Here are all the most famous Victorian female serial killers
While the Victorian Era may be known for its dazzling rate of progress, it had its fair share of demons too.
In this case, we’re talking serial killers: Female ones, to be exact.
This batch of female serial killers were real vixens, a regular bunch of Medusas in corsets. They’re crimes ranged from killing husbands and lovers, to killing other people’s children. Hold on to your petticoats and trousers. It’s going to be a hellish ride.
Willimina “Minnie” Dean
Dean was known as the “Southland Witch.” She was born in Scotland, but widowed by her early twenties and moved to New Zealand. Dean soon found a new husband and decided to set up a baby farming business.
Now, you may be thinking, “What in the heck is a baby farm?” and disturbing images of rosy cheeks on stems might flash in your mind. Not quite. In the Victorian era, a popular option for mothers who didn’t want their babies was to pay orphanages to take them. The “baby farmers” would accept a lump sum of money and agree to raise the baby without any knowledge of its parents.
In some places, it became a lucrative enough business for people like Minnie Dean to throw her hat in the ring. Dean cared little for the children she took in, which was as many as nine. Several infants died from illnesses in her care, but because infant mortality rates were high in that time period, police did not press charges.
When Dean was seen boarding a train with a heavy-looking hatbox and baby bundle, railway porters became suspicious. Especially so once they noticed she was complete without the baby on her trip back home.
Then, an elderly woman claimed she had given her granddaughter to Dean, but that she was nowhere to be found on Dean’s property. Police found the remains of two infants and one toddler in Dean’s backyard. Suffocation and overdose of sedatives were the means of killing. Dean was convicted of killing the children and executed by hanging, a pretty rare occurrence for New Zealand.
Amelia Sach and Annie Walters
What a pair of best friends these two dames were. Have you ever jokingly questioned your best friend whether they would help you hide a body? Well, these two took this pact of loyalty literally.
Amelia Sach and Annie Walters also set up a baby farm, but theirs was in Northern England. They called it “Finchley Baby Farmers.” The fact that these places actually called themselves baby farms without shame tells you well enough the standard of care common to these places. They would raise a child up, but only just barely.
Unfortunately for the children and Walters and Sach’s custody, they often had no intention of raising them at all. Walter and Sach’s farm was not just an adoption agency. They also helped pregnant women deliver their children, after which, these women would immediately surrender the baby to the farm.
Little did the mothers know, Walter and Sach would quickly poison the infant after birth with chlorodyne. At least twelve babies were murdered under their care this way. Luckily, their landlord was also a police officer, so he eventually caught on to them. In due time, he caught them in the act. Walter and Sach were executed in a double hanging in 1903.
The Black Widows of Liverpool
Irish sisters Catherine Flannagan & Margaret Higgins operated a boarding house that reeked of death. They poisoned people with arsenic in order to collect insurance money. Catherine even murdered her 0wn 22-year-old son to get money.
In 1882, Margaret fell in love with a lodger named Thomas and they got married. Thomas’s eight-year-old daughter died within just months of the wedding, and Thomas himself died a year later. After three people died in the same household in such a short period of time, people began to get suspicious. Catherine & Margaret moved their housing operation to several addresses in an attempt to escape the public eye.
Thomas’s brother became wary of how his perfectly healthy sibling could have supposedly fallen ill to dysentery so suddenly. When he demanded an autopsy, authorities found evidence of arsenic poisoning in his intestines. The other bodies were then exhumed as well and traces of arsenic poisoning were found in them.
An interesting theory of investigators was that Margaret & Catherine were actually a part of “black widow network.” They suspected others were involved in the plot to kill people for insurance money. Investigators were never able to fully substantiate this claim, however.
Mary Ann Cotton
Mary Ann Cotton goes down in history as Britain’s first convicted serial killer. She was another arsenic poisoner who was after insurance money. Perhaps Margaret and Catherine took their cues from her. In the early 1800s, arsenic was virtually undetectable.
Cotton married a man named William, after which seven of their children died of “gastric fever.” In 1865 William ended up dying from the same “illness.” Cotton collected the insurance payout and then married another man who died from the same causes within a year.
Cotton continued this pattern, moving on to killing her own mother, a lover, and eventually killing a fourth husband’s child. This fourth husband, Frederick, didn’t take it lying down. Frederick had his son’s body exhumed and medical examiners found arsenic. By the time Cotton was caught and sentenced to hanging she had killed a total of 21 people.
Britain’s first convicted serial killer was quite prolific.
Serial Killer TV
The ITV thriller miniseries Dark Angel tells Mary Ann Cotton’s story well. Viewers can watch her evolve in her devilish ways and succeed at every killer’s dream: getting away with murder. Dark Angel is available on Amazon Prime, Vudu, Youtube, iTunes, and Google Play.
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