In the period 1900 to 1964, when capital punishment ended, five women were executed at Holloway Prison in London. In chronological order the five women are Amelia Sach, Annie Walters, Edith Thompson, Styllou Christofi and Ruth Ellis.
AMELIA SACH and ANNIE WALTERS
Amelia Sach was born Frances Amelia Thorne, the daughter of Francis Thorne (a dealer in fruit) and Georgina Thorne in Longham, Dorset.
|Dealer in Fruit
Ten years later, the 1881 England and Wales Census records that the family has moved to Brighton.
The 1891 England and Wales Census records Amelia Thorne visiting a family in Richmond, Surrey.
On 25 May 1896 Amelia Thorne married Jeffrey Sach a builder. They resided at 7 Caxton Place, Wimbledon, London. They were married at the Parish Church in Wimbledon.
On 20 January 1899 the Sachs had a baby daughter Lilian, who was baptised on 23 April 1899.
I have not been able to located any information about Annie Walters’s family history.
With the very poor use of birth control measures and with abortion illegal, the parents of unwanted children faced a bleak choice. The baby could be given to relatives, passed to charitable institutions such as the Foundling Hospital or just abandoned. There was no social care system or adoption parents as we would recognise today.
There were people who, for a payment from the baby’s parents, would take an unwanted child and either look after it themselves or pass the child to another family. A baby farmer would keep the money and kill the child.
THE TRIAL OF AMELIA SACH and ANNIE WALTERS
The trial of Amelia Sach and Annie Walters began at the Central Criminal Court on 15 January 1903. The judge was Mr. Justice Darling. The prosecution case was presented by Mr. Charles Mathews and Mr. Bodkin. Amelia Sach was defended by Mr. Leycester and Annie Walters by Mr. Stephenson.
Both ladies were charged with the murder of a male infant, the child of a young woman name Galley. Both ladies pleaded not guilty.
Amelia Sach kept a house in East Finchley. For some time before November 1902, Sach and Walters were known to each other.
At 9am on 18 November 1902, Walters left her lodgings carrying a bundle, and travelled to South Kensington Station. In the meantime, the police had received information about Sach and Walters. Therefore, a police officer had been following Walters to South Kensington Station. On her arrival at the station, the police officer identified himself to Walters and asked to see the baby. When Walters undid the bundle, it contained the dead body of a baby boy.
Walters was arrested and charged with the murder of the child. Sach was arrested later that night. Sach told the police that Walters worked for her but that she had not given her any babies. Walters told the police that the baby was so cross, she had put two drops of chhlorodyne in its milk. When she woke up the child was dead.
Chlorodyne was a patent medicine invented by Dr. John Collis Browne. Browne sold his formula to the pharmacist John Thistlewood Davenport, who advertised it widely, as a treatment for cholera, diarrhoea, insomnia, neuralgia, migraines, etc. Its principal ingredients were a mixture of laudanum (an alcoholic solution of opium), tincture of cannabis, and chloroform.
A post-mortem showed that there was blood at the back of the child’s head, which could have been caused by a blow to the head or extreme pressure applied to the head. The child had died from asphyxia, which could have been caused by a preparation of morphine.
On 12 November 1902 Walters had brought another child to her lodgings in Islington, and on that night she sent out for some chlorodyne. Two days later Walters went out carrying a bundle and in the course of the afternoon she went to some coffee-rooms in Whitechapel. The shawl in which the bundle was wrapped fell away and a waitress noticed a baby’s face inside the bundle. The waitress said to Walters “Is it a doll?” Walters replied that it was a baby under chloroform which she had just brought from a hospital where it had been under an operation, and that it would recover in the course of an hour.
She left the coffee-rooms carrying the bundle and returned to her lodgings. At this time, she didn’t have the bundle with her. When she was asked where the baby was, Walters replied that she had given it to a lady who was going to adopt the baby. No such child had been located.
Regarding the child in the indictment, Walters said that she was instructed to take the baby to South Kensington Station, as she was going to get the baby adopted by the wife of a coastguard. Walters admitted giving the baby two drops of chhlorodyne, not intending to hurt it, but to make it sleep.
The prosecution stated that about 300 articles of babies’ clothing were found in Sach’s room. After Sach’s arrest a letter came to her house from a person who stated that she was desirous of adopting a child. The police believed the letter to be genuine.
A young married woman testified and stated that in August 1902, she had given birth to a child in the nursing home run by Sach, who had spoken to the witness about adoption of the child. Sach was paid £30 for the adoption of the child, and said that it was taken away to a good home. The witness identified garments, found in Sach’s home, as having been made by her for the baby. Sach told her that the baby was in a good home in Kensington.
Thomas Edwards, who had lived with Sach at various addresses for a period of 15 months, testified as to seeing at Sach’s house some of the young women who had given evidence in the case. The baby of the last witness was taken away by Walters on the night of its birth. Sach told her not to tell the young woman that Walters had taken the infants away.
Dr. Pepper testified the baby found with Walters had died from suffocation, which might have been caused by a narcotic drug. Under cross-examination, Dr. Pepper was unable to say categorically that the suffocation was by a narcotic drug.
Mr. Guy Stephenson, on behalf of Walters, said that the prosecution’s evidence was not sufficient to disprove Walters’s statement that she had not killed the baby. The prosecution had suggested that the death was caused by Walters. If Walters acted under a mistaken notion of kindness by giving the baby two drops of chlorodyne, then she was guilty of manslaughter not murder.
Mr. Leycester, on behalf of Sach, stated that in handing the baby over to Walters, she honestly believed that Walters had obtained a comfortable home for the child. Sach carried on this nursing home and there would have been a great number of babies born in the home.
Mr. Guy Stephenson asked the judge to leave the question of manslaughter to the jury. Mr. Justice Darling rejected the suggestion as it was a question of murder or no murder.
The jury deliberated for 40 minutes before finding Sach and Walters guilty of murder with a recommendation for mercy. When asked by the judge why the recommendation for mercy, the jury’s foreman replied because Sach and Walters were women.
Mr. Justice Darling addressed Sach and Walters:
The jury have come to the only conclusion they possibly could have come to in finding you guilty of the murder of that baby. It is plain to me that you, Sach, have been the instigator of the other woman who actually took away the life, as part of the business you carried on. You were in the habit of receiving these children from their mothers and of obtaining money from them on the pretext of getting them taken by people who would bring them up. You kept the money for your own use and you handed the children over to be killed as rapidly as was consistent with removing as far as could be done, the traces of evidence which would bring you and your accomplice to justice. The jury have recommended mercy but the reason they have given for it is such that I implore you to build little or no hope upon it.The Times newspaper, 16 January 1903.
When Walters was asked if she had anything to say why judgment of death should not be pronounced, she said
I have not murdered the babies.The Times newspaper, 16 January 1903.
Walters wept while sentence of death was passed upon her.
When Sach was asked if she had anything to say when judgment of death should not be pronounced she said
I am innocent.The Times newspaper, 16 January 1903.
Sach remained unmoved as she heard the sentence of death passed upon her.
While awaiting her execution, Amelia Sach made a will leaving the sum of £59 5s 11d to her husband Jeffrey Sach (builder’s foreman) and Ernest Morris Thorne (grocer’s assistant).
On 3 February 1903 Amelia Sach and Annie Walters were hanged in Holloway Prison by William Billington, assisted by John Billington and Henry Pierrepoint. The ladies were executed together in the only double execution of ladies in modern times. Sach had to be virtually carried to the scaffold. Walters remained unmoved and is reported to have called out “Goodbye Sach” as she was placed on the trapdoors.
Both Sach and Walters were buried in the ground within Holloway prison. In March 1971, when building work was done at Holloway Prison, the remains of the five executed ladies buried inside Holloway were exhumed. The remains of Ruth Ellis were returned to her family. Four lots of remains were reburied in a communal grave in Brookwood Cemetery. In 2018, Edith Thompson’s remains were exhumed and buried alongside her parents in City of London Cemetery.