Careless, guiltless, and godless, Chapman reveled in his underworld notoriety. He pasted press clippings describing his crimes into a scrapbook. He was particularly delighted when it was reported that police suspected American gangs were behind the recent spate of safecracking because chewing gum had been found at the crime scenes (the Jelly Gang had merely used chewing gum to stick the gelignite to the safes). By the summer of 1935, they had stolen so much money that Chapman and Darry decided to rent a house in Bridport on the Dorset coast for an extended holiday; but after six weeks they grew bored and went back to work. Chapman disguised himself as an inspector from the Metropolitan Water Board, gained access to a house in Edgware Road, smashed a hole through the wall into the shop next door, and extracted the safe. This was carried out of the front door, loaded into the Bentley, and taken to Hunts garage at 39 St. Lukes Mews, Notting Hill, where the safe door was blown off.
But cash could not confer all the benefits of class, and mixing with authors and actors, Chapman became conscious of his lack of education. He announced that he intended to become a writer, and began reading widely, plundering English literature in search of knowledge and direction. When asked what he did for a living, Chapman would reply, with a wink, that he was a professional dancer. He danced from club to club, from job to job, from book to book, and from woman to woman. Late in 1935, he announced he was getting married, to Vera Freidberg, an exotic young woman with a Russian mother and a German-Jewish father. From her, Chapman picked up a grounding in the German language. But within a few months, he had moved into a boardinghouse in Shepherds Bush with another woman, Freda Stevenson, a stage dancer from Southend who was five years his junior. He loved Freda, she was vivacious and sassy; yet when he met Betty Farmerhis Shropshire Lassin the Nite Lite Club, he loved her, too.
Copyright © 2007 by Ben Macintyre.
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