British Executions

Amelia Dyer

Age: 59

Sex: female

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 10 Jun 1896

Crime Location:

Execution Place: Newgate

Method: hanging

Executioner: James Billington


Amelia was apparently keen to make money from baby farming, and alongside taking in expectant women, she would advertise to nurse and adopt a baby, in return for a substantial one-off payment and adequate clothing for the child. In her advertisements and meetings with clients, she assured them that she was respectable, married, and that she would provide a safe and loving home for the child. At some point in her baby farming career, Amelia was prepared to forego the expense and inconvenience of letting the children die through neglect and starvation; soon after the receipt of each child, she murdered them, thus allowing her to pocket most or all of the entire fee. For some time, Dyer eluded the resulting interest of police. She was eventually caught in 1879 after a doctor was suspicious about the number of child deaths he had been called to certify in Dyer's care. However, instead of being convicted of murder or manslaughter, she was sentenced to six months' hard labour for neglect. The experience allegedly almost destroyed her mentally, though others have expressed incredulity at the leniency of the sentence when compared to those handed out for lesser crimes at that time. Upon release, she attempted to resume her nursing career. She had spells in mental hospitals due to her alleged mental instability and suicidal tendencies; these always coincided with times when it was convenient for her to "disappear". Being a former asylum nurse Amelia knew how to behave to ensure a relatively comfortable existence as an asylum inmate. Dyer appears to have begun abusing alcohol and opium-based products early in her killing career; her mental instability could have been related to her substance abuse. In 1890, Dyer cared for the illegitimate baby of a governess. When she returned to visit the child, the governess was immediately suspicious and stripped the baby to see if a birthmark was present on one of its hips. It wasn't, and prolonged suspicions by the authorities led to Dyer having, or feigning, a breakdown. Dyer at one point drank two bottles of laudanum in a serious suicide attempt, but her long-term abuse had built up her tolerance to opium products, so she survived. Inevitably, she returned to baby farming, and murder. Dyer realised the folly of involving doctors to issue death certificates and began disposing of the bodies herself. The precarious nature and extent of her activities again prompted undesirable attention; she was alert to the attentions of police—and of parents seeking to reclaim their children. She and her family frequently relocated to different towns and cities to escape suspicion, regain anonymity—and to acquire new business. Over the years, Dyer used a succession of aliases. In 1893, Dyer was discharged from her final committal at Wells mental asylum.[8] Unlike previous "breakdowns" this had been a most disagreeable experience and she never entered another asylum. Two years later, Dyer moved to Caversham, Berkshire, accompanied by an unsuspecting associate, Jane "Granny" Smith, whom Amelia had recruited from a brief spell in a workhouse and Amelia's daughter and son-in-law, Mary Ann (known as Polly) and Arthur Palmer. This was followed by a move to Kensington Road, Reading, Berkshire later the same year. Smith was persuaded by Amelia to be referred to as 'mother' in front of innocent women handing over their children. This was an effort to present a caring mother-daughter image.