Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sophie (Lyons) Choice - Or Born Into A Life Of Crime

The notorious Sophie Lyons Burke, retired criminal turned philanthropist, was once considered an "Edison or Morgan or Rockefeller of her field." Sophie came to my attention while doing research on Judge Ira Jayne in the Edith Mae Cummings case because Sophie Lyons Burke's probate case was named in conjunction with Judge Jayne.

A book written by Mrs. Lyons Burke, entitled Why Crime Does Not Pay is online.

I had done most of my research when I found a November 2009 article about Sophie here, "From Rogue to Reformer." This article, in addition to being an entertaining account of Sophie's life, provided additional details about her family. Sophie's granddaughter, Esther Bower, was named, as was Esther's mother, Florence (see here in 1903 and here in 1917 for Florence's two marriages to Joseph Bauer/Bower). The article also mentioned that Sophie and her favorite child, Carleton*, were cremated and buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit. [Note: Woodmere Cemetery was in the precinct where Jim worked most of his 25 years as a Detroit cop.]

*Carlton Mason [This one?]
Death date: 05 Mar 1922
Death place: Spokane, Spokane, Washington [not Seattle?]
Age at death: 44 years 11 months 1 day
Estimated birth year: 1878
Father's name: Edward Mason
Mother's name: Sophia Van Elken [Sophie's maiden name]
Collection: Washington Death Certificates, 1907-1960

This newspaper article (in the Prescott Evening Courier, dated 24 January 1929), regarding Sophie Lyons Burke's estate, mentioned Sophie's daughter, Madeline Brady (who was incompetent) and in the care of a guardian in an English hospital.

A brief bio and drawing of Sophie's husband, Ned Lyons, a renown criminal in his own right, can be found here. (There's also a drawing of their cohort, George Mason; was he the father of Sophie's son, Carlton Mason? Pure speculation on my part).

This article, "Queen of Crooks, mentions Sophie's "Paris" years where she was acquainted with Victor Hugo, George Sand and Guy de Maupassant. One of Sophie's daughters was an opera singer in Paris (Lottie?). Contemporary accounts (May 1889) of Sophie as Madame de Varney can be found here and here.

This paragraph from "The jewelers' circular" (26 July 1899) mentioned that William Burke, alias "Billy The Kid," was arrested in the company on the notorious Sophie Lyons, and that he had previously been arrested in Detroit on suspicion of pulling a "sneak job" at Wright Kay jewelers. Billy was turned over to the Pittsburgh police after his Detroit arrest where he got 2 1/2 years for robbery.

Sophie Lyons Burke was in court in Washtenaw County, Michigan; the court expenses (Oct. 1884) for J. W. Babbitt, Asst. Prosecuting Attorney and D. C. Griffin, justice, were listed here. This bio of Sophie (p. 206) stated that she was engaged in blackmail until 6 Feb 1883 when she was convicted at "Ann Harbor [sic]" (Ann Arbor, Washtenaw Co., Michigan) where she was convicted for larceny and sentenced to 3 years at the Detroit House of Corrections.

The "retired" Sophie was robbed in Detroit in 1922, according to this New York Times article printed 6 July 1922. Stolen items included diamonds given to Sophie by her son who had recently died in Seattle, according to the article [Carleton?].

A Rogue's Gallery can be found here, including a picture Sophie Lyons Burke and others mentioned in her book.

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