On this date in 1905, “baby farmer” Elisabeth Wiese was beheaded in Hamburg.
In a luridly reported case “revolting in the extreme, proving the woman to be a monster of iniquity” Wiese stepped into a quintessential fin de siecle moral panic as a former convict whose larcenous past had forced her trade away from the legitimate field of midwifery towards the more shady precincts of mercenary fostering.
From scandal-averse single mothers in England as well as Germany, she collected children with maintenance fees running to US $1,000 plus a hush-money surcharge tacked on. For this donative, she represented a capacity to distribute these whelps to willing adoptive families: in reality, most of them she disposed of with morphine. (As an added inflammation to public opinion, she had also forced her own illegitimate daughter into prostitution; Paula, whose own infant was among Wiese’s victims, repaid that ill turn by appearing as a witness against her mother.)
When Wiese fell under suspicion, the neighbors’ reports of her kitchen glowing like hellfire and belching revolting stenches led police to the remains of these little ones burnt up in her stove.