Saturday, June 27, 2015

Laura Hawkins & Nettie Van Sarver, Cynical Baby Farmers – USA 1917

Note: Although this story describes only a single death (through starvation and neglect), the account is quite valuable is providing a picture of the experience of a typical victim of a manipulative baby farmer. This utterly heartbreaking account of the brief life, exploitation and death baby Bolan and the hellish experience the mother was put through by unaccountable “helpers” is the same story that has been repeated hundreds of thousands of times.


FULL TEXT: Philadelphia, Pa. – Refusing to entertain a motion for a new trial, although Attorney John Robb, counsel for the defendant argued for over a half hour, Judge Carpenter today sentenced Mrs. Niettie Van Sarver, convicted “baby farmer,” to pay a fine of $100 and costs. Mr. Robb first tried to get the costs taken from his client, then asked for a new trial. Hot words passed between him and Judge Carpenter when the attorney said, “A new trial should be given, as your honor instructed the jury by letter on this case.”

“That is not true!” said Judge Carpenter.

“I have it direct from the jurors,” said Mr. Robb.

“The juror who says that does not speak the truth,” said the judge, “the jury sent in to ask the definition of a word and I gave it – that is all. Besides, it is not any of your business what the jury asks me.”

Mrs. Laura Hawkins, convicted on the same charges upon which Mrs. Van Sarver was given a trial, made a motion for a new trial, made a motion for a new trial through her attorney, Ralph Tannehill. It will be argued later. She was released in $1,000 bail. The women were to have appeared in court at 9:30 a. m. to receive sentence, but neither came till after 10 o’clock.


After a trial, during which girls told of taking their babies to Mrs. Van Sarver for her to find homes for them, women told of obtaining babies from the same woman through “ads” in the newspapers, and a policeman, Mrs. Ida Forsaith, told how, during her investigation of the case, Mrs. Van Sarver offered her the position as assistant, saying she should make from $50 to $75 a week. Mrs. Van Server was convicted of a misdemeanor for which she could be fined but not imprisoned. Wednesday of this week Mrs. Hawkins was convicted on two charges. Both women were accused of conducting a baby farm without a license and of trafficking in infants. Mrs. Van Sarver yesterday was placed in charge of her counsel, Attorney John Robb, without bail.

One of the most pitiful features of the case was the bitter disappointment of Mary Bolan of Arnold, aged 24, who was the principal witness against Mrs. Hawkins. Mary told how her baby was born in August. 1913; how she saw an “ad” in a newspaper that a young couple wanted to adopt a baby and how, on the strength of the “ad” she took the baby to Mrs. Hawkins. According to Mary’s story, Mrs. Hawkins said she would raise the baby as her own, provided Mary would give her $50 for lawyer’s fees for adoption proceedings.


Mary could pay only $30, she said. Since Mary placed the baby, aged 6 weeks, Mrs. Hawkins’ care, she has not seen it. Repeatedly she wrote and telephoned Mrs. Hawkins, asking to see the baby, but was refused, she said. Letters were read in court alleged to have been written Mrs. Hawkins, in which she threatened Mary with the possibly sending the child to a charitable institution unless of Mary paid the rest of the money.

Mary says she then asked Mrs. Hawkins to giver the baby back, but Mrs. Hawkins would not do it. Mary came to the trial and testified, thinking all the time that now she would see the little one restored to her arms. She asked Mrs. Hawkins in the courtroom to tell her where the baby was, but Mrs. Hawkins turned her back on the pleading girl.


The baby had died May 15, 1916, and no person had the courage to tell the poor little mother until yesterday, Detective Homer Crooks, unable to stand the wistful pleading of her inquiries, kindly and gently told her that she would never see her baby again. Ay first Mary could not believe it. Then she cried, and cried, and cried all afternoon. “I never would have left the baby only she said it would have a good home.” she sobbed over and over. “She told me she would care for it better than I could. She said she would give it a good home.” So sure was Mary been that she would get her baby, that she had purchased, at the noon recess, some pretty little garments for the child.

The history of the baby, as traced, is as follows: Mary gave the baby to Mrs. Hawkins, Oct. 12, 1915. Mrs. Hawkins gave the baby to Mrs. Sarver Oct. 15. Mrs. Sarver advertised in the papers for parents to adopt a baby. Mrs. Quinn answered the “ad” and received the baby Nov. 1. Mrs. Quinn brought the baby back to Mrs. Van Sarver in a few weeks and the juvenile court took it Jan. 5, 1916. “Why didn’t Mrs. Hawkins let me have it back when she didn’t want it?” is Mary’s wail. “She could have had the $30. I’ll never forget what they made my baby suffer.”

[Gertrude Gordon, “’Baby Farmer’ Funed; Another Asks New Trial,” The Pittsburg Press (Pa.), Feb. 24, 1917, p. 1]


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


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