|Reading Baby Farmer
|200 - 400?
|Bristol & Reading
|1860 - 1896
Doris Marmon, 4 months
Harry Simmons, 13 months
Helena Fry, 1 year or less
"Wanted, respectable woman to take young child."
This was a common request in Victorian Britain, where life was very hard for any mother, especially unmarried mothers.
The ad had been placed by Evelina Marmon, who two months earlier, in January 1896, had given birth in a boarding house in Cheltenham to a baby girl that she named Doris.
Amelia Dyer had first trained as a nurse and then a midwife and by the 1860s, had became a baby farmer,
Dyer had moved around the country many times, probably to evade detection of her horrific crimes. It was common in Victorian England for "Baby Farmers", or what we would call today, Fostering agents, to place adverts in newspapers. the idea was that women who could not bring up their child would pay the baby farmer a fee, usually about £10, the baby farmer would then look after the child until a suitable home was found. In the case of Dyer, it is believed she may have farmed over 400 babies and young children, most of them, ending up in the river Thames. Dyer had been questioned several times by police about missing children, but always managed to avoid detection.
Dyer’s preferred method was to advertise to adopt or nurse a baby in return for an up-front fee and adequate clothing for the child. In her advertisements and meetings with clients, she assured them that she was respectable, married, and would provide a safe and loving home for the child.
In reality Dyer pocketed the money and killed many of the babies within days - she later admitted killing one the same day it was placed in her care. Dyer strangled the infants, always with white tape, wrapped their bodies in paper packages and bags, and dumped them in rivers.
It is not clear how long Dyer’s career as a murderer lasted, but it may have been as many as 20 years. Her family and friends testified at her trial that they had also been growing suspicious and uneasy about her activities, and it emerged that Dyer had narrowly escaped discovery several times.
During 1896 a section of the Thames was dredged, several bodies were found, and much evidence was gathered. Dyers address was found on one letter and police moved in.
In Dyers house they found a mountain of unused baby clothes as well as copies of adverts and letters from mothers. Although police were certain that Dyer was responsible for many murder, they moved on only one, as this was all that was needed to remove her from society and send her to the noose.
March 1896, Dyer was tried for the one murder at The Old Bailey. She tried using insanity as her defense. It took a jury less than five minutes to reach a guilty verdict.
Based on timelines and the years she was active, Dyer likely killed between 200-400 children, but we will never know for sure.
Wednesday 10th June 1896, Amelia Dyer was hanged by James Billington at Newgate prison, for the murder of 4-month old Doris Marmon.
Because she was active at the time of the Jack the Ripper killings, some have suggested that Dyer was Jack the Ripper, who killed the prostitutes through botched abortions. There is, however, no evidence to connect Dyer to the Jack the Ripper murders.