Coin-Sucking Criminal

While researching something in the online archives of the New York Times, I spotted this story, published on December 21, 1940, about a very unusual form of petty theft:

Odd Subway Thefts Are Bared In Arrest
Prisoner Sucked Out Coins From Turnstile, Court Is Told

An ingenious method of pilfering nickels from a subway turnstile was revealed in Bridge Plaza Court, Brooklyn, yesterday, when Magistrate Charles Solomon held Chester Madzenski, 24 years old, of 35 Diamond Street, Brooklyn, in $1000 bail for Special Sessions on a petit larceny charge and $1000 bail for sentence Thursday for obstructing a subway turnstile.

Anthony Milli of the Independent subway police, said that Madzenski on Wednesday slipped a flattened penny into a coin box at the Greenpoint station of the line, passed through the turnstile, then came outside again and waited.

Four or five persons put in nickels and went to the trains. Milli said he saw Madzenski then approach the coin box, place his mouth over the slot and suck out a nickel. Milli arrested Madzenski and called Martin Hyland, a maintenance man.

Milli and Hyland found that the coin used by Madzenski rested on a mechanism which allowed the turnstile to revolve, yet kept nickels placed in the chute from dropping into the receptacle box. When several coins piled on top of one another, he said, it became possible to suck up the coin near the opening of the slot.

"This is the most unique form of larceny I've ever encountered," Magistrate Solomon said. "But it goes to prove that dishonesty in any form is still a sucker's game."

This happened 67 years ago, but I'm wondering if this strategy would still work today. Perhaps not in subway turnstiles (few of which still use tokens), but what about in payphones and vending machines? Anyone care to volunteer to find out?


Posted on Thu Nov 08, 2007


I've heard of people sucking coins out of pay phones (which are also becoming exceedingly rare) and vending machines, but I've never seen anyone do it successfully.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Thu Nov 08, 2007  at  05:39 PM
I don't know if this still works anywhere, but not that long ago, the papers in New York City were reporting that kids were doing it successfully.

The NYC subway system has since gone to a "fare card" system so there are no longer any tokens to suck out of turnstiles. Technology destroys yet another traditional income stream.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Thu Nov 08, 2007  at  05:56 PM
I found a coke machine that had a bunch of quarters all stuck in the slot. I don't know what had stopped them from sliding all the way down...but I used a nail file to pull out $4 in quarters. I suppose if I did not mind sucking on a public vending machine (& money touched by others) I could easily have sucked them out. But I would NEVER have tried it.
Posted by Maegan  on  Thu Nov 08, 2007  at  08:42 PM
:lol: I think this is absolutely brilliant. For me to try it, though, I'd have to thoroughly swab the surface with isopropyl and dump some into the slot to douse the coins. Sadly, the cost of the bottle of alcohol would probably be more than the take!

David B.
Posted by David B.  on  Fri Nov 09, 2007  at  02:50 PM
When I was little I always used to stick my hands in the return slot of payphones, newspaper machines and vending machines to see if anyone had left money. One time a newspaper machine was broken and was spitting out money and I got $7 worth of quarters.
Posted by Sakano  on  Sat Nov 10, 2007  at  08:24 AM
I had an uncle who liked to get to know of any odd characters he came across. He claimed that in the late 1940s he met a man who lived entirely on the proceeds of blocking the 'returned coins' outlet on the old 'press button A' public phones we had in the UK in those days (aged British readers will know what I'm talking about). He had a bit of bent wire he unblocked them with, and spent all day walking from one phone to another. Never seemed an easy way of making a living to me.
Posted by M Hendeson  on  Sat Nov 10, 2007  at  02:25 PM
Of course, in 1940 a nickel was worth five cents. To get the same value today you'd need to suck up probably four or five dollars for the same purchasing power. And doing that, you might attract the attention of weirdos.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Sat Nov 10, 2007  at  06:24 PM
Back when I lived near New York City 20 some years ago, it was widely known (whether or not it was true or not) that the subway people had drilled a hole in the side of the subway token collector boxes to break the suction. This was to stop people from sucking tokens out. At the time sucking tokens was reported to be a wide-spread activity. Supposedly the holes in the side stopped it. I have no idea as to the real truth of the matter, but many people had heard the story of the sucking and the holes.
Posted by pgadzinski  on  Thu Nov 15, 2007  at  06:42 AM
The previous posters have largely made the point that came to my mind, which is that this was still a practice as of not all too long ago. Witness the lyrics from the classic 1987 Dismasters track "Small Time Hustler"

"Brag on your house but your crib is wack
you come in the front and you fall out the back
you go with your girl, but she asks for a file
so you go suck a token out a turnstile"
Posted by capital L  on  Thu Nov 15, 2007  at  09:19 PM
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