Apollo Robbins is an expert sleight-of-hand artist from the United States. As a self-described “gentleman thief”, he also acts as a security consultant for governments and businesses around the world. Robbins first gained notoriety after pickpocketing Secret Service agents who were accompanying former president Jimmy Carter in 2001. The New Yorker explains how the incident took place:
“While Carter was at dinner, Robbins struck up a conversation with several of his Secret Service men. Within a few minutes, he had emptied the agents’ pockets of pretty much everything but their guns. Robbins brandished a copy of Carter’s itinerary, and when an agent snatched it back he said, “You don’t have the authorization to see that!” When the agent felt for his badge, Robbins produced it and handed it back. Then he turned to the head of the detail and handed him his watch, his badge, and the keys to the Carter motorcade.”
The publicity from the Secret Service stunt led several law-enforcement groups to seek him out and hire him as a private security consultant. Today, Robbins counts the N.F.L., TNT, and several Fortune 500 companies among his customers and psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and the military study his methods for what they reveal about the nature of human attention.
While Robbins will not confirm nor deny whether he’s ever used his pickpocketing powers for evil, it is well known that his three brothers were involved in various criminal activities in and around Missouri (one brother is currently in the witness protection program) so we can rightly assume Robbins grew up learning the finer aspects of pickpocketing and con games from his siblings. As further evidence, consider that his security consultant company, Whizmob, is named after the street name (“whiz mob”) for a group of pickpockets who work together as a team. But besides the shadier elements of Robbins’ childhood, his father, a blind minister, instilled in him a strong sense of morality. As Robbins notes, “It was like living in two worlds.” Robbins had admitted that he still keeps in regular contact with some professional thieves he knows in order to stay abreast of the latest cons and pickpocket tricks.
The New Yorker wrote of one notable pickpocket instance that aptly demonstrates Robbins’ expertise.
A few years ago, at a Las Vegas convention for magicians, Penn Jillette, of the act Penn and Teller, was introduced to a soft-spoken young man named Apollo Robbins, who has a reputation as a pickpocket of almost supernatural ability. Jillette, who ranks pickpockets, he says, “a few notches below hypnotists on the show-biz totem pole,” was holding court at a table of colleagues, and he asked Robbins for a demonstration, ready to be unimpressed. Robbins demurred, claiming that he felt uncomfortable working in front of other magicians. He pointed out that, since Jillette was wearing only shorts and a sports shirt, he wouldn’t have much to work with.
“Come on,” Jillette said. “Steal something from me.”
Again, Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.
“F*#(. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.
Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.
Think he couldn’t get you? Watch the video below in which Robbins demonstrates one of his street routines with a group of ladies. Pay particular attention to his art of “invading personal space” and how he redirects their attention while allowing himself to move inside their personal space without alarming them – a key to successful pickpocketing.
Check out Apollo Robbins’ tutorial, “How to pickpocket” video below: