Column

History’s Mysteries: Diamond Annie and the Forty Elephants

This is the story of a gang that operated in the Elephant district of London from the 1870s to the 1950s.

The gang specialized in ransacking department stores, stealing thousands of pounds of merchandise.

They also dabbled in housebreaking and blackmail.

What’s special about this gang were not their exploits, but the fact that they were women.

The Forty Elephant Gang, as it was called, was its strongest in the 1920s and 1930s.

The women used cars, taxis and even limousines, and could strip a store within an hour, hiding stolen goods in deep pockets, muffs, bloomers and hats.

Their favorite plunder was fur coats.

One of its most famous members was Alice Diamond, or Diamond Annie, as nicknamed by the police, because of her habit of wearing jewel-encrusted rings and using them to pack a powerful punch to anyone who opposed her.

Alice grew up one of eight children in a crime family and quickly became an accomplished shoplifter in her teens. She took over the gang in 1916 and was called “The Queen of the Forty Thieves.”

Alice organized and led large theft expeditions of the gang in London until her arrest and imprisonment in 1925. Until then, she and fellow gang members lived a posh life and were known for their stylish dress and partying.

After prison, Alice left the gang and founded a brothel. She died of multiple sclerosis at age 55 in 1952.

• Professor James Pinkerton is a retired educator who loves to share the mystery in our history. He can be reached at pinkertonjames1914@gmail.com.

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