Women on Opposite Sides of the Law

Sophie Lyons was one of the most notorious female criminals of the nineteenth century. Late in life she “went straight” and became a successful Detroit businesswoman. Jessie Levy and Bess Robbins defended six members of the infamous John Dillinger gang in the early 1930s.

Three smart, independent women: two who were criminal attorneys and one who was a career criminal. They stood on opposite sides of the law, yet they confronted many of the same challenges and discrimination, persevering in a world where men made up the rules.

Authors Shayne Davidson (Queen of the Burglars: The Scandalous Life of Sophie Lyons; McFarland, August 2020) and D.M. Testa (Defending the Dillinger Gang: Jessie Levy and Bess Robbins in the Courtroom, McFarland, October 2020) discuss these women, who spent their lives on opposite sides of the law. Through their own intriguing stories, we’ll answer how they succeeded in places where women normally weren’t welcome.

The talk lasts about an hour and you do not have to be a member of the libraries—anyone can sign up. These events are remote and you can watch from the comfort of your home! (Zoom, a free app, is required to watch.) Here are the upcoming dates:

Monday, February 22, 2021, 8pm EST at the Neenah Public Library in Neenah, WI. Sign up link: The library will also be live-streaming the event on their Facebook page: (

Thursday, March 4, 2021, 6pm EST at the Troy Public Library in Troy, MI. Sign up link:

Saturday, March 20, 2021, 2pm EST at the Blackstone Library in Brandford, CT. Sign up link: