Thursday, September 22, 2011

Agnes Norman, 15-Year Old English Female Serial Killer - 1871

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 7): At the Lambeth Police Court a person named Agnes Norman was brought on a charge of wilfully murdering a child of fourteen months old. This extraordinary girl, who is either vinsane or one of the greatest monsters of the age, was nurse in the service of the parents of the child, Mr. and Mrs. William Beer. She first went to them on the 4th of April. On Good Friday Mr Beer and his wife went out, leaving their three children in perfect health, in the care of Agnes Norman. On returning home ythey found the youngest girl in her bed, quite dead. The second child was screaming violently and was lying on the ground as if he had fallen out of bed. The nurse-girl was apparently asleep in a chair. The doctor declared that death was caused by compression. Such a murder would seem so improbable that at first there was scarecely a suspicion of the girl’s guilt, but it was soon ascertained that when Agnes Norman lived in other families two children of Mr Milner and one of a Mr Taylor lostr their lives in the same sudden way, and she is now charged with their murder. There was a remand for further evidence.

[From “London Gossip” column (“Agnes Norman” in header), Irish Times (Dublin, Ireland), May 2, 1871, p. 5]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 7): The girl Agnes Norman, who is in custody on suspicion of having murdered several children, was again brought up at the Lambeth police-court yesterday. Besides the infant daughter of Mr. Beer, it was proved that two infants, named Gardener and Taylor respectively, had died while under the prisoner’s care. Mrs. Milner also stated that while Norman lived with her, two children, aged respectively two and a half years and ten months, died suddenly, and an elder child remained insensible for several hours. Charles Parfitt, eleven years of age, deposed that Norman had attempted to suffocate him in the night-time. She was again remanded.

[Untitled, The Pall Mall Budget (London, England), May 12, 1871, p. 36]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 7): A girl named Agnes Norman, a nursemaid, is under examination at the Lambeth police-court on a most extraordinary series of charges. The theory of the prosecution, which has been instituted on behalf of the Treasury, is that this young woman is a connoisseur in murder, has murdered five children in succession, and tried to murder a sixth, and that while in service she was constantly killing canaries, dogs, cats, and so on. The evidence is as yet incomplete, but there seems reason for the suspicion that we have here one of those strange cases of homicidal propensity which the world now-a-days explains on a theory of madness.

[Untitled, The Spectator (London, England), May 27, 1871, p. 3]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 7): Agnes Norman, the juvenile murderer who has lately been arrested in England for killing an infant entrusted to her charge, appears to have found a strange delight in taking life. Two or three children, a dog, two cats, six or eight birds, and some gold fish, had all fallen victims to her unnatural propensity for destruction before her crime was discovered. One little boy, aged eleven years, testified that one night he awoke by feeling something hurting him, and upon looking up found this delectable young woman, who lived as a servant in the same house, stooping over him with one hand on his mouth, and the other tightly grasping his throat. Not relishing such treatment the little fellow cried out, upon which the girl relaxed her hold and bribed him with “sweeties” not to mention what had occurred.

The records of medical science prove that a mania for destruction is not an unknown form of insanity, and plenty of instances are given in which persons who were in other respects perfectly sane felt an intense delight in scenes of death and suffering. An account in given in the Annual Register of a young woman employed in London, who daily subjected her little charges to a regular process of torture, not by way of punishing them for any offence of which they had been guilty, but simply for the gratification of her own fiendish tastes. We have never seen any attempt made to explain the cause which leads to such a horrible phase of mental depravity. In most cases, however, we imagine that it originates in the indulgence of little acts of petty spite and revenge, and that little by little a longing to destroy and to give pain, instead of a desire to perform kindly acts, obtains the complete mastery until murder becomes a passion, as in the case of this miserable girl. It is not by any means a pleasant matter to dwell upon; indeed there is something unusually repulsive in the idea of a woman taking a pleasure in tormenting and destroying the innocent little children who were confided to her keeping; still if, as we think it does, her case serves to exemplify the terrible consequences which may follow from giving way in early life to unkindly and inhuman instincts, it is worth taking note of and bearing in mind.

[“Murder As A Pastime.” The Times (Ottawa, Canada), Jun. 10, 1871, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 7): The sentence of Agnes Norman, at London, to ten years’ penal servitude, recalls the remarkable story of her crimes. She was sentenced merely for having attempting to strangle a little boy named Parfitt; nut this deed was only a moiety of her numerous actions. She was accused of having murdered children in various houses in which she had been maid servant; and it was also stated that her mania for killing extended itself to parrots, dogs and other animals. What is definitely known is that certain, whom she had under her care, died suddenly and without apparent cause, and that the mothers suspected her of having smothered them while in bed. The jury, however, acquitted of her on all the charges except one, not deeming the evidence sufficient in the others; and she is now reaping the penalty of having attempted to murder a child, who was fortunately rescued. The case is one of the most curious on record. She is but fifteen years of age, and must have commenced her peculiar line of operations when much younger. None of the ordinary motives of cupidity or revenge woulds seem to have influenced her, and still it can hardly be said that she is insane. She is, at least, perfectly sane on every other subject. Be all this as it may, the fact remains that this young, quiet, mild-mannered girl spent her time in going about slaughtering boys and girls, and birds and small animals, in the most calm and gentle manner imaginable; and the additional fact remains that she will do so no longer, for ten years at least.

[From “News of the Day” column, The Charleston Daily News (S. C.), Sep. 2, 1871, p. 2]


FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 7): Agnes Norman was, on August 14, sentenced to ten years penal servitude for having attempted to strangle a little boy named Parfitt; and so ends one of the strangest stories of crime which have ever found their way into our criminal records. It will be remembered that this girl was accused of having murdered children in various houses in which she had been maid-servant; and it was also stated that her mania for killing extended itself to parrots, dogs, and other animals. What is definitely known is that certain young children whom she had under her care died suddenly, and without apparent cause; and that the mothers suspected her of having smothered them while in bed. The jury, however, acquitted her on all charges except one, not deeming the evidence sufficient in the others; and she is now reaping the penalty of having attempted to murder a child who was fortunately rescued. It is obvious, however, that this girl presents one of those curious phenomena with which our jurisprudence finds it difficult to deal. None of the ordinary motives of cupidity or revenge would seem to have influenced her; and one is naturally led to ask how a mania of this kind is to be distinguished from that of insanity, which relieves its victims from responsibility. In other directions, it is true, Agnes Norman would seem to be sane enough. There is something, how ever, very horrible in the notion of an apparently quiet girl going about a house in the character of an assistant domestic, with her thoughts perpetually turning on the possibility of killing something. Will ten years’ penal servitude cause the leopard to change its spots? 

[“The Child Murderess.” Town and Country (Sydney, Australia), Nov. 4, 1871, p. 599]


FULL TEXT (Article 7 of 7): A strange sensational rumour was current in London a fortnight ago to the effect that a nursemaid had been detected, whose mama was the destruction of the children committed to her charge. An inquest was then opened, at Newington Butts, on the body of an infant, one year and two months old, who had unquestionably come to its death under very extra ordinary and even startling circumstances. It was the child of Mr Beer, a respectable tradesman in that neighbourhood. The facts, so far as they related to the case actually under investigation, were, in brief these Mr Beer, with his wife, went from home to dine with some friends. The infant, with two other children, was consigned to the care of a young girl, sixteen years old, who had only been employed m that household three days Upon the return of the master and mistress about midnight, they heard a violent screaming upstairs, and naturally hurried learn the cause. What the cause of the screaming was the coroner’s inquiry has not told us but a mysterious state of things was revealed. On the floor of a bedroom lay one of the children naked, but alive; between the bedstead and a wall was found another – the youngest – cold and perfectly dead, with water running from its mouth. Whereupon, of course, a public investigation took place, and was adjourned to allow of a post-mortem examination The result completely bore out the testimony of the father and mother, that when they last saw their baby living it was in absolute food health. The surgeon reported it to have been a fine and sound child, free from the slightest taint of disease, but, he added, the face even in death was very red, there were two marks, as of a compression on the lips, and he thought the poor little creature had been suffocated. How asked the coroner. Dr Lee could not surmise. It is not stated whether any one else was m the sleeping chamber when the tragic discovery was made, and we are most anxious not to give the mystery – for that there is a mystery will soon be seen – any prejudicial colouring whatever. It may be as well, therefore, to quote, without comment, a short colloquy which, at this point, took place between the representative of the law and the parent of the dead infant. The father of the deceased here said he had witnesses present who would give a history of the girl Norman. The Coroner “Have you witnesses who can say that this girl has murdered our child ?” Mr Beer:  I am unable to say that, but I should like these persons to be examined.” The Coroner: “I do not think I should be doing justice to this girl if I examined them.” Mr Beer: “If a verdict is given without, I shall think it very unfair.” Whereupon a statement was made of so singular a character that the inexplicable verdict subsequently given that the deceased died of suffocation accidentally caused,” does not dispose of it at all. There was no more proof of accident than there was of violence, and of violence there was none tinier we attach importance to the marks on the lips and oven with respect to them it was not sought to be shown that any particular individual was implicated. The evidence given by Sergeant Milliard, after completing his researches, claims not less on the girl’s behalf than on that of the public – that the horrible doubts suggested must be set at rest in one way or another Detective Milliard found, on enquiry, that several children had expired under circumstances similar to those of the case before the Court.” Twelve months ago the nursemaid then no more than fifteen years old was engaged in a family at Grosvenor Villa, Stockwell Road. Two month afterwards a lady visited at the house, bringing a yearling baby – wholesome and robust – with her. It was found lying on a bed, a corpse, m the course of the day. Whatever the secret may have been, death appeared wherever this unfortunate nursemaid went. Three dogs, a cat, a parrot, nearly a dozen other fancy birds, and a number of goldfish were about the same time found dead at Grosvenor Villa, she was sent away, and we hear of no such mortality as having happened since next she procured a situation in Park Road, Grosvenor Road, to take care of an infant. She brought it home insensible one day, declaring that it had fallen out of her arms. Three weeks later she took it out again, and this time brought it home dead. Her next situation was in Temple-street, St. George’s Road, and on one occasion a child aged seven years was awakened by a choking sensation, and stated to its father that the girl had placed her hand over its mouth, and that she had given him money not to say anything about it. At thus place, also, several domestic animals died suddenly. At another situation where she was engaged a child was found insensible in bed. When it recovered it evinced great terror at the sight of the girl in her next situation she locked up a child in a wardrobe, and then took it out and put into bed, where it was found dead shortly afterwards. It may he presumed of course, the detective Mullard was upon oath when he gave the result of the information he had collected. Every one must be anxious that a part, at least, of this mystery should be dispelled, not only in the interest of society, but for the sake of the girl implicated. The girl, Agnes Norman, was taken into custody by the police on April 29th, and charged before the magistrate at Lambeth Police Court, on suspicion of having caused the death of Jesse Jane Beer, and three other children. After sufficient evidence had been adduced, the prisoner was remanded. On May 12th the prisoner was again examined, and still further remanded.

[“Systematic Child Murder.” The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW, Australia), Jul. 8, 1871, p. 2; “Systematic Child Murder.” Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), Jul. 6, 1871, p. 5]


Newington Butts is a former village, now an area of the London Borough of Southwark, that gives its name to a segment of the A3 road running south-west from the Elephant and Castle junction. The road forks left into Kennington Park Road and right into Kennington Lane, leading to Kennington and Vauxhall Bridge respectively. It is believed to take its name from an archery butts, or practice field. The area gave its name to an Elizabethan theatre which saw the earliest recorded performances of some Shakespearean plays. [Wikipedia]



Animals: a dog, two cats, six or eight birds (parrots included), and some gold fish.
Jesse James Beer,  14 mo., died.
Child of Mr. & Mrs. Milner, died.
Child of Mr. & Mrs. Taylor, died.
Child of Mr. & Mrs. Gardener, died.
Charles Parfitt, 11, testified to attempted strangling by Agnes


Apr. 4, 1871 – hired by Mr. and Mrs. William Beet as nursegirl.
Apr. 29, 1871 – arrest for murder of Jesse James Beer (14 mo.), Lambeth Police Court
May 12, 1871 – examination hearing, remanded.
Aug. 14, 1871 – sentenced to 10 years penal servitude for attempted murder of Charles Parfitt.


Modern mentions of the case:

[John Lock, Scotland Yard Casebook, 1993, London: Robert Hale, pp. 58-9]

[John Lock, “Careers who Kill are nothing new: John Lock looks at Victorian baby farmers and the extraordinary case of Children’s nanny Agnes Norman,” The New Law Journal, Vol. 145, 1995, Butterworth, p. 870]

[Neil R Storey, A Grim Almanac of Jack the Ripper's London 1870-1900, The History Press, 2004, unpaginated]


More cases: Serial Killer Girls


For more cases, see: Women Who Like to Torture


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