Whilst clearing out his mother’s loft recently, Richard Anderson came across a cardboard box with some very sinister contents: a package of brown paper and old newspaper, and a long piece of string. A label revealed that the items were evidence collected in the Amelia Dyer trial, in 1896, after she was arrested in Reading.
Richard’s ancestor, Detective Constable James Anderson, was one of the investigating officers on the case, and the objects had been kept in his family home for 120 years. Here’s the story behind the grisly artefact:
On 30 March 1896 bargeman Charles Humphreys navigated up the River Thames near Reading, towing a boat of ballast. He was moving slowly towards the Clappers footbridge, when he spotted a brown paper parcel floating in the water. Leaning over the side of the barge with a hook, Charles and his mate dragged the package through the water towards them. Humphreys’s companion unravelled the damp parcel, which had been tied with macramé twine. He cut through two layers of flannel and pulled back the sodden fabric to expose a child’s foot and part of a leg.
Later, the police unwrapped the parcel to find the body of a baby girl, aged between six months and one year, swaddled in layers of linen, newspaper and brown paper. Around her neck was a piece of tape, knotted under her left ear – she had been strangled. Her corpse had been weighted down with a brick. On examination of the dried brown paper, Detective Anderson found a name and an address: ‘Mrs Thomas, of 26 Piggott’s Road, Caversham.’ This led to the conviction of the infamous baby farmer, Amelia Dyer, one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers.
As you can imagine the recovery of this vital piece of evidence, over a century later, caused quite a stir here in Reading, and I had the chance to tell its grim story on local radio and TV. I also had the opportunity to see the package for myself, and it was quite a chilling experience. The package is very fragile and inside is the address which gave the police the first clue. It was interesting to see that it is misspelt, which makes DC Anderson’s sleuthing even more impressive. The tiny bundle of white tape, used to tie around the child’s neck, is really quite sinister and gave me the shivers.
You can read the full story behind this gruesome artefact in my book, Amelia Dyer and the Baby Farm Murders.
Images reproduced with kind permission of Thames Valley Police Museum