Was Victor Hervey, 6th Marquess of Bristol: The Real Pink Panther?
He was born into money. He was titled. Yet Victor Hervey became a jewel thief and was the person who masterminded several robberies of a high-class nature.
When he was only twenty three years old he was sent to jail.
Two years before he was sentenced to prison, he had been declared bankrupt – he had squandered the family money. What was he to do? Well, his solution was to simply help himself – he turned to crime. He started a gang of men to help him in his new trade and they were a rather curious mix. Three of his gang were underworld characters – we might call them thugs. The remaining three were rather like himself – well-educated and from good families. The gang became known as the Mayfair Boys.
Victor had plenty going for him as he was young and charming. It also helped that he was the heir to an old English title along with a stately home and plenty of family land. With his posh accent, his tailored clothing – and his contacts, he was well-equipped to embark upon a new career in crime.
Cartier was the prestigious jewellery establishment located in London’s Bond Street. What better place for him to start?
It was never proved that Hervey was involved in this heist but it was said by ‘those in the know’ that he masterminded it. It began when a gang member – and quite possibly Hervey himself – booked into a luxury suite of rooms at the fashionable Hyde Park Hotel. He registered as P L Hambo and still using that name, telephones Cartier and spoke to Monsieur Etienne Bellenger. M.Bellenger was one of the directors of the jewellery company.
The called explained that he had just had the good fortune to become engaged and could M. Bellenger please bring some engagement rings to the hotel for him to choose from? This might seem unusual to us in our security conscious days but back in the 1930s this was commonplace among the fashionable stores and the upper echelons of society.
Duly, the director arrived with a selection of nine fine rings. Together they were worth £13,825. How much would that be today? It’s difficult to tell exactly but conservative estimates put at at roughly one million pounds. You can guess the outcome. As M. Bellenger was showing the jewellery to the polite and aristocratic young man, he was coshed over the head. They had got away with eight of the nine rings he had brought.
The Russian princess & Mrs Burney
After getting away nicely with that, the gang moved on to the next venture. Through Hervey’s socialite contacts they found out that a Russian princess had recently moved into Mayfair. Not only was she wealthy but she was known for owning fabulous and valuable jewellery. Who could resist? Victor couldn’t.
Hervey planned the robbery. One of his men rented an apartment above the one where the princess lived. Another then went to work getting to know her. It was relatively easy for him to persuade her to join him for a weekend trip.
It was equally easy for the man who had rented the apartment above to let the rest of the gang into the building and leisurely break into the princess’ residence. Needless to say, they made away with her family heirlooms and her expensive jewellery.
Gabrielle Burley was their next target. Probably a little incautiously for a married woman she went unaccompanied to a nightspot called The Nest Club and met and danced with three men – Hervey and two of his gang. She later explained that Hervey had ‘persuaded’ her to drink whiskey which caused her to feel ‘dazed’.Mrs Burley, whether dazed or simply daft, took the men back to her apartment and afterwards, although after what we will never know, she found that she had been relieved of her jewellery.
Arrest and imprisonment
Reading the newspaper reports of the day doesn’t give a truly accurate picture of how the men were finally caught but it’s generally supposed that one of them was a police informer. Not all the gang members were arrested but Hervey was one of the unlucky ones. He was sentenced to three years hard labour.
After Hervey’s release
We are now expected to believe that his three years of hard labour was enough to make Hervey turn his back on a life of crime. They say that he became a completely law abiding citizen. Most accounts of the life of Victor Hervey, claim that his spell in jail was enough and that he became a law-abiding citizen.
He evidently became a respectable businessman,although exactly how has never been explained. (It was said that prior to his arrest he had been dealing in arms, selling guns for use in the Spanish Civil War and some people were rumoured to say that the funds from this were used to start respectable businesses)
But what is known is that he made an enormous amount of money. So much so that he moved to Monaco where he lived as a tax exile.
The Metropolitan Police report
In 2007 the secrecy restrictions that were in place were lifted and the Metropolitan Police were obliged to make their former files available publicly.
The file on Victor Hervey showed that the police definitely believed that he was involved in the Cartier robbery but had no evidence to prove it. But there was more. The report openly declared that Hervey was believed to be responsible for most of the jewellery thefts that had taken place in the south of England. It was written in the report that he should be watched constantly.
In 1946, when Victor was apparently a respectable businessman, five masked men entered Hever Castle. This was once the home of Anne Boleyn and the men made away with historic jewellery that had belonged to the executed queen, items that had belonged to Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. They took paintings, silver and other valuables. The police strongly suspected that Victor Hervey was involved.
The gang had used a black Rolls Royce as their getaway car.
An excerpt from the report
Did Hervey steal the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels?
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, formerly Edward VIII and Mrs Wallis Simpson, were largely exiled from Britain. But just six months after the Hever Castle heist the duke and duchess visited England. It was known that the duke had given his wife many fabulous pieces of jewellery. They were staying with Lord and Lady Dudley – about thirty miles from London- in their country home.
During the visit, the duke travelled to London to see his mother. When he got back to the country he found that the household was in uproar because the duchess’ jewellery had been stolen.
Remembering that the police suspected Hervey of being responsible for every jewel theftin the south of England, could he have been the one to take the duchess’ jewels?
In the same year:
- American-born Lady Piers Legh had her jewellery stolen from St James Park, London. She could not tell the police exactly when her jewellery had disappeared because there was no sign of forced entry. Coincidentally, or not, her husband had previously been an equerry of the Duke of Windsor when he was King Edward VIII.
- Who was the Marchioness of Hartington? She was the sister of John F Kennedy and her home was burgled and her jewellery, worth a cook $40,000 was taken. This took place when the house was empty for a couple of hours – the thief obviously was familiar with the household’s movements and as before, there were no signs of a forced entry.
- Orme Square is a prestigious area in London. The thief who robbed a home there obviously knew his way around and the family schedule as valuable furs and pearls were stolen when the family was in the dining room at dinner.
- During the period between the thefts of the Duchess of Windsor’s jewellery and that of Kathleen Kennedy, a lady by the name of Mrs Van Damm was robbed of her jewellery – worth $40,000. If the name seems familiar, he was the London theatrical impresario played by Bob Hoskins in Mrs Henderson Presents.
- Former actress Beatrice Lillie, by then Lady Peel, was robbed of her jewellery worth $20,000
- Another actress Hermione Gingold lost her jewellery when she was robbed.She had received an anonymous phone call just beforehand telling her that she would be next.
- A thief entered a bedroom window and robbed a Notting Hill home of $16,000 worth of jewellery
Some of these thefts took place within two weeks of each other.
Did Victor Hervey really make enough money from his legitimate business interests to become a tax exile in Monaco? Or was his wealth achieved by other means?
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