The Forty Elephants or Forty Thieves were a 19th-century all-female London crime syndicate who specialised in shoplifting. This gang was notable for its longevity and skill in avoiding police detection.
The Forty Thieves gang operated from the Elephant and Castle district. They were allied to the Elephant and Castle Mob, led by the McDonald brothers. They raided quality stores in the West End of London and ranged all over the country. The gang was also known to masquerade as housemaids for wealthy families before ransacking their homes, often using false references. They were in existence from at least 1873 to the 1950s with some indications that they may have been in existence since the late 18th century. During the early 20th century the gang was led by Alice Diamond, known variously as the Queen of the Forty Thieves and as Diamond Annie and as a friend of Maggie Hill, sister to gangster Billy Hill.
Their heyday was between the two World Wars when the gang raided on a large scale not only in the West End of London, but also other major shopping centres across the country. They also forced smaller gangs to pay tribute on what they had stolen and would punish criminals that did not obey their rules. The gang had its own set of rules and demanded loyalty from its members and others in the supply and distribution network. Alice Diamond ruled with absolute authority with the co-operation of Maggie Hill, Gertrude Scully, the Partridge sisters, and many others. Over seventy direct members of the gang operating in the 1920s and 1930s have been identified. Reports that said the gang collapsed when their leaders were jailed for the 1925 Battle of Lambeth are incorrect. The gang was still in existence after World War Two as new family members replaced old hands.
They were often said to be able to meet equal numbers of men in battle and were admired by their male counterparts in the Elephant Gang for their organisation and expertise. One member of the gang, Lilian Goldstein (née Kendall), was known to police as the Bobbed-Haired Bandit, the lover of Elephant Gang associate Ruby Sparks' and a driver on his smash and grab raids.
- Amelia Hill (27 December 2010). "Girl gang's grip on London underworld revealed". The Guardian.
- Capstick, J., Given in Evidence, (London, 1960), chapter 9.
- McDonald, Brian (22 October 2015). Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants: The Female Gang That Terrorised London. Milo Books. ISBN 978-1-908479-84-6.