(1848-12-24)December 24, 1848
New York City, New York, United States
May 8, 1924(1924-05-08) (aged 75)
New York thief, shoplifter and confidence woman
1 son, 2 daughters
Sophie Lyons (December 24, 1848 – May 8, 1924) was an American criminal and one of the country’s most notorious female thieves, pickpockets, shoplifters and confidence women during the mid-to-late 19th century. She and her husbands Ned Lyons and Billy Burke were among the most sought-after career criminals in the United States and Canada, being wanted in several major cities including Philadelphia, Boston and Montreal, from the 1860s until the turn of the 20th century.
She and Ned Lyons were also prominent underworld figures in New York City during the post-American Civil War era as associates of Marm Mandelbaum, Sophie Lyons being a member of Mandelbaum’s “inner circle” during the 1860s and 1870s. She eventually retired from criminal life and spent her later years involved in the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents, and providing financial assistance and housing for reformed criminals and their families. Her autobiography, Why Crime Does Not Pay (1913), was published and distributed by publisher William Randolph Hearst.
1.1 Early life and criminal career
1.2 Court battle with George Lyons
1.3 Last days in New York
1.4 Retirement and later years
3 Further reading
Early life and criminal career
Lyons was born to a family of criminals: her grandfather was a known safe-cracker and both her parents had criminal records prior to immigrating to the United States from England. Her mother, Baltimore shoplifter Sophie Elkins, was a “keeper of a disorderly house” in New York’s East Side, and supposedly forced her out into the street to steal. Lyons claimed she had been first caught stealing at the age of 3 and tried at the Essex Market police court, although she was again arrested for shoplifting at 12.
Sophie married another pickpocket when she was 16, a Maury Harris, but the marriage ended when Harris was arrested and sentenced to New York State Prison for two years. During her youth, she became known as a skilled pickpocket and confidence woman. She was considered a consummat