Criminal logo

Woman of Darkness: Amelia Dyer and her Sinister Secrets

The Twisted Mind Behind the Most Vicious Crimes

By diego michelPublished 3 months ago 10 min read

The story of Amelia Dyer has gone down in the history of crime as one of the most disturbing: she ran a foster home that she offered as a place of affection for the little ones, but which ended up becoming a scene of horror where she murdered between 300 and 400 children. it all happened in 19th century Victorian England. The little ones were children of single mothers with few resources, who found it difficult to pay for a resource to take care of their babies.

In most cases, the institution was in charge of finding a new family for the babies, while in others, it waited for the mothers to find a situation of greater economic stability to take care of them.

birth and life

Amelia Dyer was born the youngest of five children (with three brothers, Thomas, James and William, and a sister, Ann) in the small town of Pyle Marsh, just east of Bristol, to master shoemaker Samuel Hobley and Sarah. Hobley (née Weymouth). Amelia learned to read and write and developed a love of literature and poetry. However, her childhood was marred by her mother's mental illness, brought on by typhus . Amelia witnessed her mother's violent attacks and was forced to care for her until her death in 1848. Later, researchers commented on the effect this had on Dyer and what it taught her about the symptoms exhibited by those who seem to lose their minds due to illness.

Dyer had an older sister, Sarah Ann, who died in 1841 at age 6, and a younger sister, also named Sarah Ann, who died in 1845 a few months later. An older cousin had an illegitimate daughter at the time who was later accepted as the daughter of the grandparents, William and Martha Hobley, who were Dyer's aunt and uncle. After her mother's death, Amelia lived with an aunt in Bristol for a time before taking an apprenticeship with a corset maker . Her father died in 1859. Her older brother, Thomas, inherited the family shoe business. In 1861, at the age of 24, Amelia separated permanently from at least one of her brothers, James, and moved into lodgings in Trinity Street, Bristol. There she married George Thomas. George was 59 years old and they both lied about their ages on the marriage certificate to reduce the age difference. George deducted eleven years from his age and Amelia added six years to hers ; many sources later reported this age as fact, which caused much confusion.

nursing period

After marrying George Thomas, Dyer trained as a nurse. Through contact with a midwife , Ellen Dane, she learned of an easier way to make a living: using her own home to provide accommodation for young women who had illegitimately conceived and then either putting the babies up for adoption or leaving them to die from neglect and abandonment . malnutrition . (Dane was forced to move to the U.S., shortly after meeting Amelia, to escape the attention of the authorities. ) Unwed mothers during the Victorian period often struggled to obtain income as the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 had eliminated any financial funding. obligation of parents of illegitimate children, while raising their children in a society where single parenthood and illegitimacy were stigmatized. This led to the practice of baby farming, where individuals acted as adoption or fostering agents in exchange for regular payments or a one-time upfront fee from the babies' mothers. Many companies were set up to foster these young girls and care for them until they gave birth. Subsequently, the mothers left their unwanted babies to be cared for as "foster children."

Unscrupulous caregivers resorted to starving abandoned babies to save money and even hasten death. Noisy or demanding babies could be sedated with alcohol and/or readily available opiates . Godfrey's Cordial , colloquially known as "mother's friend" (a syrup containing opium ) , was a frequent choice, but there were several other similar preparations. Many children died as a result of such dubious practices: "Opium killed many more children by starvation than directly by overdose".


Dyer was eager to make money by raising babies and, in addition to taking in pregnant women, advertised that she would breastfeed and adopt a baby, in exchange for a substantial one-time payment and suitable clothing for the child. In her advertisements and meetings with clients, she assured them that she was respectable and married and would provide a safe and loving home for the child.

In 1872, Amelia married William Dyer, a working brewer from Bristol. They had two children together: Mary Ann, also known as Polly, and William Samuel. Amelia eventually left her husband.

At some point in her career as a baby raiser, Dyer decided to forgo the expense and inconvenience of letting children die from neglect and starvation; shortly after receiving each child, she killed them, allowing her to pocket most or all of the fee.

For some time, Dyer eluded the ensuing police interest. She was finally caught in 1879 after a physician became suspicious of the number of infant deaths he had been called to certify under Dyer's care. However, instead of being convicted of murder or manslaughter , she was sentenced to six months hard labor. The experience allegedly nearly destroyed her mentally, although others have expressed disbelief at the leniency of the sentence compared to those handed down for misdemeanors at the time.

After his release, he tried to resume his nursing career. She spent periods in psychiatric hospitals due to mental instability and suicidal tendencies; these always coincided with times when it was in her best interest to "disappear." Dyer, a former asylum nurse, knew how to behave to ensure a relatively comfortable existence as an asylum inmate. Dyer appears to have begun abusing alcohol and opium-based products early in his murderous career; his mental instability may have been related to his substance abuse.

She returned to baby farming and murder. Dyer realized the folly of involving doctors to issue death certificates and began disposing of the bodies herself. The precarious nature and magnitude of her activities again provoked unwanted attention; she was alert to the attention of police and parents seeking to recover their children. She and her family moved frequently to different towns and cities to escape suspicion, regain anonymity and acquire new business. Over the years, Dyer used a succession of aliases.

In 1893, Dyer was released from her final internment at the Somerset and Bath Lunatic Asylum near Wells. Unlike "previous crises," this had been a very unpleasant experience and she never entered another asylum. Two years later, Dyer moved to Caversham , Berkshire, accompanied by an unsuspecting partner, Jane "Granny" Smith, whom Dyer had recruited for a brief period in an asylum and Dyer's daughter and son-in-law, Mary Ann ( known as Polly) and Arthur Palmer. This was followed by a move to 45 Kensington Road, Reading, Berkshire, later that year. Dyer convinced Smith to call her "mother" in front of innocent women who gave up their children. This was an effort to present a caring mother-daughter image.

The murder of Doris Marmon

In January 1896, Evelina Marmon, a popular 25-year-old waitress, gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Doris, in a Cheltenham boarding house. She quickly sought offers of adoption and placed an advertisement in the "Miscellaneous" section of the Bristol Times & Mirror newspaper . It simply read, "Respectable woman wanted to take charge of a small child". Marmon intended to return to work and hoped to get her son back.

Coincidentally, next to his, there was an advert that read, "Married couple with no family would adopt healthy child, nice cottage. Terms, £10." Marmon replied to a "Mrs. Harding" and a few days later received a reply from Dyer. From Oxford Road in Reading, "Mrs. Harding" wrote: "I should be glad to have a dear little girl, one I could bring up and call my own." She continued, "We are simple, homely people, in fairly good circumstances. I do not want a child for money, but for the companionship and comfort of home..... My husband and I love children very much. I have no child. of my own. A child with me will have a good home and mother's love."

Evelina Marmon wanted to pay a more affordable weekly rate for her daughter's care, but "Mrs. Harding" insisted on receiving the one-time payment up front. Marmon was in dire straits, so she reluctantly agreed to pay the £10 and a week later, "Mrs. Harding" arrived in Cheltenham.

Marmon was surprised by Dyer's advanced age and dumpy appearance, but as Dyer was affectionate with Doris, Evelina handed her daughter, a cardboard box of clothes and £10. Still distressed at having to give up caring for her daughter, Evelina accompanied Dyer to Cheltenham station and then to Gloucester . She returned to her lodgings "a shattered woman." A few days later, she received a letter from "Mrs. Harding" saying all was well; Marmon wrote back, but received no reply.

Dyer did not travel to Reading, as he had told Marmon. Instead, he went to 76 Mayo Road, Willesden , London, where his 23-year-old daughter Polly was staying. There, Dyer quickly found a white edging tape used in dressmaking, wrapped it twice around the baby's neck and tied a knot. Death would not have been immediate. Dyer later said, "I liked seeing them with the tape around their necks, but soon it was all over for them."

Both women allegedly helped wrap the body in a napkin. They kept some of the clothes Marmon had packed; the rest were intended for the pawnbroker . Dyer paid rent to the unwitting landlady and gave her a pair of children's boots for her little girl. The next day, Wednesday, April 1, 1896, another child, named Harry Simmons, was taken to Mayo Road. However, with no spare white duct tape available, the piece around Doris' corpse was removed and used to strangle the 13-month-old child.

On April 2, both bodies were piled in a carpet bag , along with bricks for added weight. Dyer then drove to Reading. At a secluded spot he knew well, near a dam at Caversham Lock , he forced the carpet bag through railings until he reached the River Thames .

Discovery of corpses

Unbeknownst to Dyer, on March 30, 1896, a boatman retrieved a package from the Thames at Reading . The package that Dyer dropped was underweight and had been easily detected. It contained the body of a girl, later identified as Helena Fry. In the small corps of detectives available to Reading Borough Police, Detective Constable Anderson made a crucial breakthrough. In addition to finding a Temple Meads , Bristol station label, he used microscopic analysis of the wrapping paper and deciphered a barely legible name: Mrs. Thomas ... and an address.

This evidence was enough to lead police to Dyer, but they still had no hard evidence directly connecting her to a serious crime. The additional evidence they obtained from witnesses and information obtained from Bristol police only served to heighten their concerns, and DC Anderson, with Sgt. James placed Dyer's house under surveillance. Subsequent intelligence suggested that Dyer would abscond if she was suspected. The officers decided to use a young woman as a decoy, hoping that she could get a meeting with Dyer to discuss her services. This may have been designed to help the detectives positively link Dyer to her business activities, or it may have simply provided them with a reliable opportunity to arrest her.

As it turned out, Dyer expected his new client (the decoy) to call, but instead, he found detectives waiting at his door. On April 3 (Good Friday), police raided his house. They were shocked by the stench of human decomposition, although no human remains were found. However, there was much other related evidence, including white border tape, telegrams about adoption agreements, pawn tickets for children's clothing, ad receipts, and letters from mothers inquiring about the welfare of their children.

Police estimated that in the previous months alone, at least twenty children had been placed in the care of a "Mrs. Thomas," now revealed to be Amelia Dyer. She also appeared to be about to move home again, this time to Somerset . This murder rate has led to some estimates that Mrs. Dyer may have killed, over decades, more than 400 infants and children, making her one of the most prolific killers of all time.

Dyer was arrested on April 4 and charged with murder. His son-in-law Arthur Palmer was charged as an accessory. During April, the Thames was dredged and six more bodies were discovered, including Doris Marmon and Harry Simmons, Dyer's latest victims. Each baby had been strangled with white tape, which, as he later told police, "so you could tell it was one of mine." Eleven days after giving her daughter to Dyer, Evelina Marmon, whose name had come up on items preserved by Dyer, identified her daughter's remains.

trial and enforcement

On May 22, 1896, Dyer appeared at the Old Bailey and pleaded guilty to one murder, that of Doris Marmon. Her family and associates testified at the trial that they had become increasingly suspicious and uneasy about her activities, and it was learned that Dyer had narrowly escaped discovery on several occasions. The evidence of a man who had seen and spoken to Dyer when she had disposed of the two bodies at Caversham Lock also proved significant. His daughter had provided graphic evidence that secured Dyer's conviction.

The only defense Dyer offered was insanity : she had twice been committed to asylums in Bristol. However, the prosecution successfully argued that her manifestations of mental instability had been a ploy to avoid suspicion; both incarcerations were said to have coincided with times when Dyer was concerned that her crimes might have been exposed.

It took the jury only four and a half minutes to find her guilty. In her three weeks in the condemned cell, she filled five notebooks with her "last and only true confession." A chaplain visited her the night before her execution and asked if she had anything to confess. She offered him her notebooks and said, "Isn't that enough?" [1] Interestingly, she was subpoenaed to appear as a witness at Polly's murder trial, scheduled for a week after the date of her execution. However, it was ruled that Dyer was already legally dead once sentenced and that her evidence would therefore be inadmissible. Therefore, her execution was not delayed. On the eve of her execution, Dyer learned that the charges against Polly had been dropped. Dyer was hanged by James Billington at Newgate Prison on Wednesday, June 10, 1896.[13] When asked on the scaffold if she had anything to say, she said "I have nothing to say," just before she was dropped at exactly 9:00 a.m.

juryguiltycapital punishment

About the Creator

diego michel

I am a writer and I love writing

Enjoyed the story?
Support the Creator.

Subscribe for free to receive all their stories in your feed. You could also pledge your support or give them a one-off tip, letting them know you appreciate their work.

Subscribe For Free

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

    diego michelWritten by diego michel

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.