Died At Age: 60
Also Known As: Amelia Elizabeth Dyer, Amelia Elizabeth Hobley
Born in: Bristol
Notorious As: Serial Killer
Spouse/Ex-: George Thomas, William Dyer
father: Samuel Hobley
mother: Sarah Hobley
children: Ellen Thomas, Mary Ann, William Samuel Dyer
Died on: June 11, 1897
place of death: Newgate Prison, London
Amelia Dyer is known as one of the most brutal and infamous serial killers in history. Over a period of 20 years during the Victorian era in England, she is said to have murdered about 300 infants, whom she had taken in to ‘take care of.’ She was a trained nursing professional and indulged in ‘baby farming,’ a popular practice in which she would take care of unwanted infants in exchange for money. While she did her job legitimately for the first few years, the death of her husband disturbed her mental balance. After children in her care started dying, she was convicted and sent to six months in prison. Once she it was released from prison, she started murdering more infants who were put under her care. She had also been admitted to several asylums during her lifetime. Her deeds could only be exposed in April 1896, when she was arrested. Accused of some heinous crimes, she was hanged to death by the English law. She has since been a source of inspiration for several movies, books, and plays.
Childhood & Early Life
Amelia Dyer was born Amelia Elizabeth Hobley, in 1836, in Bristol, England. Her father, Samuel Hobley, was a shoemaker, and her mother, Sarah Hobley, was a homemaker. The family was not the richest in the little village of Pyle Marsh, but they earned a decent income, owing to her father’s well established reputation as a master shoemaker even outside the boundaries of the village.
Records state that she grew up in a huge family with four older siblings. The family lived a mundane life, with all the children studying in good schools. Amelia was fairly good in academics and was especially inclined toward literature. As a kid, she wrote quite a few poems and short stories, and this impressed her teachers in school.
Unfortunately, her mother’s mental health was affected by typhus. This became the prime cause of concern for the entire family. As the fever reached her brain, she became increasingly violent, and as a result, the children started getting beaten up almost every day. Historians claim that this gave rise to extreme hatred in Amelia’s subconscious mind, and this hatred remained repressed within her.
Slowly, she started drifting toward depression and this was further amplified by the deaths of two of her sisters. Subsequently, her mother’s death brought Amelia to Bristol, where she lived with her aunt for a while. This helped her get over her mother’s death. She started an internship with a corset maker and learned the tricks of the trade, hoping to make a career out of it.
Following her father’s demise in 1859, the flourishing family business was completely taken over by her elder brother James. Right after a feud with her brother, she moved permanently into a lodge in Bristol. There, she met a man named George Thomas and got married to him at the age of 24.
Some historians claim that her husband, who was well over 50 years of age and a widower, fudged his age in the documents and also got a few years added to Amelia’s age. He is said to have done this to reduce the age gap, but there has not been any evidence to support this belief.
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Nursing & Baby Farming
Her husband helped her join a nursing school to train as a nurse. Amelia seemed happy and subsequently, became a successful entity in the local ‘baby farming’ industry.
During that period, illegitimate pregnancies were highly stigmatized and babies born out of such pregnancies were not accepted by their families. The mothers of such babies often had to elope with or without their lovers and face banishment from their families and from society.
This led to a surge in a practice known as ‘baby farming.’ Thus, several businesses indulged in taking care of such illegitimate babies exchange for a sum of money. Amelia’s nursing background helped her make good money out of this practice.
She put up advertisements, met potential clients, and assured them that she was a well-trained nurse and a respectable married woman. She appeared to be a well-mannered, well-spoken, and refined woman. This led to people putting a growing number of infants under her care.
She started taking weekly payments, but out of greed for more money, she took in more infants than she could manage. This led to her plan of getting rid of the children, and with time, a large number of children started dying under her care.
It is not clear whether they were intentionally. However, it is believed that she ended up starving the infants to save money. She is said to have injected the kids with some harmful chemicals that curbed their appetites and led to their deaths.
She was noticed by people and the law when the number of deaths increased. Eventually, she was convicted of ‘negligence’ and was sentenced to six months in prison.
Mental Instability & Murders
While in prison, Amelia became mentally unstable and showed signs of suicidal tendencies. It is said that she attempted suicide twice, when she was forced to do extremely hard physical work in prison. Upon her release from prison, she was depressed for a long time and was even sent to several mental asylums, owing to her diminishing mental health.
Soon, she returned to her destructive ‘baby farming’ practices, and this time, she was more careful due to the suspicions regarding her activities, following her stint in prison. She changed towns frequently.
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However, many things had changed by this time. For instance, she was now deliberately planning to get rid of the dead bodies of the children. She did this delicately and even hired a young woman named Jane Smith to help her. Being very careful, Amelia did not let Jane know about her deeds and pretended to be a loving ‘mother figure’ to shrug off any suspicion.
She killed the babies in her care by strangling them to death with white tapes and then threw the corpses into the ‘Thames’. It was difficult for the doctors at the time to ascertain whether the babies were still-born or were murdered. This led to no serious action against her and the number of dead infants grew by the day. The local police started an investigation, but it was half-cooked, as there were no solid evidences against anyone.
Owing to the fact that she had been arrested before, Amelia used different aliases to keep herself anonymous. Years of heavy alcohol consumption had further changed her face to a large extent and it was very difficult to recognize her.
This continued for more than 2 decades and the total count of dead bodies crossed the 300 mark. The growing protests made the police take a serious look into the matter. This led them to closely investigate the bodies that were found in the river.
In 1896, the police obtained a lead from a tape that had an address written on it. The police tracked Amelia down, using the address, and she was immediately taken into custody.
Trial & Hanging
While in police custody, Amelia confessed to her crimes and told the police that they could recognize her victims from the “tape around their necks.” It took the court less than six minutes to declare her guilty, and she was sentenced to death by hanging.
During the trial, she somehow tried to save herself by trying to prove that she was insane, but it was later proved by the authorities that it was just her ploy to save herself from the death sentence. During the three weeks’ time before the sentence was to be carried out, she confessed to all the murders in front of a chaplain.
She was hanged at ‘Newgate Prison’ on June 10, 1896. Her last words were, “I have nothing to say.” Her sentence was carried out by James Billington at 9 AM.
The exact number of Amelia Dyer’s victims could never be confirmed, but according to the dead bodies recovered and the testimonies by the mothers who took her services, it is estimated that she had murdered close to about 300 to 400 infants.
Following the incident, a lot of people protested. Soon, adoptions laws in the country were made stricter.
As she was alive and active during the time of another infamous Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper, it has been theorized by some that they are the same person. Jack the Ripper was never caught!