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Williamina DEAN

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "Minnie Dean" - "The Southland Witch"
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Baby farmer - Poisoner
Number of victims: 2 - 3
Date of murder: 1889 - 1895
Date of arrest: May 2, 1995
Date of birth: September 2, 1844
Victim profile: Dorothy Edith Carter, one-year-old / Eva Hornsby, one-month-old
Method of murder: Suffocation - Poisoning (laudanum overdose)
Location: East Winton, Southland Province, New Zealand
Status: Executed by hanging at Invercargill Prison on August 12, 1895
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Minnie Dean has the dubious honor of being the only woman to be legally hanged in New Zealand.

 
 

Christened Williamina Dean, was born in Edinmburg, Scotland, in 1847. She was married and she have two daughters. What happened about the girls is unknown.

In 1868 she emigrated to New Zealand and lived in Southland with an old woman she called Granny Kelly. In 1872, she married Charles Dean, an old Southland settler. In 1886 the Deans moved to a 22-acre estate known as The Larches, at East Winton. Winton is situated 19 miles from Invercargill on the railway that then ran from the Southland capital to Kingston.

A fire destroyed their home when they first moved in and a small twenty-two feet by twelve feet dwelling was built. Minnie Dean set up a baby-farming business, advertising children for adoption. The babies she took into care were illegitimate children brought from their mother's, provided no more questions were asked.

In October 1889, Minne Irene Dean, came to the attention of the authorities after a six-month-old baby died three days after being taken ill whilst in Dean's care but the death certificate showed natural causes due to convulsions.

Two years later, in May 1891, a six week old baby died, again in Dean's care. An inquest was held but it found that death was from natural causes.

Dean became more secretive with her dealings and began advertising using false names. In May 1895, a railway guard reported he had seen a woman board the train with a baby but disembark without it. This happened within the train range of East Winton and police began their enquiries. This led police to a Mrs Hornsby who resided in Dunedin. She told police she had handed over her one-month-old grand-daughter with money to Dean at Milburn, four miles north of Milton.

Police brought Mrs Hornsby to The Larches, Dean's residence. There she recognised not only Dean but a piece of baby's clothing belonging to her grand-daughter. Dean was arrested and sent to Dunedin to await trial. Police searched the flowerbeds and found two babies bodies buried.

Charles Dean was also arrested and the six children in their care were taken away by police. The two bodies were identified as Eva Hornsby (Mrs Hornsby's grand-daughter) and Dorothy Edith Carter (handed over to Minnie by her grandmother). The search continued and another baby's body was found. Dean was charged with the murder of two infants. After further examination of the case, the charges against Charles Dean were dropped.

The police theory was that she had taken the Carter infant on the train from Winton and changed trains to get to Lumsden. During the trip to Lumsden she had killed the child and concealed it's body in a hat box she was carrying. Staying overnight in Lumsden, she boarded the Waimea Plains train to Gore, where she then boarded the Dunedin Express. At Milburn, she met Mrs Hornsby, leaving the hatbox and it's contents in a waiting room.

She was accompanied by Mrs Hornsby on another train to Clarendon, the next station on the way to Dunedin. She alighted with Eva Hornsby in her arms and waved goodbye to Mrs Hornsby who continued on to Dunedin. It is here, where Eva Hornsby was smothered. Dean wrapped her body into a parcel and boarded the train back to Clinton. On the way she picked up the hatbox from Milburn. Now carrying two dead babies, she went back to Winton.

The case was heard at Invercargill. Many witnesses stepped forward to deliver their testimony. The jury heard:

Oilcloth found wrapped around Dorothy Edith Carter's body was from the Dean's home.

The railway guard who saw Dean get on the train with the hatbox and baby and leave carrying a hatbox only.

A friend who lived with the Deans for fourteen years identified Minnie's handwriting as the signature 'M.Gray' in the Bluff poison register.

Dean claimed she had carried flower bulbs in the hatbox - but the woman who Dean said she had got them off said she had only given her flower cuttings.

The clothing found in Dean's possession was identified as that of Dorothy Edith Carter.

Several bottles of laudanum and chlorodyne were found in Dean's bedroom.

Even though Dean was identified by both grandmothers as the woman they gave their grand-daughters to, she denied it, but finally admitting it under duress and with the evidence of the clothes.

Dean was found guilty of Dorothy Edith Carter murder and was sentenced to death.

On August 12, 1895, Minnie Dean, at Invercargill prison , was marched to the gallows. Her final words were "No, I have nothing to say, except that I am innocent".

Crime.co.nz

 
 

DEAN, Williamina

Born in Edimburg, Scotland, in 1847, Williamina emigrated to New Zeland in 1865 and soon she married with Charles Dean. 

Living in East Winton, near of Invercargill, and Minnie's flower garden soon became the talk of the neighborhood, renowned for its dahlias and chrysanthemums. Despite the pretensions that led them to call their home "The Larches", times were hard for Charles and Minnie Dean.

By 1890, to supplement her husband's meager income, Minnie had begun to dabble in "BABY FARMING". Two infants died in her care over the next year, and while both deaths were ascribed to natural causes, official censure for unsanitary conditions at the home led Minnie Dean to advertise her services under a variety of seudonims.

On April 1875, Minnie ran a new ad for her service in the Timaru Herald. A Mrs. Hornsby responded, paying Dean four pounds to care for her one-month-old child, but the infant soon vanished without a trace. Witnesses recalled seeing Minnie with a baby in her arms at a local railway station, but she denied everything... until the missing infant's clothes were found at her home. Both Deans were arrested, and a search of The Larches revealed three babies buried in the famous flower garden. One of them was the Hornsby infant, and postmortem tests blamed its death on a morphine overdose. Murder charges were inevitable after homicide detectives found a quantity of morphine in the house.

Further inquiry revealed that Charles Dean had been strictly forbidden to work in his wife's garden, barred even from plucking stray weeds, and he was ultimately freed without charges in the case. Williamina's trial before the Invercargill Supreme Court opened on June 18, 1895, and she was swiftly convicted of murder.

On August 12, Williamina Dean was the first woman hanging in New Zeland.

Despite the nature of her crimes, some journalists appeared to be infatuated with the homicidal baby farmer, one article in The Times of London noting that she went to the gallows "without a flinch or falter; she died a brave, wonderful woman".

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans

 
 

Williamina "Minnie" Dean (2 September 1844 - 12 August 1895) was a New Zealander who was found guilty of infanticide and hanged. She was the only woman to receive the death penalty in New Zealand.

Minnie Dean was born in Greenock, in western Scotland. Her father, John McCulloch, was a railway engineer. Her mother, Elizabeth Swan, died of cancer in 1857. It is unknown when she arrived in New Zealand, but by the early 1860s, she was living in Invercargill with two young children. She claimed she was the widow of a Tasmanian doctor, although no evidence of a marriage has been found. She was still using her birth name, McCulloch.

In 1872, she married an inkeeper named Charles Dean. The two lived in Etal Creek, then an important stop on the route from Riverton to the Otago goldfields. When the goldrush died down, the couple turned to farming, but were soon in dire financial straits.

The family moved to Winton, where Charles Dean took up pig farming. Minnie Dean, meanwhile, began to earn money by taking in unwanted children in exchange for payment.

In an era when there were few methods of contraception, and when childbirth outside marriage was frowned upon, there were many women wishing to discreetly send their children away for adoption as such, Minnie Dean was not short on customers. It is believed that she was responsible for as many as nine young children at any one time. She received payment either weekly or in a lump sum.

Infant mortality was a significant problem in New Zealand at this time. As such, a number of children under Dean's care died of various illnesses. A coroner's inquest was held, and Dean was not held responsible for the deaths. Nevertheless, Dean came to be distrusted by the community, and rumours of mistreatment circulated. Additionally, children under Dean's care alledgedly went missing without explanation.

In the public's mind, this linked Dean to cases in the United Kingdom and Australia of women killing children under their care to avoid having to support them. Laws at the time meant that Dean did not have to keep records of the children she agreed to take in, and so proving that the children had disappeared was difficult.

In 1895, Dean was observed boarding a train carrying a young baby, but observed leaving the same train without the baby. A woman came forward claiming to have given her grand-daughter to Dean, and clothes identified as belonging to this child were found at Dean's residence, but Dean could not produce the child herself. A search along the railway line found no sign of the child.

Dean was arrested and charged with murder. Her garden was dug up, and three bodies (two of babies, and one of a boy estimated to be three years old) were uncovered. An inquest found that one child had died of suffocation and one had died from an overdose of laudanum (used on children to sedate them). The cause of death for the third child was not determined. Dean was charged with their murder.

In her trial, Dean's lawyer argued that all deaths were accidental, and that they had been covered up to prevent adverse publicity of the sort that Dean had previously been subjected to. On 21 June 1895, however, Dean was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death.

On 12 August, she was hanged in Invercargill. She is the only woman to be executed in New Zealand, and as capital punishment in New Zealand has been discontinued, it is possible that she will retain that distinction. She is buried in Winton, alongside her husband.

 
 

Williamina "Minnie" Dean (2 September 1844 12 August 1895) was a New Zealander who was found guilty of infanticide and hanged. She was the only woman to receive the death penalty in New Zealand.

Early life

Minnie Dean (also known as The Southland Witch) was born in Greenock, in western Scotland. Her father, John McCulloch, was a railway engineer. Her mother, Elizabeth Swan, died of cancer in 1857. It is unknown when she arrived in New Zealand, but by the early 1860s, she was living in Invercargill with two young children. She claimed she was the widow of a Tasmanian doctor, although no evidence of a marriage has been found. She was still using her birth name, McCulloch.

In 1872, she married an inkeeper named Charles Dean. The two lived in Etal Creek, then an important stop on the route from Riverton to the Otago goldfields. When the goldrush died down, the couple turned to farming, but were soon in dire financial straits. The family moved to Winton, where Charles Dean took up pig farming. Minnie Dean, meanwhile, began to earn money by taking in unwanted children in exchange for payment. In an era when there were few methods of contraception, and when childbirth outside marriage was frowned upon, there were many women wishing to discreetly send their children away for adoption as such, Minnie Dean was not short on customers. It is believed that she was responsible for as many as nine young children at any one time. She received payment either weekly or in a lump sum.

Infant mortality was a significant problem in New Zealand at this time (as it was estimated to run to about eighty to one hundred infants out of one thousand colonial births). As such, a number of children under Dean's care died of various illnesses.

In March 1889, a six-month old child had died of convulsions, while in October 1891, a six-week old baby had perished from cardiovascular and respiratory ailments, while a boy allegedly drowned under her care during 1894. She hid the body in her garden, arousing further suspicions. A coroner's inquest was held, and Dean was not held responsible for the deaths, due to universally poor standards of hygiene, even at childbirth itself.

Nevertheless, Dean came to be distrusted by the community, and rumours of mistreatment circulated. Additionally, children under Dean's care allegedly went missing without explanation. In the public's mind, this linked Dean to cases of infanticide or baby farming in the United Kingdom and Australia, where women killed children under their care to avoid having to support them. At the time, lax childcare legislation meant that Dean did not have to keep records of the children she agreed to take in, and so proving that the children had disappeared was difficult.

Before Dean's trial and execution, three other women had been tried and sentenced to death- Caroline Whitting (1872), Phoebe Veitch (1883: d.1891) and Sarah-Jane and Anna Flannagan (1891). In each case, those sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. In each case, child murder was the culpable offence. Thirty years later, in 1926, Daniel Cooper was also convicted of baby farming and also executed for the offence, although Martha, his second wife was acquitted.

Murder case and execution

In 1895, Dean was observed boarding a train carrying a young baby and a hatbox, but observed leaving the same train without the baby and only the hatbox. As railway porters later testified, the object was suspiciously heavy. A woman, Jane Hornsby, came forward claiming to have given her granddaughter, Eva, to Dean, and clothes identified as belonging to this child were found at Dean's residence, but Dean could not produce the child herself. A search along the railway line found no sign of the child. Dean was arrested and charged with murder. Her garden was dug up, and three bodies (two of babies, and one of a boy estimated to be three years old) were uncovered. An inquest found that one child (Eva) had died of suffocation and one, later identified as one year-old Dorothy Edith Carter, had died from an overdose of laudanum (used on children to sedate them). The cause of death for the third child was not determined. Dean was charged with their murder

In her trial, Dean's lawyer Alfred Hanlon argued that all deaths were accidental, and that they had been covered up to prevent adverse publicity of the sort that Dean had previously been subjected to. On 21 June 1895, however, Dean was found guilty of Dorothy Carter's murder, and sentenced to death. Between June and August 1895, Dean wrote her own account of her life. Altogether, she claimed to have cared for twenty eight children. Of these, five were in good health when her establishment was raided, six had died whilst under her care, and one had been reclaimed by her parents. Apart from her two adopted daughters, that left fourteen or so children unaccounted for, according to her own record.

On 12 August, she was hanged by the official executioner Tom Long in Invercargill, at the intersection of Spey and Leven streets, in what is now the Noel Leeming carpark. She is the only woman to have been executed in New Zealand, and as capital punishment in New Zealand has been abolished, it is likely that she will retain that distinction. She is buried in Winton, alongside her husband, who died in a house fire in 1908. Her crimes led to the belated passage of child welfare legislation in New Zealand- the Infant Life Protection Act 1893 and the Infant Protection Act 1896.

In popular culture

In 1985, Dean's trial was the subject of In Defence of Minnie Dean, the first episode of the Emmy-nominated Hanlon New Zealand television drama series about the career of Dean's lawyer. The episode won the Best Director, Best Drama Programme, Drama Script, and Performance, Female, in a Dramatic Role categories at the 1986 Listener Television Awards (also called the GOFTA Awards), and "contributed to a re-evaluation of Dean's conviction".

Minnie Dean is referenced in Dudley Benson's 2006 song "It's Akaroa's Fault" ("I don't want to meet Minnie Dean at the end of my life/If I were to meet her I'd keep her hatbox in sight"). Authors Lynley Hood and John Rawle wrote posthumous accounts and reconstructions of the case as the centenary of her apprehension and execution occurred, in 1995.

On Friday 30 January 2009 the Otago Daily Times reported that a headstone had appeared mysteriously on Dean's grave. The headstone reads "Minnie Dean is part of Winton's history Where she now lies is now no mystery". It is unknown who placed the headstone there. Her family had been considering it but claim that this was not their doing.

The Southland Times reported on 23 February 2009 that the family laid a headstone to honour Dean and her husband's grave.

Bibliography

  • Lynley Hood: Minnie Dean: Her Life and Crimes: Auckland: Penguin: 1994: ISBN 0-14-016763-3

  • John Rawle: Minnie Dean: One Hundred Years of Memory: Christchurch: Orca Publishing: 1997: ISBN 1-877162-03-5

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Williamina Dean

By Lynley Hood

Minnie Dean was born Williamina McCulloch on 2 September 1844, at West Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, the fourth in a family of eight girls of Elizabeth Swan and her husband, John McCulloch, an engine driver with the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway. Of her life between the death of her mother of cancer in 1857 and her arrival in New Zealand nothing is known. She appeared in Invercargill in the early 1860s as Mrs McCulloch, a widow with two small daughters. Her neighbours believed that she had come from Tasmania where her physician husband had died. No evidence of her marriage, the births of her children or the death of her husband has been found.

On 19 June 1872 Williamina McCulloch married Charles Dean, an innkeeper, formerly of Tasmania, at his home in Etal Creek, Southland. During the 1860s Etal Creek had flourished as a wagon stop on the four-day journey from Riverton to the Central Otago goldfields, but by 1872 the goldrush was over Etal Creek had become a backwater. In 1878 Charles Dean turned to farming. In 1882 his rabbit-infested 300 acres, on which he ran 150 sheep, were valued at 1,200. In 1884 the land boom collapsed and Charles went bankrupt. He was discharged six months later, but by then the Deans were destitute.

Both Williamina's daughters had married and left home by this time, but in 1880 the childless Deans had adopted a five-year-old girl, Margaret Cameron. About 1887 Minnie, Charles and Margaret moved to Winton where they took possession of The Larches, a two-storeyed, seven- or eight-roomed house on 22 acres a mile out of town that had been abandoned to the mortgagee two years earlier. The house burned down soon after they moved in. On the site Charles built a two-roomed cottage with a lean-to. He then began raising pigs, and his wife began taking in unwanted babies for payment.

The practice of 'baby farming', as it was known, was a necessary evil in Western countries at this time. Effective contraception was not widely available, abortion was dangerous, unmarried mothers were ostracised and little provision was made for the care of their offspring. Many desperate women replied to Minnie Dean's discreet newspaper advertisements: 'respectable Married Woman (comfortable home, country) Wants to Adopt an infant Address, Childless, Times Office'. A legal agreement was signed for most of the babies she took in; some were taken for 5s. to 8s. a week, others were adopted for lump sums of between 10 and 30.

The New Zealand infant mortality rate at this time for children of European descent has been estimated at between 80 and 100 for every 1,000 live births. With up to nine children under the age of three living at The Larches at any one time, that there would be some deaths whether through illness, accident, neglect or maltreatment was perhaps inevitable. In October 1889 a six-month-old baby died of convulsions after a three-day illness. In March 1891 a six-week-old infant died of inflammation of the heart valves and congestion of the lungs. The medical witness at the ensuing inquest reported that the dead infant and the other children at The Larches were well cared for and well nourished, but that the premises were inadequate. The coroner exonerated Minnie Dean but advised her to reduce the number of children living at The Larches and improve conditions. Apart from a small reduction in numbers she continued as before.

The inquest provoked community outrage, which was inflamed by another death six weeks later. In the public imagination Minnie Dean became linked to baby farmers in Britain and Australia who had been convicted of murdering infants for financial gain. No more deaths were reported, but rumours abounded of children mysteriously disappearing. Minnie Dean became increasingly furtive. Most of her dealings with parents were carried on under assumed names, and when a boy died in her care in 1894 (according to her own account, by drowning) she buried him in the garden to avoid the scandal of another inquest.

The police were deeply suspicious. They kept her under surveillance, but their investigations were frustrated by inadequate child welfare laws: they had no right to enter or inspect the Dean property, and Minnie Dean was not required to keep records or answer questions. In August 1893 the proprietor of a Christchurch boarding-house called the police when he noted that a woman, later identified as Minnie Dean, had acquired a three-week-old baby during her stay. The detective concerned had no hesitation in removing the baby: 'I believe this woman would have killed or abandoned this child before she got to Dunedin, if it had not been taken from her,' he wrote in his report.

On 2 May 1895 Minnie Dean was seen boarding a train carrying a young baby and a hat-box, and disembarking later carrying only the hat-box. Jane Hornsby, who was found to have handed over her one-month-old grand-daughter, Eva, to Minnie Dean at Clarendon station, was taken by the police to The Larches. There she found clothing belonging to the missing child. Minnie Dean was arrested and charged with infanticide.

After a fruitless search along the railway line the police turned over Minnie Dean's garden. They unearthed the freshly buried bodies of two babies and the skeleton of a boy thought to be about four years of age. At the inquest the older baby, a one-year-old girl later identified as Dorothy Edith Carter, was found to have died from an overdose of laudanum (an opiate commonly used to sooth fractious children). The younger baby, Eva Hornsby, was thought to have died of asphyxiation. The cause of death of the third child was not established. Minnie Dean was publicly branded a murderer by the coroner, and community feeling against her ran high. Charles Dean was also arrested, but at a lower court hearing the charges against him were dismissed.

The Supreme Court trial of Minnie Dean for the murder of Dorothy Edith Carter began in Invercargill on 18 June 1895. A succession of witnesses described how she had collected Dorothy on 30 April at Bluff and had returned to Winton for two nights, before leaving again with the child and an empty hat-box. By the time she collected Eva Hornsby at Clarendon, Dorothy had disappeared and Minnie Dean's hat-box had become suspiciously heavy. When she returned to Winton she had with her only the heavy hat-box and some parcels. Under cross-examination the woman who had handed Dorothy over revealed that, although a financial agreement had been made, Minnie Dean had received no money for the child.

In an impassioned closing address the defence counsel, A. C. Hanlon, argued that the death of Dorothy Carter was accidental, but in his summing up the judge observed, 'It seems to me that the real honest issue is whether the accused is guilty of intentionally killing the child or is innocent altogether.' A verdict of manslaughter, he said, would be 'a weak-kneed compromise'. On 21 June 1895 Minnie Dean was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Hanlon's appeal, on the grounds of the inadmissibility of evidence of other infant deaths, was unsuccessful. On 12 August 1895, three months after her arrest, Minnie Dean was hanged at Invercargill gaol. She is buried in Winton cemetery, alongside her husband, who died in a house fire at Winton in 1908, aged 73.

Minnie Dean never took the witness box at her trial, but while awaiting execution she wrote a 49-page account of her activities. She stated that in addition to Margaret Cameron and Esther Wallis (a 10-year-old girl whom the Deans had adopted in 1890), 26 children, including Eva Hornsby and Dorothy Carter, had passed through her hands between 1889 and 1895. Six are known to have died, and one to have been reclaimed by its family; five healthy, well-cared-for children were living at The Larches at the time of her arrest. The fate of the others is unknown. Dean claimed that seven children were adopted by families who wished to keep the adoptions secret. The police and the public believed that the missing children were murdered. The possibility that some may have been secretly disposed of after dying of illness or accident was not considered. In response to public concern aroused by Minnie Dean's activities and trial, major advances were enacted in New Zealand child welfare legislation, with the passing of the Infant Life Protection Act 1893 and Infant Protection Act 1896.

Minnie Dean became the only woman to be hanged for murder in New Zealand. Many convicted murderers have passed from notoriety to obscurity since then, but her name lives on, and around that name has grown a legend. Southland children who misbehave are threatened, not with bogeymen, but with being sent to Minnie Dean. There is a wild-flower in Southland known as a Minnie Dean, which, it is said, should be torn out and burnt if it appears in any domestic garden. It is claimed that nothing will grow on Minnie Dean's grave. Whether the real Minnie Dean deserves her terrible place in New Zealand's folklore is far from certain.

Teara.govt.nz

 

 

 
 
 
 
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