With her gang largely gone, the ageing Alice Diamond focused on teaching the next generation of shoplifters. She passed on her skills to Shirley Pitts. Diamond hoped that Shirley would take her crown and become a new Queen of a new gang of Forty Thieves. And under Diamond’s tutelage, Shirley was able to largely replicate her success during the 1950s.
Diamond herself went from being a ‘Queen’ to a broken down, crippled old lady.
All her life she had fought against the role prescribed to her by society. She wasn’t going to be a mother or a wife. But in the end, she became a carer to her sister who was dying from Multiple Sclerosis. It exhausted her. And then, in a cruel twist of fate for a shoplifting legend, Diamond lost the use of her arms. She died in Lambeth in around 1952.
Her skills, however, lived on in the work of Shirley Pitts. Pitts started off by playing the part of an innocent schoolgirl. Dressed in the perfect private school uniform, the pretty and quiet girl would let her ‘mother’ and ‘aunt’ try on dresses against her. With the hanger and outfit concealing her hands, Pitts would stuff merchandise into her school bag.
“I used to love Harrods' fur department. I think it was me hoisting, not the vegetarians, that led to it being closed down."
Shirley Pitts
A great actress and a great leader, Pitts would go onto inherit Diamond’s title and be dubbed by the newspapers, the ‘Queen of the Shoplifters’. She even brought some new techniques to the shoplifting manual. She used tin foil to stop the new security buzzers installed at the entrance/exit of shops. To avoid being recognised like Diamond was she donned over 30 wigs. Once, she posed as a mannequin in a shop window to escape store detectives. And rather than be limited like Diamond to London and England, Pitts went European and shoplifted from Geneva to Berlin.
The seven year old who had started out nicking milk bottles from doorsteps, spent the sixties drinking champagne with the Krays. She enjoyed the same criminal connections as Diamond - her father died in jail and her brother was a bank robber - so she was able to fence all her gear easily through the underworld.
Her other sidelines included fraud, bank robbery and an escort business specialising in S&M prostitutes. When she was inevitably jailed, despite being pregnant, she broke out. She didn’t want her first child to be born in prison.
When in 1992, Shirley Pitts, mother of seven, died from cancer, she was broke. But the royalty of the criminal underworld turned out in full to mark the 57 year olds passing. And fittingly, she was buried in a £5,000 frock said to be stolen from Harrods. Numerous Daimler cars drove her wreaths and floral tribute.
And the flowers that went by on the side of the hearse spelt out her catchphrase: