Background photo: A hand-tinted linen postcard view of Three Sisters from Scott Lake, circa 1920.
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Sidi was in London by herself; she and her new husband had apparently quarreled on their honeymoon, and he’d ditched her and run off to Norway; she was left wondering if he planned to return, and if not, how much money she could get out of the $120,000 string of pearls that he had given her as a wedding prezzie.
“Alone as you are, in this big city, I should think you would be afraid to wear those beautiful pearls in public,” Diamond Bill told her. “But, of course, you have them insured?”
“No, I have not,” Sidi replied.
“You should neglect that no longer,” said Diamond Bill. Then, he paused for a second, as if he’d just been struck by a thought. “Why not let me have them?” he asked suddenly. “I’ll take them and have them insured. It will save you the trouble and it will guard against possibility of substitution, because I can spend the whole day at the matter and see to it that when they are appraised there will be no underhand work.”
Sidi, delighted by this kind offer by her dear friend’s husband, immediately removed the pearls and handed them over.
She never saw them again. The next day, Diamond Bill Barrett hopped on a fast steamer bound for the U.S., leaving his young pregnant wife and her too-trusting friend behind in Europe, and disappeared.
(The abandoned Alice appealed to her parents for help, and they came to her rescue; after her baby was born, she quietly secured a divorce. The baby died in infancy ten months later.)
Naturally, the police in London and the U.S. got busy trying to track down Diamond Bill. Eventually the cops in Los Angeles found him, living there under a pseudonym and working now in the movie industry — or, rather, trying to; he was, as historian Ken Bilderback puts it, “waving around wads of cash, trying to arrange a movie to produce.” Brought in for interrogation, Bill deployed his legendary charm, claiming that he knew nothing about Sidi’s pearls, although she’d shown them to him and he had admired them. And as for the alias he was living under, well, he explained, he’d adopted the pseudonym not to dodge the arm of the law, but merely in order to get solidly into character for a movie he was working on.
The charm worked like it usually did, and, when the London police were a little slow in issuing a warrant, the L.A. cops let him go — much to Sidi’s subsequent disgust. Because, of course, he then promptly disappeared again.
Not much is heard from Diamond Bill after this. In 1932 he was arrested in Brazil for counterfeiting, and sentenced to a six-year prison stretch. By that time he was, of course, a little too old to be sweeping wealthy debutantes off their feet, and apparently the “printing business” was his attempt to find a new racket. He died of old age in 1963 — broke, of course, and living on his Army pension and Social Security benefits — and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1918 she swept sugar-fortune heir Jack Spreckels off his feet, married him — very much against the wishes of his family — and received the $120,000 string of pearls from him as a wedding gift. The marriage soon soured, and she filed for divorce shortly after returning to the U.S. to pursue Diamond Bill and her stolen pearls; but Jack died in a car wreck before the divorce could be finalized. A year or two later, Sidi married a Turkish prince, and apparently finished her remarkable career as an Anatolian princess.
But, this is perhaps the most interesting part of the whole story: What if the two of them actually were in cahoots? The pearls that Diamond Bill nicked were not paid for, and Tiffany’s of London made several unsuccessful attempts to hold Sidi responsible for their disappearance. Eventually they collected the $80,000 balance owing on them from the Spreckels family; but if they hadn’t been stolen from her, Sidi would probably have had to give them back. Did she and Diamond Bill just happen to meet in London? Or did Diamond Bill actually journey to London to meet her, to do a mutually profitable favor for an old friend and partner-in-crime?
As clever as those two clearly were, we’ll never know the real story for sure. But Sidi’s protestations of anger and bitterness against Bill in subsequent newspaper articles have the distinct flavor of a lady who “doth protest too much.”