Sophie Lyons was a pickpocket, shoplifter, thief, morphine over-indulger, and blackmailer.

Born in Germany in December 1848, she was still a toddler when her mother began teaching and coaching her how to steal. Sophie’s first arrest came when she was only three years old! She was tried at the police court…..and nine years later, at age 12, she was arrested for shoplifting.

During her teen years, she became quite the little actress…she could easily convince authorities or her victims that she herself was some kind of ‘victim of society’, and drawing their sympathy which led them to eventually not press charges.

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As for her blackmailing schemes, she took advantage of her sexuality by luring rich & respectable men to her private hotel room for some fun. Later she threatened to blackmail them if they didn’t fork over some dough to keep her quiet.

In the 1860s Sophie married Ned Lyons, “King of the Bank Robbers.” He was nabbed in 1870 after attempting to rob a bank and Sophie used her wiles to get him sent to Sing-Sing. In 1871 Sophie was busted once again for shoplifting and was also sent to Sing-Sing.

In the 1880s Sophie and Ned split up. She relocated to Detroit and gained another whole reputation as an extreme user of morphine…so much so, that she was given the nickname “The Notorious Detroit Morphine Eater.” She spent almost 20 years in Michigan and married again…to gang leader Billy Burke.

She went back to New York but returned to Detroit in 1913, wrote her memoir, Why Crime Does Not Pay, and became a prison reformer for the Pathfinders Club. In describing the club, Sophie stated, "The home is to be devoted to the work of convincing children who have begun to be criminals that they have chosen the wrong path…..A secondary purpose is to provide a place in which adults who have fallen into crime may get a new start in life."

In May 1924, three men came, appearing to want some reformation. They ended up attempting to rob Sophie but instead crushed her skull when she refused to tell them where her money and valuables were. She died in the hospital that night of a brain hemorrhage.

Sophie Lyons was seventy-six years old and is buried in Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery in Wayne County.

Detroit's Notorious Sophie Lyons: 1848-1924


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