Christmas 1907 was not shaping up to be a merry one for Pauline Lyons. The 26-year-old Texas woman was sentenced, just before the holiday, to spend the next eight years in San Quentin State Prison. To add insult to injury, this was her third trip inside. However no one would suspect that she was anything less than thrilled about the state of affairs, judging by her radiant smile when her mugshot was snapped on December 17th.
In fact four things stand out about Pauline in all her mugshot photos: she was attractive, well-groomed, fashionably dressed and she had a beautiful smile.
Born Ethel Wilson, her first recorded court appearance was on October 19, 1895, when she pleaded guilty to battery and was fined $20 for blackening the eye of Helen Lewis, a fellow Los Angeles prostitute. She was 14 years old at the time.
Four years later, in May 1899, she was accused of robbing a client named Peter Jonssen of $10.17 in the tenderloin district of Los Angeles. This time she got more than a fine; she was sentenced to San Quentin for four years. With such a long sentence it’s likely she had other run-ins with the law that were not reported by the press. She served two years of her sentence and was released on August 1, 1902.
Sometime between her 1902 release from prison and 1906, when she was arrested again, she got married and changed her name to Ethel Lyons. Her husband, R. F. Lyons, was employed as a cook for the crew at the Oxnard sugar beet farm of Albert Maulhardt. Ethel worked as a housemaid for Mrs. Maulhardt.
In August 1906 Ethel pleaded guilty to stealing $500 worth of jewelry from her employer. She hid the valuables in her mouth in order to smuggle them out of the house.
Ethel was bound over, and the little court audience was visibly moved as Mrs. Maulhardt gently pressed the hand of the erring woman who sobbed as she was led away.
— Oxnard Courier, August 3, 1906
Ethel’s husband was fired from his job as cook (though he apparently played no part in the theft) and she made another trip north to San Quentin. This time her sentence was one year, of which she served ten months. She was released on June 12, 1907. With two stints in prison behind her, she must have yearned to avoid another incarceration. Unhappily it didn’t work out that way.
After getting out of prison for the second time Ethel decided a name change was in order and began calling herself Pauline Lyons. She remained in northern California, settling down in Oakland. The following month she and a companion, Joe Thompson, were arrested and jailed for setting a fire in West Oakland. The pair was also accused, in the confusion that followed the fire, of robbing Charles Valentine of a diamond valued at $300. Pauline pleaded not guilty but she was convicted and sentenced to eight years in San Quentin.
She was released from prison on April 17, 1913, after serving five years and four months of her sentence. Possibly Pauline Lyons became an upstanding citizen, keeping her nose clean thereafter. However an intriguing set of newspaper articles presents a different possible scenario.
In 1931 an African-American woman named Pauline Lyons was jailed in San Bernardino, California, accused of shooting a man named James H. Hoggans at close range with the intent to commit murder. Hoggans was wounded in the mouth, ear and arm. She claimed Hoggans threatened to hit her with a chair so she grabbed a .38 caliber revolver out of a nearby coat pocket “to bluff him” but evidently ended up shooting him instead. Her age was reported as 33 years, so if this was the same Pauline Lyons who was sent to San Quentin three times, either the reporter was in error or Pauline had shaved 17 years off her age. Hoggans recovered and decided not to press charges and Pauline was released from jail.
Assuming the two Pauline Lyons are one and the same, the attempted murder charge scared her straight because Ethel Wilson, aka Ethel Lyons, aka Pauline Lyons, stayed out of jail from then on.