The Horrifying Truth of Britain's Baby Butcher Amelia Elizabeth Dyer Revealed
The Horrifying Truth of Britain’s Baby Butcher Amelia Elizabeth Dyer Revealed

The Horrifying Truth of Britain’s Baby Butcher Amelia Elizabeth Dyer Revealed

Donna Patricia Ward - November 20, 2017

The Horrifying Truth of Britain’s Baby Butcher Amelia Elizabeth Dyer Revealed
Newspaper report of arrest. Public Domain.

Baby farmers provided an out for such women. The women in trouble would place an advertisement in a newspaper seeking a loving couple to adopt their baby. Baby farmers often answered such ads, promising to provide the child with a happy and healthy home. Sometimes the situation would be temporary, while other times it was considered a permanent arrangement. Societal norms and government avoidance created a world where Amelia Elizabeth Dyer would flourish as a baby farmer and murderer.

Amelia Dyer scanned advertisements in search of desperate women looking to give up their babies. She would contact the birth mothers and offer to take the baby for a fee of generally £10 or £5. Dyer would agree to an installment plan for payment or require full payment before she would take the baby. As technology changed, Dyer accepted wire transfers or cash sent through the post. Women who wrote Dyer letters seeking information about their babies or wanting to get them back, rarely received replies. Once Dyer took possession of a child, it was hers until she murdered it.

The Horrifying Truth of Britain’s Baby Butcher Amelia Elizabeth Dyer Revealed
Britain’s Baby Butcher. Wikimedia.

In already overcrowded cities, it was relatively easy for Amelia Dyer to operate her baby farming business with little suspicion. Because poverty was prevalent in England, many people went hungry. Infant mortality rates were very high. When a baby died their cause of death may read “debility from birth or “lack of breast milk.” While wealthy women were able to send their children “out to nurse,” poor single women relied on baby farmers. Neglect of children was common in the 19th century, but murder was rare.

When Amelia Dyer obtained a new baby, she immediately began the process of killing it by starvation. The cries of a hungry baby are unmistakable. To hide the cries, Dyer used Godfrey’s Cordial, known as “Mother’s Friend.” The cordial was a mixture of syrup and opium. As Dyer gave the children the elixir, they remained sedated. As they starved to death, which took time, they did so without making much of a fuss. Once the child was dead, Dyer would contact a doctor to examine the child, declare it dead, and take the body away. If a doctor became suspicious of the number of children that died in Amelia’s care, she simply moved to a new town or had a mental breakdown and entered into an asylum.

The Horrifying Truth of Britain’s Baby Butcher Amelia Elizabeth Dyer Revealed
Newspaper report of discovery of five skeletal remains. Public Domain.

In 1879, a doctor that Amelia had called on to certify the death of a child grew suspicious. After an investigation, Amelia served six months of hard labor. Prisoners sentenced with hard labor usually did manual tasks for all of their waking hours. The tasks could include laboring in a prison workshop, prison farm, or simply moving rocks from one pile and creating a new pile. When Amelia completed her sentence and was released, she resumed her career as a nurse and baby farmer with one major change. She no longer would notify a doctor to remove the corpse. From 1880 on, Amelia Dyer disposed of the bodies of the babies that she killed, making her a prolific serial killer.

Within a few hours of acquiring a new infant, she would wrap white dressmaking tape around its neck. Death was not instantaneous. According to her own confession, Dyer stated that she liked “to watch them with the tape around their neck” as they gasped for air. When the children were dead, Dyer would wrap them in cloth and bury them or tie them to rocks and throw them in the Thames. Birth mothers would send Dyer letters asking for word on the wellbeing of their children. By the time Dyer had received the letters, the children were long dead.

On March 30, 1896, a bargeman on the Thames noticed a package floating in the river. He retrieved it and found the bodies of a dead baby girl and boy. Forensics, which was in its infancy, linked the material used to wrap the babies to Amelia Dyer. The police placed a decoy advertisement seeking a loving couple to take a newborn. As Dyer left her home to meet her new client on April 3, 1896, she was greeted by four police officers. When they entered her apartment, they encountered the overwhelming stench of rotting flesh. While they did not find any dead babies, they did find enough evidence in the form of letters, advertisements, telegrams, and opium to charge Amelia Elizabeth Dyer with murder.

Amelia Dyer was placed on trial for the murder of three babies. On May 22, 1896, a jury found Dyer guilty within 4 ½ minutes. During the next three weeks, she filled five notebooks with her “last and true confession.” Amelia Elizabeth Dyer was hung at exactly 9 am on June 10, 1896. While 14 murders have been directly linked to Dyer, experts believe that she murdered over 300 babies during her career as a baby farmer.

In the aftermath of Dyer’s execution, adoption laws became stricter. As a way to regulate and stop the practice of baby farming, local authorities searched personal ads in the hopes of preventing the selling of children. As the 20th century loomed, reformers began pressing Parliament for new laws that legally held fathers of illegitimate children financially accountable. Amelia Elizabeth Dyer was not the only baby farmer in the world, but she likely killed the most babies.