Posted Sunday, March 23rd, 2008 at 2:39 am under barcelona, me.

The unmistakable screams of the freshly robbed

screamI was just awakened, at 1:30am, by a series of prolonged and heartbreaking female screams. Beyond any doubt, a bag snatching.

I suppose there are many reasons one might scream in the night, but people who scream in the instants after their bags have been snatched are unmistakable. The screams are desperate, often hysterical. You can tell that the victim is in motion. Quite often you’ll hear several sets of running footsteps. There are the yells of the slightly more calm, urging others to ¡cogenlo! (catch him), stop him. If the thief gets away, as is usual, the screams change to disbelieving wails of despair and broken sobbing. Then silence returns. Bag, money, passport, credit cards, mobile phone, hotel key, personal things – all gone in a flash.

When I first moved to Barcelona we lived in an area where this scene was played out several times a week, occasionally right under our balcony. We lived on the first level up, in an entresuelo. I’d never experienced anything like it in my life. I’d dash downstairs, once with my inline skates on – and those were the days when I was a heckuva skater, to join the chase.

I started compiling my stories and those of others into a page of Barcelona Street Scams. This interest eventually led me to meet Bob Arno and Bambi Vincent (blog). They’re professional thief hunters. I imagine they’re about the best in the world at what they do. As I’ve promised before, I will one day post the story of my ancestral connection to Bob.

Over the years I’ve managed to stop probably 5 robberies. Usually this means chasing until the thief gives up and drops the bag. Then you make your way slowly back to the grateful would-be victim.

But once I did rather more. Below is the email I sent afterwards. There’s no need to point out that it was probably dumb. It’s not as though you stop to think.

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From terry Thu Jun  7 01:26:35 +0200 2001
Message-ID: <15134.48171.932903.631448@terry.eatoni.com>
Date: Thu, 7 Jun 2001 01:26:35 +0200
To: dsmith -AT- cs.unm.edu, high -AT- hci.ucsd.edu

today i saw a bag snatching
happened about 20/30 yards in front of me
2 guys on a motorbike
the back guy leans sideways
smooth as can be
takes the handle of a bag from an old well dressed woman

they head off down the side of the church
right next to where i live

the people yell out to the people at the end of the street
looking away from me

i am in motion

sprinting.

i zoom past the robbed
going absolutely flat out
heading to the end of the street
thinking i had no chance at all

but, around the corner
not more than 5 yards
i see the guys on the motorbike
caught behind some walking other people
(there is construction there
which makes it narrower
harder to pass)

this is right on the corner of paseo del borne (our street)
and montcada

and.......................

i fucking tackled them
yeah
over the top
arms spread to get them both at once
guys to the ground
motorbike to the ground
me falling stepping over the top
grazed shin, no more

i wasn't thinking really
just knew i had to stop them
couldn't do it as good as it could have been
and as it was the bike crashed down almost
into some people beside it
who had no clue what the fuck was going on

the guys jumped up
yelled
ripped off their helmets and flung them away
one smacking hard into the wall
and sprinted off
leaving one shoe behind

i was pretty surprised
didn't occur to me that the bike was stolen too

the cops turned up in about a minute flat
there were 30 or 40 people gathered around
talking like crazy
no-one knew what had happened
the robbed people just came around the corner to find a mess
one guy saw it and one woman
the woman acted like my PR agent
telling the entire crowd
over and over that i was a hero

it was great
so funny
i smiled and bowed to them all
like an idiot
hamming it up

the robbed people thrust a 2000 ptas reward into my hands
absolutely insisted that i take it
(we ate it in pizza later)

the cops shrugged it off
called in the stolen bike

it was pretty cool
i could get into being a vigilante

i should have tried to have held one of the guys
but i thought hitting them hard sideways
and knocking their bike over would do it

but, it wasn't their bike

i was smiling afterwards
the most exercise i've had
since beating derek to the office on skates a few weeks back
  • fool me once

    Had my bag stolen visiting Barcelona three days ago (distraction theft). First time I’ve ever had anything stolen anywhere. I do think that Barcelona is particularly bad for this type of crime. Loads of people around-no-one helped.
    When people try to help it makes you feel better about the world even if they are not successful in getting your property back. You are definitely a hero.

  • fool me once

    Had my bag stolen visiting Barcelona three days ago (distraction theft). First time I’ve ever had anything stolen anywhere. I do think that Barcelona is particularly bad for this type of crime. Loads of people around-no-one helped.
    When people try to help it makes you feel better about the world even if they are not successful in getting your property back. You are definitely a hero.

  • Pingback: Thiefhunters in Paradise » Confessions of an airport thief

  • well done

    As someone who’s had handbag & purse stolen in the past and knows how horrible it is, I admire you. Thank goodness there are some people like you who know the difference between right and wrong and have the courage to do something about it.

  • well done

    As someone who’s had handbag & purse stolen in the past and knows how horrible it is, I admire you. Thank goodness there are some people like you who know the difference between right and wrong and have the courage to do something about it.

  • http://qaro.blogspot.com/ Qaro

    Wow, what a great story! Good for you!

  • http://qaro.blogspot.com/ Qaro

    Wow, what a great story! Good for you!

  • http://www.yannicklaclau.com Yannick

    wow, amazing story! The petty crime around here seems to have gone down recently, but maybe that’s just my perception of it…

  • http://www.yannicklaclau.com/ Yannick

    wow, amazing story! The petty crime around here seems to have gone down recently, but maybe that’s just my perception of it…