The Gang Branch out
“...they were like the first Avon ladies...they just sold crocked gear and not cosmetics...”
Lorraine Gammon. Author, ‘Gone Shopping’
There had been shoplifters before Diamond came on the scene. But no one had ever been as systematic as she was. Through the ‘Elephants’ gang she had a ready resource pool. So she recruited the wives, girlfriends and daughters - and probably mistresses - of gang members. Women like pretty brunette, Florrie Holmes, the girlfriend of a London villain who then followed her partner into crime.
Not everybody was a volunteer. But Diamond was a forceful persuader.
She targeted those already good at pick-pocketing, or those with good looks that she could train. She then organized this network of around forty females - hence the ‘forty thieves’ nickname - into a series of cells. There were four or five girls to a cell. Each cell would target one shop. They would hit the high street and turnover three or four shops at a time.
The women wore specially tailored clothes. The coats, cummerbunds, skirts, muffs and hats had large hidden pockets sewn into them. One key innovation of Diamond’s shoplifters was their ‘oysters’. These hoisting knickers were adapted to have extra volume.
All the women carried the same type of bag so they could swap empty with full ones. Even if security saw one woman place items in a bag, by the time they’d approached and apprehended her, a criminal colleague had switched with an empty one.
What all their tailored tricks of the trade had in common was class. Everything they wore made them look like they were the last sort of woman likely to shoplift.
Diamond, ‘like a female general’ made sure everything went to plan. She insisted all her operatives were punctual, well turned out and knew the plan. They arrived by car. The car used would have two features: A large boot into which all the stolen gear could be stuffed; and an even larger engine, so that if they needed a fast getaway, no police car could catch them.
SHOPLIFTING AT SELFRIDGES
Once inside a shop they had a number of techniques. On top of their innocent appearance, they traded on the fact that well to do women of that time were expected to be accorded a great deal of privacy. Sometimes they would create a distraction. One was to pretend to faint or pretend to be struck by illness. Another was to edge towards the exit and inspect an item in the light of a window. With eyes diverted, the many others would go to work. Their most audacious approach was to simply descend like a swarm of locusts. The whole gang of forty would run through the revolving doors of a department store and grab everything to hand. With so many different targets, security was often so shocked and overwhelmed by this ‘dash and grab’ that the women were through the exit by the time they’d reacted.
The genuine distractions of the January sales and the inevitable ‘scrums’ meant rich pickings for Diamond’s forty thieves.
The items they preferred to steal were small exclusive things like lingerie, silk, leather goods: The higher the value, the better. But they would take everything and anything from designer clothes to furs. Everything taken was quickly rolled, folded and compacted very small and then secreted away.
As McDonald says, they could walk into a shop and ‘literally strip it’.
Diamond’s crew raided some of the West End’s biggest stores – Debenham and Freebody (now known simply as Debenhams), DH Evans, Selfridges and Whiteleys.
The amount they were able to steal was ‘staggering’.
With the goods acquired, the ‘Elephants’ gang were a readymade distribution network. And all profits flowed back to Diamond. She sat at the top of a pyramid where a percentage of ever shop-lift was kicked back up to her. And anyone shoplifting on her patch either paid a similar percentage kick-back or they were viciously beaten. Some were even kidnapped until a suitable ransom was paid.
Such was Diamond’s success that her face and those of her forty thieves soon became well known. So they simply expanded their patch. They descended on surrounding towns and seaside resorts. An accomplice would drop off empty suitcases at left luggage office in train stations. After a successful swipe, they would return home, suitcase bursting.
And they diversified. Other scams included posing as a maid or servants in country piles and grand houses. Using false references, they’d obtain work at places targeted for their valuables. As soon as the new ‘employee’ could, she’d disappear; along with the valuables.
Another sideline was blackmail. The prettiest ones lured in their married marks. Once the reputable gentleman was in a disreputable situation, she’d demand payment to keep her lips sealed.