The “Mayflower Madam,” Socialite Sydney Biddle Barrows, on Trial

In February 1984, a tip from an informant led the NYPD to investigate a possible illegal escort service called Cachet. By October, police had sufficient evidence to raid an Upper West Side apartment that was apparently the prostitution ring’s office. The apartment’s owner—and the operation’s CEO—was a woman who identified herself as Sheila Devin. Both law enforcement and the public were surprised to discover that Sheila Devin was an alias for Sydney Biddle Barrows, a socialite who could trace her ancestry to the Mayflower. The media named Barrows the “Mayflower Madam.”

In July 1985, Barrows ended her legal woes by pleading guilty to promoting prostitution. She was fined $5,000. She could have faced a maximum of seven years in prison if convicted after a not-guilty plea.

Barrows ran a tight ship at Cachet. Her employees were fined $10 to $25 for gaining weight or being tardy for meetings. Barrow required her escorts to get regular medical checkups, and they served a clientele largely of corporate executives and Arab sheiks. Services were $200-$400 per hour, with a deluxe overnight option including dinner, dancing, and a show for $2,000.

Barrows parlayed her experiences into lucrative book and TV movie deals. She is now a high-end customer service consultant.