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Diamonds Are a Lady Jewel Thief's Best Friend

A round-up of some the most colorful women ever to steal precious gems

Throughout time, there have been a bejeweled handful of lady swindlers who pulled enough fast ones on jewelry shops to get reputations as notorious thieves. From solo operators who started and ended their careers in their 20s, to women who were pulling fast ones on jewelry stories until their 80s, to still others who joined up with the guys to get the job done, history has seen some tenacious and tricky lady jewel thieves.

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The Forty Elephants

A true girl gang, the Forty Elephants ruled London’s West End for about 200 years, beginning in the 1800s. The all female group of robbers, burglars, and shoplifters was comprised mostly of lower class women who would also sometimes commit random violent acts. The Forty Elephants derived their name from the neighborhood they terrorized for so many years, the Elephant and Castle. One of the gang’s leaders, Margaret Hughes (AKA Maggie Hill AKA "Baby-Faced Maggie") finally got arrested and sent to the clink in 1923, when she was busted carrying a tray of 34 diamond rings out of a jeweler’s shop. In a twist of pretty rotten luck, Maggie ran right into a police officer who arrested her on the spot.

The end of the gang was almost Shakespearean.

Whoops. Hill's arrest was far from the downfall of the Forty Elephants, however. The crew carried on their illegal antics until the 1950s when they finally dissipated. The end of the gang was almost Shakespearean. One member of the crew, Marie, fell in love with someone who was not a London criminal, which was, of course, against the rules. Maggie didn’t take too kindly to this, and attacked the defecting member and her father. When the rest of crew advanced to take Marie down, the police showed up and busted several members, including Maggie, without whom the gang just couldn’t function.

Sofia Blyuvshtein AKA Sonya Golden Hand

Born in Russia in the mid-1800s, Sofia Blyuvshtein’s now-famous theft career is still shrouded in some mystery. While little is known for certain about Sonya Golden Hand, as she’s been nicknamed, what is known of her legend is well-regarded in Moscow. In fact, modern day thieves will visit the supposed place of her burial to ask her for success in their own heists.

The chaining of Son'ka the Golden Hand. Image: Heritage Images/Getty

Sonya is said to have stolen from a bank or two in her day, but she also pulled of some truly impressive jewel thefts. One of her most cunning swindles was when she waltzed into a St. Petersburg jewelry shop pretending to be the wife of a well-known psychiatrist, telling them that her "husband," needed some jewels delivered to him. Next, she went to the psychiatrist and told him that her mentally unwell husband, the jeweler, was convinced that the psychiatrist owed him a bill, so he’d better let her stick around to deal with her husband when he showed up.

At the arranged time, the jeweler showed up with the delivery, which he gave to ol’ Golden Hand, who made off with the goods while her two husbands were distracted talking about the bill. You’ve got to admire the strategy here.

The Pink Panthers

The Pink Panther crime group started lifting valuables from high end stores in the 1980s, racking up close to $200 million in stolen goods by 2005. They are considered one of the most successful diamond theft groups in the world. Unlike the Forty Elephants, the Pink Panthers are a mixed-gender lot, but the beautiful, brainy, and bling-loving women of the gang have an important role.

"She has to be beautiful, she has to be intelligent and she has to love money."

In an anonymous interview with the Telegraph last year, a female member of the Pink Panthers (which, yes, did get its name from the comedic theft movies) said that lady Panthers primarily served as scouts for upcoming heists, and they also had to fit a certain profile. One member of the gang said in 2010 that "Women in the Panthers have to be exceptional. But you can only have one in each gang. She has to be beautiful, she has to be intelligent and she has to love money."

Doris ‘Diamond Doris’ Payne

Perhaps the world’s most famous woman jewel thief is Doris Payne, AKA Diamond Doris. Payne is famous in large part because of the duration of her career, which began in the early 1930s when Payne was 23. Her first score was $20,000 worth of jewelry from a jewelry shop in Pittsburgh, but that was far from her biggest theft. In her career, Payne has been arrested 20 times, and stolen at least $2 million worth of jewelry.

"Diamond Doris" Payne. Image: Irfan Khan/Getty

While she was in prison for theft in 2005, Payne spoke with the Associated Press, telling them that she always got a lot of amusement from pulling off her jewelry thefts, saying diamonds were her go-to because they were the easiest to make off with. Diamond Doris was most recently busted in 2015 when she tried to steal a pair of earrings from Saks Fifth Avenue in Atlanta. Headlines about an 85-year-old famed jewel thief made news all over the country.

Abigail Kemp

Bringing us right up to the present day is Abigail Kemp, the "hot" jewel thief of the south. In the spring of 2015, jewelry stores in five states across the southeast, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina's were hit with a series of major thefts, all of which turned out to have been committed by Kemp, who was 24 at the time.

Her penchant for striking a pose is evident in the surveillance footage of her crimes; at times she looks right into the security cameras.

Surveillance videos of Kemp on her spree raised eyebrows not only because she didn’t bother to wear a mask, but because she was young, and quite pretty. Before she made off with $4 million in stolen jewelry in armed stick-ups, Kemp had attempted to start a career as a model, and was working as a waitress at the time she started her thieving ways. Her penchant for striking a pose is evident in the surveillance footage of her crimes; at times she looks right into the security cameras.

Some were elephants, some were panthers, some were older adults who just couldn’t say no to the game. While none of them ever made off with the crown jewels or the Hope diamond, these lady jewel thieves throughout time found a way to get their hands on a fair share of stolen gems.

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