With so much money flowing her way, Diamond led a lavish lifestyle, spending her ill gotten gains freely. Her forty thieves also indulged to excess. They were all aware that the freedom to do so could end at any moment. Jail was an occupational hazard. The women faced between 12 months and three years hard labour if caught. One professional thief, Ada Wellman, was convicted of shoplifting from an Army and Navy store in Victoria in 1921. She was still one of the Forty Thieves when she was jailed again 18 years later. But it would be because of a revenge attack and rioting, and not shoplifting, that the gang would eventually be broken.
Diamond used violence as a means of control. If your face was on the receiving end of one of her hard diamond punches, it was because you’d either refused an offer or because you hadn’t paid up. But in 1925, she took part in a brutal attack that had no monetary motive. It would be a catastrophic miscalculation.
It was the evening of the 19 December 1925. The air of the old Canterbury Social Club was thick with tobacco smoke. The innumerable empty glasses testified to just how many its customers had drunk. Two of Diamond’s Forty Thieves, Maria Jackson and Bertha Tappenden started drunkenly throwing insults at one another. Then Jackson attacked Tappenden with a broken wine glass. It cut her face. Jackson’s father, Bill Britten joined in. He first threw a glass of stout over her. Next, he punched Bertha. A cat fight quickly escalated into a vicious bar-room brawl. Britten eventually dragged his daughter away and the fight petered out. But the scene had stirred the remaining drinkers. They were now ready for a fight.
A few nights later, at the same club, the only talk was of Jackson and how she and her father hadn’t gotten their just deserts. Everyone, including Diamond, and especially Maggie Hughes drank heavily until midnight. They decided to head to Jackson’s home. As they departed, some of the men gathered up bottles and glasses and anything else they could lay their hands on.
DIAMOND’S DRUNKEN DOZEN
Alice Diamond led about a dozen people to attack Jackson’s house. Inside, there was Maria, her father Bill, and her mother, Mary. When the rabble arrived, others from the surrounding streets soon swelled their ranks. Alice knocked on the door. In answer, she had a jug full of water chucked in her face. She ordered the door broken in.
By the time they decide to attack the two story house, there were about 30 to 40 people all crowded outside. They were all armed with bottles and bricks. Some had guns.
It was the sound of pistol shots that woke Maria. Then the mob smashed in her windows. Next they went to smash in the door. Bill and his wife were now up and trying to desperately hold the door shut. Outnumbered, the door gave way. The mob swarmed in. Those who couldn't fit in through the hallway pelted the house with bricks and bottles. Bill ran upstairs. He was chased from room to room. As he tried to flee, he was slashed at with knives and razors. His face was badly cut.
Bill’s fifteen year old son tried to intervene. He was knocked down. He was badly beaten with ‘life preservers’. These curiously named weapons were often rubber coshes. Their name came from the fact that no matter how enraged the perpetrator, the victim usually just received bruises and broken bones. They didn't kill.
What saved everybody’s life was the arrival of the police. They arrested two and the rest, including Diamond, fled. Bill’s bloodied face required 25 stitches. Maria, frightened and with her family threatened, broke the gang code and gave names to the police. They arrested two of the most important members of the ‘Forty Thieves’, their ‘queen’, Alice Diamond, and her second in command, Maggie Hughes.