We cannot help being fascinated by true life crimes and how they are solved. This sensational tale has been thoroughly researched and told in an easily read style which gives us a realistic picture of late 19th century life.
Unmarried mothers at that time, not only suffered deep shame but would also lose their jobs and probably end up in the workhouse. The alternatives were to do away with their baby or to find a baby farm. Middle aged women like Amelia Dyer advertised for babies, whom, for a fee they would take care of. Frequently these babies would be sold on to another, although some women genuinely wanted a child as a companion and helpmate. To provide anonymity for the mother (and also the baby farmer) the baby was often handed over in a large railway station.
Amelia Dyer first took in babies while living in the Bristol area before eventually moving to Caversham near Reading. Despite being admitted more than once into a mental asylum she kept under the radar until a shocking discovery was made under the Clappers footbridge across the River Thames. The body of a child was found wrapped up in brown paper.
Angela Buckley’s book describes how events unfolded as the Reading police searched for the perpetrator. From newspaper accounts, letters and the trial details, the sad lives of many children and the events surrounding Amelia Dyer’s actions are revealed in a compelling story. We also become acquainted with Granny, a simple soul who helped look after the babies and Arthur Ernest Palmer, Amelia’s enigmatic son-in-law.
This is the first of Angela Buckley’s new historical true crime series, Victorian Supersleuth Investigates, promising more revealing stories in the future.
You can read my review of Angela Buckley’s earlier book The Real Sherlock Holmes, the Hidden history of Jerome Caminada here.