24 December 1867 – Frederick Baker
You can be forgiven for thinking Sweet Fanny Adams was merely a euphemism for ‘f**k all’ (or a Brazilian rock band). But she was a real person who really did exist, albeit not for very long, as her story now unfolds.
One summer’s day in August 1867, three girls were out playing in Alton, Hampshire, when they came across a black-coated stranger.
That stranger was Frederick Baker and the meeting was to change all of their lives. Two of the girls were given money to go off and buy sweets while the other, after some persuasion, went off with him.
Her name was Fanny Adams and that was the last time the child was ever seen alive.
Naturally the child was missed almost immediately and her two companions told of the close encounter, which prompted a search party.
And when a newcomer was seen walking away from the area, questions were immediately asked.
Search and destroyed
Two people searching for the child stopped him to see if he’d seen her, but he but denied ever having met the child. Bizarrely, Baker even went as far as to admit that he was a clerk for a local solicitor’s firm, the damning details of which were to come in handy shortly afterwards.
For the searchers left him to go on his way while they carried on only to make a truly gruesome discovery. The eight-year-old girl’s brutally dismembered body was found strewn around a flood meadow and her eyes in the nearby river, all of which sparked public outrage.
Suspicion immediately centred around the black-coated stranger and the police were soon hot on Baker’s heels.
Given his legal background, you’d have thought he’d have been clued up about damning evidence. Yet Baker was found with bloodied clothes and what looked like a besmattered murder weapon, all of which belied his denials. But a diary entry simply stating ‘killed a young girl’ was the ultimate piece if evidence and was never going to look good in a court of law, according to Hampshire local government’s website.
Was it any wonder that it took a jury just 15 minutes to convict the 24-year-old at Winchester Assizes. And before the month was out 5,000 people celebrated Christmas Eve by coming to watch his demise as he was strung up in Winchester’s last ever public execution.