The Legend of the Child-Snatching Gypsies

An old fear rears its head again.

BLONDE ANGEL,” screamed the headlines. She had been spotted on October 16, 2013, as police were raiding a Roma camp in central Greece: a light-haired, green-eyed girl who looked rather different from the dark-skinned man and woman who were raising her. The authorities decided that she had been abducted, perhaps as part of some international child-trafficking ring. It was two weeks before Halloween, and the police were handing the press an innocent victim and a lurking monster. The girl became world-famous overnight.

1904: The body of a four-year-old boy is discovered in a deserted house near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, less than a mile from a Gypsy camp. The local cops arrest five of the men staying there. “The prisoners stoutly maintain their innocence, but the police believe they have some knowledge of the crime,” the San Jose Evening News reports. “Thousands of Hungarians and Polish residents of the city are worked up to a frenzy and serious trouble may result.”

The uproar intensifies when a young man named George Wahl claims to have seen the Gypsies taking the child. The witness has trouble keeping his story straight, though, and in the end it is Wahl who gets charged with murder.

DNA tests confirmed that the girl, named Maria, had not been born to the couple that was caring for her. But problematically for the abduction theory, the tests also indicated she was not on Interpol’s missing persons list. As the police launched a global search for Maria’s “real” parents, the accused kidnappers insisted that they had informally adopted the child from a woman who could not afford to raise her.

When the girl’s original parents were finally found, they turned out to be a Roma couple in Bulgaria. (Apparently, Gypsies can produce blonde children. Someone should tell the police.) Maria’s biological mother echoed the Greek Gypsies’ story: This had been an adoption, not an abduction. “I didn’t have any food to give to the kid,” she told reporters. Police are now investigating whether she sold the child, a charge that both she and the adoptive parents deny.

Meanwhile, another group of Greek police had arrested three Roma women on the isle of Lesbos, claiming they had kidnapped a baby boy. Again, the women insisted that they had adopted the child; again, the cops suspected them of trafficking. And in Ireland, authorities sheepishly returned two children they had seized from two different Gypsy families. As with Maria, these children were blonde but had parents who were dark. This time, there weren’t even any adoptions at work: DNA tests proved the kids were related to the people raising them.

1915: Four-year-old Jimmy Glass disappears as he follows his mother to the post office in Greeley, Pennsylvania. After a day of searching, someone suggests that Gypsies might have taken him. “The only ‘evidence’ for the suggestion,” Michael Newtown later writes in The Encyclopedia of Kidnappings, “was the presence of a transient carnival at nearby Lackawaxen on the day young James went missing, with a family of Gypsy fortune-tellers featured in the show.”

By the time the police track down the carnival, weeks later, the alleged Gypsies have quit and left. In the ensuing years, the authorities will go as far as Puerto Rico in pursuit of the purported kidnappers. Years later, Newton reports, the remains of a boy resembling Glass are found less than two miles from the site of the disappearance, “prompting authorities to speculate that he was never snatched at all, but simply wandered off.”

Rumors of Roma kidnappers have circulated for centuries. In the 15th century, the German Reichstag accused the country’s Gypsies not just of child-stealing but of sorcery, espionage, and spreading the plague. A Scottish tale claims that the economist Adam Smith was abducted by Gypsies (or possibly Tinkers) at age three; he was then either missed by his uncle or spotted by a stranger, at which point either the uncle or some scouts retrieved him. (The stories are also inconsistent about where the snatching supposedly took place—another sign that we’re dealing with legend rather than firm fact.) Generations of British parents have warned their kids about Gypsy bogeymen lurking in the shadows, waiting to snatch incautious children. The idea even crept into lullabies:

Hush nae, hush nae, dinna fret ye
The black Tinkler winna get ye.

One 19th-century writer acknowledged that such lore resembled “the stories of ghosts and hobgoblins, often so inconsiderably told to children.” But the Gypsy tales, he rushed to add, were true.

Today that folklore fuses with other anxious stories as rumors come in and out of fashion: Stories about Gypsy kidnappers crossbreed with stories about organ-trafficking conspiracies, sex-trafficking conspiracies, and other dark forces. The old tale mutates and adapts. The consequences can be ugly, particularly when people have real-world reasons to feel aggrieved. (Do we need to go over all the reasons Europeans might be looking for scapegoats right now? Particularly in Greece?)

1990: Rumors sweep through Italy that mysterious figures have been stealing children to supply an underground market in human organs. Figures in black ambulances are said to be grabbing girls and boys in broad daylight; kidnappers in fake uniforms are said to be hunting for prey near schools; Gypsy women are said to be pulling children under their billowing skirts while their mothers are distracted, then escaping before anyone realizes what has happened.

In Bologna, Véronique Campion-Vincent writes in her book Organ Theft Legends, the fears come to a head, with bloody “punitive expeditions” on Roma camps.

Has a Gypsy ever kidnapped a child? Undoubtedly: There are criminals in every ethnic group. Are any Roma people involved in human trafficking? Sure—though human trafficking is itself a concept clouded by prejudice and urban legends, as the authorities lump genuine coercion together with voluntary but illicit behavior. There is a tendency as well to perceive such activities as more organized, and centralized, than they actually are.

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  • Swarley||

    Gypsies(Roma), the European approved focus of racial bigotry

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Europeans are racist against everybody from outside their homogenous majority cultures.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Sounds like Brooklyn or Queens, block by block.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    It's not a newsflash that "enlightened Socialist Europe" is just one blood libel away from its next genocide.

    Savages.

  • advancedatheist||

    Look up Steve Sailer's articles on Gypsies. Europeans didn't come up with arbitrary stereotypes about them. Humans survive by evolving effective pattern recognition to learn which kinds of people we can trust and which ones we should avoid, and we shouldn't throw away this wisdom tradition just because it conflicts with current, shallow fashionable beliefs.

  • Agammamon||

    Ya know, its a bit of a stretch to say this is 'pattern recognition'.

    Its pattern recognition to understand that the nice gypsy man's not selling a real rolex, and his kid's re behind you right now picking your pocket, or that the asphalting job they're offering to do real cheap on your driveway won't be worth the money you pay them.

    Its simply blood-libel to accuse them of widespread child-snatching.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    "asphalting job they're offering to do real cheap on your driveway"

    This is going to be my hit front I use to tar and feather politicians, kind of like the "landscapers" in that horrible movie... I can't remember the name.

  • ||

    Humans survive by evolving effective pattern recognition to learn which kinds of people we can trust and which ones we should avoid

    Humans evolved to murder and rape on an epic scale...can anyone really say they are not descended from murderers..does not make it right.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    My pattern recognition circuit says .... ProgTroll!

  • Sevo||

    'Murkin?

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    "Greek police had arrested three Roma women on the isle of Lesbos"

    DaDa-Chhh!

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    At least the heat seems to be off Some Puerto Rican Guy for a while.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Bah! Spoke too soon:

    "By the time the police track down the carnival, weeks later, the alleged Gypsies have quit and left. In the ensuing years, the authorities will go as far as Puerto Rico in pursuit of the purported kidnappers."

  • ||

    Roma are the quintessential merchants of Medieval Europe.

    Is it any surprise that the protectionist cloistered socialist Europe of today hate the Roma with white hot passion?

  • ||

    Furthermore they claim no sovereign or nation or citizenship.

    Even more reason for the nationalist tending states of Europe to further despise them.

  • RadicalCenter||

    They are not despised because "they claim no sovereign or nation or citizenship" but because they disproportionately steal, scam, and cheat the native populations of the countries foolish enough to let them settle or stay there.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Maybe those populations are foolish to begin with and therefore easily taken advantage of.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Maybe those populations are foolish to begin with and therefore easily taken advantage of.

    If you're trying to argue that a parasitic element can easily undermine the social stability of a high-trust community, I'm willing to go along with that.

  • RadicalCenter||

    Are you freeking serious, "quintessential merchants"? That's a laughably naive and inaccurate characterization, according to my own assessment of the ample news accounts about Roma crime AND according to the actual Ukrainians and Slovaks I spoke to while over there.

    If any generalization is to be made, "quintessential thieves and scam artists" would seem to be more accurate on the whole (not, of course, as a description of all Roma).

    Libertarianism doesn't require us to pretend that all cultures and groups are the same, or to overlook patterns that can be observed in the real world.

  • Sevo||

    RadicalCenter|10.30.13 @ 8:07PM|#
    ..."according to my own assessment of the ample news accounts about Roma crime AND according to the actual Ukrainians and Slovaks I spoke to while over there."

    Gee, I remember reading about how blacks were prone to stealing things. Sound similar?

  • PapayaSF||

    Nonetheless, the reputation of Gypsies seems to be deserved, because a hugely disproportionate number seem to be thieves, beggars, and scam artists. Certainly when I was in Paris ages ago, the beggars and pickpockets I saw were nearly all Gypsies.

    (Admittedly, I only saw one pair of pickpockets, operating on the other side of a Metro station, but they were Gypsies.)

  • Sevo||

    "(Admittedly, I only saw one pair of pickpockets, operating on the other side of a Metro station, but they were Gypsies.)"

    Uh, are you sure you don't want an edit key now for the first paragraph?
    I saw Roma in Paris who weren't picking pockets...

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Do you work 24/7?

  • Sevo||

    Sometimes. Was the same story over there?

  • PapayaSF||

    Sevo, normally you are a more careful reader. Nothing I wrote is self-contradictory, and nothing I wrote suggested every Gypsy picks pockets.

    The problem here is that, contrary to modern PC thinking, there really are some quantifiable cultural differences between ethnic groups. And the sad fact is that Gypsies are, on average, more often involved in crime than other groups. Not every prejudice is simply made up out of whole cloth. Some are true. Gypsy child-stealing may be a myth, or largely so, but Gypsy stealing is not.

  • Sevo||

    PapayaSF|10.30.13 @ 10:13PM|#
    "Sevo, normally you are a more careful reader...."

    Thanks, and in honest response, I'm surprised at:
    "Certainly when I was in Paris ages ago, the beggars and pickpockets I saw were nearly all Gypsies."
    When I was in Paris, the beggars seemed pretty well distributed among recognizable groups, so absent real data, I'm left suspecting confirmation bias.
    And then, assuming it is true, it still says nothing re an individual, so it suffers the same failures of any racialist generalizations.

  • PapayaSF||

    It could be fuzzy memory, because this was in 1978 and 1980. But it's well-known that Gypsy children are often kept out school, taught to steal, get involved in prostitution, etc. Some "racialist generalizations" are valid.

  • Swarley||

    Umm having lived in Slovakia for a year, I would not reference Slovaks as a source of objective opinion about Gypsies. Slovaks at least in rural areas were some of the most xenophobic people I ever met. Every time I traveled to a place in central Europe I was warned by Slovaks to be careful of "insert country here" its dangerous (it wasn't). Western Europe did not earn such warnings.

    Working to reduce the Gypsy culture of welfare kings and queens and scamming is not easy. Certainly, Europe did itself and Gypsies no favors by offering such generous welfare programs.

    Gypsies are no saints, but I object to the rampant and rather disgusting racism perpetuated by Europe.

  • Sevo||

    "I would not reference Slovaks as a source of objective opinion about Gypsies."

    As I recall, the Czechs don't think much of the Slovaks, either. Not to mention the Turks and the Greeks, or the...

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    It's a good goddamn thing the government is here to save us from ourselves! We can't have unregulated people teaching their unregulated children unregulated information about life after an unregulated adoption or an unregulated birth!

    How do we fix it? Lets steal them! They're just gypsies anyway, so who gives a shit, right?

    Not too long from now, I predict a return to the tradition of the nobility sleeping with your wife on your wedding night. The government will breed the progressive right into them.

  • Dave Krueger||

    This had been an adoption, not an abduction.

    Hey, they both start with "A". How different can they be?

  • Tonio||

    Well, at least it wasn't an abortion - those fetus fanciers never shut up.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Hello, AAA? I need some roadside assistance.

  • Nixonfan||

    Just ask any non-gypsy romanian about the gypsies.

  • Tonio||

    Why would I do that? Are Romanians somehow special experts on the similarly spelled (in English) but genetically distinct (from Romanians) Roma people? Sounds like butt-hurt to me.

    Also: Hi, Merkin. As always, citation needed.

  • ||

    I'm pretty sure the Greek gypsy presumptive kidnapping from a couple weeks before this is still legit.

  • Tonio||

    Uh, this may be the same incident, since it's from Oct 16. If by "legit" you mean "disproven" then yes.

  • ||

    What part of "Greek" did you not understand? They did DNA tests in that one, and the definitely not the parents offered about five contradictory stories about where they got the kid.

  • Sevo||

    "Police are now investigating whether she sold the child, a charge that both she and the adoptive parents deny."

    Gov'ts sure collect if you choose to adopt, but that's not 'selling', is it?

  • hotsy totsy||

    So why do we never see authorities taking a dark skinned child away from blonde parents?

    In the 1990s Satanic Panic, the "community" was always being warned (by fundamentalist lunatics) that Satanists were looking for a blonde, blue eyed child to sacrifice. Because somehow, blonde hair makes them more...angelic?

  • Sevo||

    "Because somehow, blonde hair makes them more...angelic?"

    Story:
    I moved into a 'mixed' neighborhood in SF many years ago and got many 'interesting' junk mailings. One that sticks in mind was an appeal for $ from some sleaze X-ian 'church'.
    The illustration was amusing to say the least; this blonde, long-haired hippy in a robe is at the open door of a black middle class family!
    Did the illustrator know what Semitic people look like? I was hoping for a caption along the lines of 'wha'd you want, honky?'

  • BMFPitt||

    Meanwhile, another group of Greek police had arrested three Roma women on the isle of Lesbos

    Sounds like the plot of a porn.

  • obd2life||

    I think it's a good goddamn thing the government is here to save us from ourselves!

  • Christophe||

    Talk about getting your genetics back-asswards.
    Blonde hair is the recessive gene. That means that black-haired people can have a blonde-haired kid. The opposite is what's impossible.

    But this is government we're talking about. Why check your reasoning before going and destroying a family?

  • hotsy totsy||

    My grandson is blonde, and let's hope the authoritahs don't spot him out for ice cream with his Black grandaddy.

    And the opposite is not QUITE impossible. Both my grandparents had light eyes, blue and bluish grey. Most of their kids had light eyes, except my Aunt Connie. Brown eyes and dark brown hair. Only one out of the fourteen of them though.

  • ||

    My grandson is blonde, and let's hope the authoritahs don't spot him out for ice cream with his Black grandaddy.

    Indeed

  • LemonMender||

    Uhh, I hate to break this to you, but the *far* more likely explanation is that there was some extramarital hanky-panky.

  • Jeff R.||

    Poor, misunderstood Roma. How my heart weeps for thee. Try doing something besides pickpocketing and maybe you won't be the object of fear and loathing across an entire friggin' continent.

  • Svoogle||

    it is absolutely hilarious to see totally clueless Americans talk about stuff they really know nothing about. then trying to fit things into their narrow world view which is based on very limited knowledge and international experience.
    of course, for libertarians, and for everyone else actually, it’s a difficult subject. what do you do with a group of people who for centuries have lived in a parallel society, where “private property” is simply not an accepted concept of everyday life, where patriarchy is alive and kicking and females are treated in atrocious ways, where women children are denied education and are used as money making beggar machines (at least daddy will pick them up in his Mercedes at night..funny how there is such an affinity for German cars among gypsies). my brother was best friends with the King’s son in my hometown in Germany (yes, they have a King in every local tribe), and their lifestyle is fascinating. a people who basically are a giant organized crime cartel. what is a civilized Western nation supposed to do about that? I don’t think there is anything that can be done, it has all been tried before, reeducation etc, and it’s all against our own values, so we will probably just have to live with them. one might feel sorry for the children when you see them begging in the streets, but as we libertarians say, everyone is allowed to have their own “lifestyle”, right?

  • catbonez||

    It is not genocide if it involves the Roma.

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