ages of seven and eleven, when their parents sometimes let them go to school. Just enough school to learn to read and write, and that’s all.

“I’ve seen them work as young as two years old,” the chief said with eternal amazement. “The father carries the child and gets into a crowd. He leans close to a man. The baby is trained to steal from a man’s inside jacket pocket!” He threw up his hands and exhaled with exasperation. “No wonder we can’t fight this. We have an average of 50 pickpocket reports filed every summer day at this station alone!”

[Note: These photos are not from the book. Neither are they of Maritza and Ravenna. Notice that the girl carries a baby in a sling, as well as a newspaper, which she holds over the pocket or purse she is trying to steal from. Begging is just an excuse to approach marks.]

Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter One (part-k): High and Dry on the Streets of Elsewhere

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  • You don’t have to know what they look like, just know that they are watching you and will pounce. Wear a money belt, have your day bag in front of you with your hand over it. Don’t be afraid of being suspicious, we want to nice, forget about being nice. One can usually spot most gypsies but they are becoming good at disguises. We were waiting for our train in Rome and no sooner have we boarded our first class compartment that four gypsy women crowded in with us claiming it was their compartment but couldn’t show any tickets. I was taken aback because I didn’t think they speak English but they did and sounded genuine but the way they were dressed gave them away like gypsies. I said, ‘gypsies’ and they left but one of them turned around and said, ‘we’re not gypsies’. Clearly they were.

  • We were just in Ravenna, and as always, trying to spot pick pockets in the crowded squares full of gaping tourists. We know they must be all around us, but have never yet picked a perp out.

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