Because Mondays are MURDER...

Monday, 23 April 2012

Murderous Monday - The Finchley Baby Farmers

On February 3rd 1903 the first women to be hanged at Holloway Prison met their maker at the end of executioner Henry Perrepoint's rope.

They were Amelia Sach, 36 and Annie Walters, 54.  Finchley's Baby Farmers.

Baby Farming was a term used in Victorian Britain, to mean the taking in of an illegitimate infant or child for payment with the view of 'adopting the child out' or caring for the child for an agreed weekly fee. 

Illegitimacy in Victorian Britain was a huge stigma, not only for the child but also for the child's mother, who would find herself shunned by society.  The stigma of being an unmarried mother could cause her to lose employment and even make it difficult for her to gain further employment.  With no welfare system, save the local work house, unmarried mothers were faced with a difficult decision.  Enter the feared Victorian work house, or give up her child.

Baby farming soon became a profitable business for those less scrupulous members of society. A high infant mortality rate was part of daily life during the Victorian Era, so the death of one or two bastard children was unlikely to raise any eyebrows. Many baby farmers would take in infants, leaving them to die of starvation or neglect.  Other baby farmers found it far more profitable to dispose of the infants as soon as possible.

Little is known about Annie Walters background.  It is thought that she was married at one point and may have had a drinking problem.  It is believed she may have also been feeble minded.

Amelia Sach was born Frances Amelia Thorne in Wimborne Dorset in May 1867, the fourth child of Francis and Georgiana Thorne.  In 1896 Amelia married builder Jeffery Sach.  On the 1901 Census they are listed as living at The Walks Cllanview House with their young child.

By 1902 Amelia was running a 'lying in' house at Claymore House.  A place where unmarried women could have their babies and for a fee leave them behind to be adopted or fostered out.  The charge for these services was usually around £25 - £30, a vast amount when you consider a labourer at the time might be paid 3s 9d a week.  Many of these women left their babies behind dreaming of the loving families that would adopt and care for them, giving them everything their mother could not.  Unfortunately this was far from the truth.

Once an infant had been left in the care of Amelia Sach, Annie Walters would be called upon to collect it.  She would then murder the hapless infant by means of administering Chlorodyne, a morphine based drug that causes asphyxia in babies or if the drug was unsuccessful, smothering the child.  Their bodies were then dumped in the Thames or left in rubbish heaps.  It is thought that Amelia and Annie may have disposed of up to 20 infants in this manner.  However their enterprise was soon to come to an end.

One evening Annie Walters decided to take one of the babies home with her to her rented room.  She told her landlord, a police officer, that she was looking after the little girl while her parents were away on holiday. The landlord's wife helped Annie change the babies nappy and noted that the baby was in fact a boy.  A few days later Annie told her landlord and his wife that the baby had died.  she seemed genuinely upset about the babies passing, but her landlord's suspicions were aroused when a few months later Annie returned with another baby, who was to die a few days later.

Amelia Sach pictured at Holloway prison 1902
Annie was arrested and charged with the murder of a male infant by the name of Galley.  Soon more bodies where discovered and with the information volunteered by Annie, the police arrived on the doorstep of Amelia Sach.  A search of Amelia's house turned up several items of baby clothing, some of which were identified by mourning mothers whose children had vanished without a trace whilst in the care of Amelia.  The police now have enough evidence to arrest and charge Amelia with murder too.

Their trail took place on the 15th and 16th of January 1903 before Mr Justice Darling.  They jury took just 40 minutes to find them both guilty.  They were taken to Holloway prison to await execution.  Mr Perrepoint noted in his diary.

"These two women are baby farmers of the worst kind and they are both repulsive in type.  One was two pounds less than the other (in weight) and there was a difference of two inches in the drop, for which we allowed.  Once (Sach) had a long thin neck and the other (Walters) a short neck, points which I was bound to observe in the arrangement of the rope."

Amelia Sach had to be carried to the scaffold, while Annie Walters remained quite calm, is is said that she called out, "Goodbye Sach" when hooded on the trapdoor.  It was to be the last double female hanging in Britain.

The bodies of Amelia and Annie were buried in unmarked graves inside the walls of Holloway prison.  In 1971 during a extension work at the prison their bodies where exhumed and reburied in plot 117 in Brookwood Cemetery along with the bodies of two other women who were executed at Holloway, Styllou Christofi and Edith Thompson.

Picture by Connie Nisinger,

It is because of baby farmers such as Sach and Walters that we have our child protection laws today.

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