Are they just white-dressed beggars?
White-painted, white-draped “ghosts” are picking pockets in Stockholm’s most beautiful district, the national paper blared. Police are quoted: “The thieves are constantly finding new methods. Most often, prior to the theft, there is a distraction of some sort. These people are very aggressive and pushy which causes people to become quite perplexed.”
What? This sounded fishy to us. We’d noticed these people in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town, all summer. Some approach with a begging hand or cup. Others appear abruptly and, oddly, lean in closely making kissy sounds, then bound off. Others offer to pose for photos.
How could these be pickpockets? Why would a pickpocket dress in such an obvious costume? Why would she face her victims so imploringly? How would the thief disappear once he’d stolen?
Sometimes they’re just a distraction, the police explained, according to Dagens Nyheter. They have partners who do the stealing.
So thiefhunters went looking for ourselves. Yep, they’re still there.
Sometimes we saw partners, sometimes we didn’t. No matter—this M.O. did not make sense.
We tried to speak to a white-faced man in a sheet. He claimed to speak Italian but none of Bob’s rudimentary Italian worked. We’re pretty sure he’s from a country east of Italy. The man was cagey, but polite. He smiled blankly. He didn’t try to break away, but occasionally shook his cup at Bob, as if to remind us of his mission. If he understood anything we said, he didn’t let on.
Later, when approached by a begging white-clad female, I raised my camera and took her picture. She tilted her head and tipped her cup. I shot another few pictures and backed away a step. She advanced with a bland smile, apparently willing to continue this dance as long as it took.
But, of course they smiled and waited patiently. As we observed the ghosts in the act of begging, we saw almost half the people they approached drop coins into their cups! I’ve never done a survey of begging methods, but this seems like a high rate of return. These ghosts have a successful operation. They’ve found an M.O. that works. They’re smug.
But are they pickpocketing?
We called on our friends in the Stockholm Police Department. “The white-robed and white-painted people in Stockholm are beggars. There is no evidence whatsoever that they are pickpockets,” Officer Rolf Edin said emphatically. Their pushiness may cause people to believe that they are pickpockets, he posited.
Also, the policeman said, some of these white-robed beggars do some sort of performance, which gathers a crowd. “And pickpockets are drawn to a crowd like flies to a sugar cube,” he said, but that doesn’t mean that the white-robed beggars are in collaboration with the thieves.
Then what of the big bold newspaper headline, Police warn of white-clad “‘ghost gang’?
“So far, it has not been possible to stop the ghost gang, which is believed to be behind several pickpocketing thefts,” the paper quoted police. Well, the named officer claims to have been misquoted, we were told.
Right. The paper ran the sensational headline. The writer chose to interpret every general statement about pickpocketing in Stockholm as an indictment against the mysterious white-dressed beggars. She didn’t answer my questions to her, except to acknowledge that she did speak with the officer she quoted. Somehow though, she got the story terribly wrong.
Thiefhunters are myth-busters
We surreptitiously tailed many of the white-dressed beggars as they looped the streets. In addition to the Stockholm police, we spoke with many people who work on the streets that the white-dressed beggars haunt. Shop owners, managers, living statues who see everything all day… They all said yes, they see the white-dressed beggars many times each day. No they haven’t seen them steal, haven’t seen any problem, haven’t had any complaints. Most of them had not even seen the accusation in the newspaper, though one had seen the suspicion raised in a tv news report.
Thiefhunters’ take: Nope. The white-dressed beggars are not pickpockets. They’re beggars. Why are they dressed in white? Good question. But why call them “ghosts”? One is wearing a wedding dress and veil. Another is in rainbow clown hair, for goodness sake. Answer: “Ghost Pickpockets” is a great headline! It sells papers.
The white-dressed beggars who jump into your face are certainly irritating; but pickpockets they are not.