Saturday, September 17, 2011

Child Care Provider, Kidnapper, Serial Killer & Child Molester: Georgia Tann - 1950


Mommie Dearest, the 1981 movie about the Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of Joan Crawford, and her nightmare world of abuse is iconic in pop culture. Few, however, know the story of the woman, Georgia Tann (1891-1950),  who sold the child to the sadistic movie star.

Tann is credited with having single-handedly made adoption industry a respectable business. Her influence was enormous. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt regarded Tann as an expert on child care and sought her advice. Today’s controversial confidentiality laws, making it legal for adoption businesses to create permanently false identities for their charges remains the standard even today.

Not until after her death in 1950 did the real story of her famous career come to light. The truth is that Georgia Tann, along with her female companion, were kidnappers, child molesters, child torturers, serial killers on a massive scale and con artists. She snatched babies from poor mothers – and sometimes poor couples – with the aid of a corrupt female judge, Camille Kelly, who was paid kickbacks. She sold the children for a substantial profit and padded the expenses of interstate delivery to extract the last drop of payment.


During Tann’s tenure as head of the organization she founded, Tennessee Children’s Home Society, in Memphis, the region had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation. Her practice was to rid herself of those babies put in her charge she deemed unsaleable by leaving them unattended out in the sun until they broiled to death. She and her lover and male sexual deviants she employed would beat and torture children for the perverse sexual thrill of it.

According to one surviving victim, Georgia and her companion would hit the children “on the scalp so no one could see the bruises.” Favored forms of child torture at the Home included tying a rope around a child’s wrists and hang it up on a coat rack and dangling a child from a rope down the laundry chute.

“But she also literally stole many young children from their birth families — taking them away in her big car, or through social workers — and sold them. Tann disposed of more than 5,000 babies and children in this way” notes Charity Vogel in her review of the 2007 book on Tann, Baby Thief [Devil in disguise: Adoption in America, The Buffalo News, May 22, 2007]

Nobody knows just how many children Tann murdered between 1924 and 1950. It is known, however, that during the winter of 1945, 50 children in her care met their deaths. It is not unreasonable to put the number in the multiple thousands; after all, the Mr. & Mrs. Holmen’s National Children’s Sanitorium in Stockholm, Sweden was suspected of murdering 1,000 children in a period of only three years.

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Barbara Bizantz Raymond's 2007 book, The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption, is a superb account of the career of the woman who may well deserve to be known as America’s worst serial killer.


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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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