Created By: matsuiny2004 on January 8, 2012 Last Edited By: crazysamaritan on July 26, 2014

Recursive Theft

A thief\'s loot is taken by someone else.

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Trope
An item or person is taken by someone, and then taken again. It can form the bass of a plot if the original owner of the item chooses to steal the goods back from the thief instead of relying on the police.

See also Double Caper, Stolen MacGuffin Reveal, MacGuffin Melee, Colliding Criminal Conspiracies.


  • In the fourth Artemis Fowl book, The Opal Deception, there is a painting ("The Fairy Thief"), which has been stolen from thieves who have stolen it from thieves about fifteen or so times, IIRC. Artemis intends to be the youngest thief to steal it.
  • In Cradle 2 the Grave, Fait steals the black diamonds from Ling and in turn has them stolen from him by Chambers. It might even be that Ling stole them in the first place making this a doubled version.
  • In one episode of CSI: NY, a boy is shot in an allyway by a mugger, but his brother appears to be hiding something. It turns out he and his brother robbed the bank (to get enough money for their mother to pay the rent) and the mugger (a career bank robber who was casing the joint at the time) robbed them.
  • The pilot episode of Dark Angel had Max steal a cat sculpture from Logan (who she didn't know at the time). Only to later have Logan break into her apartment and steal it back, and uses the act to try to recruit her. She was more than a little shocked and "betrayed" to have her personal space violated like that. Logan even apologizes over it.
  • Despicable Me: Right after Gru steals a Shrink Ray from a secret facility, Vector steals it from him. Gru's attempt to steal it back using three orphan girls is what kickstarts the plot.
  • In The Elderscrolls IV Oblivion, in order to get into the Thieves Guild, you have to steal a journal. If someone else steals it before you, then you get a chance to steal it back.
  • Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less has victims of stock fraud conspiring to steal back their money.
  • The Princess Bride. After Vizzini kidnaps Buttercup, the Man in Black tries to acquire her.
    Vizzini: You're trying to kidnap what I've rightfully stolen.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons Homer gets conned out of his house by a grifter and his son, who sqat in Casa Simpson and won't leave or let the Simpsons in. Homer manages to outcon the con artist to get his house back.
  • Lina Inverse from Slayers uses this as a justification for her practice of robbing bandit lairs. "If I stole from thieves, this is honest!"
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph has his medal (which he got in another game not playing by the rules) stolen by Vanellope.

Community Feedback Replies: 33
  • January 8, 2012
    Oreochan
    You can't have stock phrase like names for tropes.
  • January 8, 2012
    matsuiny2004
    Whats a better name?
  • January 8, 2012
    Nothingtoseehere
    'Thieving Form A Thief', maybe?
  • January 8, 2012
    Oreochan
    ^ From. But that may work, I thought I saw this trope already here...
  • January 8, 2012
    c0ry
    In the fourth Artemis Fowl book, The Opal Deception, there is a painting (The Fairy Thief), which has been stolen from thieves who have stolen it from thieves about fifteen or so times, IIRC. Artemis intends to be the youngest thief to steal it.
  • January 8, 2012
    Stratadrake
    See also Double Caper.

    Hey, how about calling it Double Theft?

    Obligatory Stupid Crooks example: A guy calls the police claiming that somebody ripped off his stolen vehicle.
  • January 8, 2012
    Earnest
    May be part of a Stolen Mac Guffin Reveal.
  • January 8, 2012
    Oreochan
    Also if there are multiple people stealing it back forth, it's Mac Guffin Melee
  • January 8, 2012
    surgoshan
  • January 9, 2012
    razorrozar7
    Seconding Double Theft. I actually like He Stole She Stole better, but it seems a tad too vague.
  • January 9, 2012
    Arivne
    If kidnapping is included:

    Film
    • The Princess Bride. After Vizzini kidnaps Buttercup, the Man in Black tries to acquire her.
    Vizzini: You're trying to kidnap what I've rightfully stolen.
  • January 9, 2012
    peccantis
  • January 9, 2012
    Frank75
    Subcategory: People who steal something that belongs to them from the thief (instead of calling the police).
  • January 9, 2012
    razorrozar7
    Recursive Theft is better than anything else we've seen so far.
  • January 9, 2012
    Oreochan
    I also like Recursive Theft.
  • April 25, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Possible example: In Wreck It Ralph, Ralph has his medal (which he got in another game not playing by the rules) stolen by Vanellope.
  • April 25, 2014
    DAN004
  • April 26, 2014
    MercenX
    Recursive Thievery? Is Always Another Thief considered stock phrase?

  • April 26, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    Karmic Thief is definitely related.
  • April 26, 2014
    ridicumouse
    Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less has this, with victims of stock fraud conspiring to steal back their money.
  • April 26, 2014
    aurora369
    Lina Inverse from The Slayers uses this as a justification for her practice of robbing bandit lairs. "If I stole from thieves, this is honest!"
  • April 26, 2014
    TonyG
    Despicable Me: Right after Gru steals a Shrink Ray from a secret facility, Vector steals it from him. Gru's attempt to steal it back using three orphan girls is what kickstarts the plot.
  • April 26, 2014
    Earnest
    See also Stolen Macguffin Reveal.
    • The pilot episode of Dark Angel had Max steal a cat sculpture from Logan (who she didn't know at the time). Only to later have Logan break into her apartment and steal it back, and uses the act to try to recruit her. She was more than a little shocked and "betrayed" to have her personal space violated like that. Logan even apologizes over it.
  • April 26, 2014
    randomsurfer
    • In an episode of The Simpsons Homer gets conned out of his house by a grifter and his son, who sqat in Casa Simpson and won't leave or let the Simpsons in. Homer manages to outcon the con artist to get his house back.
  • April 27, 2014
    MetaFour
  • April 27, 2014
    Exxolon
    Used in Cradle 2 The Grave. Fait steals the black diamonds from Ling and in turn has them stolen from him by Chambers. It might even be that Ling stole them in the first place making this a doubled version.
  • July 23, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Bump.
  • July 23, 2014
    DAN004
    Who wanna grab this?
  • July 23, 2014
    bejjinks
    I edited the pronouns and then my computer crashed.

    In real life, a crook once sued the police for taking his rightfully stolen money from him.
  • July 24, 2014
    oneuglybunny
    There's another YKTTW in here, currently titled "Chain Theft" that has four or five entries. This one is older by one year, however. Motion to Merge.
  • July 25, 2014
    TrustyGun
    In The Elderscrolls IV Oblivion to get into the Thieves Guild, you have to steal a journal. If someone else steals it before you, you get a chance to steal it back.
  • July 25, 2014
    Bisected8
    • In one episode of CSINY, a boy is shot in an allyway by a mugger, but his brother appears to be hiding something. It turns out he and his brother robbed the bank (to get enough money for their mother to pay the rent) and the mugger (a career bank robber who was casing the joint at the time) robbed them.
  • July 26, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Does Buried Treasure count? I'm thinking like in Treasure Island where the good guys are trying to find Captain Flint's treasure, which he had originally stolen. They don't want to return it to the rightful owners or the authorities, they want it for themselves.
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