Sneak thief, con man and husband of Sophie Lyons, Billy Burke pulled a bank heist in Sweden during the summer of 1911. He got caught while attempting to grab a stack of kronor off a bank counter, employing his favorite technique of pincers on the bottom of his walking stick. This led to his conviction for grand larceny and landed him in Långholmen Central Prison.
Back in Detroit, Sophie was not about to sit idle while her Billy languished in a filthy Scandinavian prison. She sailed to Europe as soon as she could and headed right to Stockholm. She tried to get into the prison to see Billy, but the authorities turned her away.
She’d come a long way and rather than waste the trip, Sophie spent some time in Stockholm checking out the upscale shopping districts. The Summer Olympics would be held there later that year and she figured she could gather information to assist with future criminal endeavors, either her own of those of her friends.
Lured by the crowds and the opportunities for pickpocketing and shoplifting, the Swedish police realized the games would attract criminals throughout Europe and America, so they were keeping an eye out for anyone behaving suspiciously. Sophie caught their attention and was arrested. She was booked at the main police station and her mugshot was taken.
In true Sophie style, she knocked 14 years off her age, claiming a birth year of 1861. Looking at the state of her hair, she put up a bit of a fuss over being hauled in, and who can blame her? Based on her sly smile it appears she knew the police didn’t have enough on her to keep her in jail, and she was right.
Read more about Sophie’s European adventures in Queen of the Burglars: The Scandalous Life of Sophie Lyons.
My thanks goes to Jim Potter for asking a question that led to me stumbling upon Sophie and Billy’s Swedish mugshots. The moral of the story is: never say, “I’m done” when you’re researching history.
You can see more of these fascinating Stockholm mugshot photos here. If you read Swedish and are able to decipher the full text on the back of Sophie’s photo, please get in touch!