The Badass Girl Gang That Ruled London's Underworld


Not only did the notorious 40 Elephants gang have a name worthy of a great band; the group of tightly-organized smugglers and thieves “had a firm and pitiless grip on London” for nearly 200 years.

Much information about the crime syndicate was uncovered by author Brian McDonald in the course of his research for Gangs of London. Says the Guardian,

The all-female Forty Elephants – or Forty Thieves – worked alongside the notorious Elephant and Castle gang, a sprawling, powerful army of all-male smash-and-grab artists, burglars, receivers, hard men and crafty villains operating across south London. The Forty Elephants, in contrast, was a tightly run, neatly organized collection of cells, whose operations extended across London and into other cities. Presided over by a formidable “queen”, the Forty Elephants were responsible for the largest shoplifting operation ever seen in Britain between the 1870s and 1950s. The gang was first mentioned in newspapers in 1873, but police records suggest it had existed since the late 1700s.

One such “queen” was one Annie Diamond, who came to power at 20 in 1918 and was known as “diamond Annie” for her ring-filled right hook. She “ruled with military precision, dividing the gang into cells to ransack a single shop or raid a series of shops across the city simultaneously.”

While the lifestyle was high-risk and many paid with jail time, McDonald says that in the 1920s, “On the plus side, they threw the liveliest of parties and spent lavishly at pubs, clubs and restaurants…Their lifestyles were in pursuit of those of glamorous movie stars, combined with the decadent living of 1920s aristocratic flapper society.”

And if this isn’t a disappointing and anachronistic Hollywood movie within five years, well, I’ll have lost all faith in Hollywood.

[Note: that’s one Maggie Hughes, jailed in 1923 for stealing diamond rings.]

Girl Gang’s Grip On London Underworld Revealed

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