Amelia Dyer – One of Britain’s most Heinous murderers?

A Little Background

Among the most heinous crimes a person can think of, murder is one of the most agreed upon. But murder of innocent children for money from unsuspecting mothers is absolutely disgusting. Unfortunately, this practice was more common than one would expect. It was known in Victorian England as “Baby Farming”. The way this practice worked was that mothers or families who could not afford to raise their child would respond to advertisements in the paper that offered to take custody of a child for a small upfront fee in order to eventually re-home them to a loving family. It is important to note that this practice took advantage of poor, single mothers who were desperate to have both themselves and their child survive. In many cases the children would be rehomed to loving families and the baby farmers would perform their jobs very lovingly, sometimes even acting as wet-nurses to children who could benefit.

Something Darker

However, in some cases the baby farmers would then allow the child to die and they would pocket the money and look for their next victim. This was a practice that some mothers knew could happen and they accepted this because they had no other options to survive.  Some of these murderers would be able to find many victims before they were brought to justice. One of the most famous Baby Farmers was Amelia Dyer, convicted of three murders, but alluding to many more.

The Case of Amelia Dyer

amelia_dyer1893
An illustration of Amelia Dyer. Obtained from http://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/amelia-dyer/

Dyer was officially convicted of the murder of Doris Maemon, May 22nd, 1896 (The Times, May 23rd, 1896, Issue 34898), where she was sentenced to death. Originally Dyer was accused along with her daughter, Mary Ann Palmer, and her daughter’s husband, Arthur Ernest Palmer (The Times, May 4th, 1896, Issue 34881.) however Dyer pleaded to the magistrate in order to drop the charges against the other two accused because they did not have a knowing role in the murder of any of the children. The magistrate accepted this plea as it was essentially Dyer’s admission of guilt. As a result of this plea, the defense tried to plea Dyer’s insanity, however both the judge and the jury would not accept this, and thus Dyer was sentenced to death by hanging.

Specifics of the Murder

How Dyer performed her killings was particularly unique compared to other baby farmers in that Dyer preferred to quickly kill the children, whereas others preferred neglect so they did not have to physically carry out the murder. In the case of Doris Maemon, Dyer killed her as well as a child named Harry Simmonds by typing tape around their throats and letting them suffocate. Dyer then put them in a carpet bag, and tossed them into the Thames around an area called Caversham. (The Times, May 04, 1896, Issue 34881.) Dyer herself claimed to police that they would know which children she killed by the tape around the necks, identifying this as her personal killing signature. Although there is no way of knowing, it is estimated that Amelia Dyer murdered between two-hundred and four-hundred during her career as a baby farmer.