FULL TEXT: When Daisy Ellen Chivers, posing as a respectable British widow of means – but in reality a baby-farmer – “adopted” wee Donald Rogers, little did she conceive that she was taking the fatal step that would lead to a prison cell on a charge of killing the child. How could she guess that a tormented mother’s dream would result in exposure, or that the secrets of some of England’s most aristocratic society women would he torn from her, so that she might no longer trade on the hold she had on them and blackmail them by threatening to tarnish Great Britain’s time-honored names?
Mrs. Chivers lived at that famous English resort, Brighton-on-Sea. It cannot be said that she had her home there, for she was continually moving – in silent terror always, that the authorities would prosecute her for her dreadful trade. Daisy Ellen Chivers was one of those sinister characters more common some centuries ago than today. She belonged by rights to a world of dark and secret places, to an age when lords and ladies and Kings and Queens frequently bribed underlings to spirit away unwanted babes and paid them to bring up these unfortunates in the sordid and squalid surroundings of the poor.
Mrs. Chivers worked out a grim scheme of money-making, and for a time evaded detection by the simple means of using aliases, renting a new house every few weeks or so and advertising in the papers that she wished to “adopt” a child. In this way last year she acquired six children, each belonging to some unhappy woman forced to part with the precious but compromising baby.
Dick, Fred, Betty, Peggy, Vera and Baby Donald—these represented many thousands of dollars to Mrs. Chivers.
But the existence of six infants could not be completely hidden from the authorities, and Brighton’s Board of Guardians began to investigate. This was precisely the thing that Mrs. Chivers had dreaded, and her worst fears were justified. She was ordered to return five children to their parents, and only by assuring the authorities that she adored babies was she granted a license to maintain one.
She had no idea of obeying the law, of course. To return the children meant that she would also have to return the money she had received at the time of “adoption” and which was supposed to cover their upbringing and education. Now Mrs. Chivers could not have refunded the money even though she had wanted to. Much of it was gone. An unsuspected craving for romance in this middle-aged and unattractive woman accounted for the deficit. Her ill-gotten gains had been spent on the support of a youthful sweetheart, one Harry Marsh, a luxury-loving young man who flattered Mrs. Chivers and was said to have endured, her caresses for the sake of the excellent clothes, the roadster, the dinners and money with which she provided him.
Mrs. Chivers anxiously reviewed her position. Little Dick was the child of Adeline Thompson, daughter of a wealthy tea-merchant. A holiday in Switzerland, a brief and all-too-passionate love affair with a mountaineer had accounted for him. Mr. Thompson, Adeline’s worthy father, did not suspect the child’s existence. Mrs. Chivers inquired into the state of the tea market, found it flourishing, and decided that she really could not part with dear little Dick. So she wrote a letter which was a clever admixture of cajolery and threats, explaining that she really could not bring up the boy on the $10,000 she had received, and must have another $5,000. She hinted that the authorities would try to trace his parentage unless she could show a good sum in hand as a guarantee for his welfare.
Adeline Thompson got together the money and sent it, little guessing that even this would be useless to protect her in the end.
Little Freddy Porter was the son of a stockbroker and a governess. Mrs. Chivers knew that men were, harder to frighten than women, and, as it was with the stock-broker that she must deal, the governess being poor, she simply sent the child to his father. He took no proceedings against her apparently, and it was not revealed in court what had become of the boy.
Peggy was an adorable mite, the granddaughter of a baronet. Her mother was a Mrs. Denman, a beautiful society woman who had run away with her husband’s best friend. She had pretended a breakdown when her husband suspected her infidelity, and had contrived to be ordered by the doctor to go abroad for a year’s rest. The birth of the child had been concealed, and after Mrs. Chivers had “adopted” it. Young Mrs. Denman had persuaded her husband to forgive her. They were now living together.
The revelation of her deception has completely shattered the life of the unhappy woman who finds herself socially ruined and despised by the husband who claims that she should have told him of Peggy’s birth.
Three-year-old Vera was the baby of a Mademoiselle Dumont and a Mr. Hall, Mademoiselle Dumont was the companion of the well-known landowners’ wife. It was the tragedy of these two normal, vividly alive couple to be thrown constantly together. Mrs. Hail was a sufferer for whom no hope of recovery could be held out, but she was likely to live for many years. Mademoiselle Dumont, attractive, sympathetic and warm-hearted, could not resist the handsome country squire.
Later, pleading illness, she left. Vera was born and placed with Mrs. Chivers. Mrs. Hall had called constantly for the agreeable and accomplished Frenchwoman, and Mademoiselle Dumont thus returned to the home of her mistress and her lover, but it was essential that the secret be kept for the invalid’s sake. Therefore, Mrs. Chivers was easily able to extract more money from Mr. Hall.
Baby Betty was the child of a still more curious union. Her mother was the daughter of a wealthy South American family named d’Albert that had settled in England, intending to use Argentine millions to acquire a high social position. But there was some wild streak in the girl Felippa and she was quickly drawn into a fast and reckless set. She was a girl who tried everything once, and most things more often. She drank, smoked, sniffed cocaine when she wanted to wake up, injected morphia when she wanted to go to sleep, and was amused only at the most disreputable slumming parties. Finally the jaded heiress, who had a host of eligible suitors, chose for her lover a Chinaman of Limehouse.
The d’Alberts, as has now been disclosed, paid $25,000 to Mrs. Chivers, returned, broken and shamed, to the Argentine, and banished Felippa forever to a convent.
The d’Alberts were compelled to pay another large sum of money when Mrs. Chivers approached them by mail and told of her fear of official interference.
The clever baby-farmer promptly gave another woman a couple of hundred dollars to take the remaining children off her hands, and Scotland Yard is still busy tracing their whereabouts.
Mrs. Chivers was now free and would have been to the good but for the sieve-pocketed Marsh, who spent her money in princely fashion. Marsh, protesting his affection for her, induced her to put up a considerable sum for an enterprise upon which some friends of his had embarked, and when they hay gained control of practically everything she possessed, they fled – and Marsh is said to have bolted with them.
Daisy Ellen Chivers knew but were caught taking charge of other people’s children again, she would go to prison, she appropriated the name of her sister, Mrs. Beagley, and once again advertised.
She got two answers to her advertisement – one from each end of the social scale. The first was from a poor little servant girl named Muriel Goose, She promised Mrs. Chivers $200 and her own services free if she would take the baby which would be born in a few weeks’ time. Mrs. Chivers, though unaccustomed to dealing in such small amounts, realized the value of a servant who would be tied absolutely to her if she wished to have access to her baby. She also figured that the girl would keep silent, whatever she saw, for the sake of herself and her child.
The other answer came from a wealthy girl, named Rogers. Miss Rogers had made the fatal mistake of falling in love with a married man. Her home was in a small Canadian town, and a breath of scandal would have ruined not only the girl’s future but that of her sisters, one of whom was engaged to a young man of excellent family.
Thus a few months later, Mrs. Chivers moved into a new house, with a maid and two infants.
Miss Rogers had disappeared into the fastnesses of Canada. The little maid, Muriel Goose, hadn’t a penny left. Mrs. Chivers felt that it would be an absurd pandering to her natural kindness of heart to continue to support indefinitely two children when there was no hope of getting any more money through them than she already had.
Much has been written of the distressing details of baby-farming in England, and later the Prosecution for the Crown stressed the fact that at this time Mrs. Chivers, under another name, had sent to London for a good deal of literature on the subject. Children have been done away with in all kinds of wicked ways, and one of the most notorious cases in Great Britain revealed a subtlety of malice almost inconceivable. This case involved a number of children who were purposely exposed to a continuous draught while very lightly clad.
The babies naturally contracted colds, which were encouraged by neglect to develop into bronchitis and pneumonia. When they died, the baby farmer who had deliberately murdered them found it easy to get certificates stating “death from natural causes.” Too stingy to pay for the children’s funerals, she was discovered trying to bury a body in her cellar and conviction followed. It is significant that passages reporting this case were underlined by Mrs. Chivers. Just how far this ingenious plot influenced the scheming and heartless Daisy Ellen can only he surmised, but shortly after the arrival of the books the little girl belonging to the maid and Baby Donald Rogers both developed severe chills.
Muriel, the maid, nursed her baby, which improved rapidly under her care, while Mrs. Chivers looked after Donald—who grew worse. The children’s cold had started in the middle of the week, and on Sunday little Donald was. So ill that a neighbor who had dropped in strongly advised sending for a doctor. This, of course, was impossible. Even had Mrs. Chivers wished to save the child, exposure would have meant prison.
“It’s too expensive to call in a doctor on a Sunday, because they charge double,” she told a neighbor, adding, “I have pulled children round when they were worse than this.”
But she didn’t pull round Baby Donald. She sat down to supper quite cheerfully and was sipping Port wine when the maid rushed in and said that little Donald was lying so very quietly that it frightened her. Mrs. Chivers went up the stairs into the damp and chilly attic that was her “adopted son’s” bedroom. She shook him, but the unwanted baby, who had never known a mother’s love or a mother’s tenderness, had departed from a world which during his five brief months of life had been so harsh to him.
Daisy Ellen Chivers was a business woman, and her motto was: “Business first.” She wasted no time on fear or remorse. Instead, she went to the real estate agent, announced that she wished to take a new house, and promptly got the keys of an empty establishment. She saw the house, took it and made arrangements to enter it two days later. Meanwhile, people were in and out of the home she was leaving at all hours of the day. Naturally things were in disorder. A package on the music stool behind the piano attracted no particular attention. Who could dream that it contained a lifeless baby?
Her plan to get rid of the baby was very simple. She would light a huge fire kitchen – the old-fashioned open grate style of stove still common in England – ostensibly to burn the debris incidental to moving, and cremate the little body. Her scheme for moving the dead child from the old house – in which here were only gas stoves – was even simpler. She dressed the corpse and placed it next to Muriel’s little daughter in the baby carriage, thus transporting the living child and the dead one together.
Early the following morning, Mrs. Chivers lit the fire destined to be Baby Ponalri’s funeral pyre, and called the trembling Muriel to help her. Muriel, clasping her own baby to her throbbing heart, watched the proceeding? She fainted in court when she had described how Mrs. Chivers placed the tiny body into the devouring flames.
Mrs. Chivers swore the frightened little slave into secrecy, and together she and the girl took the ashes, lest these be incriminating, and scattered them along a remote country lane.
All seemed secure. Mrs. Chivers had come to the conclusion that she was perfectly safe, and that the deluded officials would never discover the incident of the cremation. Then Fate gave one of those unforeseen twists to circumstance that, although seemingly unimportant at the time, may have the most startling results.
Miss Rogers had discarded her baby, but she had not been able to cast out mother love. She fretted and grieved for the feel of wee Donald’s arms around her neck. Some presentiment of evil seemed Miss Roger; dreamed had parted from but to come to her. Miss Rogers dreamed that that the baby she still adored, was dead. So vivid and appalling was this dream that, with nerves a-quiver, she cabled to her mother who was still in England. Mrs. Rogers did not wish to approach Mrs. Chivers personally. Therefore, she confided the truth to an elderly governess of the family, a Miss Gibson. This good-hearted lady promptly wrote to Mrs. Chivers that she was coming in the course of the next few days to see Donald.
Mrs. Chivers was panic-stricken. She sent word that she was taking the child away for a vacation and that she would let Mrs. Gibson know when they came back. Miss Gibson did not like this letter.
It struck her that Donald’s foster-mother was stalling for time. Another frantic cable from Miss Rogers in Canada decided her to investigate. Getting no further replies from Mrs. Chivers to whom she wrote repeatedly, she appealed to the police Brighton was startled when the respectable Mrs. Chivers’ real occupation was disclosed and the fate of little Donald Rogers at the hands of the dealer in human life was discovered.
It is now known that Mrs. Chivers has had dozens of children in her care, throughout her long career, and the police are not satisfied with her account of what has become of them. Her trial had been adjourned, awaiting further investigations by Scotland Yard detectives.
[“Pitiful Fate of Unwanted, Unloved Little Baby Donald,” The American Weekly (San Antonio Light) (San Antonio, Tx.), Jun. 15, 1928, p. 7]
For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.
For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.