HOUSTON -- The cold truth is the victim never saw the thief coming.

A bearded man talking on his cell phone and waiting for ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins shop the night before the Fourth of July apparently didn t even notice the cluster of young people milling behind him, scratching their heads in a conspicuous attempt to look inconspicuous.

They looked like teenage boys and they behaved so suspiciously the woman working behind the counter started to wonder about them. Then a couple of the young men sat down in a booth.

When the first two sat down, I thought maybe they were waiting for an adult, of course, because they were all kids, said Ivana Acosta, who was serving ice cream during an evening rush of business.

Surveillance video then shows all but one of the young men wandering toward the door. One of them saunters back into camera range, says something to his friend lingering behind, and then walks out of the door.

A moment later, the last remaining young man bolts toward the bearded man at the counter, snatches the cell phone out of his hand, then scrambles out of the door.

The crime went down so quickly nobody in the ice cream shop knew what had happened until the thief had escaped. Even the victim reacted with an expression that seemed to say, Did you see that?

What happened at the Baskin-Robbins shop in the Oak Forest area of northwest Houston was actually a rather common crime. Sometimes it s called Apple picking, an M.O. for petty thieves specializing in grabbing smart phones directly out of the hands of victims right in the middle of conversations.

The shop s owner said the victim didn t leave his name and apparently didn t file a police report.

I d like to find him, said Shawn Salyers, the store owner. I d probably like to offer him some ice cream. I feel bad that, you know, this happened to him in my store.

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