“Tricks of the Parisian Apaches” (1910)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Sunday, 24th June 2018

This article from The Globe newspaper of February 3rd, 1910 reveals some more mugging tricks developed by the so-called Apache street gangsters of Paris.  

Most of these marauders were professional thieves and burglars, who are divided, in their own slang, into “ceux qu montent” the burglars; “ceux qui marchent”, or thieves of various classes; and “ceux qui butent”, those who make a speciality of nocturnal aggression. It is the third category which is most dreaded by Parisians, for the desperate criminals who make a speciality of night attacks are a bloodthirsty, cowardly set of ruffians, and they are always armed to the teeth and hold human life—the lives of others, bien entendu — very cheap.  A solitary citizen going home late, or a policeman on a lonely beat, has very little chance against them.

M. Henri Christian lately made the acquaintance of three hooligans whose speciality is “night work,” and they gave him some details of the manner in which they operate. One the three was named Baigueur, the second answered to the nickname of the Costeau de Grenelle, and the third, because the extraordinary size of his nose, was known to his companions Cyrano.

When they have once made up their minds rob a passer-by— which one does not matter much — it is more than likely they will decide to begin operations by the “coup de la discussion.” That means that the three “apaches” will take up position the pavement, and pretend to be engaged in innocent gossip. The street or the boulevard is deserted; a solitary pedestrian comes into sight. In a moment he is weighed up the three scoundrels the look-out for their prey. There is not a policeman sight. The moment is favourable.

“He has a gold chain,” says one. . .

“He’ll do,” says the chief the criminal trio. “Get ready.”

They continue to converse until the Stranger reaches them. Involuntarily he glances at them he passes. That is sufficient.

“What do you mean by looking at like that?” asks the chief in an insolent tone. Then turning his companions, he remarks: “Hasn’t he got an ugly mug?” The pedestrian, however little he may be inclined quarrel with the evil-looking ruffians who have accosted him, will unlikely take their insults in silence. But his first word of protest one of the group advances him with a menacing “What! I’ll show you who you’ve got to deal with.”

The stranger stands upon his guard, but immediately another member the trio bounds upon him from behind, seizes him round the neck with his arm, and lifts him off the ground. His cries for help are stifled in his throat, and if he succeeds making himself heard the arm which presses against his throat is tightened and he loses consciousness.

While this is going on another of the accomplices goes through the victim’s pockets, while the third keeps watch for the police. Then, when everything worth taking has been appropriated, the wretch who has almost strangled the “pante” (victim) releases his arm, gives the victim a violent push, and sends him headlong into the pavement, where he will lie senseless for half an hour at least.

Sometimes things do not always pass so easily. Sometimes the victim shows more resistance than was expected, and then the apaches have to modify their plans. He must either be stunned with blow from a mutton-bone or given a stab with knife or dagger. The mutton-bone used by the Paris apache is a terrible weapon. In appearance it resembles a small hatchet, minus the handle, is about six inches long, and comes from the shoulder of the sheep. This and the knife and the knuckle-duster are the favourite weapons of the Paris hooligan. They are both effective and noiseless, whereas the use the revolver is likely to attract the attention of the police.

The one thing the nocturnal marauder cannot forgive is being the victim of a mistake as to the value of the pedestrian he has singled out for attack. If he has a watchchain and no watch, and if his pockets be empty, then woe to the unfortunate “pante”. To punish him for having misled “Messieurs les Rodeurs,” he is treated with the utmost savagery, thrown brutally the ground, and stamped on. Another terrible punishment inflicted on the pedestrian who does not answer to the expectations of the cowardly ruffians who waylay him at night is the sonnage, which consists in taking the victim’s head by the ears and bumping it into the edge of the pavement.

Among the more recent methods developed by the Apaches of Paris for rendering the passing citizen- incapable of resistance is the lasso.  At the favourable moment a cord, from 15ft. to 20ft. length and ending in a running knot, is thrown by an expert hand. As it falls over the victim’s head, the cord is jerked tight, and, half-strangled, he is thrown the ground. The rest is easy.

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