How the ‘Queen of Thieves’ Conned French Riviera Rich

Within the predawn hours of March 8, 1908, Good’s famed Promenade des Anglais, bustling in the course of the day, was quiet. So too have been the corridors of the Hôtel Impérial close by. Down one plush hallway, a lady in black moved noiselessly in felt-soled sneakers, melting into the shadows. She wore a black veil that shrouded her options, and carried a set of silver lockpicks. After years of pursuit, French police have been about to catch the so-called Comtesse de Monteil within the act. The “pseudocomtesse,” as newspapers dubbed her, was a jewel thief, cat burglar, and con artist, in addition to the alleged chief of a hoop of thieves that stretched throughout the Mediterranean’s most opulent vacationer locations.

The seize of the Comtesse de Monteil was a right away media sensation, making worldwide headlines. Reviews emphasised her magnificence and crafty, calling her “The Spider” and “Queen of Thieves.” Exhaustive protection detailed her lavish lace night robes and state-of-the-art baggage, which remodeled right into a full-size armoire. It’s no shock that the arrest, and most of her crimes, came about in Good, one of the crucial well-known cities of the Côte d’Azur, which incorporates the principality of Monaco and French Riviera, “a sunny place for shady individuals,” as novelist W. Somerset Maugham known as it. For a jewel thief and con artist, the ambiance on the time would have been irresistible, full of rich marks attracted by the realm’s recognition with royals—Queen Victoria visited 9 occasions—and the on line casino at Monaco’s Monte Carlo. Throughout this era, casinos have been banned in a number of neighboring nations, and Monte Carlo created “this ethos for elite individuals to aspire to, which isn’t solely can you transfer freely, however by doing so you’ll be able to flout the legal guidelines of your own home nation,” says Mark Braude, historian and writer of Making Monte Carlo: A Historical past of Hypothesis and Spectacle. “And that’s not seen as dishonorable, that’s seen as enviable. And glamorous.”

The Comtesse de Monteil, born Amélie Condemine, in an undated photo published shortly after her arrest in 1908.
The Comtesse de Monteil, born Amélie Condemine, in an undated photograph printed shortly after her arrest in 1908. © Illustrated London Information/Mary Evans Image Library

The glamour of the Côte d’Azur was a far cry from the place the longer term queen of thieves, born Amélie Condemine, grew up. Her father was a butcher within the rural city of Mâcon, within the Saône-et-Loire area of Central France, which is mainly identified for its vineyards. At 18, she married Ulysses Portal, a wine service provider 14 years her senior, and the couple moved to Paris. Little is thought about this era of her life, however the press reported that, after ten years of marriage, the couple separated and he or she moved to the US. The one clues to her actions there are pictures police later discovered amongst her belongings, which confirmed her within the firm of New York’s elite—and even aloft in a scorching air balloon—in response to information reviews. In 1888, she returned to France, calling herself the Comtesse de Monteil.

She lived in a Paris condo for a part of the 12 months, however apparently restricted her felony exercise to locales related to elegant leisure journey: Geneva, Alexandria, Monte Carlo, and, mainly, the cities of the French Riviera. On the time, French the Aristocracy have been a “very closed society,” says Caroline Weber, a historian at Barnard Faculty who research French society in the course of the Belle Époque. The pseudocomtesse risked giving herself away “simply by not realizing how one can pronounce a specific title,” Weber says. The aristocracy not often visited the Riviera throughout this era, so she might execute her deception undetected. In truth, hoteliers and rich overseas vacationers welcomed the Comtesse de Monteil, delighted to host a supposed member of the elite who deigned to rub elbows with them.

Nice's Hôtel Impérial, site of the Comtesse de Monteil's arrest. The building is now a high school.
Good’s Hôtel Impérial, web site of the Comtesse de Monteil’s arrest. The constructing is now a highschool. Archives des Alpes Maritimes/Public Area

By 1892, the Comtesse de Monteil had come to the eye of the French police on account of surprisingly coincidental thefts at resorts the place she was a visitor. Regardless of that, this fashionable swindler continued to function across the Mediterranean for one more sixteen years earlier than her arrest. She reportedly managed a bunch of thieves who took on equally grand identities, posing as an Italian diplomat or the son of a rich shipowner. Whereas staying in a lodge or touring on a steamship, she would observe fellow vacationers and calculate their worth as targets—a pocket book detailing her assessments was found in a search of her Paris condo following her arrest. Within the wee hours of the morning, she would break into her goal’s lodge room, pocket their valuables, after which slip out once more, completely undetected. At trial, not one of the jewels in her possession have been recognized as stolen, suggesting that she and her community of thieves labored with underground jewelers who would both purchase the stolen items or place the gems in new settings unrecognizable to their house owners.

After her arrest, the comtesse turned one thing of a people hero within the media. Newspapers emphasised her pluck and daring, reminiscent of when she robbed the identical Swiss banker thrice. The third time, he awoke and raised the alarm, however she sprinted again to her room, the place she pretended to be asleep and was by no means suspected. On one other event, in Alexandria, the lodge accused her and an confederate of theft; the pair fought the accusation in courtroom and received a defamation swimsuit towards the lodge. Whereas she was a felony conning the rich, she was additionally portrayed as a lady of the individuals. Le Petit Parisien famous that her maid appreciated and revered her, and that she was a beneficiant tipper.

In April 1908, <em>The Tatler</em> published a detailed reenactment of the pseudocomtesse's M.O. and arrest—erroneously described here as taking place in Monte Carlo.
In April 1908, The Tatler printed an in depth reenactment of the pseudocomtesse’s M.O. and arrest—erroneously described right here as going down in Monte Carlo. © Illustrated London Information/Mary Evans Image Library

Revenue inequality in turn-of-the-century France might have coloured her picture. “It looks as if each time society is in a state of financial disaster and flux, the burglar all of the sudden turns into this iconic, glamorous villain character,” says historian Eloise Moss. “I feel it acts as a extremely necessary political commentary, a dissatisfaction with financial inequality, and in addition a method of imagining your self into a special, extra illicit, adventurous way of life.”

The pseudocomtesse by no means confessed to her crimes, insisting all through her trial that her jewels and cash have been presents from a Spanish grandee and an Egyptian pasha, amongst others. After being convicted and sentenced to 10 years in jail, she slipped out of public consciousness and again into the shadows. Though information affirm that she was launched from jail in 1918, her destiny is unknown. The once-grand Hôtel Impérial the place she practiced her craft, and was lastly arrested, is now a public highschool.

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