An English woman dubbed the “Angel Maker” has emerged as UK’s worst ever serial killer after it was revealed that she killed 400 babies in the Victorian era, according to the criminal records of the period between 1770 and 1934 placed online by the National Archives.
Amelia Elizabeth Dyer, born in 1829 at Bristol, killed about 400 babies -- mostly the illegitimate infants -- between 1880 and 1896. The killings had sent shockwaves in the society, and the public outcry led to the implementation of a tougher regulation on adoption and foster care in England.
The documents were part of over 2.5 million criminal records dating back to the period between 1770 and 1934 placed online for the first time by a family archive website last week.
The life and horrific crimes of Dyer stand apart among the records that chronicle intriguing and horrible tales in the history of crimes.
A trained nurse, Dyer decided to be a “baby farmer” (a caretaker who would look after the children for a fee until they were placed in foster care or were adopted) as it sounded a more lucrative business to her. She advertised her services and got responses from hapless unwed mothers who gave their children to Dyer for a fee to place them for adoption. Dyer pocketed the fee from the mothers -- mostly impoverished labors -- but never took care of the children. Initially, she gave the children an opium-based drug to keep them sedated and let them starve to death.
Dyer continued her activities for a decade until she was arrested for her neglect towards the children and sentenced to six months in prison. It was during this period that she was believed to have realized that killing the children immediately would be much easier and less riskier than taking care of them and putting them to a slow death.
After coming out of her probation period, Dyer shifted her base to Reading which had liberal adoption rules and started an adoption agency.
She preyed on unmarried mothers who were more than relieved to hand over their unlucky children to Dyer. Some of the mothers asked Deyer to kill their illegitimate children while other trusted her to get their children a loving home and parents.
Dyer killed the babies by strangulating them with a dressmaking tape and threw the bodies to the River Thames. She could continue her crimes unabated as the doctors in the Victorian era couldn’t differentiate a stillborn baby from the one that was strangulated to death, the Daily Mail reported.
She continued her ghastly crimes for about three decades till 1896 when she was arrested after scores of bodies fished out of the Thames aroused suspicion and triggered an investigation. The police ultimately reached Dyer after an address in the parcel paper used to wrap the body of a little girl fished out of the Thames was traced to her.
When interrogated, Dyer confessed to the crimes and reportedly told the police: 'You'll know all mine by the tape around their necks,” the Daily Mail reported.
It reportedly took just six minutes for the jury to pronounce her guilty in a trial held at Old Bailey, London. She was sentenced to death and hanged at Newgate Prison June 10, 1896, aged 58.
The collection of criminal records that gives an insight into the crimes and punishments in the 18th and 19th century England has been published by family history website findmypast.co.uk and the National Archives.
To contact the editor, e-mail: