Frances Knorr: Melbourne baby farmer murders.

As a single Mother herself, Frances Knorr was in a difficult situation when she decided to take in other women’s babies for a fee. After her husband was sent to jail for selling  furniture he’d taken out on hire purchase, mother of one Frances Knorr had fallen pregnant to another man who refused to properly commit to her. In an era were jobs for women were more limited and social services often scarse, this had left Frances in a difficult predicament.

On September 4th 1892, a man digging a flower bed at 26 Davies Street, Brunswick made the tragic discovery of a dead baby girls body buried in his back garden. Upon further investigation, police also uncovered the bodies of two baby boys buried at the Moreland property backing onto the Davies Street residence.

Frances Knorr, the previous tenant at the Moreland property, was well known by her neighbours to have cared for a succession of infants at the property, with one neighbour, a Mrs Minnerley, reporting Frances had even borrowed a spade from her around the estimated time frame of one of the murders.

Did the idea of murdering babies in her care occur to Frances when the strain of caring for them and her own struggles tempted her to do the unthinkable, or had it always been her sinister plan? Whatever the circumstances, Frances’s crimes were extremely cruel to both the innocent infants and their mothers. As a woman herself in a difficult situation, Frances cruely preyed on vulnerable women in similar circumstances.

Back in an era were unwed mothers could face social ostracization and had little acesss too public assistant, baby farming wasn’t unusual. While some of the caregivers provided adequate care for the infants, cases of neglect and abuse were unfortunately common and to a lesser extent even murder. Out of shame and stigma, some of the women whose children died were reluctant to report the deaths of their babies to the police, often accepting the baby farmers explanations that the child had passed away from sudden illness.

In the Frances Knorr case, the death of innocent babies wasn’t the only tragedy. The hangman assigned to carry out the hanging of Frances Knorr committed suicide after arguing with his wife, who was strongly opposed to the idea of Frances being hanged. Under the social climate at the time, many could understand the desperation single mothers faced and the hanging of Frances was a source of public disagreement and debate.

After the tragic suicide of the first appointed hangman, another hangman was found for the job and in 1893 Frances was hung for her crimes.

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It was late in the evening and dark by the time I reached the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. The sparce lighting gave the quiet Davis Street a slight eerie feel. I walked down the dimly lit street, the fresh smell of spring penetrating the night air. Locating number 26, I took a few photos, then hurried down a side street towards Moreland Road.

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Though more of a main street, Moreland Road was also quiet and dimly lit. It was almost quite easy to imagine the secret horrors going on over a century earlier. No matter how peaceful a street may seem, you never know what may be going on behind closed doors.

Source of information:

The Advertiser. (Adelaide, SA: 1889-1931) Wed 4th October 1893. Page 5. Baby Farming in Melbourne. Retrieved from. http://trove.nla.gov.au

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