History Hans Högman
Copyright © Hans Högman 2018-05-17

Angel Makers

An "angel maker" (änglamakerska in Swedish) was a woman who took in unwanted babies, often illegitimate infants, in foster care for money (often lump-sum payments but also periodic payments). A word used in English is "baby farming". Baby-farming is a term meaning generally the taking in of infants to nurse for payment, but usually with an implication of improper treatment [Source: 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica]. The term was used in late-Victorian Era Britain (and, less commonly, in Australia and the United States). Angel maker is not a term normally used in English even if you very occasionally can see it. There were many women taking in of infants to nurse for payment, offering a fostering service, but the striking thing about the angel makers was that they were merely interested in the money, not the infants and they had no intention of caring for the children; a rather shady mercenary fostering. They neglected the infants to the point where they died and became angels; thence the term "angel makers". The negligence could be assault and battery, starvation or even murder. The angel makers were in other word infanticides. The angel makers pocketed the fee from the mothers -- mostly desperate impoverished unwed mothers -- but never took care of the babies. Particularly in the case of lump-sum payments, it was more profitable for the angel maker if the infant or child she took in died, since the small payment could not cover the care of the child for long. Some baby farmers took in numerous children and neglected them or murdered them outright. In Scandinavia there was an euphemism term for this activity: "änglamakerska" (Swedish) and "englemagerske" (Danish), both literally meaning a female "angel maker". A reason why the angle making practice could go on without being revealed easily was that the handling of illegitimate children was a shady business. The mothers were desperate and tried to avoid a scandal. These mothers often gave birth in secrecy and left their illegitimate babies to foster parents and the children were received without question on payment of a lump sum. The authorities were often unaware of these children which were the whole idea. Most children, of course, ended up with proper foster parents but a few with the “angel makers”. The fact that these children were unknown to the authorities made it easier for the angel makers to have a foster child killed without anyone missing the infant. The mothers didn't most often want to know about their infants they left for foster care. The angel makers received their money, had the babies killed and most often no one missed the children. The women who left their children in foster care may or may not have been aware of this. You might say that the angel makers took care of a problem; many times to avoid a scandal for the “mothers” and their families. It was mainly poor women who became angle makers. For these desperate women any financial contribution was acceptable. Adoption as a legal way of taking in someone else’s child as their own wasn’t introduced in Sweden until 1917; before that fosterling was the only option. 

They could kept the money

Many women, both married as well as unmarried, were making a living of fosterling. The official town foster care board (Fosterbarnsnämnden) could place children in foster care where the foster parents received a sum of money for the care of the children. However, a few foster recipients soon realized that it was a pecuniary advantage for them if they hastened the death of the infants by starvation or negligence since they could anyhow keep the received money. This was facilitated by the fact that the biological mothers rarely or never visited their children or even asked any questions about them. In the cases were the foster children weren't registered in the parish records or by the town foster care board these children weren't missed by anyone if they died prematurely. That’s why the angel makers could keep on their ghastly practice without being exposed.

Increasing number of foster children after 1778

In 1778 it became legal for women in Sweden to give birth to children anonymously. The reason was that the authorities wanted to overcome the high death rate among infants, which was partly caused by unmarried women who left their infants to die. It was a great ignominy to live as a single mother back then. As a result of the 1778 Anonymity Act it became common for unmarried women to give away their infants to special women, who for money promised to nurse the children and care for their upbringing. This happened anonymously and thereby was the parish minister nor the town foster care board informed about all child birth. At the end of the 19th century there were about 40 000 foster children in Sweden. This corresponds to about 8 foster children per 1 000 inhabitants. However, the number of unrecorded cases was great so the total numbers of foster children were no doubt much higher. Newborn infants were given to foster recipients both among prominent families as well as among poor people. Upper class families were trying to avoid soiling their good reputation but among the poor it was most often the lack of money that forced a single mother to give up her child.

How common were the Angel Makers?

It is difficult to assess the extent of the angel making practice. However, they were probably more notorious than common. There aren’t particularly many cases in Sweden were angel makers actually were prosecuted. A Swedish physician, Richard Wavrinsky, performed an investigation of 160 foster homes at the end of the 1800’s and he was only able to point out six actual cases of angel making. Wavrinsky was convinced that the other infant deaths at the homes of the foster parents were caused by other grounds such as poverty, poor sanitary circumstances or general ignorance of child care. The last angel maker to be sentenced to death in Sweden was Hilda Nilsson. In 1917 she was found guilty of murdering 8 foster children. See below.

Angel Maker Hilda Nilsson, Helsingborg, Sweden

Hilda Nilsson was born in 1876 in the countryside of Scania province, south of Sweden. Seventeen old she held a place as a maid in Helsingborg city. She later became known as “the Angel Maker on Bruksgatan Street”. In 1917 she was sentenced to death for murdering 8 children in her foster care between 1915 and 1917. Only two of the foster children in her care were allowed to live. Hilda was married to Gustaf Nilsson and the couple had great debts and were risking being evicted from their home at Bruksgatan 5, Helsingborg. To get some extra income Hilda Nilsson began taking in illegitimate infants in foster care for money (lump-sum payments). The image to the right shows Hilda Nilsson and was taken by the police when she was placed in custody. Her first foster child was a five months old baby girl who kept Hilda awake throughout the nights with her constant crying. The small payment could not cover the care of the child for long and Hilda then began a gruesome activity where she was taking in other women's children for money and as soon as she received the money she murdered the children. Not even her husband Gustaf or the neighbors knew when she had received a new child since Hilda had them killed outright. These heinous activities could continue due to the authorities very seldom or never knew about the existence of these infants and because the mothers’ hardly ever wanted any contact with the illegitimate children they left in foster care. When Hilda’s husband found out that the first child was gone Hilda just said that a well-off couple had collected the child. Hilda murdered the infants by putting them in a wash tub filled with water and placed a washboard as a lid and a coal scuttle on top as a weight. The image to the left shows the wash tub, washboard and the coal scuttle which Hilda Nilsson used when she drowned the infants. When Hilda had placed a child in the wash tub she left the room and returned a couple of hours later to find the child dead. Hilda then burnt the child’s body in the charcoal furnace used to heat the water in the laundry room. On a few occasions Hilda didn’t even have the time to burn the bodies so she dug up a hole in the ground and buried them. Hilda Nilsson had a large number of infants killed in this manner without being revealed. What made Hilda Nilsson stand out was that she actively had the foster children killed. Most angel makers “just” neglected the children and made them live in penury and starvation to the point where they finally died. This latter situation made most mothers’ doubtful and refused to give away their infants to foster homes in a miserable state and these angel makers were quickly revealed. However, Hilda Nilsson’s home was well taken care of, clean, and with only a few children. The mothers who left their infants in Hilda’s care really thought that they would get a good childhood why Hilda’s shady business could go on for a long time. She even managed to keep her activities a secret to both her husband and the two surviving children. Hilda Nilsson’s gruesome activities were finally revealed when Blenda Henricsson, a mother who in spite of the shame of having an illegitimate child, Gunnar, still wanted contact with the son she left in Hilda’s care. When Hilda refused her grisly business was exposed. Blenda Henricsson got in touch with the town foster care board (Fosterbarnsnämnden) which handed over the case to the police and soon the tragedy came into open. The legal proceedings draw a lot attention when it was held in the district court (Rådhusrätten) in Helsingborg city in 1917. Hilda Nilsson was sentenced to death for murder in seven cases and manslaughter in one case. The verdict was later confirmed in a court of appeal (Hovrätten). However, her execution was never carried through because Hilda managed to kill herself by hanging in her cell in Citadellet, the city jail in Landskrona. Hilda was then 41 years old. A bit of irony, the court transformed her death penalty to life imprisonment the same day as Hilda hanged herself but the news didn’t reach her on time.

Actor Nils Poppe survived

A child who was left to an angel maker but survived was the Swedish actor Nils Poppe. He was born on May 31, 1908, as an illegitimate child to an unwedded mother in S:t Pauli parish, Möllevången, Malmö city, Skåne province. He was then known as Nils Ejnar Jönson and as an unwanted child he was left to a Danish angel maker in Malmö, Sweden. Nils survived his time with the angel maker on a diet of bread soaked in beer (his own statement). He was lucky to be rescued and bought for 40 SEK (5 USD) by other foster parents. Nils was then 2 years old. His new foster parents were the married couple Anders and Amanda Jönsson at Möllevången, Malmö. The new foster home was poor but here he received the love and care he needed.

Angel Maker Amelia Dyer, Great Britain

The worst ever serial killer in the UK was the Victorian angel maker Amelia Elisabeth Dyer who murdered around 400 infants. She was dubbed the “Angel Maker” by British press. Amelia Dyer pocketed the fee from impoverished unwed mothers who paid her to have their illegitimate infants fostered in the naive belief she would give them a good childhood. Instead Amelia Dyer simply took their money before strangling the helpless babies with dressmaking tape and dumping their bodies in the River Thames. Amelia Dyer was able to conduct her grisly practice for over 30 years without being caught by the police. Amelia Dyer was born in 1837 as the youngest of five in the small village of Pyle Marsh, just east of Bristol; the daughter of a master shoemaker, Samuel Hobley, and Sarah Hobley née Weymouth. The image to the right shows a police photo of Amelia Dyer after being arrested in 1896. Amelia was apparently keen to make money from baby farming. She began her heinous trade in Bristol in the late 1860’s by offering a fostering service. At some point in her baby farming career, Amelia was prepared to forgo the expense and inconvenience of letting the children die through neglect and starvation; soon after the receipt of each child, she murdered them which involved her simply drugging the babies with laudanum, a powerful opiate, to keep them quite while she slowly starved them. She was eventually caught in 1879 after a doctor was suspicious about the number of child deaths he had been called to certify in Dyer's care. However, instead of being convicted of murder or manslaughter, she was simply sentenced to six months’ hard labor for child neglect. Once being released she returned to baby farming, and murder. Dyer realized the folly of involving doctors to issue death certificates and began disposing of the bodies herself. She and her family frequently relocated to different towns and cities to escape suspicion. On 30 March 1896, the body of a baby girl was retrieved from the Thames at Reading by a bargeman. The body was later identified as Helena Fry. This finally lead police to Dyer and on 3 April, police raided her home. On 4 April Amelia Dyer was arrested and charged with murder. During April, the Thames was dragged and six more bodies were discovered. Each baby had been strangled with white tape, which as she later told the police "was how you could tell it was one of mine". On 22 May 1896, Amelia Dyer appeared at the Old Bailey and pleaded guilty to one murder, that of Doris Marmon. It is uncertain how many more children Amelia Dyer murdered. However, inquiries from mothers, evidence of other witnesses, and material found in Dyer’s homes, including letters and many babies' clothes, pointed to many more. She was tried and hanged for one murder, but there is little doubt she was responsible for many more similar deaths—possibly 400 or more. Dyer was hanged at Newgate Gaol, near the Old Bailey in London, on 10 June 1896. She was 58.

Source References

Wikipedia Top of page

Angel Makers - Sweden

xxxxx Swegen xxxxxxxxxxx

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
History Hans Högman
Copyright © Hans Högman 2018-05-17

Angel Makers

An "angel maker" (änglamakerska in Swedish) was a woman who took in unwanted babies, often illegitimate infants, in foster care for money (often lump-sum payments but also periodic payments). A word used in English is "baby farming". Baby- farming is a term meaning generally the taking in of infants to nurse for payment, but usually with an implication of improper treatment [Source: 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica]. The term was used in late- Victorian Era Britain (and, less commonly, in Australia and the United States). Angel maker is not a term normally used in English even if you very occasionally can see it. There were many women taking in of infants to nurse for payment, offering a fostering service, but the striking thing about the angel makers was that they were merely interested in the money, not the infants and they had no intention of caring for the children; a rather shady mercenary fostering. They neglected the infants to the point where they died and became angels; thence the term "angel makers". The negligence could be assault and battery, starvation or even murder. The angel makers were in other word infanticides. The angel makers pocketed the fee from the mothers -- mostly desperate impoverished unwed mothers -- but never took care of the babies. Particularly in the case of lump-sum payments, it was more profitable for the angel maker if the infant or child she took in died, since the small payment could not cover the care of the child for long. Some baby farmers took in numerous children and neglected them or murdered them outright. In Scandinavia there was an euphemism term for this activity: "änglamakerska" (Swedish) and "englemagerske" (Danish), both literally meaning a female "angel maker". A reason why the angle making practice could go on without being revealed easily was that the handling of illegitimate children was a shady business. The mothers were desperate and tried to avoid a scandal. These mothers often gave birth in secrecy and left their illegitimate babies to foster parents and the children were received without question on payment of a lump sum. The authorities were often unaware of these children which were the whole idea. Most children, of course, ended up with proper foster parents but a few with the “angel makers”. The fact that these children were unknown to the authorities made it easier for the angel makers to have a foster child killed without anyone missing the infant. The mothers didn't most often want to know about their infants they left for foster care. The angel makers received their money, had the babies killed and most often no one missed the children. The women who left their children in foster care may or may not have been aware of this. You might say that the angel makers took care of a problem; many times to avoid a scandal for the “mothers” and their families. It was mainly poor women who became angle makers. For these desperate women any financial contribution was acceptable. Adoption as a legal way of taking in someone else’s child as their own wasn’t introduced in Sweden until 1917; before that fosterling was the only option. 

They could kept the money

Many women, both married as well as unmarried, were making a living of fosterling. The official town foster care board (Fosterbarnsnämnden) could place children in foster care where the foster parents received a sum of money for the care of the children. However, a few foster recipients soon realized that it was a pecuniary advantage for them if they hastened the death of the infants by starvation or negligence since they could anyhow keep the received money. This was facilitated by the fact that the biological mothers rarely or never visited their children or even asked any questions about them. In the cases were the foster children weren't registered in the parish records or by the town foster care board these children weren't missed by anyone if they died prematurely. That’s why the angel makers could keep on their ghastly practice without being exposed.

Increasing number of foster

children after 1778

In 1778 it became legal for women in Sweden to give birth to children anonymously. The reason was that the authorities wanted to overcome the high death rate among infants, which was partly caused by unmarried women who left their infants to die. It was a great ignominy to live as a single mother back then. As a result of the 1778 Anonymity Act it became common for unmarried women to give away their infants to special women, who for money promised to nurse the children and care for their upbringing. This happened anonymously and thereby was the parish minister nor the town foster care board informed about all child birth. At the end of the 19th century there were about 40 000 foster children in Sweden. This corresponds to about 8 foster children per 1 000 inhabitants. However, the number of unrecorded cases was great so the total numbers of foster children were no doubt much higher. Newborn infants were given to foster recipients both among prominent families as well as among poor people. Upper class families were trying to avoid soiling their good reputation but among the poor it was most often the lack of money that forced a single mother to give up her child.

How common were the Angel

Makers?

It is difficult to assess the extent of the angel making practice. However, they were probably more notorious than common. There aren’t particularly many cases in Sweden were angel makers actually were prosecuted. A Swedish physician, Richard Wavrinsky, performed an investigation of 160 foster homes at the end of the 1800’s and he was only able to point out six actual cases of angel making. Wavrinsky was convinced that the other infant deaths at the homes of the foster parents were caused by other grounds such as poverty, poor sanitary circumstances or general ignorance of child care. The last angel maker to be sentenced to death in Sweden was Hilda Nilsson. In 1917 she was found guilty of murdering 8 foster children. See below.

Angel Maker Hilda Nilsson,

Helsingborg, Sweden

Hilda Nilsson was born in 1876 in the countryside of Scania province, south of Sweden. Seventeen old she held a place as a maid in Helsingborg city. She later became known as “the Angel Maker on Bruksgatan Street”. In 1917 she was sentenced to death for murdering 8 children in her foster care between 1915 and 1917. Only two of the foster children in her care were allowed to live. Hilda was married to Gustaf Nilsson and the couple had great debts and were risking being evicted from their home at Bruksgatan 5, Helsingborg. To get some extra income Hilda Nilsson began taking in illegitimate infants in foster care for money (lump-sum payments). The image to the right shows Hilda Nilsson and was taken by the police when she was placed in custody. Her first foster child was a five months old baby girl who kept Hilda awake throughout the nights with her constant crying. The small payment could not cover the care of the child for long and Hilda then began a gruesome activity where she was taking in other women's children for money and as soon as she received the money she murdered the children. Not even her husband Gustaf or the neighbors knew when she had received a new child since Hilda had them killed outright. These heinous activities could continue due to the authorities very seldom or never knew about the existence of these infants and because the mothers’ hardly ever wanted any contact with the illegitimate children they left in foster care. When Hilda’s husband found out that the first child was gone Hilda just said that a well-off couple had collected the child. Hilda murdered the infants by putting them in a wash tub filled with water and placed a washboard as a lid and a coal scuttle on top as a weight. The image to the left shows the wash tub, washboard and the coal scuttle which Hilda Nilsson used when she drowned the infants. When Hilda had placed a child in the wash tub she left the room and returned a couple of hours later to find the child dead. Hilda then burnt the child’s body in the charcoal furnace used to heat the water in the laundry room. On a few occasions Hilda didn’t even have the time to burn the bodies so she dug up a hole in the ground and buried them. Hilda Nilsson had a large number of infants killed in this manner without being revealed. What made Hilda Nilsson stand out was that she actively had the foster children killed. Most angel makers “just” neglected the children and made them live in penury and starvation to the point where they finally died. This latter situation made most mothers’ doubtful and refused to give away their infants to foster homes in a miserable state and these angel makers were quickly revealed. However, Hilda Nilsson’s home was well taken care of, clean, and with only a few children. The mothers who left their infants in Hilda’s care really thought that they would get a good childhood why Hilda’s shady business could go on for a long time. She even managed to keep her activities a secret to both her husband and the two surviving children. Hilda Nilsson’s gruesome activities were finally revealed when Blenda Henricsson, a mother who in spite of the shame of having an illegitimate child, Gunnar, still wanted contact with the son she left in Hilda’s care. When Hilda refused her grisly business was exposed. Blenda Henricsson got in touch with the town foster care board (Fosterbarnsnämnden) which handed over the case to the police and soon the tragedy came into open. The legal proceedings draw a lot attention when it was held in the district court (Rådhusrätten) in Helsingborg city in 1917. Hilda Nilsson was sentenced to death for murder in seven cases and manslaughter in one case. The verdict was later confirmed in a court of appeal (Hovrätten). However, her execution was never carried through because Hilda managed to kill herself by hanging in her cell in Citadellet, the city jail in Landskrona. Hilda was then 41 years old. A bit of irony, the court transformed her death penalty to life imprisonment the same day as Hilda hanged herself but the news didn’t reach her on time.

Actor Nils Poppe survived

A child who was left to an angel maker but survived was the Swedish actor Nils Poppe. He was born on May 31, 1908, as an illegitimate child to an unwedded mother in S:t Pauli parish, Möllevången, Malmö city, Skåne province. He was then known as Nils Ejnar Jönson and as an unwanted child he was left to a Danish angel maker in Malmö, Sweden. Nils survived his time with the angel maker on a diet of bread soaked in beer (his own statement). He was lucky to be rescued and bought for 40 SEK (5 USD) by other foster parents. Nils was then 2 years old. His new foster parents were the married couple Anders and Amanda Jönsson at Möllevången, Malmö. The new foster home was poor but here he received the love and care he needed.

Angel Maker Amelia Dyer, Great

Britain

The worst ever serial killer in the UK was the Victorian angel maker Amelia Elisabeth Dyer who murdered around 400 infants. She was dubbed the Angel Maker” by British press. Amelia Dyer pocketed the fee from impoverished unwed mothers who paid her to have their illegitimate infants fostered in the naive belief she would give them a good childhood. Instead Amelia Dyer simply took their money before strangling the helpless babies with dressmaking tape and dumping their bodies in the River Thames. Amelia Dyer was able to conduct her grisly practice for over 30 years without being caught by the police. Amelia Dyer was born in 1837 as the youngest of five in the small village of Pyle Marsh, just east of Bristol; the daughter of a master shoemaker, Samuel Hobley, and Sarah Hobley née Weymouth. The image to the right shows a police photo of Amelia Dyer after being arrested in 1896. Amelia was apparently keen to make money from baby farming. She began her heinous trade in Bristol in the late 1860’s by offering a fostering service. At some point in her baby farming career, Amelia was prepared to forgo the expense and inconvenience of letting the children die through neglect and starvation; soon after the receipt of each child, she murdered them which involved her simply drugging the babies with laudanum, a powerful opiate, to keep them quite while she slowly starved them. She was eventually caught in 1879 after a doctor was suspicious about the number of child deaths he had been called to certify in Dyer's care. However, instead of being convicted of murder or manslaughter, she was simply sentenced to six months’ hard labor for child neglect. Once being released she returned to baby farming, and murder. Dyer realized the folly of involving doctors to issue death certificates and began disposing of the bodies herself. She and her family frequently relocated to different towns and cities to escape suspicion. On 30 March 1896, the body of a baby girl was retrieved from the Thames at Reading by a bargeman. The body was later identified as Helena Fry. This finally lead police to Dyer and on 3 April, police raided her home. On 4 April Amelia Dyer was arrested and charged with murder. During April, the Thames was dragged and six more bodies were discovered. Each baby had been strangled with white tape, which as she later told the police "was how you could tell it was one of mine". On 22 May 1896, Amelia Dyer appeared at the Old Bailey and pleaded guilty to one murder, that of Doris Marmon. It is uncertain how many more children Amelia Dyer murdered. However, inquiries from mothers, evidence of other witnesses, and material found in Dyer’s homes, including letters and many babies' clothes, pointed to many more. She was tried and hanged for one murder, but there is little doubt she was responsible for many more similar deaths—possibly 400 or more. Dyer was hanged at Newgate Gaol, near the Old Bailey in London, on 10 June 1896. She was 58.

Source References

Wikipedia Top of page

Angel Makers -

Sweden