The Pickpocket’s Tale
When he describes sizing up a promising mark, his eyes stop blinking and he leans forward. “When they are wearing a suit, or nice pants, you can visualize it,” said Mr. Rose, whom detectives describe as one of the city’s craftiest pickpockets. “You know when it’s there.”
For years, Mr. Rose had his run of New York, largely evading detection and arrest. His tales of larceny cover four decades.
There was the time, nearly 20 years ago when the heavyweight bout at Madison Square Garden devolved into a riot, brawls erupting in the ring and the stands. Amid the chaos, Mr. Rose recalled, he smelled opportunity. He seized on a target, a Japanese tourist whose pocket bore the outline of a wad of bills, and struck quickly, disappearing into the crowd with Japanese currency worth several thousand dollars.
CreditIllustration by Kyle T. Webster
Then there are times when he stole with kindness. Mr. Rose recounted an episode at an airport when he spotted a man at the baggage carousel, the outline of a fat envelope visible. Mr. Rose offered a hand with the man’s luggage, the victim never noticing the envelope being lifted from his pocket. Inside, Mr. Rose said, were $5,000 and a diamond ring.
Then there was the time, he claims, that he decided to show off after spotting an off-duty sergeant, a renowned chaser of pickpockets, on his way to Yankee Stadium. Mr. Rose sidled up to him in the crowded train, plucked a roll of $300 from the man’s pocket and slipped $30 or $35 of his own money, in smaller denominations, into the sergeant’s pants. When the sergeant recognized Mr. Rose one stop later, he patted his pocket, reassured to feel money there. (In an interview, the sergeant, now retired, denied ever being bested by Mr. Rose.)
But that was a long time ago. These are lean years for pickpockets. People carry more credit cards and less cash; men wear suits less, and tightfitting pants more. The young thieves of today have turned to high-tech methods, like skimming A.T.M.s.
And pickpockets like Mr. Rose have been left behind. His last larceny, in March, on an uptown No. 2 train, ended with his arrest and his sentencing this month to one and one-half to three years in state prison, where Mr. Rose — who has done short stints in jail — has never done time.
“We’re disappearing,” he said wistfully in a recent interview at the Manhattan Detention Complex, where he told his life story. “In a few years, there won’t be any of us left.”