No matter what the situation, there will be someone who figures out a way to illegally profit from it. Julia Lyons was one of those, a longtime swindler who, when she was arrested, would just slip away and change her name to one of her many aliases and con someone else. During the flu epidemic of 1918, Lyons had an idea that made her shenanigans easier.
As The Washington Post reports, Chicago was in the throes of the 1918 influenza pandemic that fall, and hospitals were enlisting nurses to tend to patients at home. Lyons, correctly assuming that healthcare officials wouldn’t be vetting volunteers very thoroughly, registered as a nurse under several pseudonyms and spent the next two months caring for a string of ailing men and women across the city.
Lyons’s modus operandi was simple: After getting a prescription filled, she’d charge her patient much more than the actual cost. Once, she claimed $63 for a dose of oxygen that had actually cost $5 (which, once adjusted for inflation, is the same as charging $1077 for an $85 item today). Sometimes, “Flu Julia,” as the Chicago Tribune nicknamed her, even summoned a so-called doctor—later identified by the police as a “dope seller and narcotic supplier”—to forge the prescriptions for her. Then she’d flee the property, absconding with cash, jewelry, clothing, and any other valuables she could find lying around the house.
Read the story of "Flu Julia" and the police manhunt launched to stop her at Mental Floss.
(Unrelated image credit: Harris & Ewing)