4 Disturbing Victorian Murderers You Might Not Have Heard Of

Jack the Ripper may get all the attention today, but the 19th Century had a real rogues’ gallery of eerie killers…

Victorian Murders

THE MANNINGS

Known for her "great personal beauty", Mary Manning was a maid who'd worked in grand aristocratic homes and was a very unlikely murderer. Yet she and her husband Frederick had plotted the callous killing of Patrick O'Connor, a well-off man she'd been romantically linked with. The Mannings invited O'Connor over for dinner, bashed his head in, buried him under the kitchen floor, and fled with his money.

When O'Connor's body was found, it had decomposed so badly that he was only identified by the "less perishable features of an extremely prominent chin and false teeth". In an early example of media sensationalism, the case was dubbed the "Bermondsey Horror", but as far as Charles Dickens was concerned the greater horror was the gleeful mass of onlookers cheering the public hangings of the Mannings. He wrote, "A sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man."

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AMELIA DYER

Could the worst serial killer in British history really have been an unassuming nurse called Amelia Dyer? The evidence certainly suggests it, with the diabolical Dyer even declaring herself to be an "angel-maker". In other words, a murderer of innocents. Her victims were infants born to penniless Victorian mothers who - due to social stigma or simple poverty - were forced to give their offspring to "baby farmers" who would take in the children for a fee.

The grim truth was that many baby farmers maximised their profits by simply letting the children die, either from neglect or by repeatedly sedating them with opium syrup. Amelia Dyer was more ruthlessly efficient than that - she casually strangled babies after taking them off their mothers' hands, and dumping the little bodies in the Thames. She's estimated to have killed literally hundreds of infants before she finally hanged for her horrific crimes.

KATE WEBSTER

A tiff between an employer and her maid led to one of Victorian Britain's most sensational crimes in 1879. The maid in question was Kate Webster, who had been taken on by a widow named Julia Martha Thomas in Richmond, Surrey. Their rows became increasingly melodramatic, until the day an enraged Webster pushed Thomas down a flight of stairs before throttling her to death. She then chopped up her employer with a carving knife and boiled the body parts to prevent her being identified.

When Webster was eventually apprehended, she became instantly infamous - Madame Tussaud's created a wax figure of the "Richmond Murderess", and stories were even spread that she'd kept her victim's fat and tried to sell it as dripping. In a bizarre final twist to the tale, Julia Martha Thomas's skull was accidentally discovered more than 130 years later... on land owned by Sir David Attenborough.

RICHARD DADD

Talented, original, and handy with a paintbrush, Richard Dadd looked set to be one of the great Victorian artists, right up there with the Pre-Raphaelites. He was a member of the Royal Academy, headed up his very own circle of painters known as the Clique, and was admired for visionary paintings depicting scenes from Shakespeare. But things went very badly wrong during a trip overseas, when he became convinced he was possessed by an Ancient Egyptian god.

It was assumed to be heatstroke, but it wasn't. Apparently suffering a form of schizophrenia, Dadd later became convinced his own father was the Devil. He lured the older man to a park for an apparently normal walk and stabbed him to death. He went on to attack someone else with a razor blade before being committed to the notorious "Bedlam" hospital, and later Broadmoor. Incredibly, Dadd went on to create some of his most famous works while incarcerated, and they continue to be displayed in major museums today.