I first became aware of the crimes of Amelia Dyer when I watched the ITV series 'Ladykillers' which was presented by Martina Cole. I was appalled but strangely fascinated by the story and was delighted when I found a copy of 'Amelia Dyer - The Woman Who Murdered Babies for Money' by Alison Rattle and Allison Vale on the Library for-sale table.
Amelia Dyer was tried and hanged in 1896, she was found guilty of just one murder but it is thought she may have been responsible for up to 400 deaths. Dyer trained as a nurse, and it was her nursing skills that were to come in so handy in her next 'career' - that of a 'baby farmer' - a woman who took in unwanted infants, for money.
In Victorian Britain, unmarried mothers were stigmatised and unable to get any financial help, the recently passed Poor Law had taken away the financial obligations of fathers, so many of these women were desperate. So, women like Dyer stepped in and became baby farmers - for a fee they would take the babies, often with the promise that they would care for them as their own. Dyer, however, just saw these poor children as a way to make money and most of the infants were left to strarve to death, some of them were throttled within hours of coming into her home.
This book is an excellently written account of Dyer's life, her career and the subsequent police investigation and court case. Although non-fiction, it is never tedious or stuffy and is written almost as though it were a novel.
This really is a fascinating, compelling and incredibly sad story. How many times do we hark back to the 'good old days', insisting that child cruelty and neglect, drug and alcohol addiction etc are all on rise? Reading this account of Victorian England makes one realise that things back then were so much worse. How many unmarried mothers these days have to pass over their newborn baby to an unknown person?