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Beware Mesmer Thieves!

Benjamin Radford is a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and author or coauthor of seven books, including Mysterious New Mexico: Miracles, Magic, and Monsters in the Land of Enchantment.

Q: Can thieves really use hypnosis to rob people? There’s a strange news story from England in which that’s claimed to have happened.

A: I examined the bizarre case Harris referred to and began by consulting several news sources (Dubuis and Freeman 2014, Telegraph Video 2014, etc.). An article in the London Evening Standard summarized the circumstances:

A “hypnotist thief ” apparently put the owner of an upmarket off-licence in a trance before rifling through his trouser pockets and stealing the day’s takings. Friends today said Aftab Haider, 56, the owner of independent wine merchants Hops and Pops in Highgate, north London, was “stunned” by the theft of hundreds of pounds in cash. The raid mirrors techniques used as entertainment by street magicians and is the first time its use in crime has been captured on CCTV in the UK. The suspect, an Eastern European man wearing a black bomber jacket, brushed past Mr. Haider as he placed a bottle on a shelf, and gently tapped him on the arm. A few seconds later, the suspect made a stabbing gesture with his right hand at eyelevel which appeared to leave Mr. Haider, known as Aziz, mesmerised. He reached inside the motionless shop owner’s trouser pocket, and pulled out his wallet before briefly squeezing his shoulder. The thief, who kept up a quietly-spoken patter throughout, then mimed the gesture of a pregnant woman’s belly as Mr. Haider turned to face him. He reached into his other pocket and pulled out the day’s takings, hundreds of pounds in a bundle of notes, before tapping him once more on the shoulder and quickly walking out. Mr. Haider snapped out of the trance a few seconds later. (Dubuis and Freeman 2014)

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