Thursday, 3 July 2014

"Queens of The Underworld"

Candidates for this title usually are madams running large call girl rackets, big time shoplifters, or confidence tricksters.  Going back in time, over the last couple of hundred years, the people behind prostitution were women, who made substantial amounts of money.  Today, it is very different, with international gangs running prostitutes and the trafficking of women.  In this country, the Albanians are said to be at the top of the pile.  But who have the women in the 20th century been?  You can look at the Herefordshire girl Trixie Skyrme, who as Josephine O`Dare, took wealthy men for all she could.  She used her skills as a confidence trickster to live what was a very good lifestyle, without apparently, having to share a rich man`s bed.  Around that time, in the 20`s, the queen of the clubs in London was Mrs Meyrich, who had run-ins with the law, served time in jail and then died in the early 30`s.  There was always accusations that prostitutes operated in her clubs.

    Then we come to Shirley Pitts.  A top shoplifter, came from an established family in South London.  She carried on right up until her death.  Another big shoplifter was the sister of Billy Hill, former gang boss, Maggie, known as the "Queen of The Elephants" whose mob of thieves would ransack stores literally in front of staff, using intimidation to walk out with their booty.  Now what about a woman who was actually called "The Queen of The Underworld".  This was Zoe Progl, a burglar, and the first woman to escape from Holloway Prison.  Progl, born in 1929, and whom had married an American serviceman when she was just 16, was on one of her sentences for burglary.  It was July 1960, she was whisked away in a car after a rope ladder was thrown over the wall.  She travelled about with her lover Barry Harris, young daughter, and Adelaide De Boer, who had helped organise the escape.  Five months later, Progl was recaptured in Notting Hill.  She had 18 months added to her sentence.  Harris and De Boer both received 9 months jail.  De Boer had an extensive criminal record.

    Moving on to the 70`s, we had Jean Horn, who ran high class call girls for wealthy and famous clients.  The girl that caused huge ructions was one Norma Levy, who was a regular for one of Mrs Horns` most exclusive clients; Lord Lambton, Under-Secretary Of State for the Ministry of Defence.  This blew up after Colin Levy, husband of Norma, contacted the News of The World, offering up the story.  Then another madam was Janie Jones, who ended up being sentenced to 7 years prison, for controlling prostitutes.  Notable was the £100 fine given to Jean Horn for exactly the same offence.  Jones appeared in court on a number of occasions, usually charged with running a brothel or blackmail.  These resulted in cases collapsing or acquittal.  Then came a charge of blackmailing a Peer of the Realm ( A Lord) but again was acquitted but to everybody`s surprise, she was given 7 years for running prostitutes.  A claim was that Jones wound up cops by having a pink Rolls Royce, and also not having the courtesy to invite them to some of her parties!  The way some cops were back then, it could very well be true.

    Now we come to the last big name, and that is Josie Daly.  Said to be the brains behind London`s biggest vice ring, she was charged in 2000, and taken to court.  Her lawyer pointed out that his client was short sighted, ageing, and confined to a wheelchair.  She tried to claim that the £100,000 found in her house, ringed by security cameras, was the result of saving her pension money. (How many would wish to have such a generous pension!)  She ran several massage parlours, but said she knew nothing of her girls extracurricular activities.  She did not receive a jail sentence but was given a forfeiture notice to the sum of £3 million, later at a money confiscation hearing.