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Homicide detective's magic touch: Using card tricks at work and at weddings
Tapping a box of playing cards on a table while interviewing a suspect, York City Police Detective George Ripley was subtly creating a rapport.
A few card tricks later, he said, and the individual confessed to a handful of commercial robberies he had committed.
The 44-year-old Manchester Township resident said he folded magic into his professional career shortly after a spate of York City shootings a few years ago.
The department managed an “overwhelming” number of shootings between December 2015 and January 2016, which is when magic re-emerged in Ripley's life as a stress-reliever.
The nearly 20-year veteran detective explained that magic then also became a means to solve cases.
The robbery suspect, for instance, wouldn’t budge on his story, Ripley recalled.
“It was the first time I used my cards in an interview,” he said. “I just banged them on the table, and he looked mesmerized.”
Once Ripley changed the conversation’s pattern, he said, the suspect's mindset appeared to change.
“It wasn’t a trance; it was just something different,” Ripley said. “I had a list of dates and times and a signed confession of every single robbery he did.
"I’m not saying these cards are magical," he added."It was just an interesting break in an interview. It created a psychological change. It softened me and my partner as well.”
Ripley began to routinely use his cards when talking to people involved in the cases he was investigating, including suspected murderers.
“I showed (a suspect) a couple of card effects. I did a mentalism thing where I was reading his mind,” Ripley recalled.
“He was shaking my hand, walked out of the station … he was going away for murder … and he said, ‘Ripley, when I get out of jail, I’m going to hire you to do my kid’s birthday party, all right?'" he said. "We left on a good note, it ended positively. That’s just an example of rapport. It lessens anxiety.”
Renewed hobby: Ripley’s affinity for magic dates back to his teenage years. It wasn’t until the department responded to more than 30 shootings in York City — one fatal —within a five-week period that he decided to get closer to his hobby again.
His renewed interest peaked when a magician friend who attended the York City Police Department’s 2015 annual Christmas Party gave him a packet trick. A packet trick is a deck of cards that only uses a few cards for effect, rather than a full deck.
“I practiced for three days straight,” Ripley said. “I showed people I knew and people I didn’t. I started reading and learning from anything free online.”
If the conjurer is not sipping a cup of joe at The Green Bean Roasting Co., he is performing in front of wedding guests or kids at birthday parties, he said.
"I've seen him perform his magic since the beginning," said Krystina Billet, barista at The Green Bean Roasting Co. "I don't want to know how he does his magic, because then it becomes a trick."
Billet has collected 10 items — from playing cards to a rubber band to coins — and kept them in her pocket. It's her collection of one-on-one magic performances she's been privy to see.
"I am a believer in magic," the 32-year-old said. "I like to think that it's a thing, and people can just do that. He blows people's minds."
The Rev. Sam Waters of Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Mission, who frequents the coffee shop, said Ripley's taken "his talents to the limit." Waters has been a fan ever since Ripley picked up his magic hobby again.
"Of course when you're watching magic, you have your own suppositions of how it's going to happen, and how it happens is never how you think it's supposed to be," Waters said. "He's become really good at sleight of hand, it's amazing."
Waters supports Ripley's efforts both personally and professionally.
"A lot of people don't pursue their talents because they don't have that affirmation to keep going," Waters said. "It's my opportunity to continue to support him. How many people don't share their talents because they don't have anyone to support them to keep going?"
Tough critics: His toughest critics, Ripley said, are among the most observant — his colleagues. He volunteered in April 2016 to perform “table-to-table magic” at the department’s annual Cops and Lobsters fundraiser, which benefits York County Special Olympics.
“I decided to let people know, yep, I’m a nerd,” Ripley said.
Practice had been ongoing at the Green Bean Roasting Co. with patrons and at work with colleagues, Ripley said. However, he wanted to make his official mark known at the annual fundraiser.
“I practice magic in arguably the hardest place in the world … in that police department, where there are trained professional observers,” he said. “Suspicious of every single thing … there’s surgical lighting. When you’re done, it’s an interrogation of how you did it.”
York City Chief Wes Kahley said he's given up on trying to figure out how Ripley performs his magic tricks. He said he supports Ripley's use of magic at work.
"I know it's not real," Kahley said. "He's right, one of the worst places to lie is in the department where everyone is trained in deception. If he can stand in front of a bunch of cops, he can do it in front of anybody."
Kahley said most recently he's witnessed Ripley guess the exact amount of money in people's pockets when they go to lunch.
"It's an extraordinary thing," Kahley said. "People who have never interviewed during a serious crime interview, the amount of skill that goes into it to get them to tell you the most heinous thing that they have done ... you can't just go in and ask a personal question. There's a skill involved there, connecting with people, relating to people. He can do that with his personality, and magic offers another avenue to get them to tell him their deepest, darkest secrets."
Audition: Ripley operates “Ripley’s Believe It. It’s Magic” and performs throughout central Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, he made it to the second round of auditions — one of about 75 acts out of 3,000 auditions — for “America’s Got Talent.”
When he found out that he had not made it to the final round, he wrote on his Facebook page, “I was a little disappointed but must say, the whole experience was really cool.”
“Most magicians that audition are professionals who earn a living doing magic. I am a part-time magician with a full-time job as a detective. Maybe I'll try out again in the future,” Ripley wrote.
“I gave it my best that day and had fun. Never give up on a dream. Do not miss an opportunity for fear of failure. Never let anyone say you can't. Be positive, surround yourself with good people, and most importantly smile.”