Joseph Grizzard and The Great Pearl Caper

Joseph Grizzard and The Great Pearl Caper

Joseph Grizzard and The Great Pearl Caper

A true tale of a suave and urbane English rogue, Joseph Grizzard's story is long, but his most famous heist is the so-called "Great Pearl Robbery of 1913." The Great Pearl Robbery immortalized the already notorious thief, but it was also his downfall. Exactly why and what made this robbery was his career's crown jewel can only be fully understood by going back to Grizzard's beginnings.

Beginning: Stealing Wedding Rings

Joseph Grizzard was born in London, 1867 to a Jewish family. Much of his childhood seems to be somewhat shrouded in mystery, save for a few key details. However, significant portions of his adult life are well-known due to court trials and media sensation over his crimes, especially after 1913. He did marry later in his life, and many court documents record his occupation as a "dealer" or "merchant." He was a "fence," or a receiver and seller of stolen goods, for much of his life. He was also a mastermind of criminal machinations and burglaries and would involve himself in some thefts. However, he always seemed to cover his tracks. Up until 1910, he eluded the police. Even then, when caught, he was only punished with a few months in jail because he was found not guilty on some other charges. His two wedding rings' theft went awry, and the trial unveiled the full extent of Grizzard's plot in 1910.

Grizzard and an accomplice, Samuel Barnett, had the simple plan of pilfering luxury goods from Reed's house; before the theft, Charles Reed bought an engagement ring for his wife, but it was too large, and Reed wanted it resized. He claimed that someone broke into his house on July 22, 1908, and burgled the ring. A few weeks later, the police located and acquired the ring, but not after their lengthy investigation. Mrs Reed testified that the ring was too big and needed resizing. When given a line-up of rings, she identified two of them, one of which was at the trial; upon seeing it, she reaffirmed her belief that the ring belonged to her. William George Hay, the manager of a jewelry company, claimed he sold it to Mr Reed on May 21, 1904. Two days later, Hay resized it after payment of £15. That summer, Hay replaced a small stone; because of this, the stone was likely easy for him to identify, as he claimed that the ring present at the trial was Mrs Reed's property. One man, an older jeweler named Wilfred Cook, claimed that there were no signs that the ring had any adjustments to its dimensions. Overall, it was clear that the engagement ring in Grizzard and Barnett's possession was Mrs Reed's. Inspector Albert Hawkins investigated Grizzard, arrested him, and cited additional charges for owning stolen property; namely, the stolen property was the two rings that belonged to the Reed family. Along with the other charges, police indicted him for harboring a fugitive. The two were charged with theft and found guilty.

Before 1910, there was only one single brush with the law that Grizzard had. In 1903, Joseph Grizzard was "remanded" for his part in a burglary, stealing £1800. He does not appear to have served time for the exploit. Regardless, Grizzard would continue his clandestine activities as a "master fence for the next three years." His ill-gotten gains proved lucrative at some point during his career as he eventually moved into a pleasant and commodious house with his wife, who later gave birth to a son they named him Samuel. Further evidence of his wealth was his gang's pay. He allegedly paid them up to £3,000 for their jobs.

The Great Pearl Robbery

In 1913, however, Grizzard's spree was about to come to an end. The Great Pearl Robbery was Grizzard's last spectacular, if not theatrical, operation. It began with the construction of Max Mayer's pearl necklace. Mayer had spent years amassing the most sublime pearls the world ever saw. He had an "agent" in Paris named Henri Salomon. Salomon routinely sent registered packages sealed with "M.M." (Mayer's initials and proof of ownership). Silverman, who occupied an office near Mayer in Hatton Garden, produced a counterfeit seal either in May or June. The necklace traveled from Paris to Mayer. The process followed was this: the package was taken to the post office in Paris, registered, shipped, and arrived at a London post office the following day. Upon arrival, officials saw no issue with the package (the mail-sorter, Loader, would later dispute this fact). A postman named Neville brought the parcel to Mayer. That morning, Neville was encumbered, so an assistant named Holland helped him make his deliveries. Sometime before the delivery, Silverman requested that all letters be sent to his office directly. Neville had Silverman's letters when the postmen arrived, and Holland had the package with the pearl necklace. According to Neville, he took one letter to Silverman's office. Holland didn't have any mail, so Holland left and let Neville deliver the pearls alone. Mayer received the pearls, but there were only scraps of French newspaper and sugar when he opened the box. According to reports, the criminals deliberately measured the sugar to match the pearls' weight so as not to arouse suspicion during the package's transit.

Investigators on the Hunt

In 1913, the newspapers hit the streets, and headlines often mentioned a stolen pearl necklace. Even if it wasn't front-page news, there was at least one page that had big, black, bold letters that read something to the effect of "STOLEN NECKLACE." Journalists seemed to struggle with pinning down the exact price of the necklace. It appeared to vacillate between reporters, especially when converting from dollars to pounds sterling, but it was worth at least £100,000(many newspapers seemed to float around the £130,000 range, and this was supposedly Mayer's range). While it mainly was a sensation in the Commonwealth, the U.S. was aware of this noteworthy heist. The Sacramento Union described the stolen object as a "$625,000 pearl necklace" and detailed the villainy's principal elements. Ultimately, most of the facts came from English papers or Australian papers, and just about every other day, there seemed to be new facts about the case. From some shocking new evidence to learning who and how it happened, there was never a dull or stale day for the Old Bailey in the autumn of 1913. At a certain point, a reward of £10,000 appeared in the papers. Not long after, a student reportedly found the necklace and offered it to the police, but investigators proved it to be a hoax from someone who aspired to get their hands on the cash prize. Detectives ruminated on the case, hypothesizing that someone seized the pearls in France; this would explain the French newspapers that were discovered in the package. Authorities were also of the impression that it would be impossible for the culprits to sell the pearls as they were "well known to European dealers in gems as the Mona Lisa is to art connoisseurs [sic]."

Whether or not the thieves could pawn off the necklace, they still had to be caught. French detectives issued a statement that they were no longer exploring the idea that thief, or thieves, stole the necklace in the Paris Post office; instead, they gave two possibilities. The first was that the prowler's swiped it from Saloman's house in Paris. The second possibility was much closer to the truth. They speculated that someone stole the necklace in London, and they replaced the seals with an identical copy. The French police gradually became more reluctant to accept the latter avenue and began to suspect Salomon more, spending a substantial amount of time questioning and investigating what turned out to be a dead end. They went as far as sending Maitre Conby, a barrister, to get information out of Salomon with a £20,000 bribe, which he ignored. Later, Salomon charged the man with blackmail. While the French seemed unremitting in exploring Salomon, the English became convinced that the pearl necklace was stolen at the Paris post office. The French were obdurate and denied this. Both were wrong. Investigations later proved that the package was stolen in London, not in France at all. Salomon's son even found the original package that had the necklace. Supposedly, a waiter reported that a customer in a Parisian café was stealing lumps of sugar, dumping them into his pocket. By mid to late August, the police began exploring a new avenue: an international jewelry theft ring. This grand scheme supposedly consisted of at least six gangs, two of which were American; however, they singled out a "Polish Jew" who was the mastermind of this ring.

Putting it all Together

The police were not far off. With every week, officers seemed to be making progress in what appeared to be a piece in a rather vast scheme. The developments were slow but sure, and it seemed that they would narrow down the culprits who were involved and bring them to justice. Following this international theft lead, it was later reported that a Berliner gang had the necklace for ransom, but it isn't clear whether this was paid or whether or not this was part of Grizzard's plan. In any case, by later summer, the list of possible suspects became more narrow, and the "Polish Jew" lead became more convincing to the police. On September 2, law enforcement arrested Grizzard and his crew. Grizzard's accomplices were Simon Silverman, Leisser Gumworth, John Lockett, and Daniel McCarthy. Police were able to locate the pearls on some of the criminals, but not every pearl used in the necklace was present. Despite all of the crime's extensive planning and brilliancy, the thieves were caught in a simple way. It was a method that the thieves likely didn't expect, but nonetheless, it is somewhat anticlimactic. The police employed a respected jeweler named Spanier to play the role of an interested buyer who wanted the pearls.

After some meetings, Spanier and the sellers were able to set a price and a date. When September 2 rolled around, detectives followed Spanier and made the arrests when it was clear that Grizzard and his crew were selling Mayer's pearls. Relatives of Gutwirth were believed to be involved in the arrest as well. Quadranstein and Brandstatter were the ones who met with and encouraged Spanier to cooperate with the police. The only reason why Gutwirth's relatives were aware was that Gutwirth showed them the thieved pearls. If Gutwirth had not shown them the pearls, it is possible Grizzard could have gotten away with his intricate crime. At the least, police wouldn't have caught him so quickly.

The initial hearings revealed some interesting facts about the crime and the police's theories. Law enforcement believed that some postal employee was behind the crime, either the French or the English. It was also revealed that Silverman left sealing wax and a ladle at his office, a compelling piece of evidence linking him to the crime. When bribery was suspected, the post office again denied any involvement whatsoever. A mail sorter by the name of Loader claimed that he knew the package was tampered with, though why he did not report this is not clear. Neville, who delivered the mail, denied being bribed when facing the accusation. When asked if he knew the culprits, Neville affirmed that he did indeed know Silverman and Gutwirth, but was not close with either of the two individuals. Neville was pressed intensely at the hearings to implicate him the crime, but investigators could not do so. Today there remains little to no evidence that Neville was involved in the theft of the pearl necklace.


For several months only part of the necklace remained; detectives were able to recover a handful of pearls at the time of the arrest. The situation changed during the hearings when a piano-back maker named Augustus Horne discovered a package tucked away in the gutter. When he opened it, he found the necklace with all but one pearl. He later claimed to have seen a woman and man near the location where he found the package but did not see them drop it. McCarthy was acquitted on September 16 because there was no evidence linking him to the crime. It was later revealed that he was only arrested for issuing banknotes to Lockett, but that alone was not enough for a conviction. Late September, Mayer was brought in to identify the pearls in court. He positively identified them. A shocking development included Quandranstein, who was armed when he met with Gutwirth. Quandranstein expressed regret over letting Gutwirth and the necklace go, however. He also revealed that Gutwirth sold him sapphires, but this was a legitimate and lawful transaction.  

With most pearls secured, Max Mayer was allowed to sell the necklace. Mayer would sell it via contract to a woman in Brussels. Meanwhile, Quandranstein was given a chance to regale his story to crowds. But in multiple instances, he was met with hissing and booing from the public. The next big revelation came from an engraver named Gordon. He identified the seal on the necklace box as his work at Silverman's request as if the wax and ladle weren't enough to incriminate him. In November, the Grizzard and his gang were committed to trial.

On November 24, the jury reached a verdict. All were found guilty of their crimes. Lockett and Grizzard were sentenced to seven years of imprisonment (Grizzard's longest sentence by far), Silverman got five years of imprisonment, and Gutwirth 18 months of hard labor. It was recommended that Gutwirth and Lockett be deported to their home countries. Despite Grizzard being a mastermind of criminal plots, the judge claimed that Lockett was the real prime mover behind this theft. Gutwirth's unusually short sentence compared to the others makes more sense when considering his role in the plot. The judge acknowledged that Gutwirth, at best, was more or less a tool. He protested as being a willing participant, claiming that he was "dragged into it."

The Wrap Up

Grizzard on September 11, 1923 from heath issues, though he left behind a small sum in his will (compared to his actual hidden wealth). He has over £35,000 in war bonds and likely had more hidden wealth from his successful heists that people have yet to uncover. Despite his rather questionable lifestyle, some at the time considered him to be a rather intelligent, charming, and actually decent man. Who knows, maybe a lucky digger might unearth Grizzard's secret stash of gems, gold, and jewelry. 

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