Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Baby Farmers

If you research British history, you will find that we had serial killers going back a couple of hundred years but many would be surprised at the amount of serial killers that were women.  Most of these killers were the "Baby Farmers," women who took infants from women who could not or did not want to, nurture them.  For a fee, they would take them on, saying they would take care of their well being.  Nothing was further from the truth.  These women would either sell them on to other people, and there, any concern about them evaporated, or they would kill them.  Many were found in rivers, canals or other waterways, strangled, manually or with cords, or poisoned.  Some women put their little victims into cloth bags, which were weighted with bricks, then thrown into the water.  Some simply threw the bodies in.  The practice was far more widespread in England than in Scotland, and in 1868, the British Medical Journal reported that getting rid of unwanted or burdenous children was very simple, provided the parents had the fee.  It was thought that hundreds of baby farmers plied this sick trade during the nineteenth century. 

    One of the most infamous in Scotland was Jessie King, the "Stockbridge Baby Farmer."  She was known to have killed three children, and in 1888, she and her lover,Tom Pearson, were arrested for infanticide. At the High Court in Edinburgh, she declared that Pearson knew nothing about what she was doing, and so he was released.  Spared facing the noose, he then turned on his lover and gave evidence against her.  Jessie King became the last woman to be executed In Edinburgh.  Down over the border in England, there were seven women executed  between 1870 & 1907.  These were Margaret Waters aged 35.  She was hanged at Brixton Prison in 1870.  Annie Took, aged 44, from Exeter, who worked as a needlewoman.  She was hanged in 1879.  Then there was Amelia Elizabeth Dyer, 57, who threw her victims into the Thames at Reading.  They were in weighted bags.  She even told Police that they could tell who she killed by the tape she used.  She had worked for the Salvation Army but her charitable disposition did not extend to infants.  She was hanged at Newgate on June 10th 1896.

    Ada Chard-Williams was 24 when she stood on the scaffold.  She went on trial for murdering 21 month old Selina Jones.  She offered to take on the child for a fee, but the mother did not have the full fee.  She took the address of the new "parents" but when she later returned with the rest of the fee, the couple and the child were gone.  Then a baby was washed up in the Thames at Battersea.  It was September 1899.  The child was identified as Selina Jones.  Police now hunted addresses where the couple had lived but they had vanished.  Then the Police received a letter from none other than Ada Chard-Williams.  She admitted to being a baby farmer but claimed the child had been passed on to somebody else.  She and her husband were traced and arrested.  Evidence in their home linked them to Selina.  They stood trial for murder.  William Chard-Williams was acquitted, but Ada was convicted and sentenced to death.  She was hanged at Newgate by James Billington on March 6th 1900.  She was the second execution in the 20th century.  The first hanging was also a woman, Louisa Masset, also hanged at Newgate by James Billington.

    Then came a double hanging, and the only double hanging of women in the 20th century.  This was the case of 29 year old Amelia Sach, a red headed midwife that came from East Finchley.  Her accomplice was 54 year old Annie Walters.  They were charged with the murder of one three month old boy.  They were the first women to be executed at Holloway Prison and the men responsible for the task were again, William Billington, assisted by Henry Pierrepoint, on February 3rd 1903.  They were thought to have carried out at least 20 child murders. The other women executed at Holloway were Edith Thompson, Styllou Christofi, and most famously, Ruth Ellis.

    The last known baby farmer execution was that of 44 year old Rhoda Willis, who also used the name Leslie James.  She did her activities in Cardiff, but her trouble was, she was a heavy drinker.  She had taken in two babies but could not cope with both, so one was left on the doorstep of a Salvation Army house in Cardiff, with a note pleading for the baby to be cared for.  But the baby was not immediately found and later died from effects of cold weather.  The other newly born infant was found dead by Rhoda`s bed after she came in from a bout of drinking.  She denied murdering the baby but was charged, tried and convicted.  She was hanged at Cardiff Prison on August 14th 1907, by the now leading hangman, Henry Pierrepoint, assisted by his brother, Tom.