Evil Female Murderers. Part 4
Amelia Elizabeth Dyer.
Amelia Dyer was dubbed the ‘Angel Maker’, a prolific serial killer responsible for the horrific crimes that sent shockwaves through 19th century Britain.
‘An annual slaughter of innocents takes place in this gifted land of ours… we must grapple with this evil, and that speedily, if we would not merit the reproach of admitting infanticide as an institution into our social system.’
The Ladies’ Sanitary Association
She states she was born in 1837, and was hanged at Newgate prison for murder on 10th June 1896 by James Billington.
Amelia Dyer, unlike many of her generation, she was not the product of grinding poverty. She was born the youngest of five children; there were three boys and two girls. She was born in a small village of Pyle Marsh which was just east of Bristol. (It is now part of Bristol’s urban sprawl and known as Pile Marsh.)
She was the daughter of a master shoemaker, Samuel Hobley and Sarah Hobley nee Weymouth. She learned to read and write at an early age and was very bright.
However, her somewhat privileged lifestyle was somewhat marred by her mother’s mental illness which was caused by typhus. She had violent fits and Amelia was obliged to care for her until she died, raving, in 1848. Amelia had learned the signs of various stages of the illness her mother had.
After her mother’s death she went live with an aunt in Bristol for a while, before serving an apprenticeship with a corset maker. Sadly, her father died in 1859 and her eldest brother, Thomas inherited the family’s shoe business. In 1861 aged then of 24 years, Amelia became estranged from at least one of her brothers, James and moved away and into lodgings in Trinity Street, Bristol. While she was there she met and married George Thomas, he was older that her, he was 59 and because of the difference in ages they both lied about their ages on the marriage certificate. George reduced his age by 11 years while Amelia added 6 years to her age. Many historians later on caused much confusion when studying Amelia Thomas.
For a couple of years, after being married, she trained as a nurse, a somewhat gruelling job in Victorian times but it was acknowledged as a very respectable occupation… This enabled her to learn useful skills for a job she was to take up later on in his life. She became friendly with a midwife, Ellen Dane and learnt an easier life which had larger rewards. (Ellen Dane was forced to decamp quickly to the USA; before the British Authorities got onto her.)
She used her own home to provide lodgings for unmarried mothers and who wanted to farm off their babies. There were plenty of families who wanted babies. This was called ‘baby farming’ and totally against the law when it was undertaken by the likes of Amelia.
The term “baby farmer” first appeared in The London Times in the late 1860s, and, according to one medical practitioner of the period, was coined: “to indicate the occupation of those who receive infants to nurse or rear by hand for a payment in money, either made periodically (as weekly or monthly) or in one sum.
The mothers subsequently left their unwanted babies to be looked after as ‘Nurse Children.’
These young women were often exploited for financial gain; if a baby had well-off parents who were simply anxious to keep the fact secret that they had given birth to a baby. The single fee for the full transaction might be £80 but may be dropped to £50 if that is all the woman could afford. Should the particular mother be poor then £5 would be the cost, even then the poor mother might struggle to find that sum. Sometimes the women would go out and suffer the humiliation of becoming a prostitute just to raise the cash that was needed. That certainly wasn’t an easy decision for these girls to make. They had to be careful they didn’t become pregnant again.
There were a number of unscrupulous careers who resorted to starving these little babies in order to save money and even to hasten death. Noisy or demanding babies could be sedated with easily-available alcohol. This was known as ‘Mother’s little friend.’ It was a syrup containing opium but there were several other similar types of sedation cocktails.
Amelia had to leave nursing with the birth of her daughter, Ellen Thomas but in 1869 George Thomas died aged 67 years and Amelia needed an income. She remembered what Ellen Dane had told her and thought she would try it and see if she could make a living at it.
So she started to take in expectant women on the verge of giving birth. She also decided that she would advertise to nurse and adopt a baby, in return, for a substantial one-off payment and adequate clothing for the child. They would be very well looked after. In her adverts and meetings with clients, she assured them that she was a very responsible, married and that she would provide a safe and loving home for the child.
Soon after the receipt of each child, she murdered them
At some point in her baby farming career, Amelia was prepared to forgo the expense and inconvenience of letting the children die through neglect and starvation; soon after the receipt of each child, she murdered them; thus allowing her to pocket most or all of the fee she had been given.
For some time, Dyer eluded the resulting interest of the police. She was eventually caught in 1879 after a doctor was suspicious about the number of child deaths he had been called to certify while in Dyer’s care.
She was arrested and taken to court but instead of being convicted for murder or manslaughter, she was convicted of child neglect. She was sentenced by the Judge to six month’s hard labour for the neglect. The experience allegedly almost destroyed her mentally, though others have expressed incredulity at the leniency of the sentence when compared to lesser crimes handed out for lesser crimes at that time.
Upon her release from prison she tried to resume her nursing career. She had spells in mental hospitals due to her alleged mental instability and suicidal tendencies; these always coincided with times when it was convenient to ‘disappear.’ Being a former asylum nurse Amelia knew how to behave to ensure a relatively comfortable existence in an asylum.
When she came out she appears to have started to begin abusing alcohol and opium-based products early in her ‘killing career.’ Her mental instability could have been responsible for this. In 1890, dyer cared for the illegitimate baby of a governess. When she returned to visit the child, the governess was immediately suspicious and stripped the baby to see if a birthmark was present on one of its hips. It wasn’t, and prolonged suspicious by the Authorities led by dyer having, or feigning a breakdown. Dyer, at one point drank 2 bottles of ‘laudanum’ in a very serious suicide attempt, but her long-term abuse had built up her tolerance to opium products, so she survived.
She returned to ‘baby-farming,’ and murder. Dyer realised the folly of involving doctors to issue death certificates and so began disposing of the bodies herself, after all they were small bodies. The precarious nature and extent of her activities again prompted undesirable attention; she was alert to the attentions of the police – and of parents seeking to reclaim their children. She and her family frequently relocated to different towns and cities to acquire new business. Over the years, Dyer used a succession of aliases.
In 1893, Dyer was discharged from her final committal at Wells mental asylum. Unlike her previous ‘break-downs, this had been a most disagreeable experience and after that she never entered another mental asylum in her life. Two years later, in 1895, dyer moved to Faversham, Berkshire accompanied by an unsuspecting associate, Jane ‘granny’ smith whom Amelia had recruited from a brief spell in a workhouse and Amelia’s daughter and son-in-law, Mary Ann (known as Polly) and Arthur Palmer. This was followed by a move to Kensington Road, Reading, Berkshire later that same year. Smith was persuaded by Amelia to be referred to as ‘Mother’ in front of innocent women handing over their children. This was an effort to present a caring Mother-Daughter image.
In January 1896, Evelina Marmon, a popular 25 year old barmaid, gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Doris, in a boarding house in Cheltenham. She quickly sought offers of adoption, and placed an advert in the ‘miscellaneous’ section of the Bristol Times and Mirror newspaper. It simply read ‘Wanted, respectable woman to take a young child.’
Marmon intended to return to work and then hopefully to reclaim her little daughter.
Coincidently, next to her advert there was one which read ’Married couple with no family would adopt healthy child, nice country home.’ Terms are £10. Marmon on reading this responded to it, contacting a Mrs. Harding, and a few days later she received a reply from Dyer. From Oxford Road in Reading, Mrs. Harding wrote, ‘I shall be glad to have a dear little baby girl, one I can bring up and call my own.’ She continued ‘We are plain, homely people, in fairly good circumstances. I don’t want a child for money’s sake, but for company and home comfort. I and my husband are dearly fond of children. I have no child of my own. A child with me will have a very good home and a mother’s love.
Typical Advertisements of the time
NURSE CHILD WANTED, OR TO ADOPT ‘The Advertiser, a Widow with a little family of her own, and a moderate allowance from her late husband’s friends, would be glad to accept the charge of a young child. Age no object. If sickly would receive a parent’s care. Terms, Fifteen Shillings a month, or would adopt entirely if under two months for the small sum of Twelve pounds.’
ADOPTION ‘A person wishing a lasting and comfortable home for a young child of either sex will find this a good opportunity. Advertisers having no children of their own are about to proceed to America. Premium, Fifteen Pounds. Respectable references given and required. Address F.X.’
Evelina wanted to pay a more affordable, weekly fee for the care of her daughter but Mrs. Harding’ insisted on being given a ‘one-off’ payment and in advance. Marmon was in desperate straights and eventually agreed to pay the £10 and a week later Mrs. Harding arrived in Cheltenham
Marmon was apparently surprised by Dyer’s advanced years and stocky appearance, thinking she might be a much younger person. However, Dyer seemed affectionate towards Doris. That was all that mattered to Evelina. She handed her daughter over to her, a cardboard box of baby clothes and the £10 fee. Still distressed at having to give her up care of her lovely daughter, Evelina accompanied her to Cheltenham railway station, and then on to Gloucester. She returned to her lodgings’ a broken woman.’ A few days later she received a letter from ‘Mrs. Harding’ stating that her daughter was very well and happy. Marmon answered this letter but received no reply to it.
Dyer did not travel to Reading, as she had told Marmon she was doing. Instead, she went to 76, Mayo Road, Willesden, London where her 23 year old daughter Polly was staying. There, dyer quickly found some edging tape that was used in dressmaking, wound it twice around the baby’s neck and tied a knot. Death would have been immediate. (Later Amelia said, ‘I used to watch them with the tape around their necks, but it was soon all over with them.’)
Both women allegedly helped to wrap the body in a napkin. They kept some of the clothes Marmon had packed; the rest was destined for the pawnbroker. Dyer paid the rent to the unwitting landlady, and then also gave her a pair of child’s boots as a present for her little girl. The following day, Wednesday 1st April 1896, another child, named Harry Simmons, was taken to Mayo Road. However, with no spare white edging tape available, the length around Doris’s corpse was removed and used to strangle the 13 month Harry Simmons.
The day after, 2nd April, both bodies were stacked into a carpet bag along with some house bricks to give it extra weight. Dyer then headed for Reading carrying the heavy bag.
She headed for Reading and in a secluded spot that she knew well near a weir at ‘Caversham Lock,’ she forced the carpet bag through the railings into the River Thames.
The Reading bargeman
But unknown to Dyer, on the 30th March 1896, a package was retrieved from the River Thames at Reading by a bargeman. On opening it he found it contained the body of a baby girl, who was later identified as Helena Fry. In the small detective force available to Reading Borough police, headed by Chief Constable George Tewsley, a detective Anderson made a very crucial breakthrough. As well as finding a label fromTemple Meads railway station, he used microscopic analysis of the wrapping paper, and was able with great patience a faintly legible name – Mrs. Thomas – and an address.
The evidence was sufficient to lead the police to Dyer, but they still had no real strong evidence to connect her directly with a serious crime that had been committed. Anderson was very determined to find the culprit and with some additional evidence that they managed to glean from some witnesses, as well as some more help from Bristol Police, only served their concerns about this case. Anderson, together with Sergeant James put Dyer’s house under surveillance.
Subsequent evidence suggested that Dyer would abscond if she became suspicious. The officers decided to use a young woman as a decoy, hoping she would be able to secure a meeting with Dyer to discuss her services. This may have been designed to help the detectives to positively link Dyer to her business activities, or it may have simply given them a reliable reason to arrest her.
It transpired that Dyer was expecting a new client (the decoy) to call, but instead she found detectives waiting on her doorstep. On the 3rd April (Good Friday) the police raided her home. They were apparently struck by the stench of human decomposition, although no human remains were found. There was, however, plenty of other related evidence, including some white edging tape, telegrams regarding adoption arrangements, pawn tickets for children’s clothing, receipts for advertisements and letters from mothers inquiring about the well-being of their children.
Possibly the most prolific female murderer
The Police calculated that over the past few months alone, more than 20 children had been placed in the care of a ‘Mrs. Thomas.’ Who is now revealed to be Amelia Dyer; It also appeared that she was about to move house again, this time to Somerset. This rate of murder has led to estimates that Mrs Dyer may, over the course of time has killed over 400 babies and small children, making her one of the most prolific female murderers ever in this country.
Helena Fry, the baby found in the river Thames on the 30th March, had been handed over to Dyer at Temple Meads Railway Station on the 5th March. That same evening, she arrived home carrying only a brown paper parcel. She hid the package in the house but, after three weeks, the odour from the dead baby as the body decomposed became overwhelming and that prompted her to dump the dead baby in the river. As it was not weighted down with anything heavy, it was quickly found.
Amelia Dyer was arrested on the 4th April and charged with murder. Her son-in-law, Arthur Palmer was also arrested and charged as an accessory. During April, the River Thames was dragged and six more bodies were discovered, including Doris Marmon and Harry Simmons – Dyer’s last victims. Each baby had been strangled with white tape, which as she later told the police ’was how you could tell it was one of mine.’ Eleven days after handing her daughter to Dyer, Evelina Marmon, whose name had gradually emerged in items kept by Dyer, identified her daughter’s remains.
In early May the inquests were held on the six bodies and no evidence was found to link Mary Ann or Arthur Palmer acting as Dyer’s accomplices. Arthur Palmer was discharged as a result of a confession written by Amelia Dyer. In Reading Gaol she wrote a very lengthy story telling how the different events happened.
On the 22nd May 1896, Amelia Dyer appeared at the old Bailey and pleaded guilty to one murder, that of Doris Marmon. Her family and associates testified at her trial that they had been growing suspicious and uneasy about her activities, and it then emerged that Dyer had narrowly escaped discovery on several occasions. There was evidence from a man who had seen and spoken to Dyer when she had disposed of the two bodies at Caversham Lock also proved very significant. Her daughter had given graphic evidence that ensured Amelia Dyer’s conviction.
The only defence that was offered was one of insanity but that was dismissed.
The Judge summed up and asked the Jury to retire. They returned within just five minutes to find Dyer guilty. The Judge then sentenced her to death, being guilty as charged.
At 9am precisely on Wednesday 10th June she was hanged at Newgate Prison by James Billington. She was asked if she had anything to say and she replied, ‘I have nothing to say.’ Billington then released the trap door and she hanged in that position for exactly one hour which was customary.
Subsequently, adoption laws were made stricter and giving local authorities the power to police baby farms and adoptions. Despite this baby trafficking still carried on. Two years after Dyer’s execution, railway workers inspection some carriages at Newton Abbot in Devon found a parcel. Inside was a three–week-old baby girl, but though cold and wet, she was still alive. The daughter of a widow, Jane Hill, the baby had been given to a Mrs. Stewart, for £12. She had picked up the baby at Plymouth – and apparently dumped her on the very next train. It has been claimed that the Mrs. Stewart was really ‘Polly,’ the daughter of Amelia Dyer.
Dr. James Burn Russell, writing on this problem in Glasgow in 1876, remarked that, ‘child life has so little intrinsic value in the eyes of a considerable proportion of our urban population that the petty gain accruing from a Friendly Society on its termination is enough to offset any desire for prolongation.’
Because Amelia Dyer was a mass murderer and alive at the time of ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings, some have suggested that she could, in fact, have actually been ‘The Ripper.’
There is absolutely no evidence that could have connected Dyer as the ‘Ripper.’