Byrnes’s text: #128 Sophie Lyons

Link to the REVISED entry for #128 Sophie Lyons

From Byrnes’s 1886 edition:

DESCRIPTION. Thirty-six years old in 1886. Jew. Born in United States. Married. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 2 inches. Weight, 115 pounds. Brown hair, gray eyes, light complexion. Has four children, two boys (thieves) and two girls, who were brought up in a convent in Canada, and are an exception to the rest of the family.

RECORD. Sophie Lyons, or Levy, is a notorious shoplifter, pickpocket and blackmailer. She has appeared before the public of late years as an adventuress, and has blackmailed scores of business men throughout the country. She is the wife of Edward Lyons, better known as Ned Lyons, the bank burglar (see No. 70), and is well known all over the United States.

Sophie was arrested in New York City, and sentenced to five years in State prison, on October 9, 1871, for grand larceny. She escaped from Sing Sing prison, with the assistance of her husband and others, on December 19, 1872.

She was re-arrested at the Suffolk County, Long Island, N.Y., fair, with her husband, caught in the act of picking pockets, and returned to Sing Sing on October 26, 1876.

After serving out her time she went to Boston, Mass., where she made her debut as a blackmailer, accompanied by Kate Leary, alias “Red Kate,” wife of the notorious Red Leary. She went to one of the principal hotels, where she attracted the notice of a wealthy merchant, and lured him to her room. She secured his clothing and threatened him with exposure if he did not comply with her demands. He surrendered, filled out a check for $10,000, which was handed to her confederate, Kate, who went straightway to the bank. It happened that his account fell short of the amount required, and Kate being questioned, grew alarmed and made known the whereabouts of the merchant, when a policeman being sent to the hotel, the plot was exposed. Sophie and Kate were arrested, but their intended victim refused to appear against them, and they were discharged. His money was saved, but his character was ruined, and the result was the breaking up of a happy home.

She continued blackmailing people until February 6, 1883, when she was convicted at Ann Harbor, Mich., and sentenced to three years in the Detroit House of Correction for larceny, in connection with one of her schemes. Some months before that she made a daily practice of sitting on a horse-block in front of the residence of one of her Grand Rapids, Mich., victims, who was a very prominent man. He got rid of Mrs. Lyons by turning the hose on her, and pounding an unfortunate theatrical agent who espoused her quarrel.

Sophie Levy was arrested again in New York City on June 2, 1886, charged by Koch & Sons, dry-goods dealers on Sixth Avenue, with the larceny of a piece of silk. She gave the name of Kate Wilson, and her identity was not established until the day of her trial (June 10, 1886), when she was convicted, and sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island.

Of late she has become addicted to the opium habit. Sophie Elkins, an old-time shoplifter, is Sophie Levy’s mother. She was sentenced to four years in State prison, in New York City on November 22, 1876, by Recorder Hackett, under the name of Julia Keller, for shoplifting. Sophie Levy’s picture is a good one. It was taken in 1886.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

In the early part of the spring of 1888, Sophie left New York with two notorious American thieves, and the next heard from her was that she and her friends were operating very successfully in Europe. She, however, has an ungovernable temper, and, after quarreling with the men, they separated. But she was never at a loss for friends. She had formed the acquaintance of an English thief, and commenced working with him in Paris, where she was known as Mme. De Varney, and where she was arrested in July, 1888, for picking pockets, and afterward discharged. This Mme. De Varney and Sophie Elkins, alias Lyons, alias Harris, are one and the same person. She fooled the Paris Police, who arrested her at the Arc de Triomphe, on the charge of being apickpocket. After three days confinement she was liberated and told that her arrest was a mistake. Having forgotten her money and jewels she returned to reclaim them, when she was re-arrested and sent to the Prison St. Lazare, and shortly afterwards given her liberty and, as the Paris papers say, “restored to her friends.”

Sophie is a blackmailer, adventuress, pickpocket and shoplifter. Two husbands that she took unto herself were both thieves. She has half a dozen aliases, and done the Continent with some of our most expert American criminals. In November, 1888, “Jem” Brady, after doing a sentence of twelve years in Auburn Prison, was discharged, and on hearing that “Madame” was on the other side, he raised money from some source and started out to join her. She returned from Europe in the early part of April, 1889, and went out to her home in Detroit, Mich.

She was arrested in 1892, at Mt. Sterling, Ky. The following is an account of the arrest published at the time:

“’On Friday, May 8, 1892, at Mt. Sterling, Ky., a bank sneak was caught through a signal given by a woman who stood in front of the bank.’ Every detective who read of the case at once said: ‘Why, they are a couple of farmers at the business,’ but when they learn that the woman who gave the signal is the notorious Sophie Lyons, and the sneak is Billy Burke, they will be surprised and say: ‘What a foolish play on the part of Sophie. It can’t be her. She’s too smart.’ But it is true, nevertheless. The man and woman caught robbing the bank are Billy Burke, alias Billy the Kid, alias Frank Smith, and Sophia Lyons, alias Levy, alias Kate Lucas, and other aliases too numerous to mention.

“On Friday, May 8, John Robinson’s circus was at Mt. Sterling, Ky. Along about ten o’clock the show was parading along the principal streets. It passed the Traders’ Deposit Bank, and of course, all the bank officials were attracted to the front of the counting-room. Cashier Grubbs was standing on the counter and Teller Roy Kern was in the window. While watching the parade Kern saw a woman in front of the bank give a signal with a handkerchief. He turned just in time to see a man’s head duck behind the cashier’s desk. He called to Grubbs and both jumped behind the counters and grabbed the thief, who was about to leave with $4,600. They held on to him until Marshal Gibbons arrived, who took the thief in charge and locked him up. He said his name was Frank Owings, and that his home was in Houston, Tex. When searched he had only about $6 in his pocket. “ The arrest was considered a good one, and the woman passed from the minds of the ofiicials until she appeared at the jail and asked to see the man. She said he was her husband, but afterward declared that the man was her lover.

“She was held as an accomplice. She gave the name of Fanny Owings. When searched $50 was found on her. She also had about $2,000 worth of diamonds. He was held in $5,000 bonds, and the woman’s was fixed at $2,500. A man calling himself W.C. Schley was arrested at Carlisle, Ky., the same afternoon, for having burglars’ tools in his possession. He had been in the company of Burke and Sophie at Lexington, Ky. His identity is not known. Detective Craw ford of Cincinnati identified Billy Burke and Sophie Lyons in the jail at Mt. Sterling. Schley was trotted out, but he made an awful fight, and the officers could not get his picture. He declared that he would be killed before they would get his picture. He was returned. to his cell, and the officers left for home. After their departure Judge Graves dismissed Schley, as there was not enough evidence to hold him. It is claimed that Burke’s mob, following Robinson’s circus, had a fourth member in Paddy Guerin, who escaped when Schley was caught.”

Burke was tried on this charge and sentenced to three years in the penitentiary at Frankfort, Ky., on December 5, 1892, by the presiding judge of the Montgomery Circuit Court, at Mt. Sterling, Ky. Sophia was tried the same time and was acquitted. She was heard from again in February, 1894, in Detroit, Mich., where it was said she was running the “Great Western Matrimonial Bureau”, and had some trouble with the postoffice authorities. Arrested again at St. Louis, Mo., on January 12, 1895, as a suspicious character, and shortly afterwards discharged. Again in New York City, on May 16, 1895, and discharged the following day. She claims that she has settled down and is trying to make an honest living. If so, she ought to be encouraged. Her picture is an excellent one, taken in May, 1895.