On This Day – January 15, 1894

THE hanging of Frances Lydia Alice Knorr not only split the community, but also had a dreadful impact on the executioner. Knorr, born Minnie Thwaites, was known as the “Baby Farming Murderess” and her arrest and trial made national headlines. She’d been found guilty of strangling two infants she’d taken into her paid care. The executioner, Thomas Jones (William Walk), had an impressive record as a hangman. He’d sent 15 men to their deaths. But Knorr would be the first woman he’d hang. Jones not only had problems with alcohol, he was under immense pressure at home, namely from his wife who strongly believed Knorr should be saved. Two days before the execution, the hangman killed himself. Jones cut his own throat while drunk. Nevertheless, the execution proceeded, creating much public opposition, particularly from women’s and church groups. On being walked to the gallows Knorr was asked ‘Have you anything to say?’ prior to the drawing of the bolt. “He received in answer the words: ‘Yes, the Lord is with me. I do not fear what man can do unto me, for I have peace, perfect peace.’ “The first sentence was spoken almost inaudibly, but the last words were delivered in a full, clear voice. “The next instant the bolt was drawn, and death was instantaneous.” Her entry in the hangman’s manual, called the Particulars of Executions, states she had a one-pound lead weight sewn into the shirt to stop it billowing out. In a matter-of-fact way, it was stated that the 5ft 2in Knorr was hanged with a rope with a drop of 7ft 6in. Soon after her execution, prison authorities found a confession back in her cell, penned a few hours before she left it for the last time. She wrote: “I express a strong desire that this statement be made public, with the hope that my fate will not only be a warning to others, but also act as a deterrent to those who are perhaps carrying on the same practice.” Although Knorr was convicted of the murders of two babies, police inquiries later revealed she could have been responsible for the deaths of a dozen, and even more, infants.