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Chilling story of the 'kind' Victorian midwife who murdered hundreds of babies

Mirror logo Mirror 8/12/2018 Elaine McCahill

Amelia Dyer standing in front of a building: Midwife Amelia Dyer murdered hundreds of babies across a 30-year period © Wikipedia Midwife Amelia Dyer murdered hundreds of babies across a 30-year period Warning: This article may be upsetting to readers.

A Victorian nurse pretended to be kind and nurturing but actually murdered hundred of babies.

She fooled parents into letting her take care of their newborns but in reality the nurse was one of the most prolific female serial killers recorded in the UK.

Amelia Dyer brutally murdered babies by starving, drugging and strangling them, over an almost 30-year period.

Dyer, who was from Bristol, but travelled to Plymouth and other places across England to pick up the babies, was paid by unwed mothers and rich families to take care of their offspring in exchange for money, usually between £10 and £80, the equivalent of £1,000 - £8,000 today.

In 1869, she began placing adverts in local newspapers to adopt healthy children, enticing them in by mentioning she was married - which was a lie as her husband died the same year - and had a 'nice country home'.

The arrangement was known as 'baby farming', report Plymouth Live.

In most cases, the parents, referred to as 'baby farmers' would place their children in a new home under loving care, sometimes being returned to their mothers once they were financially stable.

However, in the case of Dyer, she would viciously kill them, and if their parents wanted the baby back, she would give them another child.

She began murdering her innocent, helpless victims by overdosing them with a cordial, referred to as 'Mother's friend'.

It is thought that she had murdered more than 300 hundred babies, but the exact number will never be known.

 

a close up of Amelia Dyer © Credits: Wikipedia The murders went undetected by the authorities due to the high infant mortality rates during the Victorian era, but in 1879, one doctor became suspicious due to the amount of death certificates he was issuing for babies being 'cared for' by Dyer.

She was eventually jailed for neglect - not murder - and was handed a six month sentence in a labour camp - but as soon as she was released, she returned to her sinister ways.

This time she changed her method to strangulation and continued to place ads and collect payments.

Realising that she was found out by doctors previously, she skipped reporting the deaths to the doctors, and instead ditched their lifeless bodies into rivers, including the River Avon and the River Thames, or bury them.

Some people would ask for their babies to be immediately murdered after birth, due to the shame of single motherhood in the era, knowing that the coroners would be unable to tell the difference between suffocation and still-birth.

Dyer moved around to escape being caught by authorities again, as well as changing her identity on several occasions.

She moved from town to town to avoid detection of her heinous crimes and even faked a mental illness, getting herself admitted into a mental asylum.

In 1896, she slipped up by dropping two bodies in the Thames at Reading, but did not weigh the boxes down enough, resulting in them being discovered by a bargeman.

In the package was the body of one-year-old Helena Fry, who had white tape around her neck - but Dyer had forgotten one vital thing.

The packaging was stamped with an address of a Mrs Thomas of 26 Piggott's Road, Caversham, Dyer's maiden name and home address.

Det Con James Beattie Anderson examined the package, which is now on display at the Thames Valley Police Museum, and spotted the clue.

Neighbours told the police where Dyer had relocated, and upon arrival at her home in Reading, were met by the stench of decomposing bodies, piles of baby clothing and receipts from adverts she had placed in various newspapers across the UK.

Officers ordered that the Thames was dredged, and discovered six more babies, all with identical tape to that which was used to murder Helena Fry.

She chillingly told them: "You'll know all mine by the tape around their necks."

On May 22, 1896, she appeared at the Old Bailey for the trial for the murders.

The then 57-year-old tried to plead insanity, but was convicted by a jury, who took less than six minutes to find her guilty.

It will never be known the true scale of her gruesome crimes, but eyewitnesses who were called at trial, reported seeing Dyer take in as many as six babies a day.

After eventually confessing to her crimes, she was hanged on June 10, 1896, at Newgate Prison.

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