Unearth the terrifying true story about the Butterbox Babies
In a world where the stigma of illegitimacy ran deeper than the notion of child care, William & Lila Young were on a charitable mission to offer refuge to unmarried mothers in their big Nova Scotia establishment called Ideal Maternity Home. But what happened behind the locked doors of their maternity home showed the couple’s intentions were anything but charitable.
From the horrible practice of baby farming to the exposition that snared the Youngs in their own twisted web of lies & greed, here’s a chilling account of the midwife who starved & killed hundreds of children and buried their bodies in small wooden grocery boxes typically used for dairy products, hence the term “Butterbox Babies”.
Trigger warning: Contains distressing content involving children.
Baby farming was a ghastly byproduct of the Victorian Era, when contraception was limited, abortion was illegal, and illegitimate birth meant lifelong humiliation for both mother & child. Baby farming facilities charged a lump sum to help the unwed mother through her confinement (during the last trimester of pregnancy, Victorian women were confined to the house) and take care of the newborn baby.
The practice enabled desperate unwed mothers to leave their babies, whom they could not afford or manage to look after, with the baby farmers who would charge a fee to find new families for the unwanted babies through black-market adoptions allowing unwed mothers to return home with their reputation intact.
However, the cost of taking care of hard-to-sell babies was often too high, and soon baby farmers found killing off the babies was way less arduous and more profitable than re-homing them.
Some of these baby farmers may not have intentionally tried to kill the babies left in their care, but there are many cases where the vile farmers have admitted to purposely murdering the children. One such baby farmer is Lila Young, who’s suspected of killing hundreds of babies to further her ravenous greed.
Ideal Maternity Home
Lila Gladys Young was the daughter of devout Seventh-Day Adventist parents in Nova Scotia. She started her career as a teacher but after meeting & marrying William Peach Young, a self-designated medical missionary, she switched her professional track and became a midwife.
Following the birth of their first child, the Youngs moved to Chicago, where William became a licensed chiropractor while Lila graduated from the National School of Obstetrics and Midwifery.
The couple returned to Nova Scotia and in February of 1928 opened the “Life and Health Sanitarium” in East Chester. At the start of the Sanitarium, the Youngs were struggling and barely getting by. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Youngs soon stumbled into the dubious yet lucrative alcove of “baby farming”.
Thanks to all the money that Willian & Lila Young were raking in through their unlicensed operation, the couple expanded their facility and rechristened it as “Ideal Maternity Home” with William as superintendent & Lila as managing director. Their services now included maternity care for unwed mothers and private placement of unwanted, unnamed infants.
Unmarried mothers flocked to the Couple’s establishment in response to newspaper advertisements that promised to provide a safe haven and shield “expectant women from gossip”.
On the surface, William & Lila Young were pursuing their calling of helping young, unwed expectant mothers deliver their babies which attracted praises from both locals & politicians, however, there were some who argued that the reality behind the Ideal Maternity Home was far grimmer than what’s being portrayed.
Willian & Lila Young charged the unwed mothers anywhere between $100 & $200 in advance for room & board. They also demanded $12 for diapers & supplies plus an average fee of $300 for warehousing the babies between delivery & adoption. And if the baby died, that was $20 for the funeral.
The Youngs also charged an astronomical price for the adoption procedure. According to Ideal Maternity Home Survivors, the cost of the adoptions varied, but it’s believed that some couples paid up to $10,000 for a baby. At the time legal adoptions in the U.S. weren’t permitted across religious lines, and with a shortage of available newborns, many American couples traveled to Nova Scotia to foster a child.
They were also said to have sold newborns belonging to local married women who were told that their child had inexplicably died. Despite their noble aim, it was clear that the couple’s intentions were polluted with unimaginable greed.
The Youngs were obviously money-grubbing parasites who preyed on unmarried mothers and their infants, and whoever didn’t have the potential to earn the couple some revenue was discarded. Any baby who had no placement potential was allegedly starved to death on a sparse diet of molasses & water.
According to Bette L. Cahill’s book Buterbox Babies, within two weeks, the child would succumb and be finally laid to rest with white pine butter boxes standing in for coffins. Their tiny bodies would be either buried behind the Maternity Home property, in a field adjacent to a nearby cemetery, tossed into the sea, or burned in the home’s furnace.
By 1934, many people started taking an interest in the Ideal Maternity Home. The Nova Scotia Department of Public Welfare gathered evidence against the Youngs but was unable to shut down their business. After many charges & unsuccessful investigations, in 1946, Montreal Newspaper ran an article exposing the couple’s maternity home as the ruthless, mercenary operation that it was.
The expose highlighted the home’s questionable medical care, the Youngs’ international child trafficking business, and the killing of butterbox babies. The couple tried to sue the local newspaper for defamation but their case was dismissed and so the Ideal Maternity Home was shut down.
Although some butterbox corpses were eventually discovered, it was almost impossible to prove their cause of death, which meant William & Lila Young walked out charge-free despite the heinous atrocities they committed.