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Knock-out dates: flirting with danger.

Recreation, tourist, and convention meccas attract criminals who commit so-called "victimless" crimes. These criminals ply their trades, primarily prostitution and confidence games, on unsuspecting victims.

In particular, a number of female offenders commit a form of robbery that combines prostitution with certain aspects of con games. These women pick up men in hotels or social establishments, incapacitate them, and then steal their jewelry or money. In recent years, law enforcement officers bestowed various monikers, such as the "knock-out girls," on these criminals because they use drugs to incapacitate their victims before they rob them.

The Knock-out Girls

The knock-out girls usually prey on lone, married men who are in town on business. For the most part, these women frequent hotel cocktail lounges or "singles" bars and clubs, looking for their victims.

These female criminals make their move by initiating conversations with the men. Gradually, the conversation turns into more of an interrogation as the women attempt to find out all they can about their intended victims. Oftentimes, they even ask the men, usually the older ones, about their health to determine if they have heart or respiratory conditions that would be seriously affected by the drugs, even to the point of death. Unfortunately, the drugs used by these offenders have contributed to 13 known deaths.

The women stay close to their prospective victims. At times, they may touch the expensive watch or piece of jewelry and may even make inquiries as to its authenticity.

The crime usually takes place in the victim's room. Once alone with their victims, the females administer a knock-out drug, usually by doctoring a beverage. However, these criminals sometimes place a crushed or powdered form of the drug on their lips and then pass it to their victims by a kiss.

Knock-out Drugs

The Scientific Research Division Laboratory of the New York City Police Department and the New York County Medical Examiner's Office identified scopolamine hydrobromide, lorazepam, and atrophine as three of the more commonly used knock-out substances. These drugs serve as tools of the trade for the knock-out girls.

Scopolamine hydrobromide generally comes in the form of a small white tablet. However, when diluted in water, it turns into a colorless, odorless, and tasteless liquid that is potentially lethal. The diluted form of this, or any other, knock-out drug can be carried in eye dropper bottles or small plastic squeeze containers. Symptoms of scopolamine poisoning include increased pulse rate (120 to 150 beats per minute), dilated pupils, disorientation, delirium,

flushed skin, dry mouth, hallucinations (particularly seeing "small" people), and loss of consciousness for extended periods of time.

Lorazepam in its undiluted form also appears as a small white tablet that comes in various shapes or as white powder. Similar to scopolamine in appearance when diluted, this drug is a strong muscle relaxant, depressant, and tranquilizer. Those who ingest lorazepam appear weak, show loss of muscular strength, and often drift into unconsciousness.

Atrophine resembles scopolamine in its effects on the nervous system. However, this drug is a stimulant, whereas scopolamine is a depressant. Symptoms associated with this drug include dizziness, blurred vision, fixed and dilated pupils, muscle weakness, and difficulty maintaining equilibrium.

The Crime

In a rash of incidents occurring in New York City, members of hotel cleaning staffs found male visitors in their rooms in a state of confused and irrational behavior. The victims appeared to be delirious and disoriented, spoke incoherently, suffered from visual hallucinations, and exhibited poor short-term memory and retrograde amnesia of the events preceding the incident.

Hotel personnel had these men transported to the emergency room of a hospital, where clinical findings indicated that the men suffered from anticholinergic-induced poisoning. Lab tests subsequently revealed that the men ingested scopolamine.

Investigators learned that new-found female "friends" of these men offered them drinks. Once the men became delirious, the women robbed them of their personal property.

Challenge to Law Enforcement

This type of crime poses many challenges to law enforcement. Since the perpetrators usually target professional, married men, the victims are reluctant to report the robberies. According to a retired detective of the Los Angeles, California, Police Department, only 10% of these crimes come to the attention of the police.

Even when victims file such reports, few arrests result because of several factors. First, it takes anywhere from 6 to 36 hours for the drugs to wear off. By the time the victims awaken, the women have changed their appearance, have moved on to work other establishments, or have left town.

Then, police rarely find any evidence that corroborates the victim's account of the crime. Seldom can any sign of the drug be found in the victim. And, the women carefully remove any trace of their presence in the hotel room before they leave.

Compounding the problem is the fact that the victims usually do not reside in the area where the crime occurs. This makes any prosecution effort difficult, even if the investigation results in arrests.

Legal Issues

While this crime involves theft of property by confidence game, as well as sexual enticement by prostitution, it is, in fact, robbery by aggravated assault. In the State of New York, the crime is a second degree assault, a class D felony punishable by 5 but not more than 7 years in jail.(1) In other States, the degree of the charge would be defined by the circumstances of the crime, as well as the particular State's statutes as noted in its penal law or penal code.

In New York, robbery is charged only when property is removed, since that is the intent of the crime. If there is no loss of property, attempted robbery is the charge. The usual protocol for charges in such situations would be robbery, assault, and larceny or theft.

The appropriate charge regarding the commission of the assault through the use of some form of chemical or medicine again depends of the individual State's penal code. In addition, the appropriate statute for theft of property should also be included in the list of charges.

Prevention Techniques

To curtail this criminal activity, police departments can begin by working with hotel and motel security personnel. Officers should stress to security staffs the importance of patrolling hallways, lobbies, and lounges on a regular basis, which serves as an effective deterrent. Security staffs should ask suspicious persons politely to show that they are registered guests or are visiting a registered guest. Guests accept slight inconveniences if they realize that such actions are intended to look out for their safety and well-being.

Another prevention measure is to familiarize security personnel with the tactics of these criminals and the symptoms associated with the drugs used. Making the security staffs of hotels and motels aware of this type of crime and its perpetrators helps them to protect their guests and property, which is, afterall, their primary function.

In addition, police personnel can work with those in the travel and tourism industry to stress the importance of advising clients of their potential vulnerability. Police can publish information on this crime in trade journals or disseminate bulletins to convention bureaus, city and State tourist offices, and those working in the hotel/motel industry, especially in locations where the crime has occurred.


This crime can have a chilling effect on the travel and tourism industry, which is one of the top three sources of revenue in 46 States.(2) As a result, the personal safety of travelers becomes not only a law enforcement issue but also a financial and economic factor for cities and States.

Criminals look for fertile grounds on which to commit their illegal activities against unsuspecting victims. For this reason, law enforcement and hotel and motel security staffs must work together to ensure that travelers do not become crime statistics.


1 N.Y. State Penal law, sect. 120.05: "A person is guilty of assault in the second degree when...for a purpose other than lawful medical or therapeutic treatment, he intentionally causes stupor, unconsciousness or other physical impairment or injury to another person by administering to him, without his consent, a drug substance or preparation capable of producing same...."

2 David W. Howell, Passport: An Introduction to the Travel & Tourism Industry (Cincinnati, Ohio: South-Western Publishing Co, 1989), p. 233.

Officer Schaefer works as a crime prevention specialist in the New York City Police Department.

Captain Latzen serves as the commanding officer of the NYPD's Crime Prevention Division.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:preventing hotel robberies
Author:Latzen, Murray A.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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