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These Horrific Crimes

Jo Ellis
Jo Ellis Author Interview

Danger, Darkness and Destitution in Nineteenth Century Britain examines the life of a notorious serial killer and baby farmer, Amelia Dyer. What inspired you to write this book?

The inspiration I got from writing my book was from my history degree. I was looking for ideas for my dissertation and during my search I came across Amelia Dyer, I was so intrigued I had to research more. I went to the national archives in Kew, London and ordered to view original letters from Amelia to and from her unsuspecting victims mothers, the original newspaper adds and the original documents of Dyers time on the sentencing and after she was hung. I needed to find out as much as I could about the life of herself.

What was one thing about this time in history that surprises you the most?

The one thing that stood out for me was the lack of awareness and consequences of these actions. there was no children’s services at this time and no official way to adopt, so this made the likes of Dyers actions so easy for her to carry out. then this links to the zero support to mothers that feel like they had no other options with no regulations, and support. Dyer was not a one off there was many that chose this life and got away with it for many years.

What were some ideas that were important for you to explore in this book?

I felt what was important to explore was to highlight that in spite of these horrific crimes, this crime and conviction alone was the beginning of the NSPCC (child protection). it opened many eyes in a positive way and the realisation that child laws and regulations needed to be set in place.

I appreciated the detailed explanations in the book. What kind of research did you undertake to complete this book?

I researched thoroughly all primary sources I could find and see in person, to get the feel of it, how real it was. It was liking watching the story unfold I knew the ending but nothing I could do. then I read 2 books that included Dyers crimes and followed their reached areas that were stated in the bibliography, to then branch off my continuing research as one story always links to another.

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Victorian England was swamped in numerous of horrific headlines of baby farming and murder. Not all were dark shadowy figures stalking behind cobbled streets, many were trusted faces with inviting adverts in the local gazettes, while at the end of the 19th century, most people were shaken by the crimes of Jack the Ripper, often just as gory murders were happening. Amelia Dyer, the infamous baby killer known as the ‘angel maker’, spent three decades on a secret dark world and murdered 200 infants, possibly more. Many more killers were whose lives had taken a turn for the worst, known as unfortunates, had taken to crime to survive one of the most difficult times in the city’s history. These few stories alone show how dangerous London was in the Victorian era.

Danger, Darkness and Destitution in Nineteenth Century Britain

Danger, Darkness and Destitution in Nineteenth Century Britain by [Jo Ellis]

Dangers, Darkness and Destitution in Nineteenth Century Britain examines the life of a notorious serial killer and baby farmer, Amelia Dyer. Her actions ultimately led to the formation of modern child protection laws. Ellis uses Dyer’s case as a jumping off point to examine the danger and limited options of a woman living in the late 1800’s in Britain’s East End. Often as victims of circumstance, Ellis argues many women, including Dyer, did not have options to makes ends meet and fell prey to dangerous and dark professions.

This was a well researched and thorough examination of women in the late 1880’s. The argument presented, gave excellent details and a well rounded account from many academic perspectives to argue the idea. Author Jo Ellis’ analysis of Amelia Dyer’s case drew connections to fairytale witches to vilify women serial killers. Further, how the actions of Dyer and other accused “baby-farmers” should not be considered horrific solely based on the perpetrators gender, but more as a cultural practice. Women in Victorian times were expected to be utterly selfless and the perfect ideal of a mother; this dissertation drove home the fact that female criminals were presented as a form of “domestic betrayal” (pg. 46).

I particularly enjoyed how Ellis bridged Dyer’s case to Jack the Ripper’s case from 1888, stating there is significant evidence that would point towards it being a female serial killer, “Jill the Ripper.” I thought this was an excellent way to supplement their argument. It is interesting to read how many still discredit this theory despite the overwhelming evidence, because of their beliefs that “a woman could never do that.”

Danger, Darkness and Destitution in Nineteenth Century Britain was a great read and was not too muddled with high-brow jargon. The argument was straightforward and introduced me to many new concepts from Britain’s dark history. This is an informative and riveting book that conveys intriguing content in an entertaining and straightforward way.

Pages: 88 | ASIN: B09GKW3RFV

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