Back in the black, bleak days of late Victorian England, things were pretty harsh unless you were one of the few loaded, toffee nosed gits. Johnnies weren’t common place, unless you fashioned your own from a pig’s bladder (no thanks), and the contraceptive pill was a long way off so there were plenty of unwanted births. If those births were out of wedlock, the new mothers struggled to get any kind of income at all as the Fathers at that time didn’t have to pay a penny and society was not fond of ladies who brought little bastards on to the grimy streets. The women weren’t even allowed in the workhouse because of their “immorality”.
To make cash out of this problem baby farming was created. This entailed taking an unwanted child at birth or soon after and looking after it. The mother could either pay small monthly payments, or a one off payment. As far as the baby farmer was concerned, if they got a lump sum, it made a lot more sense for them to “dispose” of the baby and keep the profits. Yes, you can imagine what’s coming.
The overall champion in the baby killing stakes was an enchanting wench called Amelia Dyer, it’s thought that she slaughtered maybe as many as 400 poor little tykes, making her the most prolific murderess of all time. She was born in to a poor family and trained as a nurse before realising the potential of this new more lucrative trade.
It was common in these farms to keep the kids in a state of narcosis using alcohol or opiates so that the baby was so heavily sedated it wouldn’t even want to eat and would die of malnutrition. Any mothers wishing to visit their babies would have a hard time getting in and would generally be too ashamed to call on the police if they suspected anything. As Dyer’s career went on, leaving them to die of neglect became too much of a chore for this warm hearted woman so she moved to more direct tactics. One unlucky waif – Doris Marmon – only a few days old was strangled by Amelia using white dress tape, she was later quoted as saying: “I used to like to watch them with the tape around their neck, but it was soon all over with them”. Not a nice lady. Soon after that she removed the tape from Doris and strangled a 13 month year old. They were then unceremoniously dumped in the Thames, along with a great number of her other victims.
Dyer was plagued with mental illness and opium abuse, although some believe she feigned her attacks of madness to coincide with times when it was convenient for her to lie low in a mental institution. The police eventually tracked her down thanks to yet another corpse that a bargeman found in the Thames. The body was in a box that could be traced back to her and she was finally arrested in 1896. Dyer was hung a few weeks later, thankfully. I’m not big on capital punishment I must admit, but in some cases it seems fitting. Her last words were “I have nothing to say”…. Calling her a cold hearted witch doesn’t quite cut it.