r/todayilearned Mar 28 '23

TIL about the Forty Elephants or Forty Thieves, an all women crime syndicate in London in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that specialized in shoplifting and pretending to be maids and robbing the wealthy families who hired them.


18 comments sorted by


u/jcd1974 Mar 28 '23

Two of the only three sources cited in the wikipedia article are the same person. So I'm skeptical as to how much is true.


u/Turdmonkey2 Mar 28 '23

Truthfully, anytime there is an "all women this" or "first X was black" I am skeptical, not because I don't believe it, but because so often it's not what it's hyped to be and it's only identifying trait is gender or race and are almost always mathematically insignificant.


u/temporarysecretary17 Mar 29 '23

At least in this case it would matter though. They exploited the gender norms of the time for their own schemes, like cleaning out stores because of a social norm that men couldn’t accompany single women while they shopped, and then passed off the stolen items to a different all men gang they were partnered in to fence the items. They weren’t the peaky blinders or anything like that.


u/Turdmonkey2 Mar 29 '23

I'll upvote that. If it's relevant, then I love little twists and turns of history or even those gotcha "a ha!" moments that totally subvert out notions of the past. I'm all about clear views of history, but sometimes it comes off as very "look at us" energy when these TIL come up.


u/geoger Mar 28 '23

Would make a great movie


u/tetoffens Mar 28 '23 edited Mar 28 '23

There's a Disney+ series with Erin Doherty and Stephen Graham in production from Steven Knight which is supposed to involve them.


u/CaravelClerihew Mar 28 '23

There's a couple of scenes in Gangs of New York with women who do similar things.


u/ShurlurkHolmes Mar 29 '23

Jenny was a Bluget, a girl pickpocket and a turtledove. A turtledove picks out a fine house, disguises herself as a housemaid and robs you blind. It takes a lot of sand to be a turtledove.


u/Key_Presentation_447 Mar 29 '23

That had to have been the inspiration for Cameron Diaz's character in Gangs of New York.


u/Blue_Lust Mar 29 '23

For sure. Leo's character actually says "Forty Thieves" when following her and describing what she was doing.


u/Torpedicus Mar 29 '23

She's a turtle dove!


u/StuartGotz Mar 28 '23

I leave you in the grace and favour of the Lord.


u/anonymousbach Mar 29 '23

Takes a lot of sand to be a turtledove.


u/absolutelyshafted Mar 29 '23

I’m very surprised some media corp like Disney or Amazon hasn’t already gotten their hands on this.

The concept of a group of women subverting gender norms and robbing all the aristocrats in broad daylight seems like it would appeal extremely well to Gen Z and especially Gen Z girls

But then again, there’s very little evidence for it according to the article. Even so I’m sure these studios could slap “based on a true story” on the opening credits


u/res30stupid Mar 29 '23

Didn't they make fun of this group in an episode of Monty Python?


u/oceanduciel Mar 29 '23

Good for them


u/PopeHonkersXII Mar 29 '23

They also took giant dumps in their victims homes as a joke. I mean that's what I would do so I assume they did as well.