Hypnotist thief

Hypnotist thief

The recent ITV show “You’re Back In The Room” has prompted a lot of questions about whether people can be made to do anything if they’re hypnotised. Perhaps these real life examples of the so called “hypnotist thief” will answer that better than the latest light entertainment show format.

From Mumbai to Moscow, Australia to the Archway Road in London, people have been reporting robberies by versions of the “hypnotist thief” for at least the last eighty years. One of the most recent, on the Archway Road in Highgate, London took place in September 2014.

Aftab Haider, the owner of the Hops ‘n’ Pops wine merchants, was working in the shop when the one evening when thief entered, accompanied by another man who stayed in the shop doorway. The hypnotist thief brushed past Mr Haider before making some gestures and helping himself to the seemingly stricken Mr Haider’s wallet. Making even more elaborate gestures, including miming being pregnant, and talking all the time the “hypnotist thief” then helped himself to a large amount of cash from Mr Haider’s trouser pocket.

The thief then left as another customer entered, coinciding with Mr Haider becoming aware of what had happened and starting to give chase, unfortunately without any luck. The Metropolitan Police are still looking for the two men involved, and DCI Marco Bardetti, who is leading the investigation, has said that believes that rather than mind-control Mr Haider was the victim of a “very well practised stage act or parlour trick”.

Essentially this “hypnotist thief” has performed what is a distraction robbery – sophisticated perhaps, and undoubtedly different than most, but not in any real sense mind-control.

There are of course reports of encounters with a “hypnotist thief” that do seemingly involve mind-control – an entire Malaysian family who were hypnotised in their home before handing over their valuables, the Sydney shopkeeper hypnotised into handing over money from the till, and the Russian women compelled to pawn their valuables and hand over the cash to strangers.

What research into all of these stories reveals though is either another form of distraction robbery, a lack of evidence or corroboration, confabulation or an explanation for individuals’ bizarre behaviour, or a cultural belief in the practice. For instance the Indonesian term “gendam” refers to the ability of adepts to be able to control another person’s mind remotely.

In short the evidence for that expert in mind-control the “hypnotist thief” appears to be non-existent, and indeed the evidence for mind-control through hypnosis is equally uncompelling. Our distraction and confusion are undeniably exploited by thieves but this is as far from “mind-control” as a session of hypnotherapy is.

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