12 August 1895 – Minnie Dean
Williamina ‘Minnie’ Dean remains the only woman to be hanged legally in New Zealand for her crimes. She was found guilty of murdering two infants and a toddler.
Originally born in Scotland, Dean went over to New Zealand to join her aunt in Invercargill. She moved to Etal Creek where she met and married Charles Dean. They ended up buying an orchard in East Winton and it was there that they fell on hard times after their house burned down.
They built a modest house and Dean went into baby farming as a means to supplement their existence. And so began a prolific career during which Dean is said to have looked after 100 babies. This was a common practice for babies to be looked after in this way until foster homes were found or alternative arrangements made. Of course payment would either be weekly or in a lump sum, making it fairly lucrative as a business.
Infant mortality was also high in this day, so some were lost along the way. Their adopted daughter, six-month-old May Irene Dean, died of convulsions following a three-day illness and this was corroborated by their GP. Eighteen months later baby Bertha Currie died of after her lungs apparently became inflamed. Both were deemed natural causes, but the stats didn’t look good and people became wary.
Hinged on a hatbox
Soon it emerged that Dean had been asked to look after someone’s granddaughter. Despite the child’ clothes being found at Dean’s home, the child was not there and the highly suspicious circumstances led Dean to be hauled into custody for the murder of Dorothy Edith Carter. This was especially as she’d been observed getting on a train with a baby and a hatbox, but only having the hatbox when she got off the train.
Sure enough two babies’ bodies plus a toddler’s corpse turned up in her flower beds. Of course when this came out in court, it sparked a merchandising bonanza outside the courts – mini hatboxes containing baby dolls were a big seller.
Dean was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged. But the 47-year-old protested her innocence to the end – her last words were ‘No, I have nothing to say, except that I am innocent’.