England in Victorian era was certainly not a safe place for children. After all, it was not any better for adults if we think about serial killers such as Jack the Ripper, unknown to this day. Another killer Harold Shipman (1946-2004), during his career as a doctor, killed around 250 of his patients and he is considered as one of the most fierce British killers. But forgot in the archives of the Police Department and Court lays the story of Amelia Dyer, probably the very wildest killer that Great Britain has ever seen. The exact number of children killed is not known, but it is believed that the midwife killer slayed between 200 and 400 children.
Her case, one of the most sensational ones of the time, uncovered a horrible Pandora’s box which brought back to light the awareness of how widespread the practice of infanticide was; along with it though, it also stimulated the organisations and laws designed to safeguard childhood, even in case of adoption. Affirming that in the England of the 19th century the habit of infanticide was common is not in any way an exaggeration. A law of the time, which technically was supposed to discourage births outside the marriage, allowed the illegitimate fathers to not have to look after the child financially speaking: this would leave all the duties on the mother’s shoulders.
Single mothers did not have a wide varieties of choices: they could sell their body, starving or they could turn their children into “angels”
The Baby Farmers would offer the last chance to a minority of desperate single-mothers, even though, in reality, most of mothers knew what type of destiny those children were going towards.
Amelia Dyer, when she became a widow at the young age of 32 years old with a daughter to look after, worked initially as a nurse and then, after a conversation with a midwife, she discovered the easiest way to gain money. She was supposed to host for a fee the young women who were going to give birth, and after that keeping the newborns up until they were put up for adoption. Not many of those though would get to that point.
amongst the baby farmers it was common to starve the little creatures while keeping them sedated with alcohol and opium
Mrs Dyer decided to dedicate herself to this profession, while showing off her qualification as a nurse and offering a safe and lovely place to the unfortunate babies. The parents were supposed to pay a substantial amount (only once), and had to supply the clothes for the child. At a certain point the woman realised that it was more handy and fruitful to kill the newborns straight away, strangling them with a white ribbon, instead of waiting for them to starve to death.
In 1879 Mrs Dyer was accused of neglect towards the children once a doctor noticed a rather high number of death for those ones she entrusted. After a sentence of six months to penal labour, the woman started suffering from psychotic issues and suicidal thoughts, which lead to abuse of alcohol and opium.
Mrs Dyer, however, came back to her horror profession in a not too long time, trying to stay away from doctors, who were supposed to compile the death certificates
she began to get rid of the little bodies herself
To escape the mothers, seeking information about their sons, as well as not drawing too much attention from the police, Mrs Dyer was often changing her identity. One day though, someone found in the Thames the corpse of the little Elena Fry, one of the victims that was identified. The little girl was wrapped up in paper, where a zealous police officer managed to decipher a writing, which was name and address of a certain Mrs Thomas.
The detectives focused their attention on Amelia Dyer, and discovered through a fake client the huge cycle of adoptions she was involved in. They conducted a search in her house and there they found a lot of evidence: financial agreements, letters from the mothers, advertisements as well as the ribbon she was wrapping twice around their neck to choke her victims. After her arrest, the police dredged up in the Thames 6 further bodies as well as making an estimate of how many children she could have killed within 20 years: the incredible calculation suggested a number between 200 and 400 innocent victims.
Newgate Prison, where Amelia Dyer was locked
On the trial of the 22nd of May 1896, the woman was recognised as guilty of just one homicide, but nevertheless that had her condemned to death, in just 4 minutes and a half. On the 10th of June 1896 she was hanged and from there onward she became famous as “the Ogress of Reading”.
Hanging in Newgate Prison
That world, which allowed such an obscene trade of children can now look so far away from our time, however their scars are still so fresh. In the Victorian age it is already known how filth, thieves and beggars were common but now it’s clear a new detail: the corpses of children spread all along the streets, insignificant victims that no one was paying attention to.