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.
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.
Notable gentlemen thieves and lady thieves in Western popular culture include the following:
- Simon Templar, also known as "The Saint" from the novels and short stories by Leslie Charteris, first appeared in 1928.
- Thomas Crown from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968).
- John Robie in Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955).
- Scipio Massimo in Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord (2000).
- A. J. Raffles, and his accomplice Bunny Manders, from the Raffles stories by E. W. Hornung. They first appeared in 1898.
- Filibus, an air pirate in the 1915 adventure film Filibus, is a phantom thief in the tradition of Arsène Lupin, carrying out heists for the thrill of it.
- Carmen Sandiego, the title character from the Carmen Sandiego franchise. She first appeared in 1985.
- Edward Pierce from The Great Train Robbery (1975).
- Jimmie Dale, also known as The Gray Seal, from the series by Frank L. Packard, created in 1914.
- Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman, from the Batman comic books, introduced in 1940.
- Neal Caffrey in the television series White Collar (2009–2014).
- Oswald Cobblepot, also known as The Penguin, from the Batman comic books, introduced in 1941.
- Jim Craddock, also known as Gentleman Ghost, from the DC Comics universe, introduced in 1947.
- Remy Etienne LeBeau, also known as Gambit, from the X-Men comics, introduced in 1990.
- Felicia Hardy, also known as Black Cat, from the Spider-Man comics, introduced in 1979.
- Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin, debuted in 1905.
- Viper and also Valmont from the animated Jackie Chan Adventures (2000–2005).
- Thomas Hewett Edward Cat from the TV series T.H.E. Cat (1966–1967).
- Danny Ocean from the film Ocean's 11 (1960) and the Ocean's Trilogy (2001–2007).
- Captain Feeney in Barry Lyndon (1975).
- David Goldman in An Education (2009).
- Sir Charles Litton, also known as "The Phantom" in The Pink Panther (1963).
- Sly Cooper, from the franchise of the same name, first appeared in 2002.
- Kasumi Goto from the Mass Effect video game series, introduced in 2010. Her name approximately translates to "phantom thief."
- M. Hercule Flambeau from the Father Brown short stories by G. K. Chesterton. He first appeared in 1910.
- Sir Oliver from the Alan Ford comics, created in 1969.
- Flynn Rider in Tangled (2010).
- Locke Lamora from Scott Lynch's The Gentleman Bastard Sequence, created in 2006.
- Lady Christina de Souza from the Dr. Who Episode "Planet of the Dead" (2009).
- Moist von Lipwig from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels; he is the main character of Going Postal (2004), Making Money (2007), and Raising Steam (2015).
- Sophie Deveraux, former lady thief turned vigilante, from Leverage (2008–2012).
- Bernie Rhodenbarr, narrator of a novel series by Lawrence Block, created in 1977.
"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:
- Arsène Lupin III, from Lupin III (by Monkey Punch), the grandson of Arsène Lupin, according to his creator.
- Henry Agata (Hikaru Agata) A.K.A. Phantom Renegade (Kaito Retort) from Medabots.
- Kaito Kuroba, also known as the "Kaitō Kid", the main character of Magic Kaito and a recurring character in Detective Conan by Gosho Aoyama.
- Kaitō Shinshi. The lady thief in The Kindaichi Case Files. She is the archrival of Hajime Kindaichi. Though her name is "Shinshi" means "gentleman" in Japanese.
- Riko Mine Lupin IV of Hidan no Aria, the great granddaughter of Arsène Lupin.
- The Kisugi sisters (Hitomi, Rui and Ai) from the manga and anime series Cat's Eye.
- Meimi Haneoka, who transforms into Saint Tail, a phantom thief with acrobatic and magician skills, from Saint Tail by Megumi Tachikawa.
- Dark Mousy the angel-like phantom thief from D.N.Angel by Yukiru Sugisaki.
- Daiki Kaitō, portrayed by Kimito Totani, a character who can transform into Kamen Rider Diend from 2009 Kamen Rider Series Kamen Rider Decade.
- Kaitō Reinya, a title character played by and modeled after Reina Tanaka, from the 2009 anime series Phantom Thief Reinya.
- Kamikaze Kaitō Jeanne, the title character in Kamikaze Kaitō Jeanne.
- Kaitō Tenjou, a character in Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal.
- Clara, better known as the phantom thief Psiren, an exclusive character from the first anime adaptation of the manga Fullmetal Alchemist.
- Raphael/Ralph, also known as the Phantom R ("Kaitō Āru"), the main character of Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure from a Nintendo 3DS video game by SEGA and Xeen.
- Jack, also known as Joker, the title character from the anime and manga Mysterious Joker who sometimes works with other phantom thieves in the series.
- Arsène, Rat, Twenty, and Stone River comprise the Thieves' Empire (Kaitou Teikoku) in Tantei Opera Milky Holmes.
- Arsène Lupin, a character from the otome game Code: Realize ~Sousei no Himegimi~.
- Loser, from Dimension W.
- Keith Harcourt / Black Rose, from Ashita no Nadja.
- The main characters of Persona 5 are a group of phantom thieves who "steal" hearts. Joker, the game's protagonist, even summons a magical companion designed and named after Arsène Lupin.
- The Lupinrangers in Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger.
- The Phantomirage in Secret × Warrior Phantomirage!
- Bleublanc, also known as Phantom Thief B from the Legend of Heroes series
In real life
- 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. Considered a gentlemanly bandit with a reputation for style and sophistication, 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." He ordered a bourbon and water, paid his drink tab (and attempted to give a flight attendant the change), and offered to request meals for the flight crew during the stop in Seattle.
- 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.
- Janoš Vujčić, a Serbian "gypsy" thief from Yugoslavia who stole Picasso's painting, worth 80 million Swiss francs.
- Bleiler, Richard. "Raffles: The Gentleman Thief". Strand Magazine. United States. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
- 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
- Denby, David (28 October 2009). "An Education". The New Yorker.
- "Lupin the Third.com". Lupin the Third.com. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
- "'Mysterious Joker' Manga Getting Anime Adaptation". The Fandom Post. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
- 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.
- Gray, Geoffrey (21 October 2007). "Unmasking D.B. Cooper". New York. ISSN 0028-7369. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
- Himmelsbach & Worcester 1986, p. 22.
- Halpern, Jake (14 January 2019). "The French Burglar Who Pulled Off His Generation's Biggest Art Heist". www.newyorker.com. Retrieved 9 January 2019.