14 August 1907 – Rhoda Willis

A defenceless baby was the victim of choice for baby-farmer Rhoda Willis. She was sentenced to hang for murdering a newborn.

Willis was found guilty of killing a baby girl after she turned to baby farming to supplement her income.

Willis had taken a job as housekeeper to David Evans in Pontypool, when she suggested the lucrative sideline of taking in unwanted babies.

She persuaded him as to the merits and it wasn’t long after that they took in Emily Stroud’s baby. But a couple of months after Willis dumped the baby outside a branch of the Sally Army with a note purporting to be an unmarried mother who couldn’t cope. Sadly the baby lay undiscovered for too long and died of exposure.

A few days later they took in another child but this one was returned unscathed. But not so Maude Treasure’s child.

The murder occurred after an acquaintance Lydia English contacted Willis about her pregnant but unmarried sister Maude. English knew Willis under the assumed name Leslie James and she signed a deal to offload the illegitimate child onto Willis for money.

Willis picked up the baby girl on 4 June 1907 and returned to Cardiff. Her landlady then saw her go out again and when Willis returned she was out of her face. Her landlady got the woman to bed where she made the gruesome discovery. One-day-old baby Treasure was dead.

Suffocated

The police came and took Willis away. Just 20-odd days later she was sent to trial at Swansea, but denied murder. Williams pinned her defence on claims that the newborn child was ill and died of natural causes. But evidence said different. The baby had been smothered to death. That was it. The evidence slowly began to crescendo.

The graphology experts were called in and analysed the note that accompanied the baby left outside the Sally Army. Of course the handwriting was traced back to Willis. She was found guilty and sentenced to die for the murder of baby Treasure. Brothers Henry and Tom Pierrepoint poignantly hanged her on her 44th birthday at Cardiff prison on Wednesday 14 August 1907.

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