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Victor Hervey, 6th Marquess of Bristol: The Real Pink Panther

Updated on August 7, 2015
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BritFlorida loves to track down historical stories, especially scandals and mysteries from the UK.

Victor Hervey: The real Pink Panther
Victor Hervey: The real Pink Panther | Source

Victor Hervey, 6th Marquess of Bristol: The Real Pink Panther

Victor Hervey had the good fortune to be born into a wealthy and titled family. And yet he became a jewel thief, being the mastermind behind several high-class robberies and being sentenced to three years in jail at the age of only twenty three.

Two years previously, he had squandered family money and had been declared bankrupt. Victor decided to turn to crime to revive his fortunes.

He formed a criminal gang that comprised a curious mixture. Three were upper-class, well-educated young men like himself. The other three were underworld characters and hardened criminals. Collectively, they were known as the Mayfair Boys.

Victor was charming. He was good-looking, well-dressed and that the fact that he was heir to a title, a stately home and land gave him a definite air of authority. He had the accent, the contacts and the knowledge to embark upon his criminal career.

Source

The Cartier Robbery

This prestigious jeweller, with its premises located in exclusive Bond Street, was the place for the aristocracy and the wealthy to purchase their expensive baubles.

Hervey was not convicted for this crime - several other men were - but it was strongly suggested that he had been involved in this heist. One of the gang, possibly Hervey himself, booked a suite of rooms at the Hyde Park Hotel, registering as Mr P L Hambro. Using this identity, he telephone Cartier’s and spoke to one of the directors, Monsieur Etienne Bellenger.

He explained that he had just become engaged and requested that the jeweller bring a selection of diamond rings to the hotel for him to choose from. This was quite usual in those days and Bellenger arrived at the Hyde Park with nine diamond rings.

The value of the rings was £13,825. This was in 1937. Estimates vary about exactly how much this would be in today’s money but one conversion website estimates it as just short of £1,000,000.

The jeweller was showing his wares to the young man when members of the gang, presumably the underworld characters, coshed him over the head. They got away with eight of the nine rings.

Source

The Russian princess & Mrs Burney

They moved on to another robbery. This time, they became aware that a Russian princess, who was ‘known for her fabulous jewellery’ had moved into an apartment in Mayfair.

Acting upon Victor Hervey’s plan, one of his men rented the apartment above that of the princess. Another then embarked upon befriending her. When he took her away for a weekend, the gang member who had rented the apartment let his colleagues into the building and they broke into the princess’ rooms.

They soon made away with her family jewels and heirlooms.

Mrs Gabrielle Burley met three of the men in an establishment called The Nest Club. She danced with all three and claimed that Hervey had insisted that she drank some rye whiskey that made her feel dazed.

The party of four went back to her apartment and she later found that she had been relieved of all her jewellery

Arrest and imprisonment

Accounts vary of exactly how the men were apprehended. It's suspected that one of the gang was a police informer.

Some, not all, over the gang members were arrested, Victor Hervey being one. In addition to the thefts, they were also charged with conspiracy to commit other robberies.

At the age of twenty-three, he was sentenced to three years hard labour.

After release

Most accounts of the life of Victor Hervey, claim that his spell in jail was enough and that he became a law-abiding citizen.

It’s claimed that prior to his arrest he had been selling guns to both sides in the Spanish Civil War but the official story says that although he was an agent for Franco for several years, he became a respectable businessman with interests in various industries in the UK.

What is for sure is that he made an enormous amount of money and in later life he moved to Monte Carlo as a tax exile.

The Metropolitan Police report

However, in 2007, privacy and secrecy laws allowed the Metropolitan Police to make their files public.

This report confirmed that the police strongly suspected that Hervey had been involved in the Cartier robbery. But it went further than that.

The report declared that Hervey was responsible for the vast majority of all jewel thefts that had taken place in London and the south of England. One person wrote in the report that Hervey should be watched twenty four hours a day.

He was also strongly suspected of being responsible for the immensely daring burglary that took place at Hever Castle in 1946.

Five masked men had entered the castle - once the home of Anne Boleyn - and snatched an incredible haul including relics from Boleyn herself, jewellery worn by Henry VIII, the prayer book of Queen Elizabeth I plus a huge number of artworks, artifacts, paintings and other valuables.

The gang had used a black Rolls Royce as their getaway car.

An excerpt from the police report

Source

The Duchess of Windsor’s jewels?

Six months after the Hever Castle robbery, the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited England. The Duke, once King Edward VIII, had showered the Duchess - the former Wallis Simpson - with jewellery ever since he had given up the throne for her some years before.

They were staying with Lord and Lady Dudley at their country house, some thirty miles from London.

The duke went to London to visit his widowed mother and his brother, King George VI. When he returned, the household was in disarray because the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels had been stolen.

In view of the report by the police, that stated that Victor Hervey was responsible for almost every jewel theft in and around London, could he have been the perpetrator?

In that same year:


  • Thieves stole diamonds from St. James Palace in London. They were the property of American-born Lady Piers Legh. Her husband, coincidentally, was a former equerry of the Duke of Windsor, the former Edward VIII. Lady Legh was unsure of exactly when her goods had been stolen as there were no signs of a forced entry

  • Marchioness of Hartington had her home burgled and the thieves took jewellery to the value of an estimated $40,000. Interestingly, the marchioness was the 26 year old Kathleen Kennedy, the sister of the late president (See the link below). The robbery took place when the house was empty for a couple of hours suggesting that the thief was aware of the occupants’ movements. Again, no signs of forced entry were found.

  • A home in London’s prestigious Orme Square was relieved of valuable pearls and furs. The occupants, the Harvey family, were eating dinner when the robbery occurred

  • In between the thefts of the WIndsor jewels and those of Kathleen Kennedy, a Mrs Van Damm was robbed of $40,000 worth of jewelry. She was the wife of a wealthy man was an important impresario in the London theatre. (He was played by Danny de Vito in the movie Mrs Henderson Presents)

  • Lady Peel lost gems worth $20,000 to the thief. Lady Peel was formerly the actress, Beatrice Lillie

  • Actress Hermione Gingold was robbed of her jewellery having been warned by an anonymous caller that she would be the next victim

  • At a home in Notting Hill, $16,000 worth of jewellery was stolen by the thief who gained access by entering the open window of a bedroom

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?

Learn more

© 2014 Jackie Jackson

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    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @favored - I think you're right. There's probably much more to this story than meets the eye. His daughters, who are both media personalities claim he was never involved in anything illegal. Hmm.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      Seems that Victor traveled in some pretty well to do circles in order to pull off this kind of caper and landing only three years in jail. I don't think everything has been revealed. Certain things just don't add up, but it was interesting to read none-the-less.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Roadmonkey - I think you hit the nail on the head there. When he was in his 'respectable' import/export business, there were a lot of things you could get away with in those days which were sort of bending the law but not quite breaking it. Interestingly, Rupert Everett's autobiography explains more - his father worked for Hervey for a while and Rupert hung out with his son.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      Very interesting. Sounds like his activities were covered up in a way that perhaps they wouldn't be these days.

    • BritFlorida profile image
      Author

      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @bravewarrior - true. Three years in jail and later living in Monte Carlo? It costs a fortune to live there. After he got out of jail, he lived for over forty years in the lap of luxury so those three years were worth it, I think!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      My, but he was busy! With only three years hard labor as penance for theft, I somehow doubt that was enough to make Hervey give up his ways.

    • BritFlorida profile image
      Author

      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @merrci - thanks! I imagine that the fact that the victims were aristocratic or well known was one of the many reasons why the police suspected him. He moved in those circles socially. In every case, it seemed that the thief had inside knowledge - knowing the layout of the building and the comings and goings of the household.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      This was worth waiting for. That was very interesting. The way you described some of the robberies, it seems like his gang wasn't particularly stealth in many of their capers, at least early on. He certainly managed to steal from well known people too. Another excellent and delightful read!