Amelia Dyer “The Reading Baby Farmer”
Amelia Dyer (1837 – June 10, 1896) is credited as being one of the most prolific murderers in British history. Operating as a baby farmer in Victorian England, Dyer was hanged in 1896 for just one murder although there is little doubt that she is responsible for many, many more.
Dyer first trained as a nurse and a midwife and by the 1860s, became a baby farmer, a lucrative trade in Victorian-Era England. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 made it so fathers of illegitimate children were not obligated by law to support their children financially, leaving many women without options. For a fee, baby farmers would adopt the unwanted children. They operated under the ruse that the child would be taken care of, but often the children were mistreated and even killed. Ms. Dyer, herself, assured clients that children under her care would be given a safe and loving home.
Initially, Dyer would let the child die from starvation and neglect. “Mother’s Friend,” an opium-laced syrup, was given to quiet these children as they suffered through starvation. Eventually Dyer resorted to faster murders which allowed her to pocket even more profit. Dyer eluded the authorities for years but was eventually arrested when a doctor became suspicious of the number of babies dying under her care. Surprisingly, Dyer was only charged with neglect and sentenced to 6 months of labor.
Dyer learned from her initial conviction. When she returned to baby farming, she did not involve physicians and began disposing of the bodies herself to avoid any added risk. She also relocated frequently to avoid suspicion and took up the use of aliases.
Dyer was eventually apprehended when an infant’s body recovered from the Thames was traced back to a Mrs. Thomas, one of Dyer’s many aliases. When authorities raided Dyer’s residence they were overcome with the stench of human remains, although no bodies were found. Several more babies were recovered from the Thames, each with white edging tape still wrapped around their necks. Dyer was later quoted as saying about the white tape, “[that] was how you could tell it was one of mine.”
Dyer was tried at the Old Bailey in March 1896, using insanity as her defense. It took a jury less than five minutes to reach a guilty verdict. She plead guilty to just one murder, but using estimates based on timelines and years active, she likely killed between 200-400 children. On Wednesday, June 10, 1896 just before 9:00 AM, Amelia Dyer was hanged.
Because the murders occurred during the same period, some believe that Amelia Dyer and Jack the Ripper are one in the same and that the Ripper’s victims were botched abortions committed by Dyer. There is little evidence to back this theory.
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