1 OCTOBER 1870, Page 11


THE case made out at the Central Criminal Court against Margaret Waters, one of the two women charged with the -wholesale murder of children in a baby-farming house at Brixton, is so complete and clear that there can be no doubt of the justice -of her sentence. Whatever may have been thought before as to the possibility of the death of some of the children being caused by such neglect as would amount to manslaughter, it is evident now that there was an organized system in that house, that -children were " adopted " with a view of being slowly murdered by starvation and narcotics, and that the child Cowen fell a victim -to that treatment. The merciful forms of our criminal procedure, which restrict prosecutions to one thing at a time, made it impossible to give legal evidence of facts that add infinitely to moral certainty. We cannot but connect the children which were taken away from the house at night having a cape, or a hood, or a shawl on, which were ill and silent when they were taken away, and which never reappeared, though the clothing sometimes came back, with the bodies found under railway-arches wrapped in rags or brown-paper or in things that had belonged to Waters or her sister. We cannot but remember that the accused women had received at least forty children in four years, that there were eleven children in the house when it was searched, and that of the

nine taken to the workhouse four died from the effects of starvation. As a matter of law, the Lord Chief Baron was quite right in telling the jury that these circumstances must not influence their verdict. If it appeared that the child Cowen died from natural causes, or from neglect which fell short of being intentional, the fact that other children had been murdered at the same time would not make the accused guilty of his murder. But the jury were also told that in estimating the likelihood of the child Cowen having died from natural causes, or of the neglect falling short of being intentional, they might properly take into account the treatment of those other children. It was only by this means that cumulative evidence could be introduced at all, and even then its effect was carefully restricted. But there was enough to satisfy the jury that the woman Waters was guilty of murder, and we are not at all sure that her sister Ellis would have escaped if the case against her had not been stopped by the Lord Chief Baron.

A review of the facts connected with the child Cowen shows us, no doubt, that Waters took the active part in procuring him from his grandfather, and that she had the chief management of the house at Brixton. We first hear of her in connection with an advertisement offering to adopt a child on payment of a small premium. A musician named Cowen, living at Brixton, wrote to the address given in this advertisement, and made an appointment at some railway-station with a person calling herself Willis. This person turned out to be Waters, and to her care Mr. Cowen con- fided the illegitimate child of his daughter. The child, which was then a very fine, healthy child, was taken away on the 17th of May. A premium of £2 was paid with it, Waters at first refusing to take the money and having to be pressed to take it. She said at the same time that LI was only mentioned in the advertisement to prevent numbers of applicants, and she gave an account of herself and her husband to show that she was not in want of money. The next thing Mr. Cowen heard about the child was from a police-serjeant who had also answered an advertisement about adoption, and had heard from a Mrs. Oliver. Going to a rail- way-station with the serjeant, he saw Mrs. Oliver, who turned out to be Ellis, and who was wearing the same dress he had seen upon Waters at a similar interview. Ellis was followed home, and next day the house was searched. Eleven children were found there, five supported by a weekly allowance, and these five in fair condition ; the rest adopted children, lying huddled on a sofa, dressed in foul and wet clothes, looking thin and wasted, all of them in a sort of stupor, and two of them as if they were dying. The child Cowen, such a fine, healthy child three weeks before,


had scarcely bit of flesh on its bones, could only be recognized by its hair, could not cry, could hardly be wakened when it was asleep, and looked more like a shrivelled-up monkey than a human being. Waters, being taxed with its murder, told Mr. Cowen that he had only given her £2 for its keep. While the house was being searched, the children on the sofa were hastily cleaned, and bottles of milk were placed beside them. The child Cowen was at once taken to a wet-nurse, and for a time it seemed to rally ; but it soon relapsed into a stupor, and that gave place to death. Want of food while it was young, the administra- tion of laudanum, a bottle smelling of which was found in the house, and which the doctor called for the defence said "killed children like a shot," extreme wasting, the natural result of such treatment, and congestion of the brain, were the operating causes. It is needless to go through the medical theories started by the defence, or to hint at the " charitable presumptions " which are suggested. The woman Waters's own statement is conclusive. "You only gave me £2, Mr. Cowen." It was clear that a child must starve upon that, and the narcotics enabled it to starve noiselessly. The woman's after-thought that the child was intended for a wealthy couple, and that its death was a great loss to her in a pecuniary point of view, is contradicted by her own words as well as by the whole of her conduct. If it had been her interest to keep the child alive, she would have carefully separated it from those whom it was her interest to murder. It is not as if she was so much accustomed to the one branch of her terrible trade that her skill failed her when she wished to make an exception. The children for whom she had a weekly allowance tell a different story. They were running about in the open air, were properly fed, in fair health, and have since been given up to their friends. It is true that they were older children, and the danger of bringing up young babies by hand is so great that the deaths are said to be thirty per cent. on an average. But here we have the keynote of the system. All the adopted children were young babies. " I wish for one as young as possible, that it may know none but our- selves as its parents," wrote Mrs. Oliver, in her decoy letter. We

may be sure that if an older child was offered there was some reason for declining it. The shipbuilder or house decorator did not like its looks. It was too old to accustom itself to a new family. It would not put up so readily with starvation and nar- cotics, and its body could not be disposed of so safely as if it was five or six weeks old.

This consideration throws some light on the practice of the Brixton house. But there is another feature of the system which deserves attention. Were those children which were taken away at night between 10 and 12 adopted children, or children supported by a weekly allowance ? If they were the former, and it is true that they went to their friends, how came their friends to take them back ? They would hardly pay the premium for adoption, whether it was really 15, or £4, or £2, and then let Mrs. Willis or Mrs. Oliver repudiate the transaction. Of course, these child- ren may have belonged to the other class, the class which lived ; but as they were generally young, generally ill, generally silent, and were taken away at about the same time of night as fresh children were brought back to the house, we should form a different conclusion. The railway - stations where children were received cannot be far from the railway- arches where bodies were deposited, and the shawl in which Cowen was wrapped had perhaps just before discharged another duty. These, of course, are suspicions merely, but there is good ground for them. The way in which the most odious features of the system were concealed from those brought casually in contact with it, show the care with which the trade was carried on. We do not know what the servant-girl thought of the amount of food given to the children in the house, or of the mysterious disappearances of those which were ill and silent and slept a good deal. A doctor was called in to see the child Cowen, and found it suffering from diarrhoea and sickness ; but it does not then seem to have been drugged in an obtrusive manner, and though he called again twice before the child was taken away, while it was gradually wasting to a skeleton, it was not shown him, and he was told that it was better. We should have thought the doctor's suspicions ought to have been excited by the appear- ance of the house, but we know from the servant that the children were always put out of the way when anyone was coming. Mr. Cowen, too, seems to have been easily blinded, but the reluctance shown by Waters to receive the sum of the smallness of which she afterwards complained, was well calculated to persuade him of her sincerity. Why she should only take £2 when she might have got more is almost the only mystery in the case, but it makes very little in her favour. Mr. Cowen said he would willingly have given more, but if more had been taken he wotild hardly have believed the story about the shipbuilder. He might give £2 with- out inquiries, when he thought it was to be spent on the child's clothes ; if he had known that he was paying a premium for adoption, he would have seen that the money was an object, and he must have asked himself where was the profit. The women who advertised for children and showed them a mother's love and care by starving and drugging them, knew that it was necessary to act with caution. The parents of illegitimate offspring might be willing to relieve themselves of a burden, but would hardly be accomplices iu murder. Some disguise was essential, stories had to be invented, scruples to be lulled in ad- vance, grand hopes to be instilled. It was thought that people would be ready enough to part with their children, but they would be slower in parting with their money, and thus an element of false pretences was introduced against which the accused found it vain to struggle. We do not ask whether eighteen months' impri- sonment is a fit punishment for falsely pretending that you will take care of a child when it is really your intention to murder it, nor is that the technical charge to which Ellis pleaded guilty. But substantially she is in the same position as her sister. The house was kept by the two women. They both took care of the children, and what that phrase means is obvious. They went out indifferently in search of fresh victims, and car- ried away the old ones indiscriminately. At the time when the doctor was called in to see Cowen, that child was under the charge of Ellis. There can be little doubt that the two women were partners and confederates in the trade carried on at that Louse, and it is an elementary proposition of law that if two people are together when a crime is committed, acting in concert, and participating in the crime, though one dues the act and the other merely looks on, both are equally guilty. Indeed, the Lord Chief Baron told Ellis when he passed sentence upon her for the offence to which she pleaded guilty, that " she must have known at the time she held out solicitations to the public, and pretended to take children into her keeping, it was the intention so to deal with them that the unhappy circumstances should follow that had led to the sentence of death which had just been passed upon her sister." If this be so, nothing can be clearer than that Ellis was an accessory before the fact to the murder of all the children whom she enticed into the house at Brixton, even if she was not a principal in the murder of the child Cowen.

But while it seems to us wrong that Ellis should have been allowed to escape so easily, we must not forget that justice has overtaken the other delinquent. It was time that the wholesale massacre of children, of which we hear so often under one form or another, should be suppressed. There may always be some doubt of the expediency of inflicting the most terrible of all punishments ou the wretched mothers who, at the very moment of birth, or shortly after, get rid of their own offspring. The law itself has provided a compromise in these cases, and where that is out of the question, judges, juries, prosecuting counsel, witnesses, do their best to find some other loophole. Where the verdict is inevitable, the Home Secretary is sure to be moved by a strong recommenda- tion to mercy, and though sentence is passed, it is never meant to be executed. But when a woman coolly and deliberately takes children into her keeping, using such devices as serve to blind eyes which are not over-suspicious, and calling in doctors to prescribe for slight attacks, while leaving laudanum and the want of food to do their work ; when fine healthy children are so emaciated in three weeks that their bones almost protrude through their skin, and are in such a profound stupor that they cannot even cry or give one sign of natural life ; and when all this is done for a gain. that seems small indeed for the risk run, but has to be kept low both for the sake of increasing the business and avoiding detection,, only one course is possible. Unless we are prepared to say that children are not human beings, and are not entitled to the protec- tion of the law, the full penalty must be inflicted. We must show by a rigid exercise of severity that baby-farmers are not to be- allowed to traffic with infant life, and that murder, which is fearful enough when it springs from passion, is infinitely more loathsome and more criminal when it is reduced to a business.