Hartlepool author delves into women's underworld to tell story of the 'female Peaky Blinders'
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International best-selling author and journalist Beezy Marsh delves into underworld history to tell the story of the notorious all-female gang of shoplifters, The Forty Thieves, who went out stealing swathed in fur coats and the most expensive designer hats.
The gang operated in London and other big cities from the 1920s to the 1950s.
Writer Beezy, who grew up in Hartlepool, said they make the all-male Peaky Blinders gang from the same period look tame by comparison.
She researched the gang including interviewing descendants of some of its members and delving into newspaper and national archives.
Entitled Queen of Thieves, after gang leader Alice Diamond, the book is the first in a planned trilogy.
Beezy, who attended High Tunstall secondary school and Hartlepool Sixth Form College, said: “These women are so captivating.
"These were feared and highly organised and successful, and quite brutal as well. I thought ‘that’s going to make for a brilliant story’.”
She got the idea for the book after meeting London gangster Mad Frankie Fraser while writing a book on him.
His sister Eva was a leading light in the gang in the 1930s.
Beezy added: “What was of interest to me was the women in his family. Through them I got to know about this all-girl gang which was like the female Peaky Blinders.
"The underworld was not just blokes in suits with knives.
"I went through newspaper archives going back to the 1920s, national archives and criminal records.
"What was amazing was these [police] photos. They’re wearing fabulous designer hats and furs.”
Gang members went "shopping" three times a week in West End stores, such as Selfridges, or further afield to Birmingham, Manchester and Brighton, in search of fur coats and wraps, silk stockings, dresses, blouses jewellery and other valuables, which they hid in specially-adapted coats with secret pockets, or in baggy bloomers.
Beezy, a former newspaper reporter, said she believes it is the most interesting story she has told yet.
There has also been some interest in it for a potential TV series.
Queen of Thieves, published by Orion, is out now.