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.

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