By Tim Lambert
Fanny Adams was an 8-year-old girl who was murdered in Alton, Hampshire in 1867. Fanny was born on 30 April 1859. Her father was a bricklayer named George. Her mother was named Harriett. Fanny was the fourth of six children. She had three sisters and two brothers.
Fanny was tall for her age. She looked, it was said, older than her age. She was also a bright girl. People who knew Fanny described her as a happy and talkative child.
The Murder of Fanny Adams
In the mid-19th century, Alton was a small town with a population of about 4,000. There was a brewing industry in the town and fields of hops. Fanny lived in Tanhouse Lane. Near her house was an open place named Flood Meadow, through which the River Wey flowed. The river sometimes flooded giving the meadow its name. Next to it was a hop garden.
On 24 August 1867, Fanny asked her mother for permission to go and play in Flood Meadow with her 5-year-old sister Lizzie, and her best friend, Minnie Warner, aged 8. Her mother agreed. There was little crime in Alton and Mrs Adams was not worried.
Between 1 pm and 2 pm, the girls had the misfortune to meet a 29-year-old solicitors clerk named Frederick Baker. He was from Guildford but had recently moved to Alton where he worked for a solicitor named William Clements in the High Street. Baker was wearing a frock coat, light-coloured trousers, a waistcoat, and a tall hat. The girls had seen the man before. Frederick Baker gave Minnie and Lizzie three half pennies to buy some sweets. He also gave Fanny a half penny. For a time the girls played while Baker watched the girls playing while he smoked his pipe. He also picked some blackberries for them.
Minnie and Lizzie eventually decided to go home. Baker then asked Fanny to come with him on her own along the Hollow, a road that led to the nearby village of Shalden. Fanny refused. Baker then grabbed the child and carried her off. Minnie and Lizzie ran and told Mrs Warner, Minnie’s mother. But she was unconcerned and the girls went off to play again. It may seem incredible that Mrs Warner did not immediately raise the alarm but attitudes were very different then. Mrs Warner may have thought it was some sort of game.
About 5 pm the two girls, Minnie and Lizzie went home again. A neighbour, Mrs Gardener saw them and asked where Fanny was. The two girls told her what had happened. Mrs Gardener was worried and she told Fanny’s mother, Mrs Adams. The two women went off in search of the missing child.
Within a short time, they met Baker near a gate separating the hop garden from the Meadow. Mrs Gardener asked him ‘What have you done with the child?’. Baker replied ‘nothing’. Mrs Gardener then asked if he had given Minnie Warner money. Baker admitted he had given her money. But he claimed that he often gave money to children. Not surprisingly Mrs Gardener was suspicious. She told Baker ‘I have a great mind to give you in charge of the police’. Baker replied ‘You may do as you like’.
The two women went home, no doubt hoping Fanny would turn up. But, of course, she didn’t. By 7 pm her mother was growing very worried and she and a group of neighbours went in search of her. A man named Thomas Gates found the head of a child stuck on two hop poles. The eyes had been cut out and the right ear was missing. It was obviously the head of Fanny Adams.
More of the remains of Fanny Adams were found that evening. But as it was growing dark the search had to be called off to the next morning. The next day searchers found one of Fanny’s arms, a foot, and her intestines. Her eyes were eventually found in the river.
At the trial of Frederick Baker Dr Leslie said: The remains were that of a female child, the head, arms, and legs were separated from the trunk’. The doctor also said: ‘A deep incision divided the chest between the ribs. The right leg torn from the trunk, and the whole contents of the pelvis and chest completely removed. Five incisions had been made on the liver, the heart cut out and missing, a dislocation of the spine, and the vagina was missing’.
A man named William Henry Walker found a stone with flesh and hair sticking to it. He thought it might be the murder weapon. At the murder trial, Dr Leslie said that in his opinion it was.
Meanwhile, Fanny’s mother Harriet Adams, was naturally very distraught. She went to tell her husband, George who had been playing cricket. He got his shotgun and was going to shoot the murderer but was persuaded not to.
At 9 pm on Sunday 25 August 1867 the police went to the office of Clements the solicitor. Superintendent Cheney asked Baker if he had heard of the murder. Baker replied ‘Yes, they say it’s me’. The Superintendent told him ‘Well you are suspected’. Baker replied ‘I am innocent’. Despite his denials, Baker was arrested on suspicion of the murder of Fanny Adams. An angry crowd had gathered outside the office so the police had to smuggle him out the back door.
Baker was found to be carrying two small knives (they were too small to have carried out the mutilation. It was believed a larger knife was used but it was never found). Baker’s trousers were wet, presumably from an attempt to wash off blood stains. The police also found bloodstains on Baker’s shirt cuffs. Baker could not account for them. He said ‘Well, I don’t see a scratch or cut on my hands to account for the blood’.
The next day the police searched the solicitor’s office. They found Baker’s diary in his desk. An entry read: ‘Killed a young girl. It was fine and hot’. Baker admitted it was his handwriting but claimed he was intoxicated at the time.
Baker made another very incriminating remark on the day of the murder. At 7 p.m. he went to a pub with a colleague. An employee of the pub said he was moving and claimed he could turn his hand to anything. Baker said he might join him but admitted there were only a very limited number of jobs he could do. But he then added ‘I could turn butcher’.
An inquest into the death of Fanny Adams was held at the Duke’s Head Inn in Alton on 27 August 1867. Minnie Warner gave evidence. So did Mrs Gardner. In 1867 the jury at an inquest could not only find that a person was a victim of murder, but they could also name the person who they believed had committed the murder, even though that person had not been tried. The jury found that Frederick Baker murdered Fanny Adams. The law was changed in 1977.
The Trial of Frederick Baker
The trial of Frederick Baker for murder began on 5 December 1867. The defence claimed that it could not be proved that Baker killed Fanny. But at the same time, they tried to argue that if he did do it he was insane.
Minnie Warner and Mrs Gardener gave evidence. Other witnesses said Baker had left the solicitor’s office after 1 p.m. (Shortly before the murder was committed). He returned at 3.25 p.m. Baker left the office again at 4.30 p.m. (At which time he met Mrs Adams and Mrs Gardener near the murder scene).
More witnesses described seeing Baker in the vicinity of the murder on the afternoon of 26 August. A woman named Eliza White said she saw a man with three children at about 2 p.m. She identified Baker as the man. Mrs White said that afterwards, she heard ‘a girl cry out, not a cry of pain, as in play trying to get away from someone’. A witness named William Alder was walking back from the nearby village of Lasham at about 2 p.m. He also saw Baker, who he knew. He also saw three children.
Both Mrs Gardener and Mrs Adams saw Baker after 5 p.m. A woman named Mary Ann Porter also said she saw Baker in the area between 5 and 6 p.m.
There was also the fact that Baker wrote in his diary ‘Killed a young girl. It was fine and hot”. The defence claimed that what he meant was ‘a young girl was killed’ not ‘I killed a young girl’. They also tried to cast doubt on Minnie Warner’s identification of Baker and they said the two knives found on Baker were too small to have carried out the mutilations. (They may very well be true but it obviously doesn’t rule out the possibility that Baker had a larger knife that was never found).
The defence also tried to argue that even if Baker did do it then he was insane. They claimed that Baker’s father was violent and had once tried to kill his son and daughter with a poker. They also claimed that Baker had tried to commit suicide after his fiance broke off their engagement in 1865. Baker’s sister had died of a ‘brain fever’. Also, Baker’s cousin was in a lunatic asylum and was violent. But none of this impressed the jury.
The judge advised the jury that three verdicts were possible – guilty, not guilty or not guilty on the grounds of insanity. The jury took only 15 minutes to find Baker guilty of murder. The judge then sentenced him to death.
While awaiting execution Baker confessed to killing Fanny.
At that time executions were carried out in public. Frederick Baker was hanged outside Winchester prison, in front of a crowd of about 5,000 people at 8 a.m. on 24 December 1867. His body was buried within the precincts of the prison.
Meanwhile, Fanny Adams was laid to rest in Alton Cemetery on 28 August 1867. In 1868 a gravestone was erected, paid for by public subscription. An inscription on the gravestone reads ‘Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams, aged eight years and four months, who was cruelly murdered on Saturday, August 24, 1867’ and ‘Fear not them which kill the body are not able to kill the soul but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell Matthew 10 v28’.
The case of Fanny Adams led to a disrespectful saying. Sailors joked that their cans of meat contained the remains of ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’. In time the phrase came to mean anything worthless then it came to mean nothing.