Her crimes have come to light once again after more than 2.5million criminal records from between 1770 and 1934 were placed online by the National Archives.
The intriguing records chronicle the crimes and punishments of some of the worst murderers and villains ever to roam these lands. But even among this company of loathsome individuals Dyer stands apart.
She began to conduct her grisly trade in Bristol in the late 1860s, opening a house of confinement in the suburb of Totterdown where she took in unmarried pregnant women who had nowhere else to go.
Some would ask her to smother their babies at birth, crimes that went unchallenged as Victorian doctors were unable to tell the difference between suffocation and still-birth.
A cell and the galleries at Newgate prison where Amelia Dyer was jailed before her hanging in 1896
Then Dyer moved began offering a fostering service, which involved her simply drugging the babies with laudanum, a powerful opiate, to keep them quite while she slowly starved them.
This went on for almost a decade until she was found guilty of infant neglect and sentenced to paltry six-months in prison.
By the time she came out she had a developed a new business plan. The logic was simple; why deal with all the bother of actually looking after the children when she could offer a one-off full adoption service and simply kill them.
She moved to Reading and soon found her services in high demand – eyewitnesses reported seeing as many as six babies a day coming into her home.
An artist’s drawing of three people being hanged outside Newgate prison where Amelia Dyer also met her end
Police would later find evidence of around 20 children who had been entrusted to her care in the two months before her arrest.
She was finally arrested following the discovery of the body of an infant in the reeds of the Thames. An address on the parcel paper led the police to her rented terraced house..
Inside her house of horrors they were met with the stench of rotting flesh emanating from the kitchen pantry and from a trunk under her bed.
They discovered baby clothes, vaccination papers as well as letters and receipts for her newspaper advertisements offering adoption services.
Amelia Dyer’s shocking crimes stunned Victorian Britain. Her case was so sensational that songs were written about her and Britain’s adoption and child protection laws had to be toughened up in response to the public outcry
A search of the River Thames was hastily ordered. After 50 bodies had been discovered she admitted to police: ‘You’ll know all mine by the tape around their necks.
Her case was so sensational that songs were written about her and Britain’s adoption and child protection laws had to be toughened up in response to the public outcry.
Dyer was hanged at Newgate Gaol, near the Old Bailey in London, in 1896. She was 58.
Her Prison Commission file records her last moments: ‘On account of her weight and the softness of the textures, rather a short drop was given. It proved to be quite sufficient.
Hers is one of more than 2.5million records from 1770 to 1934 have been put online, chronicling the fates of fraudsters, counterfeiters, thieves, murderers and drunkards.
The collection covers England and Wales, and is published by family history website findmypast.co.uk and The National Archives. Debra Chatfield, a historian at findmypast.co.uk, said:
‘These records provide an amazing opportunity to trace any villains and victims in your own family. We have painstakingly published registers containing mugshots of habitual drunks with incredible descriptions of appearance, demeanour and identifying marks.
‘The newspaper articles available provide unparalleled detail and show how crimes were reported when they were committed.’
The collection contains scanned images of court documents and letters of appeal written by friends and relatives begging for clemency, usually in vain.
Justice was brutal and often led to the hangman’s noose.
There are also Edwardian ASBOs, banning ne’er-do-wells from pubs – including one served on a 78-year-old ‘habitually drunken’ woman.
People can search for ancestors whose crimes caused them to be sent to Australia or housed on prison ships known as ‘hulks’.
Paul Carter, a records specialist at The National Archives, said the files ‘record the intimate details of hundreds of thousands of people’.
To find villains in your family, type your surname into the ‘crime and punishment’ section of the findmypast.co.uk website.
All criminal records in that name from 1770 to 1934 will be listed, along with National Archives data.
Crimes are catalogued by name, age, occupation, court date, area, victim’s name and sentence.
A further click of the mouse takes you to scanned images of the original handwritten records.
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Mary Ann Cotton Victims: 21
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Michael Ryan: 16
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Peter Sutcliffe Victims: 13
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Derrick Bird: 12
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Fred West Victims: 11
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Patrick Mackay – 11
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John Christie Victims: at least 8
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Ken Erskine: The ‘Stockwell Strangler’ – At least 7
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John Haigh – At least 6
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John Childs – 6
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Colin Ireland – 5
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Steve Wright – 5
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