Thursday, September 22, 2011

Frances Knorr, Australian Child Care Provider & Serial Killer - 1893


NOTE: “After Knorr was hung [Jan. 15, 1894], authorities assessed that, given the period of time that she was in the child minding business and the amount of women who clandestinely came forward later and told police that they had given her their babies, it is believed that she could have murdered as many as 13 infants.” [Paul B. Kidd, “The Baby Farmers,” trutv.com]

FULL TEXT: At the Supreme Court Criminal Sittings, Melbourne, on Friday last, before Mr. Justice Holroyd, the trial was concluded of Frances Knorr, alias Minnie Thwaites, for the wilful murder of a female child unknown as a house in Moreland Road, Brunswick, on or about the 11th April last. Mr. Walsh, Q.C., in addressing the jury on the whole case, said the account given by the prisoner in the box was the most extraordinary piece of audacious evidence he had ever heard in a court of justice.

Mr. Justice Holroyd, in summing up, said in this case there was no direct proof of killing; but the jury might, as the prosecutor asked them to do, come to a conclusion. The surrounding circumstances brought before them constituted such a charge that it was impossible to escape coming to the conclusion that the prisoner was guilty, Was there motive to impel the prisoner to commit the crime? The highest sum she appeared to have got as premium with any child was £20, and the lowest about £5. Judging from her impecunious circumstances, she seemed to have spent the money almost as soon as she got it. What she did was to hire out those babies, in some instances to pay for them for a time, and then cease to pay, and in other instances to take the children back, while in come cases it was not known what became of them. Of three children the prisoner herself had given an account. That being her habit, and it being necessary for her to live, she bad a strong temptation upon her if she could not pay to get rid of the child by come other means. That was the force of the whole of the evidence as to the prisoner’s dealings with the babies. Whether that temptation overbore her on any occasion was another matter. The jury would have to consider what would be the conduct of a sensible innocent woman under such circumstances as those described by the prisoner. She knew the law relating to the boarding-out of the children, and regarded it as troublesome and inconvenient to comply with its provisions. That being so, she must have known the law would be still more particular in requiring an account; from her of the death of a child under her charge. Would a sensible woman bury a child in the garden, and would she not give information to the police, and at any rate to the neighbours, who could as soon as possible ascertain whether or not the child died from convulsions? If it had died from convulsions it was to her own interest to have made the fact known as promptly as possible. The prosecution put it, that if these precautions were taken to avoid the discovery of death, what conclusion could be drawn but that the child met with foul play? It was difficult to understand the object of substituting one child for another. The prosecution put the question, What was the object of passing one child for another, except to conceal something from persons likely to make inquiries? As to the prisoner’s accusation against Thompson, the jury would have to consider what motive Thompson had to murder the child, seeing he, was under no obligation with regard to it. If the prisoner’s evidence were true, Thompson ought to stand his trial. If false, it was a horrible accusation. There were several coincidences in the mode of burying the three bodies. It was extraordinary, if the prisoner’s story were true, that three persons – Wilson, the prisoner, and Thompson – should each bury a body at precisely the same depth, within an inch or two, and that the prisoner should bury a body in exactly the same spot, or so close as to touch that which she already had, unknown to her, been buried by Thompson. The summing-up occupied three hours. At 25 minutes past 3 the jury retired. Mr Mullen asked His Honor, in the event of a certain verdict, to hear an application by Mr. Smith (the prisoner’s counsel) in Chambers on Monday. Mr. Justice Holroyd assented.

After an absence from the Court of a little over half an hour, the jury returned, and at their own request were supplied with the versions of the prisoner, Edward Thompson, and Mrs. Thompson, in the letter from prisoner to himself respectively, of the words scratched out by Thompson in the letter.

At 5 o’clock the jury once more returned into court, this time with a verdict of “guilty.” On hearing the verdict the prisoner swayed backwards and forwards in the dock, and sank down in tears upon the seat. Mr. Justice Holroyd said the prisoner would be removed until after Monday in order to hear an application from her counsel. The prisoner was then removed from the dock. She sobbed and cried, and had to be supported by a female warder and a police officer. As she descended the steps from the dock, she turned to the gallery where Thompson was sitting, and exclaimed, “God help your sins, Ted,” and, still sobbing and crying, her last words as she disappeared through the doorway were “God help my poor mother,” and “God help my poor baby.” The scene was a most painful one.

The hearing of the further charges of murder against Mrs Knorr and her husband, Rudolph Knorr, has been postponed till the 15th inst.

[“Baby-Farming Sensation. Trial Of Frances Knorr. A Verdict Of Guilty.” Auckland Star (Australia), Dec. 7, 1893, p. 2]

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For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.

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