“I believe this woman would have killed or abandoned this child”
Born as Williamina McCulloch on 2 September 1844 in West Greenock, Scotland, Minnie Dean arrived in Invercargill, New Zealand in the early 1860s, a widow with two young daughters. On 19 June 1872 she married innkeeper Charles Dean at his home in Etal Creek, Southland. Etal Creek had once been a thriving community but by the time of the nuptials it was deserted and Charles Dean turned to framing to earn a living. By 1884 he was bankrupt.
Four years earlier they had adopted five-year-old Margaret Cameron and in 1887 the family moved to The Larches, a large house at Winton about 1.5 km (1 mi) out of town. The house burned down and Mr Dean built a two-roomed cottage with a lean-to. He began pig farming and she began baby farming — taking in unwanted babies for money. She advertised in the local paper, “Respectable Married Woman (comfortable home, country) Wants to Adopt an infant — Address, Childless, Times Office.” To adopt a baby she took anywhere between £10 and £30, while fostering was charged at five to eight shillings a week.
Soon babies began to die at The Larches. On 29 October 1889 May Irene, six months old, died of convulsions after a three-day illness. In March 1891 six-week-old Bertha Currie died of inflammation of the heart valves and congestion of the lungs. The inquest reported that the house was overcrowded and Dean should take in fewer children but said that most of the babies were well looked after. Six weeks later, another baby died and Dean became concerned that she would be linked publicly with the baby farmers in Britain and Australia who had been convicted of murdering children for money.
Another young boy died in her care in 1894 and she buried him the back garden to avoid yet another inquest. The police put Dean under surveillance and prevented her from taking one baby, a detective writing, “I believe this woman would have killed or abandoned this child.” On 30 April 1895 Jane Hornsby gave her one-month-old granddaughter, Eva, to Dean at Clarendon Station. On 2 May Dean boarded the train with the baby and a hatbox — when she got off she had only the hatbox with her.
After clothing belonging to Eva was found at The Larches, Dean was arrested and charged with infanticide. The police searched the garden at The Larches and found the bodies of two babies, Dorothy Edith Carter (who had died of a laudanum overdose) and Eva Hornsby (who died of asphyxiation), and the body of a 4-year-old boy. It was impossible to ascertain how he died. A coroner labelled Minnie Dean a murderer.
Winton, Southland, New Zealand
Thursday 2 May 1895
The trial for the murder of Dorothy Carter began at Invercargill on 18 June 1895. Defence lawyer A.C. Hanlon said that the death had been accidental but the judge summed up saying, “‘It seems to me that the real honest issue is whether the accused is guilty of intentionally killing the child or is innocent altogether.” On 21 June Dean was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. She was hanged at Invercargill Jail on 12 August 1895 by the official executioner Tom Long. Minnie Dean thus became the only woman to be hanged for murder in New Zealand.
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Charles Dean was also arrested but released without charge. He died in a house fire at Winton in 1908, aged 73.