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Frances Knorr – 19th Century Killer Nanny

Frances Knorr – 19th Century Killer Nanny published on


Australian GynoBeast Frances Knorr wanted some cash, so she decided the way to make it was to look after other people’s children. Or to be more accurate, pretend to look after other people’s children.

Child minding in 19th Century Victoria was a very different proposition to its modern day equivalent. Parents, usually single mothers, would pay to have their babies looked after on a long term, full time basis. The mother would make an initial payment of 5 to 20 pounds then smaller monthly payments, and would visit the babies at certain pre-arranged times – a situation which couldn’t have been much fun for either the mothers or the babies.

Unfortunately, there were numerous cases in which the so-called carer was only in it for the money and the babies were abandoned, left to starve, murdered outright, or if they were lucky, sold off to childless couples. Knorr was one such “baby farmer” as the press of the time dubbed these dirtbags. She would take the money, kill the babies in her charge, then move on to another address and start all over again. Her baby-killing spree finally came to an end when a man occupying one of her former residences decided to plant a vegetable garden and dug up something other than an angry gopher. What Mr. Clay instead found, that September day in 1893, was a decomposing baby girl with a rope around her neck.  After the police were called locals told them that Knorr had also resided in a nearby house. When that house’s garden was dug up the police found more dead babies, this time two boys who had been suffocated.

Eventually Knorr was found guilty and sentenced to hang for the murders of these three babies, though it is estimated that she may have killed as many as 13 children. Because she was a woman there was much public controversy, and Melbourne hangman William Perrins was so distressed at the social repercussions of killing one of The Important Sex that he killed himself instead! A couple of days before Perrins was to carry out the execution, he got drunk, stood over a sink, and slit his own throat! If nothing else, this pitiable act shows that we have made some progress in the last one hundred years – I don’t recall any Yank slaying himself rather than a murderer for fear of being ostracized because the killer in question was female! No siree! These days we don’t ostracize men for executing women, we just hand women life when a man would get death, and a slap on the wrist when a man would get life!

Most of this information was sourced from “Australia’s Serial Killers” by Paul Kidd.

Details of hangman’s suicide found here.