Saturday, September 17, 2011

Helen Geisen-Volk, New York City Child Care Provider Who Murdered Children - 1925

Detailed study notes on this case are available on a separate post as well as two long articles on the case, one of which dates from 1928 and thus presents a summary overview. See: Helene Geisen-Volk, Serial Killer - Study Notes & Additional Articles.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 6): New York – The baby death toll of Mrs. Helen Auguste Geisen-Volk’s East Eighty-sixth Street “baby farm” has reached 23, it was announced by the authorities today. The woman, widow of a Prussian army officer, and a former German Red Cross nurse, was held for investigation by the grand jury.

The twenty-third victim, a 2-year-old boy, died at Bellevue hospital last night. His father had taken him from Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s “baby farm” yesterday morning to the hospital for treatment for ailments said to have been caused by malnutrition and neglect.

~ Offers No Defense. ~

Mrs. Geisen-Volk has held on a charge of having attempted to give a strange baby to William Angerer when he called for his own child, Stephen, 7 months old, last Tuesday. The Angerer child still is missing, and a half-dozen children taken from a “baby farm” remain at Bellevue, unidentified and unclaimed.

Mrs. Geisen-Volk offered no defense when arraigned. Her bail of $35,000 on the substitution charge was continued, and the magistrate imposed additional bail of $1,000 when Children’s Society agents charged the woman with having violated the terms of her city license in that she had kept a score of children in her place, while her permit called for only seven.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Pecora, who has assigned a large force of men to the investigation, said that his office soon would “make a homicide charge against some one in this case.”

~ Learn of Indictment. ~

Investigators said they had learned that Mrs. Geisen-Volk had been indicted on a charge of manslaughter in May, 1918, at which time she conducted a nursery in upper Park avenue. The charge was said to have grown out of the death of Anna Seeburg which resulted from an operation. Dr. Arthur Camnitter also was named in the indictment, according to Assistant District Attorney Ryan, who said the case had been dropped for lack of evidence.

Two mothers told the authorities today they believed their babies had met fates similar to that of the Angerer child. The infants had been left with Mrs. Geisen-Volk, both said, and ultimately had disappeared. One of the babies was reported by the woman to have died, but the disappearance of the second, according to the mother, never had been explained, although she had instituted kidnapping proceedings against Mrs. Geisen-Volk in 1921. These proceedings were later dropped “for lack of evidence,” she said.

[“Baby Farm Owner Remanded As Toll Of Death Grows – Child, Taken to Hospital by Father, Succumbs; Other Infants Unclaimed. – Mothers Relate Vain Search For Children – Police Say Mrs. Geisen-Volk Once Faced Manslaughter and Kidnapping Charge.” syndicated (AP), The Washington Post (D.C.), May 10, 1925, p. 13]

FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 6): New York, May 11. – Evidence on which an indictment charging homicide will be sought against Mrs. Helene Auguste Geisen-Volk, the former German Red Cross nurse, who obstructed a “baby farm” in east Eighty-sixth street, was obtained today the assistant district attorneys conducting an investigation into the deaths of twenty-three infants in the place in the past fifteen months.

Assistant District Attorney Ryan said he had been informed by a nurse, whose name he did not divulge, Agnes Toohey, eighteen months old, had been dashed against a wall and her head injured the day before she died, last December. The nurse, he said, witnessed the assault on the baby, being at the place attending her own child, who also was ill.

Agnes, she said, had driven Mrs. Geisen-Volk, the widow of a Prussian army officer, into a rage with her incessant crying.

William Winters, six months old, who died in the woman’s place last February, may also furnish a basis for a homicide charge, Ryan said, after he had interviewed the infant’s parents today.

Ryan said application would be made to a supreme court justice for permission to exhume the bodies, said to have been buried in Mrs. Geisen Volk’s private plot in St. Michael’s cemetery.

In the death certificates, the cause of the Toohey child’s death was given as mastoiditis and that of the Winters baby as congenital heart disease.

Witnesses told the investigators today moved to anger by the cries of the children committed; to her care and that she often mistreated them. On several occasions, a nurse and former employe of the “farm” said Mrs. Geisen-Volk beat children whose parents were behind in the payments for their care.

Assistant District Attorney White, working with Ryan in the investigation, was told by Mrs. Mary Beukess, of Philadelphia, that her orphaned grandchild, placed in Mrs. Gelsen-Volk’s care last December, had mysteriously disappeared. The child, a boy of nine months, had been sent out of the city by the woman, according to Mrs.Beukers, on the plea that its illness called for the services of a specialist in Saratoga Springs, N. Y.

The “specialist in Saratoga” has figured in the case before. William Angerer, the steamfitter’s assistant, whose complaint to the police resulted in Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s arrest, said he had been told the same story by her. His son, Stephen, seven months old, is missing.

Mrs. Geisen-Volk is held in $35,000 ball, charged with having attempted  to substitute another baby for Angerer’s missing son.

[“Child Was Dashed Against Wall Day Before She Died – Said to Have Driven Mrs. Geisen-Volk Into Rage With Her Incessant Crying. – Permission To Be Asked For Exhumation Bodies – Evidence on Which Indictment Charging Homicide Will be Sought Against Former German Red Cross Nurse Obtained by Prosecutors,” syndicated (AP), Bluefield Daily Telegraph (W. Va.), May 12, 1925, p. 1]



FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 6): New York, May 13. – Charges that Mrs. Helen A. Geisen-Volk augmented the profits from her “baby farm” by selling cemetery plots to the mothers of infants who died while under her care, are being investigated today by Assistant District Attorney William P. Ryan.

This inquiry was started after Mrs. Margaret Toohey had told Ryan that following the mysterious death of her 18-month-old daughter, Agnes, at Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s infantorium on December 15 last, Mrs. Geisen-Volk sold her a private plot in St. Michael’s cemetery for $66.

The bodies of the Toohey child and 4-month-old William Winters will be exhumed today in an effort to obtain further evidence against the baby home proprietor.

Through her attorney, Mrs. Geisen-Volk flatly denied allegations made against her, saying they were inspired by “spite and malice.” She is held under $35,000 bonds pending the outcome of the series of inquiries now in process.

Ryan is checking up hospital records in an effort to trace Steven Angerer, 7 months old, whose father, William Angerer, started the investigation of Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s “baby farm.”

A report that the Angerer baby had died under a fictitious name at Metropolitan Hospital late last January has been recovered by the assistant district attorney.

[“New Baby Farm Charges Being Probed Today,” The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pa.), May 13, 1925, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 6): New York, May 14 – Completing an official autopsy, Dr. Otto M. Schultze, Medical expert, today reported to the district attorney that the skull of a six-months-old William Winters, who died in a baby home conducted by Mrs. Helen Auguste Geisen-Volk in East 86th street, was “cracked in half.” The fracture, he said, extended from the back of the head to the front and “its suggested cause was violent contact with a flat, hard surface.”

This report immediately led to the special investigation by police to determine how the baby received its injuries. It also renewed study of information, furnished the district attorney several days ago by a nurse, that a baby in the home had been lifted by its feet and dashed against a wall. These charges had been thought repudiated by an autopsy yesterday on the body of 18-months-old Agnes Toohey, which revealed that the child had suffered no injuries.

The autopsy on the exhumed body of the Winters’ child, caused by insistent demand of its mother, who told police she was not satisfied that her child had died from heart disease, as the original death certificate indicated.

The special inquiry concerning the Winters’ baby is in addition to the one being conducted by the district attorney into general conditions at two baby homes conducted by Mrs. Geisen-Volk, health records disclosed that 44 babies had died in them since January 1, 1918.

Mrs. Geisen-Volk is now in jail in default of the $36,000 bail, on charges of substituting a baby placed in her care and of boarding 18 children in her home when she was licensed to care for only seven. She has pleaded not guilty on both these charges.

The substitution charge grew out of the claim of William Angerer that he was given another baby, when he sought the return of his own child. To this Mrs. Geisen-Volk has answered that the baby was kidnapped. The records of a Louis Weiss, a six-month-old baby, also are being studied as a result of a claim by its parents that they have been unable to trace the child from the home.

[“Autopsy Reveals That Baby’s Skull Is ‘Cracked in Half” - Report Leads to Special Probe to Determine How it Got Its Injuries,” (AP), Schenectady Gazette (N.Y.), May 15, 1925, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 6): Mrs. Helene Geisen-Volk, German Red Cross nurse during the war and keeper of a baby farm at 235 East 86th Street, received the maximum sentence of from three and a half to seven years in Auburn Prison when she was arraigned yesterday in General Sessions before Judge McIntyre on her plea of guilty to substituting the child of an unmarried young woman for that of a married couple. Previous to the sentence the woman was grilled by the Court and Chief Assistant District Attorney Ferdinand Pecora in an effort to learn what had become of the infant son of Mr. and Mrs. Angerer of 536 East 147th Street, the Bronx, on whom she had tried to substitute another baby.

During the interrogation Judge McIntyre told her he did not believe her story that the Angerer child had died of marasmus in April, and that she had carried the body in a yellow satchel to the hallway of a tenement in the East Seventies and left it behind in a stairway. She did this, she insisted, because she had no death certificate and knew the body eventually would be sent by the police to the morgue.

As she was ordered from the witness chair her nerves snapped and she began to scream. She was carried out of the courtroom and attended by Dr. Mary Heaton, one of twenty women who, her lawyer, Newman Levy, had told the Court, had come to testify that she was kindhearted and scrupulous in the care of the infants that had been entrusted to her care.

Brought back to receive the sentence, Judge McIntyre ordered two court attendants to stand on either side of her, saying: “We want no more scenes such as the one we have been treated to. Women have a habit of creating them when standing before this Court for judgement.”

Mrs. Geisen-Volk gripped a Bible as the prison term was pronounced. She regained her composure when she was returned to the Jefferson Market Woman’s Prison for her departure for Auburn today.

A severe denunciation of her conduct of her baby farm was contained in a report submitted to Judge McIntyre at the beginning of her arraignment by Edwin J. Cooley, a Catholic probation officer, who had investigated her career. Commenting on this report Judge McIntyre said: “The report of Mr. Cooley indicates that she is a fiend incarnate. I can see no extenuating circumstances in this case.”

~ “Called “Conscienceless Woman.” ~

In his report Mr. Cooley describes Mrs. Geisen-Volk as a “conscienceless woman” who had “strangled or frozen to death or otherwise had disposed of babies left in her custody in order that she might reap a profit through her acts.”

Then the report declares that least fifty-three infants entrusted to her care had died. It was her practice, Mrs. Cooley asserts, to substitute infants for whom board was not being paid for babies who had died in her place to deceive the parents of the dead children into continuing payments.

In another part of the report, after he refers to Mrs. Geisen-Volk as “cruel and bestial.” Mr. Cooley says” “The reason why the defendant is understood when advertence is made to the fact that it was to the pecunuiary advantage of the proprietor of this baby farm to destroy illegitimate children for a consideration and non-paying babies because they were liabilities.”

“Beneath her proud exterior and veneer of humanity,” the report goes on, “the woman conceals the callous fiendishness so common to her prototype, the undesirable midwife. She has no maternal affections, at least with respect to the babies of other people. To her they are like puppies. To her they are articles of merchandise to be bartered, sold or exchanged. The defendant represents a revolting anomaly in human-kind.”

After reading the report Judge McIntyre called Mrs. Geisen-Volk to the witness chair.

“What did you do with the Angerer child?” asked Judge McIntyre.

“It died, and I left it in a hallway in a satchel,” Mrs. Geisen-Volk replied.

“Why did you do that?”

“Because on of the relatives of that baby asked me to,” was the response. “She said that the mother might do back to the insane asylum if she learned her baby was dead. The baby died between April 12 and 14 of marasmus. A doctor attended to the child several times. He is a Dr. O’Leary. He has a place in Sarasota Springs where babies are cared for.”

~ Insists She Told the Truth. ~

Judge McIntyre looked at the woman for a few minutes then said, “I think you are lying,” and when Mrs. Geisen-Volk protested that she was telling the truth, the Court added, “I don’t believe it.”

“When the baby died,” Mrs. Geisen-Volk continued, “I placed it in a yellow satchel and started for the morgue. Then I realized when I reached a tenement in the seventies that I had no death certificate, so I placed it in a hallway, thinking the police would discover it the next morning and send it to the morgue.

Mrs. Geisen-Volk admitted she had lied to the father of the Angerer child when she told him his little son was still alive. She added that the baby she had tried to substitute for the Angerer child was the son of a girl named Mary Shimkus and she had taken it at the request of the Catholic Big Sisters.

“Didn’t fifty-three infants die in your place?” asked Mr. Pecora.

“No,” was the reply. “There were only twelve or fourteen deaths.”

[“Geisen-Volk Gets 3 ½ Years – Judge Calls Her ‘Fiend Incarnate’ After Reading Report About Her Baby Farm. – Court Tells Her She Lies – Woman Insists She Put Child’s Body in Tenement Hallway – Scored by Probation Officer.” New York Times (N.Y.), Jul. 23, 1925, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 6): New York, May 26. Children in the baby home conducted by Mrs. Helen Auguste Geisen-Volk, indicted for manslaughter as a result of the death of William Winters, one of her charges, cringed in terror at the name of “Aunt Helen,” witnesses today told Assistant District Attorney Ryan, Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s severe methods of discipline caused this the prosecutor was told.

Mrs. Geisen-Volk today pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge and was held in technical bail of $3,500. She already is in jail in default of  $26,000 bail on charges of child substitution and of keeping more children than her permit allowed. She was visibly weak and nervous in court.

The witnesses, Mrs. Irene Meroff and Mrs. Frances Birch, quoted Mrs. Geisen-Volk as saying: “Babies and animals should be disciplined all the same. When they become unruly, I hold them under water or push them in closets or bang them. I’ve trained children for 20 years that way.”

[“Mrs. Geisen-Volk Scared Children – System Said to Be to Hold Them Under Water or Being Them in Order to Train Charges,” syndicated (AP), Oreonta Daily Star (N. Y.), May 27, 1925, p. 1]


VICTIMS (whose names are known)

Agnes Toohey – 18 months
William Winters – 6 months; skull cracked in half
Stephen Angerer – 6 months

Baby Beukess – “missing”
Louis Weiss – 6 months, “missing”
























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


1 comment:

  1. I'm looking for images of Helen Auguste Geisen-Volk for a book. May I ask where you found your images? Can you email me at I would really appreciate any information. Thank you!