In 1896, Amelia Dyer the baby-killer, was investigated for the fifth time for murdering children. On all previous occasions she was freed, allowing her to go on murdering children, but this time she was finally stopped.
Her early years:
EXCERPT (Article 1 of 4): An Englishwoman, born in 1839, Amelia Dyer was officer in the Salvation Army who resigned her godly commission and entered the sinister realm of “baby farming” after her husband left her in 1880. at first, she set up shop in Bristol, serving as the paid “foster mother” for an unknown number of infants and earning six weeks in jail from the illegal operation. In November 1891, she was admitted to Gloucester Asylum following a bungled suicide attempt. Two years later, in December 1894, she was returned to Gloucester Asylum, four “adopted” children retrieved from home and packed off to the workhouse. Doctors described her as violent and prone to delusions, including hallucinations of birds speaking to her with human voices.
Feeling better after two months at Gloucester, Amelia was transferred to a workhouse where she stayed until June 1895. Upon release, she pulled up stakes and moved to Reading, anxious to resume her murderous adoption racket. It was there, through simple negligence, that homicide investigators finally exposed her lethal methods to the light of day.
[Michael Newton, Bad Girls Do It!, 1993, Loompanics Unlimited, Port Townsend, Washington, p. 67]
FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Not since the terrible murders in Whitechapel [the “Jack the Ripper” murders] has London been so shocked and interested as it has been during the last few weeks by the wholesale murder of infant children for which Amelia Dyer is now awaiting trial.
A coroner’s jury found the woman guilty of willful murder some days ago. There is overwhelming evidence connecting her with the murder of several children, who were strangled and thrown into the Thames, after weights had been attached to their bodies, and the woman has practically confessed her guilt.
If the police are justified in assuming – as they do – that many of the children whose bodies have been taken from the river, or who are still mysteriously missing, met death at the hands of the notorious baby farmer or her accomplices, the woman is a murderess hundreds of times over and stands in the front rank of the unique criminals of the age.
The woman murdered for gain primarily, but there is in the history of her crimes a suggestion that she was in love with the appalling work which made her rich, and so found double pleasure in the wholesale disposal of her victims.
While no correct estimate of the number of babies she killed can yet be made, because the inhuman parents who bargained with the baby farmer ore naturally anxious to conceal their guilt, the police believe that her victims will be numbered by hundreds.
The police have succeeded in securing the evidence of several mothers, among them being Evelina Edith Marnon.
When arrested, Mrs. Dyer was living at 45 Kensington road, Reading. Reading is a, borough about 88 miles to the southwest of London, situated on the Kennot river, near its junction with the Thames. Mrs. Dyer was generally reputed to be very pious. Over the door of her home was a figure of Christ, beneath which was the inscription, ‘‘Suffer little children to come onto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Alas! The little children who were suffered to come to this terrible old ogre found their way only too soon to the kingdom of heaven.
It has been proved that since Christmas 80 children were intrusted to Mrs. Dyer’s keeping and that only 4 are living. The fathers have vanished. Prior to Christmas many other children who had been placed in her charge disappeared.
Mrs. Dyer was first charged with the murder of an unknown female child, 16 months old, whose body was found floating In the Thames. The date of this murder was believed to be about March 30. An autopsy proved that death was due to strangulation, and on a piece of paper found in the parcel in which the child was wrapped was discovered an address which led the police to Mrs. Dyer’s place in Caversham. From there she was traced to Kensington road.
As soon as Mrs. Dyer was safe in custody tile Thames, near Caversham weir, close by Reading, was dragged. Another body was found, with a piece of tape tied about the nock, and a little later a bag containing the bodies of two infants and some bricks was fished up. In the River Kennot, at Reading, still another body was recovered. In every case an autopsy proved that the infant had been strangled before it was thrown into the water.
Evelina Edith Marnon, a single woman, who lived in Cheltenham, testified that she answered an advertisement relating to the adoption of a baby, which she saw in a Bristol newspaper in February. The advertisement was signed “Mrs. Scott,” whose address was 45 Kensington road, Oxford road, Reading. She received the following reply under date of March 20:
DEAR MADAM—In reference to your letter as to the adoption of a child. I write to say should be glad to have a dear little baby girl, one I could bring up and call my own. First I must tell you that we are plain, honest, homely people, in fairly good circumstances.
“We live in our own house and have a good and comfortable home. We are out in the country and sometime I am alone a great deal. I don’t want a child for money’s sake, but for company and as a home comfort. I have no children of my own, and a child with me will have a good home and a mother’s care. We belong to the Church of England, and, although I want to bring the child up as my own, I would not mind the mother coming to see it at any time.
It is always a satisfaction to a mother to know that her child is going on all right. I only hope that we come to terms. I should be glad to have the baby as soon as possible.
If I could come for her at once, I would not mind paying my fare one way, I should break my journey to Cheltenham at Gloucester, where I have a friend. Kindly let me have an early reply. I can give you good references and any questions you may care to ask I shall be glad to answer. I am, yours respectfully, A. HARDING.
She wrote in turn, asking for full particulars and saying that if she parted with her child she certainly would wish to visit it. She asked also about terms, and on March 25 she received the following:
MY DEAR MADAM—Your letter just to hand, and I shall only be too pleased for yourself or any friends to come and see baby and us. We don’t have many visitors out here in the country. I should really like you to know that, the pretty child was with some one who would really care for her, and you would feel more comfortable I know. I promise you faithfully that if you send her to me I will do mother’s duty for her and bring her up as my own. First I must tell you that we are plain honest, happy people, in fairly good circumstances. When you come afterward, you will see I have done my duty. Dear child! I shall only be too glad to have her, and I will take her entirely for ₤10. She shall be no further expense to you. I am, yours ever faithfully, A. HARDING.
True to her promise, Mrs. Dyer “took her entirely.” That meant that the single woman was not to be troubled in after life by spatters of the past. Mrs. Harding, or Dyer, called on March 31 for the baby. She signed an agreement by which, for 150, she was to take care of the child and rear ii as her own. The agreement ran as follows:
I, Annie Harding of 45 Kensington road, Oxford road, Reading, in consideration of the sum of £10, paid to me by Evelina Edith Marnon, do hereby agree to adopt Doris, the child of the said Evelina Edith Marnon, and to bring up the said child as my own without any further compensation over and above the aforementioned sum of £10.
As witness hereunto we have this day, the 31st day of March, in the year of our Lord 1896, subscribed our names.
Anna K HARDING.
EVELINA EDITH MARNON.
In the presence of Martha Dostnett, widow, of No. 23 Manchester street, Cheltenham.
Mrs. Harding took Doris with her that afternoon, and Miss Maroon, accompanied her on the train as far as Gloucester. At Gloucester Mrs. Harding bade her goodby and took the train for Reading. Miss Marnon received this letter on April 2: When I got home last night, a wire was waiting for me saying my sister was dangerously ill, so I came this morning. My dear little girl is a traveler, and no mistake. She did not mind the journey. Slept all the way. I shall stop now till Saturday. Shall write again Sunday. Shall write a longer one next time. Yours with love, A. HARDING.
In a few days the mother wrote to Mrs. Dyer’s address, asking for news of the baby. She received no reply. On April 11 she was led to the district mortuary, where lay the bodies fished out of the Thames.
One of the dead children was hers. There was a mark about the neck where a tape had been knotted by the person who strangled it. The bag in which the bodies were found the witness identified as one which Mrs. Dyer, or Harding, had carried on the day she called for the child.
The police discovered in pawnshops and in Mrs. Dyer’s house more than 500 pounds of baby clothes, which had been stripped from her victims. Miss Maroon’s experience was like that of many other mothers. The woman set her trap for women who give birth to children they dared not acknowledge, but which they were not wicked enough to murder outright.
She wrote always in the vein of a kindly, lonely Christian woman, and as a rule her reward was $50 and the clothes of the child, to which she promised to be a mother, and which she usually dispatched as soon as it was in her clutches. She was bold to the point of madness in disposing of the bodies, and it is that among other things which suggests an abnormal mental development which enabled her to gratify a desire to kill as well as a wish to grow rich by her fiendish occupation.
Mrs. Dyer has been accused of child murder four times during her life, but on previous occasions proof was wanting.
[“Hundreds of Victims. - Amelia Dyer, Baby Farmer and Strangler.” syndicated, The Logansport Pharos (In.), May 15, 1896, p. 6]
NOTE: This syndicated article was widely published in American newspapers.
Following are two texts describing an earlier conviction (circa 1880?).
EXCERPT (Article 3 of 4): As the police investigation grew, so did the efforts of investigative journalists. It became clear that Dyer had profited from her trade for almost 30 years, travelling as far afield as Liverpool and Plymouth. Dyer first opened a house of confinement in the Bristol suburb of Totterdown in the late 1860s, and charged a fee to take in unmarried women when they could no longer hide their pregnancies. Some asked for their infants to be stifled at the moment of birth, since Victorian coroners were unable to distinguish between suffocation and still-birth. Dyer also fostered infants for a weekly fee, maximizing her profits by slowly starving her little charges, muting them with daily doses of the liquid opiate, laudanum, known colloquially as “the quietness” because it stifled both a baby’s appetite and its cries. Ten years later, having completed a six-month prison sentence for infant neglect, Dyer changed her modus operandi. No longer would her house be filled with emaciating infants. Now she accepted only full adoption in exchange for a lucrative one-off payment. She silenced the infants within hours, using a length of white tape tied twice around their necks and dumped their bodies in rivers or buried them in the gardens of her rented lodgings. [“Britain’s worst ever serial killer: The Victorian angel of death that murdered 400 babies,” Written by 24 Tanzania Reporter, Tanzania.com, Feb. 23, 2013]
EXCERPT (Article 4 of 4): She was caught once after a doctor was called to certify the death of one child too many and raised the alarm. But instead of manslaughter, she was convicted of causing a child to die by neglect and served six months' hard labour in prison, an experience that nearly destroyed her. After that she tried going back to nursing. She had spells in mental hospitals after suicide attempts. But always she returned to baby farming, eventually drawing her own family into the business. She stopped calling doctors to issue death certificates and disposed of the bodies secretly. They moved homes frequently - Bristol, Reading, Cardiff, London - as often as they scented the police closing in or mothers and fathers on their trail trying to reclaim their children. [Tony Rennell, “The baby butcher: One of Victorian Britain's most evil murderers exposed,” Mail Online, Sep. 28, 2007]
For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.