Monday, September 19, 2011

Annie Tooke, Baby Farmer Who Smothered and Chopped Up a Child - 1879

FULL TEXT: Annie Tooke, a middle-aged widow, was executed on 11th August, within Exeter Gaol, for the murder of an illegitimate child which had been put with her to nurse, the first smothered the child, and then chopped the body in pieces, and threw the remains into a mill stream. The prison hospital was turned into a place of execution, and Marwood, who was the executioner, gave a drop of seven feet. Prisoner’s four children visited her on Saturday. The representatives of the press were not admitted to the execution, but they were allowed to attend the inquest, and view the body with the jury. The governor of the prison produced a copy of the following statement made by the culprit : — “I hereby acknowledge that the confession which I first made to Captain Bent is true in the main particulars, and that I am justly to suffer for my dreadful crime, for which, as for all my many sins, I do most truly repent, and heartily pray God’s mercy for the sake of His dear Son, my only Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.— Signed by me, Annie Tooke.”

[Untitled, The Auckland Evening Star (New Zealand), Oct. 16, 1879, p. 3]


FULL TEXT: Reginald Hyde was born on the 6th of October 1878 to a young woman from Camborne in Cornwall called Mary Hoskins, who moved to Ide near Exeter in Devon to conceal the pregnancy. She was persuaded by her brother to give the child up to a “nurse” and made contact with Annie Tooke who agreed to take Reginald on for £12, plus 5 shillings (25p) a week.  Annie moved from Ide to South Street Exeter in the Spring of 1879 and had difficulty coping with the growing Reginald.

The baby was not seen alive after the 9th of May but a child’s torso was discovered on the 17th of May by a local miller. The head, limbs and genitals were missing but were discovered nearby.  This gruesome find made the papers and the story was read by a butcher and a doctor from Ide who knew Annie and the child.  They visited her and asked to see Reginald whom she was unable to produce - instead making up a story about an unnamed person having taken him away a fortnight earlier.

The police initially suspected that Mary Hoskins had been responsible for the death (presumably to save the five shillings a week) and took Annie to Camborne to identify her. Mary was arrested and charged with the crime. Annie gave Captain Bent, the Chief Constable of Exeter, a statement describing how the child had been taken but he became suspicious of her testimony and arrested her. While in Exeter prison she made a full confession to him, saying how she had suffocated Reginald with a pillow and then cut him up with the fire wood chopper on the coal bunker.  She later withdrew this confession. 

She was tried at Exeter on the 21st and 22nd of July 1879 and the jury believed her confession, supported by blood stains on items of her clothing and the coal bunker. She was convicted and hanged on Monday, the 11th of August by William Marwood.  There seems little doubt that she was guilty and that the murder was typical of the “Baby farming” style of crime, however there is no evidence to show that she was involved with any other children, unlike the other women on this page.


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


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