-- Bye-bye, No-Balls. It was dull knowin' ya.
“The Gillette Ad - No Joke Janice,” Episode 13, StudioBrule, Jan 18, 2019
FULL TEXT: New York, Oct. 16. – "My grandfather was a cracksman to whom the boys of Scotland Yard took off their hats."
This doubtful boast was made five years ago by a beautiful woman – a woman of talent, of wealth, of wide experience, and above all, a woman who is ranked as the cleverest thief the world over. This woman is Sophie Lyons. She has a dozen other names, but it is not worth while to enumerate them. Sophie Lyons she is officially and by that name Is known to the chiefs of police in every great city in the world.
Just now she is in New York, where she was arrested a few days ago on a charge of carrying burglar's tools. This sounds formidable. When the police magistrate before whom she was arraigned, asked the detective where the burglar's tools were, he held up a woman's skirt, in which was sewed an ordinary, old-fashioned shoplifter's bag. This latter comprised the sum total of the burglar's tools. Ordinarily the detective would have had a weak case and the prisoner would have been discharged. But the linking together of Sophie Lyons and the shoplifter's bag meant business. So she was held for the grand jury.
Sophie is now in her fiftieth year; she has lived in several penitentiaries, but she does not look her age. Most people would put her down for forty, and the leniently inclined at thirty-five or thirty-eight. But in a few months she will pass the half century mark and she takes satisfaction in the thought that she has lived every year of her life.
Criminologists, if they could induce Sophie to talk solemnly, would find much of interest in a study of her. She is a striking example of the force of heredity in crime, more so than any criminal in or out of jail today. As hinted in the opening paragraph, her grandfather was officially interested in crime. Her father was a house breaker and her mother a shoplifter. Her son died in Auburn prison.
~ A BREAK IN THE THEORY. ~
Up to this point there is no break in the theory of heredity as advanced by some criminologists. But now for the break and the strangest part of it. Sophie has two daughters. One of these Is 29 years old, the other 27. They are nuns in a Montreal convent, giving up their lives to a furtherance of the manifold teachings of religion.How is this to be accounted for?
The theorists in criminal heredity may any: "But the father of these young women! he must be considered as well as the mother. His honesty may have been stronger than her criminality."
Ned Lyons was the father. Ask any detective of note, or look
into any standard work on American criminals, for information about Ned Lyons.
As an all round crook he ranked pre-eminent. He gathered in $150,000 during the
war, being the most reckless and persistent bounty jumper of them all. In one
month he enlisted and deserted eighteen times. With accomplices he robbed one
bank of $1,000,000 in cash. Numerous other banks he robbed of sums ranging from
S10,000 to a quarter of a million — always in cash. This was the father of the
boy who died in Auburn prison, and of the two nuns in the Montreal convent.
Heredity doesn't explain this divergence in the children, but environment dines. By one of her strange whims Sophie Lyons decided that her two daughters should grow up to be honest, pure women, and by another strange whim she hoped that her son would be a credit to the record of his maternal grandparents and of his parents. So she kept her son with her and sent her daughters to the convent. The son had the influence of the mother and the daughters file goodly teachings of the nuns. If this had been reversed the daughters might have turned out differently and the son might now be alive, an honest man.
~ A LIFELONG CRIMINAL ~
Sophie Lyons has been a criminal for forty years. When she was a child, living on the east side of town, she was a pickpocket. Her father, Sara Levy, was one of the pets of old Mother Mandelbaum, who kept the biggest fence this country has ever known. Sam was a housebroker of eminence. His wife, Sophie's mother, was a of skill. From infancy Sophie mingled with thieves of all shades. Her baby ears drank in the plottings of desperadoes. Her childish ideal of a fine joke was a story about the ease with which a certain house was robbed, the amount of plunder carried away or the sandbagging of the house owner.
She was picking pockets before she was 10 years old. Since then there have been few breaks in her criminal career and strangely enough, very little of her time has been spent in prison.
~ HER WANDERFUL HAND ~
The New York detectives say that Sophie Lyons is the cleverest pickpocket the
world over. Her skill is so marvelous that It seems akin to the work of
magicians. Her right hand, the hand that accomplishes these wonders, is long, sender
and as pliable as a professional pianist's. The fingers taper beautifully, but
they can bend and twist like pieces of India rubber. How many pockets they have
slipped into during the past four decades will never be known. Sophie lost
track of the number long ago.
She says that she is not doing anything in a professional way nowadays, as she has enough to support herself finely. But the possession of wealth has never been an agency sufficiently strong to divert her from her chosen path. The police say that she cannot resist the temptation to steal; that the craft was born in her and that Its fascinations are stronger than her will. There is no doubt that on several occasions she has made efforts to reform. Two years ago she went so far as to actually interest herself and her money in a philanthropic society for the reformation of discharged prisoners, and she wrote for various publications some able articles on the subject. Two months after the publication of her last article she was arrested in St. Louis, charged with stealing a $500 diamond ornament.
When she married Ned Lyons thirty years ago he was the leading cracks man, of the day. He was looked up to by such experts as Jimmie Hope, Max Shinburn and Charley Bullard. Lyons determined to meet the responsibilities of matrimony by doing something gigantic, so he had a conference with the three worthies above named, and the plot was hatched to rob the Ocean bank, then located at Fulton and Greenwich streets. The gang had plenty of money and they hired the basement under the bank and did a general exchange business. Behind the partition where the private office was supposed to be in the rear of the basement they worked night and day cutting into the ceiling immediately under the vaults of the bank. One Sunday they were ready for the final task of lifting out the stone flooring of the vaults. This was done, and the four men stood in the midst of countless thousands in bonds and stocks there were between $3,000,000 and $4,000,000, but the cracksmen ignored it. They were after money only and they got something over $1,000,000 in cash.
With his share Lyons purchased a fine country home on Long Island, and it was his wish that Sophie should lead a respectable life and enjoy herself as the wife of a rich man should. For a while everything went along smoothly. Sophie had beautiful jewels, plenty of servants, fine clothes, a carriage and numberless luxuries. One day she went to New York to do some shopping and the fascination of the old life came back to her. It was irresistible. She was buying some lace and had several hundred dollars in her pocket to pay for it, and for all of her wants, but she could not choke the temptation to steal. Perhaps her hand had lost its cunning, for she was caught red-handed with a roll of stolen lace and was convicted. Lyons spent great sums of money to save his wife from the penitentiary and she only got six months on the Island.
Time after time this same thing happened. Her husband stole hundreds of thousands and generally managed, to keep out of prison, and although he begged her to stay at home and take care of the babies, she kept at her trade. Finally Lyons was sent up and Sophie formed an alliance with a crook named Hamilton Brock and called Hambrock. Lyons said he would kill Hambrook when he got out. and true to his word he started to hunt him up the day of his release. Hambrock was ready for him and got in the first shot, which pierced Lyons' Jaw Fearing for his life. Hambrock heard that Lyons was to rob a store In Connecticut, and warned the owners. Lyons was shot through the lungs and almost died. For this piece of perfidy Sophie threw Hambrock over, but Lyons would never have anything more to do with her. Lyons is still alive, a physical wreck and penniless. He spends most of his time in Jersey City, for whenever he crosses the river to New York he is arrested on general principles.
Sophie is supposed to be worth at least $100,000. She is not as good looking as she used to be. Twenty years ago she was strikingly handsome, with soft hazel eyes, regular features, brown hair and a wonderfully fine figure. She speaks four languages easily, is well read and can talk cleverly on art, literature, politics or minor subjects. She is vain and dislikes to have her portraits published as she looks today. She dresses with as much care as ever, and pathetically bemoans the passing of the good old times.
[Grantland Grieve, “A Notorious Woman Thief - Sophie Lyons Though 50 Years Old Still a Terror - A Criminal By Heredity - A Thorn In the Side of Gotham's Police for Forty Years Bar Grandfather, Her Father and Her Mother Were Thieves of Note, Also Her Husband and Her Son.” The Herald (Los Angeles, Ca.), Oct. 18, 1896, p. 18]