She Posed as a Nurse During the 1918 Flu Pandemic and Went on a Crime SpreeHistorians in the News
tags: crime, 1918, pandemic, influenza
Julia Lyons portrayed herself as a busy visiting nurse in Chicago during the great flu pandemic of 1918. But “Slick Julia,” as she came to be known, was no Florence Nightingale.
The 23-year-old Julia, “a woman of diamonds and furs, silken ankles, gem-studded fingers and aliases by the dozens,” was posing as a “flu nurse,” ripping off home-bound patients for cash and jewelry as they suffered and even died, the Chicago Tribune reported in late 1918. “With her rose-lipped smile and pearly teeth,” she “performed various miracles at getting ready money.”
A century before the coronavirus crisis, the 1918 flu was a killing machine, taking the lives of more than 675,000 people in the United States and 50 million around the world. Just as in the current pandemic, nurses were on the front line caring for the sick. Chicago, like other cities, was desperate for nurses to care for victims in their homes.
Julia Lyons saw an opportunity. Figuring nobody would have time to check her lack of credentials, she signed on at a home-nurse registry under various names. In late 1918, the Tribune chronicled the fake flu nurse’s escapades like a dime detective novel.