Gentleman thief

A gentleman thief, gentleman burglar, lady thief, or phantom thief (Japanese: 怪盗 Hepburn: kaitō) is a stock character in fiction. A gentleman or lady thief usually has inherited wealth and is characterised by impeccable manners, charm, courteousness, and the avoidance of physical force or intimidation to steal. As such, they steal not only to gain material wealth but also for the thrill of the act itself, which is often combined in fiction with correcting a moral wrong, selecting wealthy targets, or stealing only particular rare or challenging objects.

David Niven in The Toast of New Orleans trailer cropped
Raffles, the gentleman thief, portrayed by David Niven.

In fiction

In fiction, the phantom thief is typically superb at stealing while maintaining a gentleman's manners and code of honour. For example, Robin Hood is a former earl or yeoman who steals from the rich to give to the poor; A. J. Raffles steals only from other gentlemen (and occasionally gives the object away to a good cause); Arsène Lupin steals from the rich who do not appreciate their art or treasures and redistributes it; Saint Tail steals back what was stolen or taken dishonestly or rights the wrongs done to the innocent by implicating the real criminals; Sly Cooper and his gang steal from other thieves and criminals.

Gentlemen/lady thieves

Notable gentlemen thieves and lady thieves in Western popular culture include the following:

Phantom thieves

"Phantom thief" (「怪盗」 "kaitō") is the term for the gentleman/lady thief in Japanese media such as anime and manga. It draws inspiration from Arsène Lupin and elements in other crime fictions and detective fictions.

Notable phantom thieves in Japanese popular culture include the following:

  • Bleublanc, also known as Phantom Thief "B" from the Legend of Heroes series, who regularly steals objects thtough various games of the series, sending the party on "treasure hunts" with cryptic notes to retrieve the stolen goods[6]

In real life

A 1972 FBI composite drawing of D. B. Cooper
  • Charles Earl Bowles (b. 1829; d.after 1888), known as Black Bart, was an English-born outlaw noted for the poetic messages he left behind after two of his robberies.[7] Considered a gentlemanly bandit with a reputation for style and sophistication,[7] he was one of the most notorious stagecoach robbers to operate in and around Northern California and southern Oregon during the 1870s and 1880s.
  • D. B. Cooper, the only unidentified hijacker in American aviation history, who, in 1971, extorted $200,000 from an airline before parachuting out of a plane during the cover of night. A flight attendant described him as calm, polite, and well-spoken, not at all consistent with the stereotypes (enraged, hardened criminals or "take-me-to-Cuba" political dissidents) popularly associated with air piracy at the time. Another flight attendant agreed: "He wasn't nervous," she told investigators. "He seemed rather nice. He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm all the time."[8] He ordered a bourbon and water, paid his drink tab (and attempted to give a flight attendant the change),[8] and offered to request meals for the flight crew during the stop in Seattle.[9]
  • Christophe Rocancourt is a modern-day, real-life example of the gentleman thief.
  • William Francis "Willie" Sutton, Jr., a gentleman bank robber of the 1920s who never harmed a person during his robberies and carried only unloaded weapons during the heists.
  • Vjeran Tomic, an art thief from France involved in the 2010 heist of the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, taking paintings worth about $110 million, and various other heists of wealthy painting owners in Paris.[10]
  • Janoš Vujčić, a Serbian "gypsy" thief from Yugoslavia who stole Picasso's painting, worth 80 million Swiss francs.

See also


  1. ^ Bleiler, Richard. "Raffles: The Gentleman Thief". Strand Magazine. United States. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  2. ^ Bertetti, Paolo (Winter 2013–14), "Uomini meccanici e matrimoni interplanetari: La straordinarissima avventura del cinema muto italiano di fantascienza", Anarres, 2, retrieved 21 November 2016
  3. ^ Denby, David (28 October 2009). "An Education". The New Yorker.
  4. ^ "Lupin the". Lupin the Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  5. ^ "'Mysterious Joker' Manga Getting Anime Adaptation". The Fandom Post. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Bleublanc | Legend of Heroes Series Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia". Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  7. ^ a b Hoeper, George (1 June 1995). Black Bart: Boulevardier Bandit: The Saga of California's Most Mysterious Stagecoach Robber and the Men Who Sought to Capture Him. Quill Driver Books. ISBN 978-1-884995-05-7. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  8. ^ a b Gray, Geoffrey (21 October 2007). "Unmasking D.B. Cooper". New York. ISSN 0028-7369. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  9. ^ Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 22.
  10. ^ Halpern, Jake (14 January 2019). "The French Burglar Who Pulled Off His Generation's Biggest Art Heist". Retrieved 9 January 2019.

External links

A. J. Raffles (character)

Arthur J. Raffles is a character created in the 1890s by E. W. Hornung, brother-in-law to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Raffles is, in many ways, a deliberate inversion of Holmes – he is a "gentleman thief", living at The Albany, a prestigious residential block in central London, playing cricket for the Gentlemen of England and supporting himself financially by carrying out ingenious and difficult burglaries. He is called the "Amateur Cracksman", and often, at first, differentiates between himself and the "professors" – professional criminals from the lower classes.

As Holmes has Dr. Watson to chronicle his adventures, Raffles has Harry "Bunny" Manders – a former schoolmate saved from disgrace and suicide by Raffles, whom Raffles persuaded to accompany him on a burglary. While Raffles often takes advantage of Manders' relative innocence, and sometimes treats him with a certain amount of contempt, he knows that Manders' bravery and loyalty are to be relied on utterly. In several stories, Manders saves the day for the two of them after Raffles gets into situations he cannot get out of on his own.

One of the things that Raffles has in common with Holmes is a mastery of disguise – during his days as an ostensible man-about-town, he maintains a studio apartment in another name in which he keeps the components of various disguises. He can imitate the regional speech of many parts of Britain flawlessly, and is fluent in Italian.

A Thief in the Night (short story collection)

A Thief in the Night is a 1905 collection of short stories by Ernest William Hornung, featuring his popular character A. J. Raffles. It was the third book in the series, and the final collection of short stories. In it, Raffles, a gentleman thief, commits a number of burglaries in late Victorian England.

A full-length Raffles novel, Mr. Justice Raffles, would follow in 1909.

Apollo Robbins

Apollo Robbins (born May 23, 1974) is an American sleight-of-hand artist, security consultant, self-described gentleman thief and deception specialist. Forbes has called him "an artful manipulator of awareness."

Arsène Lupin

Arsène Lupin is a fictional gentleman thief and master of disguise created in 1905 by French writer Maurice Leblanc. He was originally called Arsène Lopin, until a local politician of the same name protested. The character was first introduced in a series of short stories serialized in the magazine Je sais tout. The first story, "The Arrest of Arsène Lupin", was published on 15 July 1905.

Lupin was featured in 17 novels and 39 novellas by Leblanc, with the novellas or short stories collected into book form for a total of 24 books. The number becomes 25 if the 1923 novel The Secret Tomb is counted: Lupin doesn't appear in it, but the main character Dorothée solves one of Arsène Lupin's four fabulous secrets.

The character has also appeared in a number of books from other writers as well as numerous film, television, stage play, and comic book adaptations. Five authorized sequels were written in the 1970s by the celebrated mystery writing team of Boileau-Narcejac.

Bunny Manders

Harry Manders (almost exclusively known as Bunny Manders) is a character in the popular series of Raffles novels by E.W. Hornung. He is the faithful companion of Raffles, a cricketer and gentleman thief, who makes a living robbing the rich in late Victorian British High Society.

Whereas Raffles is sharp-witted and cynical, the younger Bunny is more innocent and idealistic. Raffles often uses this naivete to his own benefit, and the two are commonly companions on the various burglaries they commit.

Federal Operator 99

Federal Operator 99 is a 1945 Republic film serial. It was later edited down into a feature version called F.B.I 99 for television. The serial is about an FBI agent named Jerry Blake who battles "gentleman thief" Jim Belmont, who is plotting to steal the crown jewels of the Princess Cornelia.

Gentleman Thief (film)

Gentleman Thief (Spanish:Un ladrón de guante blanco) is a 1946 Spanish comedy film directed by Ricardo Gascón and starring Luis Prendes, Silvia Morgan and Alberto Ribeiro.The film's sets were designed by Alfonso de Lucas.

Lupin III (manga)

Lupin III (Japanese: ルパン三世, Hepburn: Rupan Sansei) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Monkey Punch. It follows the escapades of master thief Arsène Lupin III, the grandson of Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief of Maurice Leblanc's series of novels.

Lupin III began serialization in Weekly Manga Action on August 10, 1967 and has spawned a media franchise that includes several manga, five animated television series, six theatrically-released animated films, two live-action films, twenty-six animated television specials, two musicals, and numerous music CDs and video games. The manga was released in North America by Tokyopop between 2002 and 2004.

Maurice Leblanc

Maurice Marie Émile Leblanc (; French: [ləblɑ̃]; 11 December 1864 – 6 November 1941) was a French novelist and writer of short stories, known primarily as the creator of the fictional gentleman thief and detective Arsène Lupin, often described as a French counterpart to Arthur Conan Doyle's creation Sherlock Holmes.

Monsieur Zenith

Monsieur Zenith the Albino is an ambiguous villain created by writer Anthony Skene for the "Sexton Blake" series of detective pulp fiction.

Zenith is an albino, world-weary gentleman thief, originally Romanian nobility but in exile for undetermined reasons. He is full of an ennui which can only be relieved by opium, danger and adventure. Zenith sets himself against Blake not out of avarice but for the joy of the game, and treats Blake with sportsmanship rather than anger or hatred.

Zenith is influenced as much by the anti-heroes of Gothic fiction as he is by the master villains of 20th century pulp fiction, notably Fantômas. Zenith remains one of Blake's most popular adversaries.M. Zenith was an important influence in the creation of the fantasy character Elric of Melniboné. Elric's creator Michael Moorcock in turn influenced the re-publication of Skene's sole novel, Monsieur Zenith: The Albino (ISBN 0861301099), for which he wrote an introduction, and reused the characters in The Metatemporal Detective.

A new collection of five original Zenith short stories, Zenith Lives!: Tales of M.Zenith, the Albino, edited by Stuart Douglas, was published in April 2012 by Obverse Books as Book 4 of The Obverse Quarterly. It includes stories by Stuart Douglas, Sexton Blake scholar Mark Hodder, Paul Magrs, George Mann (a story set in his steampunk universe which also features a crossover character from Mann's Doctor Who novel, Paradox Lost), and Michael Moorcock (featuring Seaton Begg, an alternate version of Sexton Blake).

Mr. Justice Raffles (film)

Mr. Justice Raffles is a 1921 British crime film directed by Gaston Quiribet and starring Gerald Ames, Eileen Dennes and James Carew.

It was based on the 1909 novel Mr. Justice Raffles by E.W. Hornung featuring his gentleman thief AJ Raffles. The plot changed a number of details from the novel and inserted a romantic interest into the plot which sees Raffles fall in love with Camilla Belsize, while trying to conceal his secret life as a leading cracksman from her.

Raffles stories and adaptations

Arthur J. Raffles is a British fictional character – a cricketer and gentleman thief – created by E. W. Hornung, who, between 1898 and 1909, wrote a series of 26 short stories, two plays, and a novel about him and his fictional chronicler, Harry "Bunny" Manders.

The first story, "The Ides of March", appeared in the June 1898 edition of Cassell's Magazine. The early adventures were collected in The Amateur Cracksman and continued with The Black Mask (1901). The last collection, A Thief in the Night (1904) and the novel Mr. Justice Raffles (1909) tell of adventures previously withheld. The novel was poorly received, and no further stories were published.Hornung dedicated the first collection of stories, The Amateur Cracksman, to his brother-in-law, Arthur Conan Doyle, intending Raffles as a "form of flattery." In contrast to Conan Doyle's Holmes and Watson, Raffles and Bunny are "something dark, morally uncertain, yet convincingly, reassuringly English."

I think I may claim that his famous character Raffles was a kind of inversion of Sherlock Holmes, Bunny playing Watson. He admits as much in his kindly dedication. I think there are few finer examples of short-story writing in our language than these, though I confess I think they are rather dangerous in their suggestion. I told him so before he put pen to paper, and the result has, I fear, borne me out. You must not make the criminal a hero.

Raffles is an antihero. Although a thief, he "never steals from his hosts, he helps old friends in trouble, and in a subsequent volume he may or may not die on the veldt during the Boer War." Additionally, the "recognition of the problems of the distribution of wealth is [a] recurrent subtext" throughout the stories.According to the Strand Magazine, these stories made Raffles "the second most popular fictional character of the time," behind Sherlock Holmes. They have been adapted to film, television, stage, and radio, with the first appearing in 1903.

The Amateur Cracksman

The Amateur Cracksman was the original short story collection by E. W. Hornung featuring his most famous character, A. J. Raffles, a gentleman thief in late Victorian Great Britain. It was first published in 1899. The book was very well received and spawned three follow-ups: two more short story collections, The Black Mask (1901) and A Thief in the Night (1904), as well as a full-length novel, Mr. Justice Raffles in 1909.

The Black Mask

The Black Mask (published in some countries as Raffles: Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman) is the second collection of stories written by Ernest William Hornung in the A. J. Raffles series concerning a gentleman thief in late Victorian London. It was first published in 1901.Several of the stories were adapted for the 1977 Raffles television series.

The Crystal Stopper

The Crystal Stopper is a mystery novel by Maurice Leblanc featuring the adventures of the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin.

The novel appeared in serial form in the French newspaper Le Journal from September to November 1912 and was released as a novel subsequently. Maurice Leblanc was inspired by the infamous Panama scandals of 1892 and 1893. The novel borrows from Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Purloined Letter the idea of hiding an object in plain sight.

The Gentleman Thief

The Gentleman Thief is a 2001 British television adaptation of the A.J. Raffles stories by Ernest William Hornung. It features performances from Nigel Havers as A. J. Raffles and Michael French as Ellis Bride. It was directed by Justin Hardy.

The Hollow Needle

The Hollow Needle is a novel by Maurice Leblanc featuring the adventures of the gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin. As with the preceding two volumes of the Arsène Lupin stories, this was first serialized in the French magazine Je sais tout from November 1908 to May 1909. The novel was released, with a few modifications, in June 1909.

The Island of Thirty Coffins

The Island of Thirty Coffins (L’Île aux trente cercueils) is a 1919 novel by Maurice Leblanc featuring his gentleman thief Arsène Lupin.

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