6 crimes that scandalised Victorian England Part 3

In the final part of our series on Victorian crime and murder we have Britain’s most prolific serial killer and an actual case of death by chocolate, so without further ado let’s get to it:

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via giphy

The Angel Maker

If you asked a child to draw a picture of a serial killer, they would draw Amelia Dyer…and then have nightmares for literally ever because ohmygod have you seen this woman?!?

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Never sleeping again

Amelia Dyer grew up reasonably well off. She trained as a corset maker but gave up the trade in 1861 to marry George Thomas (at 59 over twice as old as 24 year old Amelia). Once married Amelia started training to be a nurse and it was nursing that would introduce her to baby farming and turn Amelia Dyer into Britain’s most prolific murderer.

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Shits about to get real – via giphy

 

Baby farming was a black market career choice but a not uncommon one. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment saw unwed mothers lose most rights to support; these women were now only able to receive clothes, food or shelter if both mother and child went to the workhouse – not a good option to put it mildly. Single mothers were limited to a few desperate options: prostitution, taking their chances on the streets or making their own children ‘angels’. Less Sophie’s choice, more super fucked no matter what you do.

This is where baby farms came in. For a fee women would take in these children, adopt or foster them, care for the child as their own and then rehouse the child with suitable parents. Of course the reality was very different, most destitute mothers couldn’t afford a rolling fee for their child’s care, many paying a one off fee of around £5 (around (£225 today). Anyone who has seen the price of nappies knows that sum isn’t going to care for a child for long, so it’s unsurprising that some baby farmers had no intention of caring for the child as their own. Instead they fed their charges the bare minimum, used opium to keep the children quiet and left them in squalid conditions. It was not uncommon for baby farm children to die as a result of neglect.

It was this world Amelia Dyer chose to enter.

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By 1869 Amelia had left nursing and soon after this her husband died. she needed a source of income fast and baby farming seemed like the best choice to make a quick buck. Amelia threw herself into this new profession but she soon got greedy and started allowing some of the children to die, purposefully neglecting them to free up space for more babies.

She tried to make these deaths seems as legitimate as possible (well as legit as tons of dead babies can be). after several years a local doctor finally started to think there might be something dodgy about all the dead children at Amelia Dyers house and reported her to police on suspicion of neglect, she was found guilty and in 1879 was sentenced to just 6 months of hard labour.

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Via giphy

 

Once out of prison, Amelia left baby farming, she tried to get back into nursing, but was deemed mentally unstable and was sent to a mental asylum. When she left the aslym Amelia had no place to go, so she turned to what she knew: baby farming.

It was perhaps her mental break that led Amelia to stop trying to get death certificates for the infants that died in her care. Instead she decided to cut the middle man out entirely, killing the children almost immediately after their arrival. This meant she could take on more children then ever before. At one point neighbours saw up to 6 children a day being handed over to Dyer. Business was booming.

One unwed mother soon to cross paths with Amelia Dyer was Evelina Marion, a young barmaid who had given birth to an illegitimate daughter, Doris. Short on options Evelina came across an advert in The Bristol Times and Mirror:

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It seemed to good to be true – it was

 

On 31st March 1896 Evelina met with the woman who posted the advertisement, Mrs Harding, and handed over Doris. Mrs Harding was of course Amelia Dyer using a pseudonym. Now on a roll, just a day later Dyer took guardianship over another baby Harry Simmons.

But Amelia’s luck was running out. The day before she was given Doris Marmom, a bargeman fished a brown paper package the Thames at Reading. Upon inspection the wrapping came loose and a child’s foot fell out. When fully unwrapped, the package revealed the tiny body of Helena Fry, a child who had been left in Amelia Dyers care.

After the discovery the river was immediately searched. A carpet bag was dredged up and inside were the bodies of Doris Marmom and Harry Simmons. Both had been strangled with white tape.

However the brown paper packaging that Helena Fry had been Found in provided police with a vital clue. The paper was addressed to a Mrs Thomas, yet anouther pseudonym used by Amelia Dyer.

Whilst the police hunted for Dyer, four more children’s bodies were dredged from the river. Each had been strangled and like Doris Marmom and Harry Simmons, white tape was wrapped around their necks.

It didn’t take long for the police to catch up with Dyer and on 4th April 1896, just days after she had taken custody of Doris Marmom, she was charged with the child’s murder. Amelia Dyer confessed, telling police to look for children with white tape around their necks, that way they ‘Could tell it was one of mine’

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Daily Mail article following Amelia Dyers arrest

 

Amelia Dyer stood trial on 22nd May 1896 at The Old Bailey. She confessed to only one murder, Doris Marmom. The evidence was stacked against her, along with her written confession, several people reported seeing Dyer acting strangely and it transpired she had almost been caught on multiple occasions.

Despite Amelia Dyers pleas of insanity and her long history of stays in mental asylums, it took a jury under 5 minutes to find her guilty. She was sentenced to death.

Amelia Dyer described herself as ‘the angel maker’. Prior to her execution she wrote a confession which filled over five exercise books. It’s thought she killed over 200 children, though the number may be as high as 400 or even 700.

 

Death By Chocolate

Christiana Edmunds was a fashionable lady about town and also one of Victorian England’s most interesting mental health case studies. Her increasingly elaborate killing spree sent her to Broadmoor and thanks to newly released archives we are just starting to discover what led her to killchristiana edmunds .jpgEdmunds came from a background streaked with mental illness, her Dad died in an asylum in London from what was considered ‘madness’ (now considered the side effects of syphilis) Christiana’s brother was also sent to an asylum this one ‘for idiots’ (don’t you just love those Victorians) where he died from an epileptic fit. Christiana’s sister attempted suicide several times, finally collapsing and dying outside her home following the death of her brother. Soon after all of this Christiana was diagnosed with that Victorian classic, hysteria – or what we would now diagnosis as (at least) severe depression, most likely stemming from ALL THE FUCKERY.

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Like things couldn’t get any worse, right? via giphy

In the 1860’s Christiana, her mother and sister moved to Brighton and an by 1867 a Dr Beard starting treating Christiana for her hysteria. Beard was attractive, intelligent, kind and married. The married part was less than ideal for Christiana, especially as the two grew closer and she started to fall in love with Beard, but life had knocked Christiana so many times she wouldn’t allow a little blip like a wife to get in the way of her future happiness. So in September 1870 Christiana visited the Beard residence armed with a box of chocolates.

Dr Beard was out but his wife Emily invited Christiana in  and the two women sat in the kitchen with the chocolates between them and chatted. Emily reached for a chocolate cream but quickly spat it out, something was wrong, the cream inside was bitter and spoiled. That night Emily was incredibly ill, vomiting and in increasing pain- she had been poisoned with Strychnine.

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I’ve chosen to illustrate this with Turkish Delights, which might as well be poison

Emily lived, much to Christiana’s frustration. To make matters worse Dr Beard appeared at Christiana’s home the next day. He confronted her and revealed that he had recognised the symptoms of strychnine and he knew that Christiana had tried to murder his wife; if she knew what was good for her then she would stay away from him and his family.

To Christiana this was just another blip on the road to happiness. She now knew she must do two things:

1) Successfully kill Emily Beard

2) Ensure Dr Beard no longer suspected her as the poisoner (because murder is kind of a turn off)

Christiana decided to stick with chocolates as her murder weapon, injecting chocolate creams from a local sweet shop with strychnine and then planting them back on the shelves. Planning to kill Emily Beard under the guise of a serial killer and throw Dr Beard off the scent. It seemed to work and over the coming months numerous people fell deathly ill after eating the chocolates. But nobody actually died.

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via giphy

But then in June 1871 4 year old Sidney Barker was on holiday in Brighton with his family. His Uncle bought the boy some chocolates as a treat. After eating just a few chocolates Sidney was dead.

Sidney Barkers death was initially ruled an accident but it didn’t take long for police to join the dots between his death and the other curious illnesses that had spread across Brighton. At the inquest into Sidney’s death, Christiana Edmunds actually appeared, giving evidence that she herself had become ill after eating chocolates bought from the same shop.

But Christiana didn’t stop there, she started writing Sidney’s father letters, urging him to take legal action against the shop that had sold the chocolates. The police quickly noticed Christiana’s continued involvement in the case. Rather than helping to to create an imaginary serial poisoner, it was just leading police right to her.

And then shit got real. The Beards announced they were moving to Scotland. Christiana went into full defcon mode and started work on one last ditch attempt to kill Beard’s wife and make him fall in love with her and stay in Brighton.

Christiana created a batch of poisoned plum cakes and distributed them around Brighton, sending them to random people as well as the Beards and herself.

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I am now highly suspicious of this bitch – via giphy

The cakes didn’t work and Dr Beard finally alerted the police to his suspicions.

In January 1872 Christiana Edmunds stood trial at The Old Bailey in London. Her lawyer, John Humffreys Parry openly admitted to being confused at Christiana’s motives, however upon meeting with her he decided that the only route to go down was to plead insanity. This was not an easy task in Victorian England, the only way the plea would be granted was if a jury could all agree that Christiana could not be blamed for her actions.

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A, in no way terrifying drawing of Parry

Parry leaned on her family history and also had several notable doctors come to examine Christiana, all agreeing that she could not tell right from wrong. Still the plea didn’t work and Christiana Edmunds was sentenced to death. Though she did attempt to avoid the hangman’s noose by faking a pregnancy – the rouse was quickly discovered.

But then Christiana underwent a full psychiatric evaluation and her sentence was remitted, she was then moved to the newly opened Broadmoor. This move resulted in a public outcry, with many seeing it as a clear sign of class privilege and massive miscarriage of justice. None the less Christina spent the rest of her life in Broadmoor dying there in 1907, aged 78.

That was interesting, where can I find out more: I’m glad you asked! If you haven’t already caught up with the rest of this series you totally should! And you can! Right here:

6 crimes that scandalized Victorian England. Part 2

The Thames Torso Killer

Whilst Jack the Ripper was making the streets of Whitechapel an all around unpleasant place to be in 1888, another serial was also roaming the streets of London and its time he got his share of the praise well it’s not, because he did horrifically murder several people but you get my drift…)

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In May 1887 workers along the Thames river valley pulled a bundle from the river bank. Upon opening the bundle they discovered a woman’s torso. Throughout May and into June more body parts washed up onto the banks of the Thames, once put together doctors confirmed that the limbs were from the same woman. Doctors were eventually able to piece together the body, with only the head and upper chest missing. However the bodies dismemberment had been so cleanly carried out and the corpse so water beaten that no cause of death or clue of the woman’s identity could be uncovered.

Almost a year later in September 1888 Scotland Yard were desperately trying to solve the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, the second prostitute in as many days who had been found murdered and mutilated in Whitechapel. Then a woman’s arm washed up in Pimlico, followed by its partner on Lambeth Road.

What came next can only be described as a ballsy move by the killer – on 2nd October the same woman’s torso was discovered by builders in the construction site of New Scotland Yard. The murder had been bought straight to the Police and they now had a torso, two arms, two serial killers on the loose and no clue – it was then that a journalist’s terrier dug up the woman’s leg from the grounds of New Scotland Yard (after police dogs had failed to find any further remains).

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Doctors concluded that the limbs found under New Scotland Yard had been buried there for weeks and had perhaps been buried by someone with easy access such as a workman or builder. However, the cuts that had been made to dismember the victim were once again clean cut and surgical, and yet again no cause of death could be found and no clue to the woman’s identity made. The murder was filed as ‘found dead’.

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In June 1889 a woman’s body parts started to wash up on the shores of The Thames. A leg and thigh in Battersea, liver in Nine Elms and a foot and leg in Wandsworth. A body part was even thrown into the estate of Percy Shelley, whose mother, Mary Shelley had written Frankenstien; a book about a monster pieced together out of human body parts.

Though once again the victims head was missing, the police managed to identify this victim thanks to a fragment of clothing found of the body. Elizabeth Jackson had been missing from her Chelsea home since just before the first body parts were found. Jackson had been 7 months pregnant at the time of her death. A verdict of ‘Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was passed; though no cause of death was ever discovered.

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By the 10th September 1889 the police were no closer to finding who the killer was when a cryptic telegram was sent to all police stations in London:

‘Whitechapel again’

Police scrambled suspecting another Ripper murder. However they were to be foiled, yet again. When walking his beat on Pinchin Street Police Constable William Pennett discovered a woman’s torso.

Once more doctors were stumped and unable to work out the victim’s identity or cause of death. As in the case of Elizabeth Jackson a verdict of ‘wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was passed. In an effort to preserve the torso (should any other clues be discovered) the unknown women was buried in a cast coffin filled with spirits.

Possible links were discovered to a murder in Paris in 1886 (where a woman’s torso and several limbs were found on the steps of a church) and two other murders in London in 1901 and 1902, but none truly fit the Thames Torso Killers method.

The victims heads would never be discovered, nor would the victims breasts or uteruses, which the killer also took. The case went cold, with no clear motive, no evidence and not even a cause of death, there were next to no clues leading police to the killer.

The Thames Torso Murders remains a mystery.

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Well they can’t do worse than the Metropolitan Police did…

The tragic case of Eliza Fenning and the devilish dumplings  

Ok so full disclosure this crime does just miss the Victorian era, taking place in 1815, BUT I couldn’t not include it. That’s how good this one is, your gonna love it!

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And it’s only slightly incredibly bleak- yay!

Fun fact: I actually used to work on London’s Chancery Lane, where the crime took place, and took great pleasure in telling this crime to friends when meeting for after work drinks- truly I am a joy.

Aaaaaand onto the crime:

Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Fenning entered the employment of Robert Turner and his wife Charlotte in early 1815. The house in Chanchery Lane looked to be a step up for 20 year old Eliza, she had been hired as a cook, a promotion after working 6 years as a lower level domestic servant in other households.

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Eliza’s first two months in her new post went well and she started to fall into the pattern of day to day with the Turners’. On the night of the 21st March 1815 Roberts Turner’s Father was due to come round for dinner. Eliza prepared a dinner of beef and dumplings for the family. Just before she finished cooking Robert Turner came into the kitchen and ordered Eliza not to leave the room until the meal was finished- strange, but she complied. The dinner was served and the family tucked in, along with two of Roberts apprentices and a housemaid. Shortly afterwards everyone at the table collapsed onto the floor.

The police arrived to find Eliza curled up on the stairs in crippling pain, the rest of the household were in a much worse state and close to death. An investigation was started. Foul play was suspected for the sudden sickness that had torn through the house and the line of suspicion led straight to Eliza.

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Forensics expert John Marshall was bought in. The art of forensics was very much in its infancy but Marshall had a theory; he thought that the nights dinner must have been subject to arsenic poisoning. He searched the kitchen for traces of the stuff and came up with a small half teaspoon of ‘white powder’ which had been found in water used to wash up Eliza’s mixing bowl. Marshall carried out tests to see if this powder was indeed arsenic, this included heating the powder over a flame to see if it emitted a garlicy smell (this was obviously not 100% foolproof test…) when Marshall put the powder on a halfpenny over a candle the room was quickly filled with a pungent garlic aroma (surprisingly food sometimes smells of garlic-gasp!)

Things were not looking good for Eliza. To make matters worse witnesses came forward claiming that Eliza hated her employers who had recently threatened to fire her after she was seen coming out of the bedroom of an apprentice at night.

Within several days everyone who had eaten the potentially poisoned dumplings started to get better. Still, Eliza was arrested and was quickly put on trial for attempted murder.

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The evidence against Eliza was strong, the forensic expert had evidence of arsenic and witness testimony gave a motive for the attempted murders. However, it was pointed out that it would not have been possible for the arsenic to have been mixed into the dumplings- the amount the forensic expert claimed to have found would have been enough to kill 120 people per serving, the Turners couldn’t have survived! For the dumplings to have been poisoned they would have to have been sprinkled with the poison after being cooked. A deed which could have happened in the kitchen or in the dining room- a room Eliza had been banned from.

To add more fuel, witnesses came forward alledging that Robert Turner had a history of violent and ‘mad’ outbursts. Further more a chemist clamied that Robert Turner had tried to buy arsenic from him just months earlier. The forensic evidence was also shown to be lacking as there was no evidence that this mixing bowl had indeed been used to make the poisoned dumplings and Marshall had failed to test any other substance found in any other of the cookware or ingrediants that had been used to make the dumplings.

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Cover of Eliza Fennings case file

Sadly this was all no was no use to Eliza and she was found guilty. The public rallied to her side and campaigned against the courts decision. Petitions were made and the press even came to her defense. On the day of her execution the home office held a meeting to look over the case.

It all proved fruitless. Eliza was hung alongside William Oldfield who was convicted of rape and Abraham Adams a homeless man who was sentenced to death for ‘unnatural crimes’ (translated to sodomy) on the 26th July 1815. Eliza’s last words with of her innocence.

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Broadsheet of Eliza Fenning’s execution

Following her death The Turners became public hate figures and John Marshall a laughing stock. The misuse of forensics in Eliza’s trial was held up as a prime example of legal misconduct and several medical societies put in place measures that anybody studying for a license with them take a three month course in legal medicine (or medical jurisprudence) to ensure what happen to Eliza Fenning would never happen again.

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