The Winton Baby Farmer
In the history of crime in New Zealand there could hardly be a sorrier dossier than that of the infamous Minnie Dean who in June 1895 was tried and sentenced to death for the murder of an infant child. In legal history she has been known, with approximate accuracy, as the Winton Baby Farmer. Under the guise of benevolent motive she received unwanted children and apparently destroyed them, the generally illegitimate character of her victims no doubt contributing materially to the temporary success of her grisly operations. Minnie Dean was tried for only one murder, but the mass of evidence adduced against her at her trial, and the discovery in her garden at “The Larches”, Winton, of two bodies and the skeleton of a third, pointed strongly to a systematic programme of child murder. One curious aspect of her crime was that her husband, Charles Dean, who lived with her, was ignorant of it. At first his name was coupled with hers in the charge, but before the preliminary hearing had progressed very far he was discharged “without a stain on his character”. For a premium, never very large, Minnie Dean adopted unwanted infants, but the payment of the fee invariably marked the disappearance of the child into the care of a “lady” whose name or abode was never disclosed. After hearing 40 witnesses, the jury took exactly half an hour to return a verdict of guilty, and Mr Justice Williams, with equal dispatch, passed sentence of death on the first and only woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Hangings in those days still bore a high day and holiday flavour, and the final office of Minnie Dean's shameful end was described in the local press to the tune of a column and a half.