Monday, 24 February 2014

The Life and Crimes of Amelia Dyer....Baby Farmer.


    Amelia Dyer was born Amelia Elizabeth Hobley in 1837 at Pyle Marsh in Bristol, she was the youngest of five children, her parents were Samuel and Sarah Hobley, they had a comfortable life as Samuel had a good job as a master shoemaker.
    However, soon this childhood bliss was to change forever when Sarah contracted Typhus and suffered bouts of violent madness before dying in 1848, Amelia had nursed her throughout this time and it must have had quite an effect upon her.
    Soon young Amelia was apprenticed to a Bristol corset maker and moved in with her aunt, sadly in 1859 her father Samuel also died.
    In 1861 at the age of 24 she met and married 59 year old George Thomas, on the marriage certificate he declared his age to be 48 and she said her age was 30 so as to close the age gap a little.       Soon after her marriage Amelia began training as a nurse, this was a tough job in Victorian times and it wasn't long before Amelia heard of another way to make money, through contact with midwives she was introduced to the world of baby farming.

The Baby Farmers.

    Due to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 men who had fathered illegitimate children were not obliged to give any financial help to the mothers, at a time when single mothers were thought a disgrace and stigmatised any measures were employed in hiding or hushing up such a pregnancy, the dubious trade of the baby farmer came into it's own.
    These women would take in the mother for a fee that could be as low as a few pounds to an extortionate fee of up to £100 if the family were rich enough or were induced to supply "hush money".
    After the birth the baby would be given to the farmer and it would either end up being fostered to a childless couple or it would just die of neglect. Often the babies would die of starvation because the farmer would try to cut as many costs as possible, a hungry child is a noisy child so "mother's friend" an opium laced syrup was applied resulting in loss of appetite and eventual death.

Poor Career Choices.

    Sadly for Amelia in 1869 her husband George died and she desperately needed an income, with her nursing skills and dubious moral instincts baby farming seemed the perfect solution.
    Changing her surname to Dyer she was soon advertising herself as a respectable married woman who would nurse and adopt the babies into a loving home, in reality looking after babies was too much like hard work so she killed them, obtained a death certificate from local doctors and keeping the fees.
    It didn't take long for her to come to the attention the authorities, a suspicious amount of infant deaths is hard to cover up and a local doctor tipped off the police.
    Dyer was arrested but astonishingly she was only convicted of neglect! So 1879 ended in six months hard labour rather than a richly deserved rope.
    Upon her release Dyer went back to her old ways, she was an opium user and would take laudanum regularly, if she thought the parent or police were getting too close to the truth she would feign mental illness and get herself committed for a while until things had died down.

    But, she had learned a valuable lesson, trying to cover up a murder with an official death certificate was fraught with danger, so from now on she would dispose of the tiny bodies herself.
     For the next few years Dyer kept herself above suspicion by moving address several times and using aliases, she did her mental illness trick for the last time in 1893.
    After experiencing an awful time in Wells mental asylum, she vowed never to go back. Dyer finally ended up in Kensington Road, Reading, the year was 1895 and it was time to earn some more money.

The End of the Road.

    It is hoped that eventually someone like Dyer will make a mistake and the full weight of the law will be applied, Dyer's mistake was made at the end of March 1896 when instead of looking after a baby girl she had been given £10 to love and to bring up in a nice respectable home she instead put some white tape around her neck and watched the baby slowly die.
    Then in early April a baby boy suffered the same fate, both bodies were put into a carpet bag with a couple of bricks and thrown into the river Thames at a lonely spot called Caversham Lock.

Caversham Lock.
     Also that fateful March a bargeman on the Thames had found another carpet bag.
    On fishing it out of the water and opening it he discovered the body of a baby girl.               Immediately the police were called and detectives were soon investigating, in the carpet bag a Temple Meads Station, Bristol label was found and also the name Mrs Thomas and an address in Bristol.
    It didn't take the police long to trace the bag to Dyer but without better evidence they couldn't convict her for the serious crime they suspected she was guilty of, so they put her house under surveillance and arranged for a young woman to call on Dyer as a decoy.
    When the time came for the arranged meeting instead of a young woman Dyer opened the door to a bunch of burly detectives who then proceeded to search her house thoroughly.
    It was said the house stank of decomposition and yet no bodies were found, so while the river was dredged the police discovered masses of evidence alluding to babies that were plainly unaccounted for in Dyers house.
    Soon the river also gave up it's dreadful secrets when six bodies were recovered, however, the paper evidence suggested the disappearance of twenty babies for the period of January to April 1896.

Launched into Eternity.

    At her trial in Reading two members of Dyers family were charged with being accomplices but they were soon discharged for want of evidence.
    Dyer herself was tried at the Old Bailey on 22 May 1896 and she pleaded guilty to one murder, her only defence was that old trick of hers, insanity.
    It didn't work, the jury took just four and a half minutes to come back with a guilty verdict. In her Newgate prison cell Dyer fill several exercise books with her confessions, finally at 9am on the 10th June 1896 Dyer punctually kept her appointment with the hangman and was launched into eternity.

    Dyer's total number of victims will probably never be known, but it has been calculated that if she killed twenty in four months then over the years she was active she could have killed as many as 400.
    I think we can certainly estimate the number to be well over 200 at least.

    The Dyer case shocked the nation and adoption laws were tightened but abuse carried on, although not to this degree.
    Dyer got the nickname "The Ogress of Reading" but she is far less remembered today than many of her contemporary murderers, which is odd as her tally outstrips them all.

    Fear Incorporated, who describe themselves as a "theatre macabre avant garde band" released a song called "Amelia Dyer" on their "Cloak and Dagger" album (2016), the video can be seen here Fear Incorporated, Amelia Dyer.

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