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.
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.