Crime partnerships in themselves are not that unremarkable, but where both participants are women, their victims are innocent babies and where the perpetrators played a part in the final double female execution in British legal history, then these two women are indeed notable.
The younger of the two women, Amelia Sachs, seems to have been the “brains” behind the murderous venture which it is claimed may have cost up to twenty new born infants their lives and netted Sachs and her co-conspirator, Annie Walters, what we would now regard as a fairly paltry sum of money.
Born in 1873, Amelia Sachs was reported to have been a married woman with a child of her own, who either through design, circumstance or nature had established a business at Claymore House in Finchley, which financially exploited unfortunate young women who found themselves carrying a child out of wedlock, which was a clear breach of the social conventions and etiquette of Victorian England. Setting up what we might now call an unmarried mothers home, Sachs was said to have advertised for pregnant young women to lodge with her until their babies were delivered and then offered them the possibility of their new born baby being adopted by childless couples or wealthy individuals. For most of her clients, who were generally unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility of an unplanned child, the opportunity to have their baby adopted by a loving couple or a well-to-do person was thought to have been an extremely acceptable solution to an otherwise uncertain predicament.
This was not a purely altruistic gesture on Sachs’ part however. Generally, the unmarried mother would be asked for a “present” for the potential parents, a financial sweetener of between £20 and £30 which might subsequently be used by the adoptive parents to buy things for their new baby. As most of the young women were keen to give their baby’s the very best start in life, they would often ask the infants father for the money required, which in most cases the men were more than happy to do, just to see the unexpected problem go away.
Unfortunately, what many of these “fallen” young women failed to realise, was that in almost all cases these potential new parents were entirely fictional and in reality the babies were simply taken away by an associate of Sachs, a woman called Annie Walters, who would subsequently drug and asphyxiate the babies before dumping their lifeless bodies in the River Thames or in another convenient location, where it would remain undiscovered. The two women were entirely motivated by greed and had realised early on that by killing the children, they could not only keep the money given to them for the baby’s new adoptive parents, but could sell the belongings left for the child by its natural mother.
Annie Walters was thought to have been born in 1869, although other records suggest she was 54 years old at the time of her death, indicating that she had in fact been born in 1849. She too was married, but was said to have been separated from her husband and there is no information as to whether she had children of her own. It is known however, that she was semi-illiterate, regarded as feeble-minded and had a chronic drinking problem, all of which no doubt accounted for her subservience to the much more calculating and plausible Amelia Sachs.
The usual method of murdering the new born babies was for Sachs to attend the delivery of the infant and then take it out of the room in order to wash it. Occasionally she would return the baby, so that the mother could say farewell, before she handed it over to Walters who would bundle the baby up and remove it from the house. At some point, she would feed the infant with milk that was laced with Chlorodine, a morphine based sedative, which when given to very young children had the potential to asphyxiate them, or at least render them unconscious. Where the medication did not kill the child outright, it was thought that Walters would simply suffocate the child by placing her hand over the baby’s mouth and nose and preventing it from being able to breathe.
Although there is no definitive evidence as to how long Sachs and Walters had been operating their “baby farming” business, given the numbers of baby clothes found by Police after the pair had been arrested, there are some suggestions that at least twenty babies had perished as a result of their illegal and immoral practices and possibly many more. Fortunately for other potential victims though, it was thought to be the careless actions of Annie Walters that would ultimately lead Police to their doorstep and bring an end to their murderous careers.
For a reason known only to herself Walters chose to bring one of the infants home with her, rather than dispose of it immediately. It is interesting to speculate whether or not this change had been brought about for a specific reason, possibly as the result of a young mother having changed her mind at the last minute and wanting her baby returned. Perhaps unnerved by this, or another unexplained incident, Walters obviously made the decision to keep the baby with her for a little while, before employing her usual methods and causing it to die from suffocation. Unfortunately for her, her landlord happened to be a serving Police Officer called Henry Seal, whose suspicions would later have such grave results for her and her accomplice Amelia Sachs.
Having brought the baby into her lodgings, on the pretext that she was caring for it temporarily, it obviously caused a good deal of interest amongst the Seal family, including his wife and children, who were all keen to help Walters with caring for the young infant. They all noticed however, that within hours of the baby arriving in the house just how quiet the baby had become, something that Walters was said to have accounted for by it sleeping a lot as a result of her using Chlorodine to settle it. Mrs Seal, an experienced mother herself, was a little disturbed by this admission, but eventually found herself convinced by Walters’s argument that small amounts of the drug were relatively harmless. Despite their best efforts to help with or even see the baby though, none of the Seal household were able to confirm for themselves that the baby was well and within a couple of days, Walters was said to have taken the baby away, to be re-homed with its new family.
Had Annie Walters refrained from bringing any more children home with her, then it is unlikely that her dark secret would ever have been uncovered. However, sometime later she repeated the mistake and once again turned up with a baby at her lodgings, claiming it to be a baby girl that she had been asked to re-home with a wealthy client. Once again she was reluctant for any of the Seal family to have too much contact with the baby and it was only while she was out of the house that Mrs Seal had an opportunity to take a good look at the baby girl. Needing to change the baby’s nappy, she was surprised to discover, that in fact it wasn’t a girl, but a baby boy instead. When Walters returned to the house and realised that the baby had been changed, her attitude towards the family was said to have been far from appreciative and she quickly isolated the baby boy in her own private room. Needless to say, her strange behaviour gave the whole Seal family cause for concern and it was perhaps this incident I particular that finally made Henry Seal take a little more interest in his female lodger.
Later Court records suggest that Officer Seal reported his suspicions to his immediate superior, who detailed a detective to follow Annie Walters as she left her lodgings, to see what she did with the baby. On the morning of her arrest, a detective watched as she left the house with a bundle under her arm, which he believed to be the baby and followed her to the South Kensington railway station, where she was reported to have wandered around rather aimlessly, as if uncertain of what to do, or where to go. After she had entered the female lavatories, the detective quickly informed the station master as to his concerns and they both approached the toilets, with the intention of entering the building they were immediately confronted by Annie Walter’s exiting the public convenience. When confronted by Walters the policeman quickly identified himself and challenged her to show him what was in the bundle. Realising that she had been caught red-handed, Walters instantly claimed that she was not guilty of murder, but nonetheless complied with the detective’s request; and opened the bundle to reveal the lifeless body of a baby boy, who showed signs of having recently been suffocated. With his worst suspicions confirmed, the shocked detective immediately arrested Walters for the murder of the boy, who it would later transpire, had been born only a few days earlier, to a young woman called Ada Galley.
Having been taken to the local Police station and formally charged with murder, Annie Walters was then questioned by detectives; and as a result the authorities subsequently went to Amelia Sachs’ “lying-in” home in Finchley and arrested her as an accomplice to the murder of the Galley child. A Police search of her premises and particularly her own private rooms, quickly revealed evidence of the scale of the practice undertaken by the pair and witnessed by the numbers of children clothes neatly stored away in her drawers and cupboards. Some of these personal items would later prove to be damning evidence against Sachs and Walters, as they were handmade by the mothers of the new born babies and therefore almost unique and easily identifiable.
As the Police investigation delved deeper into the operation of the “Finchley Baby Farmers”, so they eventually managed to contact a large number of the young women who had given their newborn children over for adoption. They also managed to contact a handful of the absentee fathers, some of whom were able to provide identification of those involved, as well as the numbers of the bank notes that had been handed over to Amelia Sachs by the unwitting parents, in the belief that their child was to be adopted by willing and loving families.
One of the most important witnesses however, was a Doctor Wylie, who had personally delivered Ms Galley’s baby and recalled that it was such a difficult birth that he had had to use forceps to bring the young boy into the world. When the boy’s body had been found in the possession of Annie Walters, it had immediately been sent to the local mortuary and when Wylie was called to identify the remains, he stated that he recognised the baby, not least because of the slight bruising on his head, which had been caused by the use of forceps.
The pathologist who examined the child’s remains would later testify to the court that death was in all probability caused by manual suffocation, as there was no evidence of the baby having been fed for a good many hours before its death, which precluded the likelihood of Walters having used Chlorodine to end the child’s life. Although it had been suggested that the bruising on the boys head might be the result of a blow, his general opinion was that the bruising had indeed been caused by the use of forceps during a difficult delivery, as had been the opinion of Dr Wylie.
Another witness who was interviewed by detectives was an assistant that worked in a Coffee House, who recalled that she remembered Walters being in her establishment, clutching a small child that was wrapped up in a bundle of clothes. She told how she had spoken to Walters and commented on how quiet the baby was, to which Walter’s replied, that the child had just come out of hospital and was still under the anaesthetic. The assistant would later testify to the court, that she had later formed the opinion that rather than it being asleep or unconscious, the baby might well have been dead.
The pair were finally brought to trial between the 15th and 16th January 1903 before Mr Justice Darling at the Old Bailey and after two days of evidence, the jury took around forty minutes to declare them both guilty of the charges laid against them. It was reported that as the jury contained a number of women, a plea for leniency was made on behalf of the two women, although unfortunately for them, the plea fell on deaf ears and Mr Justice Darling subsequently sentenced them both to death.
They were later removed to Holloway Prison to await their fate on the morning of Tuesday 3rd February 1903. Contemporary reports indicate that Walters was completely calm and at ease with herself throughout the remaining weeks of her life, unlike Sachs who was said to have been in a state of constant turmoil; and telling anyone who would listen that she was entirely innocent of the charges against her.
On the day of their execution, the official executioner William Billington assisted by Henry Pierrepoint, was reported to have entered the condemned cells at the appointed hour and quickly pinioned the prisoner’s arms. Walters was said to be fairly calm and compliant, whilst Sachs was thought to be in a state on near hysteria and had to be physically carried to the scaffold to join her fellow conspirator. Henry Pierrepoint later recalled;
“These two women were baby farmers of the worst kind; and they were both equally repulsive in type. One was two pounds lighter than the other and there was a difference of two inches in the drop which I had allowed for. Sachs had a long thin neck and Walters a short neck, points that I was bound to observe in the arrangement of the rope. They had to be literally carried to the scaffold and protested to the end against their sentences”
In more recent times it has been suggested that Sachs and Walters may have been the mysterious Browning women who were accused by the fated Louise Masset of murdering her young son Manfred. This is highly unlikely however, given that their methodology of murder is entirely different and the fact that Louise Masset was reported to have actually confessed to her crime as she waited in Newgate prison’s condemned cell.