I am not surprised that on Christmas Eve morning, when “short drop” Calcraft slipped the noose around his neck, twenty-four year old Frederick Baker took comfort from having apologised. He probably thought he had earned some credit as he met his final reward. He should not have. The hangman, Mr. William Calcraft, had ushered some 450 souls to their final reward over his fifty year career, and Frederick would be far from his last job, although he would be one of the last public ones. But Calcraft’s technique of dropping his subjects no more than 18 inches, insured that Frederick, like all the others, would take from three to four minutes to slowly strangle to death, kicking and writhing in full view of the 5,000 people (mostly women) gathered to witness his well earned demise. And the confession he had made and the denial it included were simply final proof that Fredrick Baker was a liar to the very last moment of his life.
On Tan House Lane in the “…pleasant little market town…” of Alton, stood the modest home of bricklayer George Adams and his wife Harriet (above), and their seven children. You can see the hardness of their lives on their worn faces. And perhaps the terrible grief, too.
Tan House Lane (the "x" to the left of the church, above) was a back street off the high street which led north to London, 45 miles distant. The Lane was just 400 yards long and terminated in a flood meadow owned by a man named Hobbs who used to grow leeks there. Beyond, crisscrossing foot paths bisected the hops fields that supported Alton's half dozen breweries and their pubs. One of those footpaths, known as the Hollow, led across fields and farms to the even smaller village of Shalden, some three miles away.
On one hot lazy Saturday afternoon, August 24, 1867, sometime after one thirty, seven year old Lizzie Adams and her year eight year old sister Fanny were playing with their neighbor, eight year old Minnie Warner, in the flood meadow, when a man appeared. He was dressed in a black frock coat, light colored waistcoat and trousers and wore a top hat. The girls immediately realized he had been drinking. Still, the man seemed pleasant enough, and offered Minnie and Lizzie a half penny each if they would run a race to The Hollow, while he and Fanny followed. The two older girls agreed and scampered off. When they were all rejoined at the Hollow the man congratulated the girls and paid them.
He then offered them a full penny if they would go into a nearby field with him and eat some berries. Again, the offer of a penny was strong inducement and the three girls opened the gate and went into the field with the man. They spent some time eating berries, before the man offered Fanny a half penny if she would walk with him to Shalden. Fanny took the coin, but something made her refuse to take the man’s hand. He paid the other two girls their last penny and told them to go home. Then he swept up little Fanny in his arms and carried her away.
We have gained some small insight into the fate of "Sweet" Fanny Adams (above) in the 150 years since her ordeal. The lessons were paid for by the thousands of those innocents who have followed her. According to a study released by state of Washington, 44 % of child murder victims were killed by strangers and 42% by family or acquaintances. Two thirds of the perpetrators had prior arrests for violent crimes, but just half had prior arrests for crimes against children. In 76% of homicide cases involving child abduction, the child was dead within three hours. And in 74% of the cases, the victim was a female under the age of 11. Of course none of this insight explains why Frederick Baker, the drunk man in the frock coat and top hat, sexually assaulted 8 year old Fanny Adams, killed her and then butchered her corpse. The crime itself may be beyond explanation or understanding. And that may be the saddest thing of all about Fanny's brutal death; the idea that there is little we can do or have done to prevent it from happening again and again and again.
Fredrick Baker caved in Fanny's little head with a stone shortly after one, and later testimony from his co-workers was that by three o’clock he had returned to his job as a clerk in the office of Mr. William Clement. Around five o’clock Frederick walked back to the murder scene and butchered and dismembered the little girl’s corpse. It was done quickly and clumsily. She was decapitated. Her legs and internal organs were scattered in the tall grass, haphazardly. And for some reason Frederick carried her eyes all the way to the River Wye before throwing them in. Did he really think throwing her eyes in the river was going to keep anyone from seeing what he had done?
During the inquest at the Alton Old Town Hall (above) Minnie Warner and Lizzie Adams identified Frederick as the man who had carried Fanny off. The girl's mother, Mrs. Harriet Adams and her neighbor, Mrs. Gardner, testified they had met Frederick coming out of the meadow when they first went to look for Fanny, sometime after five. When Alton Police arrested him the next day at his workplace, Frederick’s wristbands were still spotted with blood. It was noted that his pant legs and socks had been wet when he had returned after lunch the day of the murder. And a diary entry found in his desk, read, “24th August, Saturday; killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.”
The Alton Police (above, standing in front of their station on the High Street) knew Frederick from previous arrests for drunkenness and fighting. It would be testified in his defense that Frederick’s father had “shown an inclination to assault, even to kill, his children.” It was also alleged that Frederick had recently attempted suicide after a girl had rejected him, that his sister had died of a “brain fever”, and that a cousin had been in mental asylums on four separate occasions. None of that made a difference. The jury convicted Frederick in just fifteen minutes.
The night before his execution, Christmas eve-eve, Frederick Baker wrote to George and Harriet Adams. He wrote that he was sorry for murdering their Fanny, and had done it in “an unguarded hour” only because she would not stop crying. It was done, he insisted without “malice aforethought” and without “…pain or struggle”. Frederick assured the grieving parents he had not molested Fanny, but he offered no other explanation as to why she had been crying when he had smashed her head with the rock.
The execution of Frederick Baker, as gruesome as any parent of a murdered child might wish for, did nothing to save the lives of the uncounted children who have followed Fanny. But every child saved during the vital first three hours of an abduction by an Amber Alert, must thank Donna and Jimmy Hagerman, who in 1996 pushed to change the way U.S. police respond to child abductions, after their daughter, Amber Hagerman (below) was murdered. And those children saved by Amber's sacrifice can also thank those who ask questions of these monsters in our midst, rather than simply calling for their blood. Spilling blood may be a just punishment, but it never saved a life.
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