The Forty Elephants – Alice Diamond (4/5)

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A particularly unique gangster in that she headed an all-female criminal syndicate that operated during the late 19th-early 20th century. Born to married couple Thomas Diamond and Mary Blake in 1896, little is known of her early childhood. However, her father was a man of several criminal convictions – some violent, which included a charge for punching the son of the Lord Mayor of London at a political meeting, severely injuring him. The beginning of her own criminal career could be marked in 1912, where she was cautioned by London police for the theft of chocolate.

 She took over leadership of the Forty Thieves (later the Forty Elephants) gang in 1915, succeeding Mary ‘Polly’ Carr. While they were not as brutal as many of London’s other gangs of the interwar period, they were certainly effective and their exploits, which mostly involved theft, were scarily efficient and robbed many people of their highly valued goods. They were known for being able to “put on the posh”, imitating the behaviour and mannerisms of upper class citizens and dressing in their typical fashion in order to carry out robberies at prestigious stores people of their financial status and social class usually wouldn’t even be able to enter. Many of their members were even known to be violent when confronted, with Alice herself being 5’8 at a time when the average man was 5’6. They were dominant, protective and territorial, forcing non-gang members who stole on their turf to pay tribute in the form of a percentage of goods stolen or profits made to the gang. When they became so prolific that the mere presence of known gang members could cause panic, thus removing the secrecy required in order for them to execute their plans, they began to target countryside and rural towns where they were less known. Shortly before and after the Second World War, they modernised their activities, purchasing fast cars in order to make quick get-aways with their goods. Eventually, with Diamond’s death in 1952, their activities and the gang itself slowly began to quieten down, and they ceased operations.

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