Saturday, 9 August 2014

Cutpurse - Strapped For Cash

A pair of rusty old scissors
(image from Wikipedia)


Noun. Archaic. Late Middle English.
[from CUT verb + PURSE noun.]

A person who stole by cutting purses from the girdles from which they were suspended;
a pickpocket, a thief.

On a recent trip abroad, my wife and I were advised to be aware of pickpockets and thieves (sound advice); apparently they're so audacious that they'll simply cut through the straps of your bag and make off with it. This modus operandi is quite ancient; thieves have been knows as cutpurses since at least the 1300s. Back then, when men wore their purse hanging from their girdle, a burglarious bounder would simply snip through the purse. Modern thieves are no less brazen, and do love to employ the old snip 'n snatch.

Or do they? I once had the pleasure of interviewing a reformed pickpocket, and we chatted at length about the various methods he and other thieves employ. Some, unsurprisingly, were exceptionally crude, such as bludgeoning someone from behind and then rifling through their pockets as they lay twitching on the ground; other methods involved a considerable degree of sophistication and sleight of hand. He didn't, however, mention any approach that first involved cutting through the straps of someone's bag and, when I was warned about the rampancy of this tactic, I must admit I was extremely skeptical.

That's not to say it never happens; a cursory search on the internet shows several specific reports of bags being stolen in this way, including one in Ashford, Kent, one in Reading, Berkshireone in London, and one in New York in which the thief first tried to snatch the bag and, when the woman put up a fight, pulled a knife to cut the strap and nearly cut off her hand. However, in contrast to this meager smattering of specific strap-cutting incidents, page after page of warnings for this type of robbery are easily found. And many of these pages, unsurprisingly, also seek to sell you the solution, namely cut- and slash-proof bags and bag straps.

Herein lies a possible clue to the overabundance of warnings - there's a marketable solution. Therefore, it's in the interests of vendors to stoke concern about this type of attack, regardless of the actual frequency of this type of robbery; in fact, if bag strap cutting is rare, there is even more incentive for companies to promote the fear of it. As for these uncuttable straps, I would have to question whether, if a thief had snuck up behind me intent on slashing my bag strap, I would want him fumbling about at my back, getting frustrated while wielding a knife, scissors, or some other bladed instrument. I have travel insurance and, besides, there are other, completely free precautions I can take that will not likely lead me into a direct confrontation with a panicked thief (for example, not wearing a bag at all). Certainly, getting mugged or having my bag stolen will ruin my holiday, but it won't ruin it nearly as much as getting stabbed (accidentally or otherwise) by some bungling cack-handed cutpurse.

Have you ever had someone cut through your purse, bag or camera straps to rob you?
(and I'm interested in first-hand experience - not the "I know someone who knows someone" variety)

Do please comment in the box below.


  1. Cutpursed never ;)... I once suffered an attempt by pulling my purse while riding a moto... scariest thing ever. But made me pay attention to the purse or consider not wearing. I'd just exchanged places in the sidewalk with a heavily pregnant friend so it was fortunate they targeted me. Never felt so good for being overweight as that was what gored it as the guy didn't had what it takes to send me to the ground and make me release the bag.
    But for some time this was a favorite among Lisbon's pickpockets in the Subway :(. People would be plastered against eachother, someone is always fretting and moving so people weren't aware of the chop chop chop ;) and when arriving to the station they realised it wasn't there anymore.

    1. So, it was the thief that was on the motorcycle, right? (I wasn't sure on the first reading)

      Either way, what a ridiculously dangerous method for all parties. That must have been a horrific experience, Teresa.

    2. Are you kidding? Pretty coherent that's me now... should see and listen to me after happening :)
      It was horrific. I hate how they end up making you feeling silly, stupid... but oh well need to get to S before really knowing the fully extent of MY fault ahahah
      So many years after and the pat on the back and there there still help. Thank You Eddie! You're a Prince...

  2. ".....getting stabbed by some bungling cackhanded cutpurse" can result in a cutpulse.

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