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The Autobiography of a Thief

Hutchins Hapgood

Book Overview: 

I met the ex-pickpocket and burglar whose autobiography follows soon after his release from a third term in the penitentiary. For several weeks I was not particularly interested in him. He was full of a desire to publish in the newspapers an exposé of conditions obtaining in two of our state institutions, his motive seeming partly revenge and partly a very genuine feeling that he had come in contact with a systematic crime against humanity. But as I continued to see more of him, and learned much about his life, my interest grew; for I soon perceived that he not only had led a typical thief's life, but was also a man of more than common natural intelligence, with a gift of vigorous expression... I therefore proposed to him to write an autobiography. He took up the idea with eagerness, and through the entire period of our work together, has shown an unwavering interest in the book and very decided acumen and common sense. The method employed in composing the volume was that, practically, of the interview. From the middle of March to the first of July we met nearly every afternoon, and many evenings, at a little German café on the East Side. There, I took voluminous notes, often asking questions, but taking down as literally as possible his story in his own words; to such a degree is this true, that the following narrative is an authentic account of his life, with occasional descriptions and character-sketches of his friends of the Under World. Even without my explicit assurance, the autobiography bears sufficient internal evidence of the fact that, essentially, it is a thief's own story.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . two grafts, and they treated her with every consideration. Penny-weighting is a very "slick" graft. It is generally worked in pairs, by either sex or both sexes. A man, for instance, enters a jewelry store and looks at some diamond rings on a tray. He prices them and notes the [57] costly ones. Then he goes to a fauny shop (imitation jewelry) and buys a few diamonds which match the real ones he has noted. Then he and his pal, usually a woman, enter the jewelry store and ask to see the rings. Through some little "con" they distract the jeweler's attention, and then one of them (and at this Sheenie Annie was particularly good) substitutes the bogus diamonds for the good ones; and leaves the store without making a purchase.

I can give an example of how Sheenie Annie "hoisted," from my own experience with her. On one occasion, when I was about eighteen years old, Sheenie and I were on a racket together. We had been "going it" for several days and neede. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Captivating tale of a thief in what seems like 20th century America.