Amelia Dyer the serial killer who killed more than 300 babies. She was a 'baby farmer'. Someone who, for a fee, would look after children, usually illegitimate, until a home could be found for them.
Amelia Elizabeth Dyer was one of the most prolific serial killers in history, murdering infants in her care over 30 years in Victorian Britain. Trained as a nurse, and widowed in 1869, she turned to baby farming the practice of adopting unwanted infants in exchange for money to support herself.
During her studies, Amelia met a woman that introduced her to the world of baby farming. Midwives could make money off of the unfortunate circumstances of single women who were pregnant. For a brief time, Amelia operated her own boarding house for pregnant, unmarried women. After Amelia assisted the women with the delivery of their infants, they paid her to care for their newborns.
She initially cared for the children legitimately, in addition to having two of her own, but whether intentionally or not, a number of them died in her care, leading to a conviction for neglect and six months' hard labour. As she maintained her career as nurse, midwife, and baby farmer, Amelia suffered from mental breakdowns and suicidal thoughts. Regardless, she did make one serious suicide attempt. She consumed two bottles of laudanum, a combination of morphine and codeine that tasted extremely bitter, but she was not successful. Years of extreme alcohol consumption and opium use had caused her to build up a tolerance.
The women in trouble would place an advertisement in a newspaper seeking a loving couple to adopt their baby. Amelia 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. Dyer would agree to an installment plan for payment or require full payment before she would take the baby.
Dyer, assured clients that children under her care would be given a safe and loving home. Initially, Dyer would let the child die from starvation and neglect. “Mother’s Friend,” an opium-laced syrup, was given to quiet these children as they suffered through starvation. Eventually Dyer resorted to faster murders which allowed her to pocket even more profit.
Dyer's downfall came when the bagged corpse of an infant was discovered in the Thames, with evidence leading to her. She was arrested on 4 April 1896. In one of the most sensational trials of the Victorian era, she was found guilty of the murder of infant Doris Marmon, and hanged on 10 June 1896. At the time of her death, a handful of murders were attributed to her, but there is little doubt she was responsible for many more similar deaths possibly 400 or more, making her a candidate for history's most prolific serial killer.
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.