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The Forty Elephants

London's Notorious All-Female Crime Syndicate

By Mankine Published about a month ago 2 min read

In the annals of London's criminal history, the Forty Elephants, also known as the Forty Thieves, stand out as a remarkable and enduring all-female crime syndicate that dominated the underworld from the late 19th century well into the mid-20th century. This notorious gang, specializing in sophisticated shoplifting operations, gained notoriety for their unparalleled skill in evading law enforcement and their audacious raids on high-end establishments across the city and beyond.

Operating primarily from the Elephant and Castle district of London, the Forty Elephants established a formidable alliance with the McDonald brothers, who led the Elephant and Castle Mob. Together, they orchestrated daring heists on prestigious stores in London's West End and expanded their operations nationwide. Notably, the gang adopted clever disguises, often posing as housemaids using falsified references to gain access to affluent households, only to pillage them when the opportunity arose.

The exact origins of the Forty Elephants remain shrouded in mystery, with evidence suggesting their existence dating back to at least 1873, and speculation hinting at a possible inception in the late 18th century. During the early 20th century, the gang was under the leadership of Alice Diamond, a formidable figure known as the "Queen of the Forty Thieves" or "Diamond Annie." Alice Diamond was closely associated with Maggie Hill, sister of notorious gangster Billy Hill, further cementing the gang's ties within London's criminal underworld.

The zenith of the Forty Elephants' reign was witnessed during the interwar period, characterized by large-scale raids not only in London's West End but also in major shopping hubs across the country. They exercised a kind of criminal hegemony, compelling smaller gangs to pay tribute for their thefts and ruthlessly enforcing their own set of rules. Loyalty was paramount within their ranks and throughout their extensive supply and distribution network, overseen with an iron fist by Alice Diamond and her inner circle comprising Maggie Hill, Gertrude Scully, the Partridge sisters, and other trusted associates.

Despite popular misconceptions attributing the gang's demise to the imprisonment of its leaders following the 1925 Battle of Lambeth, the Forty Elephants endured beyond World War II. As veteran members passed the torch to new recruits, the gang persisted, adapting to changing times and evolving challenges.

The Forty Elephants earned grudging respect from their male counterparts in the criminal fraternity for their exceptional organization and expertise. They were reputed to be as capable as men in battle, a testament to their remarkable prowess and strategic acumen. Among their ranks, figures like Lilian Goldstein (formerly Kendall), known to authorities as the "Bobbed-Haired Bandit," achieved notoriety. Lilian was romantically linked to Ruby Sparks, an associate of the Elephant Gang, and served as a getaway driver during their daring smash-and-grab escapades.

The intricate web of alliances, the shadowy underworld dealings, and the audacious exploits of the Forty Elephants continue to capture the imagination, offering a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era of London's criminal history. Despite their illicit activities, this notorious all-female syndicate left an indelible mark on the cultural fabric of the city, becoming emblematic of an era defined by daring and defiance against societal norms.


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