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Charms and Superstitions of Thieves.

The belief in charms and omens prevails among the criminal class to a far greater extent than is generally imagined. This ia hardly to be wondered at, however, for from the earliest days crime and superstition have been found closely allied. Not long ago in a London police-court a detective produced a piece of coal he had taken from the waistcoat pocket of a man he had arrested, and stated that practical thieves carried that "kind of thing as a charm for good luck." They did the same in the times of the old Bow-street runners, and it is said that several of the most nortorious criminals captured by Townsend were in the -habit of carrying peculiarly shaped pebbles, which they fancied would ensure them immunity from detection and inevitable arrest. In the old days pieces of bone from the skeletons of malefactors hung in chains were in great request among the thieves of every grade, who believed that the possession of these would render certain the success of any nefarious enterprise in which they might happen to be engaged. The hand of a convicted murderer was regarded as a most powerful charm, one which never lost its efficacy. It was known as the "hand of glory." The hands were generally cut from the bodies of murderers recently executed, and it was often found necessary to station guards near the gibbets for the purpose of preventing such mutilations of dead criminals. Pieces of the rope with which a criminal had been hanged and lockets containing the hair of executed criminals were also regarded as charms, and even portions of the shroud in which some notorious criminal was buried were sought for a similar purpose. The belief in these peeular charms appears, singularly enough, to have been less prevalent among female criminals than among those of the opposite sex, but their deficient faith in this respect was more than counterbalanced by their habitual custom of "consulting the fates," in the shape of_ a pack of playing cards, before commencing any illegal enterprise. They were not above wearing finger rings or brooches containing the hair of notorious robbers and murderers, or carrying white pebbles picked from a running brook during a successful plundering foray. The faith in divination by means of cards survives to the present, although the efficacy of this mode of determining the advisability of attempting a robbery is not quite so generally believed in, especially among the more educated class of female thieves.

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Bibliographic details

Charms and Superstitions of Thieves., Oamaru Mail, Volume XXIX, Issue 8591, 20 September 1904

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Charms and Superstitions of Thieves. Oamaru Mail, Volume XXIX, Issue 8591, 20 September 1904