Saturday, February 13, 2021

“Teaching Girl Bandits That Crime Does Not Pay” - 1927

Bandits mentioned in the article:

Raymonde Mazalairas – Paris, France

Peggy Travers (Gladys Smith) – London, England

Martha Franks – Berlin, Germany

Christine Lewis – Hempstead, London

Vera Walker – London, England

Nell Gardiner – London, England

Lillian Cooke – London, England

Muriel Shields, “Muriel, the Peach” – London, England


FULL TEXT: London. – PRETTY Peggy Travers was a ruthless and efficient captain of bandits and the despair of Scotland Yard until she fell in love with the worthless fellow who first battened upon her unlawful plunder and ultimately caused her betrayal and her downfall. That is typical of how the old order changes, in this and other western European capitals, and beautiful but predatory young women take their places as leaders of the criminal host that wars upon society.

The police say "Look for the man," now meaning the parasitic lover of the female outlaw; quite as they used to remark, "Cherchez la femme."

Peggy's case is typical in another way, of course, for Peggy was caught in the end and now is serving her prison term. So the fair but frail ones who are lured by love of adventure, false romance, cupidity or downright lawlessness, into the paths of crime are learning at first hand the age-old lesson of the law, which is that crime does not pay.

She is only one of a dozen or more women bandit chiefs to fall into the hands of the authorities in the last six or eight weeks. London has had its Christine Lewis, the brown-eyed Welsh lass whose "territory" was the residential section of Hampstead; its Vera Walker, its Nell Gardiner, its Lillian Coote, and its Muriel Shields who combined the confidence game with robbery.

Paris has had its amazing Raymonde Mazalairas, the fiery Spanish girl who dominated a vicious tribe of Apaches, and did not stop at strangling when she needed money.

Berlin has had its Martha Franks, known in the drawing rooms as an angel-faced kid, who was an excellent dancing partner and, in the grimy underworld of the German capital, as one of the most reckless and merciless outlaws of modern times.

All these young women and as many more were, until arrested, real aristocrats of crime; real leaders of the bands with which they were affiliated.

They are not to be confused with the "Frankie" Darings and Marion Stanleys and other weak, loving, clinging girls who are decoyed into crime by their lovers and are always referred to in the police reports as "women accomplices of the prisoner.”

Their depredations reached a peak about five months ago, when the police of Paris, London, Brussels, Berlin, Glasgow and Liverpool were being made to look foolish by the gangs inspired and directed by these bold, bad beauties.

What effect the subsequent series of arrests will have on the crop of lady bandits, Scotland Yard doesn't know. But the Yard is hoping it will discourage embryo criminals in skirts to find out that the inclination to deal gently with girls who break the law has disappeared.

Peggy Travers stood out among them all by reason of her daring, her initiative, her beauty and her impressive, if temporary, triumphs.

Blue-eyed, dark-haired, a graceful dancer and an amusing conversationalist, she came up from the provinces when she was sixteen, determined to wrest an easy living from the city of her dreams.

Like several of these women criminals, she had scruples against selling her beauty in the London market-place, and apparently held men at arm's length throughout her wild career.

A girl must live, however, and Peggy, born plain Gladys Smith, had little cash. She began to steal small sums at first, then large sums, still playing a lone hand. At last the idea of a bandit band occurred to her, and she formed it from among the women habitues of the mushroom night clubs of Soho, where she was spending her money as it came.

The climax of her career arrived when she engineered and directed five big robberies only a few days apart and took well over a hundred thousand pounds to split among her followers.

She brought disaster upon herself, as has been said, by falling in love with Derek Bond, a worthless fellow of the "lounge lizard" type, who soon learned she had money and determined to share it He asked her to marry him before he understood the source of her riches, and when she rashly told him how she made her money he withdrew the offer.

The lover turned blackmailer. He threatened to expose her to her respectable friends, the people of the small, northern village where she was born, and the police. In desperation, the girl gave him vast sums, and took even bigger chances than before in the effort to meet the drain.

Her "ventures" began to turn out badly. Two of her accomplices were caught on a bank job. The demands of Derek Bond became more unreasonable.

She was down to her last cent, hen Bond demanded that she give him herself that she become his mistress.

Rather than do that, and seeing exposure at hand, the captain of bandits went voluntarily to Scotland Yard and told her story. She did not implicate one of her woman followers.

Christine Lewis, the Welsh girl, specialized in house robberies, and had "turned off" scores when she was caught red-handed in a flat.

She used men and women accomplices impartially, she admitted, before they sent her away, but preferred the women, because they didn't make love to her. When she appeared for sentence she wore, the best of clothes, a snappy fur coat, and did not look her twenty-nine years by at least nine or ten.

Vera Walker and Nell Gardiner began as automobile thieves and store looters, and ended by staging a mail van robbery, without a bit of aid from any member of the so-called sterner sex.

Vera was known to "the profession" as "Lil," and her two-girl gang was the despair of the police of the whole south of England until she became ambitious and took up mail robbery.

The van was attacked on a lonely road about thirty miles from London. The girls wore masks and carried pistols in both hands. The driver, clerk and guard thought it was a joke. A warning shot in the air convinced them it was not, and they climbed down and "stood and delivered" as submissively as if they were being held up by Dick Turpin himself.

Tampering with the mails is not one of the safe and healthful amusements in England, however, and an army of detectives began a hunt which eventually led to a neat little London flat, and the arrest and confessions of Lil and her admiring lieutenant.

They admitted then that they had robbed more than twenty stores and stolen fifty automobiles, some of them at pistol point Their crime being the most serious, they got the stiffest sentences of any of the female outlaws yet caught in Britain or elsewhere in western Europe. Muriel Shields, known in London society as "The Beautiful," was a few rounds higher on the ladder of crime than these gun-women. Her regular "dodge" was confidence stuff, although she would stoop to downright robbery, and sometimes carried a gun.

Appearing from nowhere, she told London she was the daughter of a mining man who had been murdered in Montana, and that when she came into her full fortune she would be worth many millions. In the meantime, she said, she was allowed $1,000 a week from the estate as spending money.

Every day she rode in the Row; she kept an expensive auto, negotiated for a country estate, known as Thankenham Court, and rah up dressmakers' bills for thousands of pounds.

All the time, she confessed when caught, she was engaged in various swindles and confidence games, in one of which she relieved a Mr. Horsnian of America of about $15,000.

Martha Franke, Berlin's bandit queen, was perhaps the most original and the most persuasive of all her tribe.

Where she came from nobody knows, not even now, when it is all over. Like the others, she appeared like a comet, and assumed proud position among the reckless, after-the-war pleasure seekers of Berlin.

Half her time she spent in drawing rooms, where she was called "Angel Face," and was remarkable for her unassailable virtue and her demureness. The rest of the time she passed in the underworld of the German capital than which there is none grimmer or more sinister. Denying herself to cavalry colonels and barons, she gave herself to a lover who was a leader in that world without the law.

Once she became friendly with a stodgy German banker, knowing that he was going out on a business trip to the Argentine. No sooner had he taken ship than she appeared at his house with a retinue of servants. "Of course, Franz asked me to use his house while he was away," she told the curious. She entertained royally, both her aristocratic friends and the bad boys and girls from her own grim background.

When the banker returned he found holes burned in priceless hangings and carpets; the marks of the heels of hard working thugs and second-story men on expensive tables and cabinets; worst of all, about $500,000 worth of gold and silver plate was missing.

Martha's arrest was not long delayed. Giving her pedigree, she would only say she was twenty-two years old. There is reason to believe she is the daughter of a respectable commercial family in East Russia. But that secret she carried with her behind the prison walls, Raymonde Mazalairas, the contribution of Paris to the annals of female criminals, was born of well-to-do Spanish parents, who preferred to live in the French capital.

At first she saw the Apaches as she went on slumming expeditions. Then she began to meet them in a social way in the under-cover clubs and cafes she started to visit. Always a lover of jewelry, and unable to get from her father all that she wished, she saw her way clear to satisfy her desire.

Selecting an able-bodied but, weak willed Apache who had the standing of leader in a band working in Montmartre she made him her willing slave. His gang became hers, and she inspired and supervised a number of daring and profitable house burglaries. Then she made the desperate decision to kill an old man for his valuables.

She made her confederates do the strong-arm work) while she was the lore. Decoying the old codger into his own garden at night, she gave the signal, and her accomplices leaped upon him and tried to strangle him with the girl's beautiful and distinctive Spanish scarf.

Old as he was, the victim fought back, got clear of his assailants and shouted for help. The Apaches ran, Raymonde with the others. But they left the scarf behind. And that was the end of that young woman's career, for everyone in Montmartre knew that scarf.

[“Teaching Girl Bandits That Crime Does Not Pay,” New Britain Herald (Conn.), Jun. 28, 1927, p. 19]









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