Gene Turner kept reaching behind the ear and the hair of a young girl at Pizza Ranch at Independence and what he found amazed a large crowd.

Each time he reached, he pulled a red foam ball from her ears and hair and after that, he showed her his empty right hand.

“Would you like some salt with that?” Turner asked.

He then took that same hand, formed a fist, turned it upside down and salt started spilling from that hand to his other one as he seemingly made it appear out of nowhere.

He then turned his attention to a lady sitting at a table nearby. He was having a conversation with her before he all of a sudden had the watch she was wearing in his hand. Just two minutes later, he got her watch again -- without her noticing.

The lady chuckled.

Turner has a knack for taking watches off of people and pulling off other magic tricks. He’s been doing it since he was in college. He goes by the name of Pickpocket Gene and shows off his tricks at the Pizza Ranch in Independence every Tuesday night and also gives people tips on how not to get pickpocketed and to avoid identity theft all over the U.S and Canada.

He got started when he went to Rockhurst University and he drove by a magic shop on Troost Avenue before he finally decided to stop and take a look inside. He tried out a few of the items he purchased at the shop and he’s been doing magic tricks ever since.

In 1981, he joined the International Brotherhood of Magicians and he started going to magic meetings, lectures, conventions and workshops and fell in love with it.

“I love the looks on people’s faces and the smiles,” said Turner, an Odessa resident. “I love the look of astonishment on their faces. What I do surprises people.”

In the early ’90s, Turner said he perfected the watch stealing trick, which he called his “signature trick.” He is able to take watches off people’s wrists and switching them with the person sitting next to them.

“My record is five people,” Turner said of his watch switch trick. “I had three gentlemen and two ladies and I took all of their watches and put them on someone else. All of them were wearing a different watch and had no clue that it happened.

“There are a couple of factors (in being able to pull off the trick). There’s misdirection and whatever the touch is, I’ve been blessed with it. I can take someone’s watch and get away with it. I can do necklaces and bracelets, too and that sort of thing.”

He got so good at it, he was chosen to show actor Seann William Scott how to take a watch off someone without them noticing and lift a wallet out of a coat pocket in preparation for a subway scene in Scott’s star role in the 2003 movie “Bulletproof Monk.”

“I helped him make it look realistic in the movie,” Turner said. “It was real cool. I lifted a watch from him as I was showing how to do that and he said, ‘Whoa! Do that again!”

Although what Turner does is fun, he said, he likes to educate people on how to not get be a victim of a real pickpocket.

“I like to show people what they can do to reduce their risk of becoming a victim,” Turner said. “I do personal safety and security (lessons) and travel safety. And I also tell people how they can reduce their risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.”

He said he started focusing on identity theft around 2001 when a company that focuses on the subject approached him. Working with the company, he started doing presentations on identity theft and pickpocket prevention. He wanted to raise awareness of those things to people who didn’t think it could happen to them.

“At my presentations and keynotes, I would ask someone if I could do a demonstration on them,” said Turner, who is a certified identity theft risk management specialist. “I have them put their wallet in their front pocket and would even have them put big rubber bands around it. Then I would do a hand trick and next thing you know I have their wallet in my pocket then I would hand it back over to them and send them back to their seat. Then a couple of minutes later, I would hand their credit cards back to them.

Some of the tips he gives includes being aware of one’s surroundings, not showing money in public and traveling with others and to wear a concealed money belt underneath clothing around the waist for pickpocket prevention. For women, he recommends they keep their purses zipped at all times and not to hang it on the back of their chair and put it between their feet with their foot on the strap if they are sitting somewhere.

“It’s great to educate people and entertain them at the same time. I can give them tips to help improve their lives because it can reduce their risk. I want to use my powers for good. With my presentations, I can use my magic to illustrate the message with the watches and wallets. And show just how easily someone can get your information.”

For more information on Turner’s shows and presentations, visit www.pickpocket.com.