Monday, September 19, 2011

Jennie Suffert, Missouri Child Care Provider & Serial Killer - 1889

The correct spelling is "Suffert," though it appears in several variants, such as “Seiffert” “Safferd.”


FULL TEXT: St. Louis, Jan. 16. – A woman named Jennie Seiffert, who conducted a baby farming institution on Cass avenue, is under arrest for causing the death by starvation of two babies. Four children in various stages of decline were found in the apartments in one room were two dead infants under six months of age. The woman said she had been given the children to take care of, but they persisted in dying.

[“Baby farm in St. Louis.” The Massilon Independent (Oh.), Jan. 17, 1889, p. 1]



FULL TEXT: A case which, from present indications, promises to be one of the most inhuman exhibitions of heartless cruelty that has ever been brought to light in this city was discovered this morning in a tenement-house, No. 1413 Cass Avenue. At 9 o’clock this morning a woman giving her name as Jane Suffert called at the Coroner’s office and grave notice that two babies who had been left in her charge had died, stating that she had no money to bury them and that the city would have to take charge of them.  She had first gone to the Morgue, but was informed, after telling her story, that the Coroner’s Office was the proper place to apply. A policeman, who chanced to be in the Morgue when Mrs. Suffert appeared, remembered that another baby had died at the same house during the latter part of December, and at once notified the Chief’s office. A telephone message was sent to the Fourth District Station, and Policeman McNamee was sent to the number given to investigate the case.


Mrs. Suffert said that the children who had died were not her own but had been left in her charge by their mothers. One was a boy named Frank Todd, about 6 weeks old, and the other a girl, called Mary Frances Smyth, about a week older. Both had been under her charge about five weeks. About 1 o’clock yesterday morning, according to her story, the little girl, without any apparent reason, began to cry violently. She supposed that it was hungry, gave it a drink of milk and went about her household work. Returning in a few minutes she found that it had died.

The boy, who seemed feverish and weak ever since it had been placed in her charge, was suddenly seized with spasms about daybreak Sunday morning. Mrs. Suffert said that for a time she had been greatly alarmed, but the illness had apparently passed off, and the child seemed to be as well as ever. At 9 o’clock Sunday night it had again been seized, and had died within a few moments. She was so much fatigued by the excitement into which the sudden deaths of the two children had thrown her that she felt too weak to notify the police that night, and had accordingly postponed it until this morning.

Deputy Coroner Dunbar who was acting in place of Coroner Frank, the latter having gone to Jefferson City to attend the inauguration of Gov. Francis, deemed the case important enough to call for his personal attention, and at once got into his buggy and drove to the house where the two dead children lay. Here Patrolman McNamee was in writing, and conducted Mr. Dunbar to the room occupied by Mrs. Suffert. The house is a three-story brick, located in a block, and let out to different tenants. Mrs. Suffert occupies the front room in the third story. On entering the room in the third story. On entering the room  Coroner Dunbar saw the bodies of the children lying on the floor, covered with a sheet. Three other children lying on the floor, covered with a sheet. Three other children were in the room, one about 6 years old, another about 4 years of age and a third a baby of about 3 months old. There was little furniture, a few chairs, a broken-down cooking stove and a bed covered with a dirty counterpane and a ragged blanket being all that was to be seen. Poverty and untidiness was abundantly evidenced in every part of the room, and the air was close and foul. A more unpromising interior it would be hard to imagine.

The Deputy Coroner drew back the sheet covering the bodies and was startled at the sight presented. The two corpses were emaciated to a frightful degree, the cheeks were thin and drawn, and the bones seemed almost ready to break through the skin. In addition it was abundantly evident that no adequate attention had been paid to the personal cleanliness of the children when alive. Both bore traces of what at one time had been considerable personal beauty, the boy in particular having features which, if less emaciated, would have made him noticeable. The two little girls, who gave their names as May and Mabel Suffert, were playing about the room, while the baby, which appeared to be healthy and well-fed, was lying on the bed.

Mr. Dunbar considered the case to be decidedly suspicious, and accordingly placed Mrs. Suffert under arrest, and made inquiries among the neighbors concerning her. The result of these served to strengthen his suspicions. The patrol wagon was telephoned for, and in the meantime the bodies of the children, which were little more than skin and bones, were wrapped up in sheets and prepared for transportation to the Morgue. When the patrol wagon arrived they were placed in it. Mrs. Suffert was taken into custody and conveyed to the Four Courts, where she was locked up, to be held for the Coroner.

Deputy Coroner Dunbar, who drove to the Four Courts with a POST-DISPATCH reporter, said: “There is no doubt that whatever in my mind that the children were starved to death. No one could have looked at them without being convinced of this. They are nothing but skin and bones, the skin over the joints are stretched tight, the arms and legs are like pipestems and the entire bodies emaciated to a frightful degree. I never saw anything more pitiful in my life, and felt myself obliged by my sense of duty to arrest the woman under whose charge they had been so maltreated. I don’t like to put a woman in jail, but no public officer in my position would have seen those bodies and have acted otherwise without a very flagrant neglect of duty.

 “I would have arrested her if I had no further evidence than that which my eyes gave me this morning,” Mrs. Dunbar went on to say, “but when previous circumstances are taken into consideration my belief in the woman’s guilt is doubly strong. On Christmas Eve the body of a baby was taken to the Morgue from the same charge of the same woman. Like these babies, the body was dreadfully thin, most suspiciously so; and I thought at the time that the child must have been very much neglected. Mrs. Suffert stated that the child had been left in her charge by a woman name White, who had been unfortunate and had never been married. There was no proof against her, and therefore no steps were taken. But when it comes to having three children die on her hands within three weeks is rather crowding the mourners, and it is time something was done. There is no doubt in the world that this Suffert woman keeps a baby farm, and no doubt whatever in my mind that she allowed the children under her charge to die of neglect. It is a most outrageous case, and I felt obliged to take strong measures.”

Mrs. Jennie Suffert, the baby farmer, who had taken to the Four Courts, after she had been searched by the matron, was locked in a cell. She is a woman apparently about 28 or 30 years of age, very poorly dressed, and frail and delicate in appearance. In reply to a question asked by a POST-DISPATCH reporter, she said: “My name is Jennie Suffert, and I have been married fior about six years. My husband was always idle, and left me about a year ago, since which time I have not seen him. I took these babies from their mothers simply because I had no other way to make my living. I have three children, and was obliged to stay at home, so that I could not look for work outside. I treated them well – bettyer than my own children, and could not prevent them from crying.”

“How did it happen that their mothers brought them to you?”

“I was this way. About five months ago I went to the City Hospital, where my last child, the one that is now at my home, was born. I knew that I would be kept in for a long time, and the idea occurred to me, seeing so many unfortunate women who had children which they could not take care of about me, that I might make a living by looking after them. I told one of the nurses what I wanted to do and she said that she would speak to some of the women about it. I got about of the hospital over four months ago, got out of the hospital over four months ago, and went to the room I now have. Ab out a month afterwards a woman whom I had met at the hospital, Annie White, she said her name was, brought a baby to me, saying that she had taken it out St. Ann’s Hospital and asked me to take care of it, promising to pay me $2 a week. She said she would come and see it every few days, but never called but once or twice. The baby was sickly when it came, gradually pined away and died on the afternoon of December 24. I do not know who its father was. Its mother took the corpse away, and on the day after Christmas a gentleman knocked at the door, and asked if Mrs. White had a room on that floor. I told him she had not, and then he went away. A day or two afterwards another gentleman came, and wanted to know where the White baby was buried. I said that I did not know, but gave him the mother’s address. I have now forgotten where it was.”

“The Coroner says, Mrs. Suffert, that the baby was brought from your house to the Morgue as a foundling.”

“I don’t know anything about that. Its mother took it from my room.”

“What about the two babies that died yesterday?”

“The first one that came to my house was brought there early in December by a girl calling herself Amanda Todd, whom I had met at the hospital. It was a pretty, black-eyed boy, two or three weeks’ old. She came with a woman, who said that she was her sister, and told me that she was her sister, and told she that she lived at 1809 La Salle street. She said that she could get anyone to take care of the baby; that she had taken it to St. Ann’s Hospital, where they would not take it, and therefore brought it to me. She said that she had never been married, and agreed to pay me $2 a week for taking care of the child. She paid me $3 down, and since then I have not seen her until I came from the Coroner’s office this morning. Then she paid me $6 more and wanted to take the body away. The Coroner would not let her do this, and she left.

“The other baby was a girl, left with me a few days later by a girl whom I had also met at the City Hospital, who called herself Fannie Smith. She came with an older woman, who said that she would give Fannie Smith a place if she could dispose of the child. I agreed to take care of it for $2 a week. She paid me the first week in advance, saying that she would soon come and pay me the rest. She did not appear, and I went to look for the house she said she was living at, No. 1332 Park avenue. I found that there was no such number and have not seen the mother nor received a cent from that day to this. Both bebies died, but I could not help it.”

“Did you in any way neglect them?”

“I took the very best care of them I could; in fact, I treated them better than I did my own children. I would often leave the latter crying to the babies left with me,”

“At first I gave them condensed milk, but I saw that it did not agree with them, and gave them all the cow’s milk they could drink. They were well fed and were fatter when they died than when they came to me.”

“Have you ever had any other babies under your charge?”


“Do you keep a baby farm?”

“I suppose that it what they would call it. I don’t like the business, but I am very poor, my young children kept me at home, and it was the only thing that I could do.:”

Miss Amanda Todd, the mother of the boy, called at the Four Courts a few minutes before 1 o’clock this afternoon. She was accompanied by a friend, Mrs. Morris, of No. 920 North Twelve street. Both went into the holdover where they saw and identified the prisoner as the woman to whom the child had been given to board. “I am unmarried,” remarked the Todd woman, “and work out at No. 1809 La Salle street. My child was born at the Female Hospital on December 2, and just one month ago to-day I gave him to this woman to raise. She made her own terms agreeing to board the child for $8 a month. The woman said she had been boarding children for $5 a month, but had raised her rates. We agreed to pay her more than she demanded if she thought the amount too small, but she said $8 a month would be plenty. Mrs. Morris was with me at the time, and we paid her half the month’s board in advance. She was told to get anything the baby wanted for it and we would stand the expense. We also told her if the child got sick to notify us at once and to get a physician immediately and we would pay him. She promised to do so. A week ago last Tuesday we called to see the child. He seemed to be looking a little badly and we spoke to her about it, but she said that was the natural result of his being separated from his mother, but that he was commencing to pick up again. This explanation satisfied us, although we can prove he was a strong, healthy child when placed in her care. We heard nothing further about the child until she came to me last night and told me he had died yesterday. I still owed her $2 on the child’s board for the month, and I paid her $1 of this last night and the other $1 to-day.”

Mrs. Morris indorsed all that was said and prompted the speaker from time to time. The mother was asked who had recommended the woman to her and she replied: “Mrs. Wagner, a nurse at the Female Hospital. She said that ‘Mrs. Spencer’ – that is the name by which the woman is known out there – was poor but honest, and would do well by the children if the girls would pay her. When we went to the woman she told us her. When we went to the woman she told her maiden name was Spencer. One of the girls, Mollie Stockery, had sent her child to Mrs. Spencer and left it with her without ever paying its board. That was what made Mrs. Wagner make the remark she did. The child was sent to St. Ann’s Asylum, however, by Mrs. Spencer, a couple pf months ago.”

“Whose child was the girl this woman had?”

“It belonged to Fannie Smith. I believe she is stopping somewhere on Park avenue between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets. The infant was born a couple of weeks before mine. Mrs. Spencer had her address, but I believe she claims there is no such number as that was given to her by Fannie. She received the pay for the first month’s board of the child, and the second month would soon be due.”

“Do you know the mother of the child which died December 24?”

“Yes, that was Annie Smith’s child. She had one from Annie Smith and one from Fannie Smith.”

“Do you know of any more children she has had?”

“None except those four.”

A call was made by a POST-DISPATCH reporter upon Mrs. Mary J. Boote, who keeps a dressmaking and millinery establishment on the lower floor of No. 1413 Cass avenue, the building where the farm was discovered. In reply to a question concerning Mrs. Suffert, Mrs. Boote said: “I have seen Mrs. Suffert occasionally during the last three or four months, and frequently saw her two little girls playing about, but I never spoke to her until about a week before Christmas. At that time I decided that I would need another room in addition to the three I have on this floor, and I went to the third story to see if I could get one there. I knocked at the door of the front room, and Mrs. Suffert opened it. I asked her about the back room, and she showed me in and began talking to me about it. I saw that there were three children in the room, all of them lying in one bed, one of them a baby, who she said was not hers. She also told me that the baby had the measles. There are three rooms on the third floor, but she had only one.

“On Christmas day a neighbor stepped into my store and asked me about the baby that died. I said that I knew nothing about it, and thought that there must be a mistake, as Mrs. Suffert, with two children, going to the POST-DISPATCH Christmas tree. I thought nothing more about the matter until the 27th of December, when a nicely dressed gentleman came into my store. He had what looked like an oblong frame on his arm, which was carefully covered with paper. He asked if Mrs. White lived there. I said she did not and that I knew no one of that name in the neighborhood. “I must have made a mistake,” he replied, “the number must be 1314 and not 1413. Wait until I look.” He opened the paper wrapping of the package he carried, and showed it to me. It contained a wreath of white artificial flowers bearing a card marked “Harry White, aged 4 months.” The address, 1413 Cass avenue, was on a card fastened to a corner of the frame. He asked who else lived in the house and when I told him of Mrs. Suffert, said that he would go on to her room. I never saw him again, but two days afterwards another gentleman carrying a similar frame, but the contents of which I did not see, came and asked the same questions. I never saw any funeral, and do not know when the bodies were taken away. Mrs. Suffert, a few days ago told me that she had two more babies belonging to two other women, and when I heard that they had died I told the police and also the Coroner what I knew.”

[“A Baby Farmer. – Sensational Arrest Made at Noon To-Day on Cass Avenue. – Two Infants Found Who Were Apparently Starved to Death. – Investigation Shows that Mrs. Jennie Suffert Had Been Keeping a Baby Farm and That Three Infants Had Died Under Suspicious Circumstances in a Very Short Time – Deputy Coroner Dunbar Orders the Arrest, and Says There Is No Doubt in His Mind That Starvation Was the Cause of Death – The Corpses Removed to the Morgue – A Talk With the Baby-Farmer – The Mother of One of the Dead Children Tells Her Story.”]


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


For more cases of this category, see: Female Serial Killers of 19th Century America


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