Paper Example on Amelia Dyer: Notorious Female Serial Killer

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1896 Words
Date:  2023-08-08


Amelia Dyer Case SummaryThis article looks at the true-crime of a notorious female serial killer by the name of Amelia Dyer. Dyer was involved in the 1800s baby farming British practice; baby farming was prevalent at the time. The practice involved women with babies deemed illegitimate, paying someone to take care of that child, or get rid of it. (Beyer, 2015). Born in 1939, in a small village in Bristol, England, Amelia Dyer grew to be a serial killer. (Beyer, 2015). Her father was a shoemaker, who despite leading a simple life, was able to provide a comfortable living for his family. Amelia Dyer surprisingly received a good education, which was not common at the time for women (Rattle & Vale, 2007). Her mother was mentally ill, and so Amelia Dyer had to take care of her (Rattle & Vale, 2007). She studied to become a nurse; In her nursing career, Dyer became pregnant at the age of 26, and so she was not allowed to work anymore Beyer, 2015). Her colleague she met, Ellen Dane, told her of a new way to earn a living, and that is how she turned to baby farming (Beyer, 2015).

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Her first shop was in Bristol, but she later used to move from town to town to avoid suspicion and arrest. Before her final arrest in Reading, she had been arrested on more than one occasion. She used to foster infants, maximise her profits from the women, and then kill the children. She would mute them with liquid opium and starve them to death. She later adopted the use of white tape tying it around the infants’ necks to silence them and afterward dump the corpses in streams or bury them on grounds. As she later admitted, the ones she had killed could be identified by the white tape. This paper will analyse the criminal and forensic psychology of this case. The paper will look at the psychological analysis of Amelia Dyer basing on different theories. A critical of these theories will then be given, and several conclusions are drawn.

Factors Which May Explain the Reasons for The Crime

Traumatic childhood: Amelia Dyer had a mother who had a mental illness. Her mother, as reported by family members, had a typhus fever that she recovered from. Afterward, she began to have violet mental outbursts that could last for days, never-ending. Amelia Dyer is the one who used to take care of her ill mother. Her mother later died from an illness.

Disorientation of the family structure: A few years later, after the death of her mother, Amelia Dyer’s father also passed away. Dyer at the time was about 22 years old. Her oldest brother inherited the family business. She was estranged from her family. At this time, she had no financial support of any kind or any form of proper ways to stake a claim at the family business. Without an option, she married Thomas, who was considerably older than Dyer. The disorientation of the family could be another reason.

Mental breakdowns: Amelia Dyer, just like her mother, also suffered from mental breakdowns. She also had suicidal thoughts. During her trial, however, the prosecutors argued that her mental illness was fake because the mental outbursts seemed only to occur when her criminal activities became suspicious. There is, nevertheless, a massive claim that she indeed had a mental illness. She attempted unsuccessful suicide; she took two bottles of laudanum; this was a mix of codeine and morphine (Beyer, 2015).

Substance abuse as an adult: As an adult, it is reported that Amelia Dyer abused drugs. For many years she abused opium and alcohol. It is even said that her use of opium and alcohol for many years is what built up her tolerance to the laudanum she took when attempting murder. Substance abuse could also be another reason.

Not learning from her mistakes: Dyer seemed to also not learn from her previous errors, which made her go on with her criminal activities for many years. She was arrested, and once out, she continued with her illegal activity.

Miserable social conditions of the time/ poverty: The social conditions at the time were frustrating, and in particular, the mortality rate of children was very high. Women during the Victorian era, faced many difficulties when it comes to childbirth and sexuality, the government was unprotective of the women. It is mentioned by Paxman in his book, “The Victorians: Britain through the Paintings of the Age.” Paxman (2011) cites these difficulties that women faced at the time, including stigma, if a woman had an illegitimate child. These challenging conditions and the high child mortality rate provided Amelia Dyer with the perfect environment in which she could conduct her criminal activities, Poverty, and shame during the Victorians time made unmarried mothers foster their children to a baby farmer for a fee. (Rattle and Vale).

Psychological Analysis

Human violence is a huge topic within the discipline of psychology and forensic. Psychologists investigate how certain characteristics of individuals interact with specific factors of the environment, which then lead to a crime. These psychologists focus on the biological basis of criminal activity; they focus on how specific mental processes lead an individual to commit a crime. Amelia Dyer’s case is no different; the factors highlighted above have a relationship with the crime committed. There is a relationship between learning, intelligence, and violence. As it has been pointed out by mental health specialists, a serial killer, the like of Amelia Dyer, is a psychopath; the term has grown to be replaced with Anti-social Personality Disorder (Ogloff, 2006).

Amelia Dyer showed common signs associated with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD). She lacked guilt, seemed not to learn from her mistakes, showed no empathy, and manipulated others. Also, in her trial, she used insanity as her only defence. These characteristics have an association with Dyer committing the crime. Some psychological theories and relevant research can be used to show the relationship between these factors, learning, Dyer personality, and her criminal activity of killing infants. Some of the studies and theories are listed below.

Cognitive Theories

The available cognitive theories focus on how different people see the social environment around them and learn how to solve problems basing on that surrounding (Giordano, Cernkovich, & Rudolph, 2002). In cognitive approaches, there is a branch of the moral and intellectual development that deals with the study of violence and crime (Giordano, Cernkovich, & Rudolph, 2002). Piaget (1976) was among the first psychologists to come up with a cognitive theory that claims that the ability of people to reason develops in a manner that is logical and orderly. His philosophy has several stages; the first stage is about responding to the social environment and developing motor skills; the final step is all about complex reasoning (Piaget, 1976). Amelia Dyer had a traumatic childhood. Her mother had a mental illness, and she used to take care of her. As an adult, Dyer abused drugs. All this could have impacted her ability to reason correctly.

Information processing is another area of cognitive theories that can be used to explain Amelia Dyer’s criminal behaviours. According to psychologists, making a decision is a process of a series of complex thoughts. First, one has to interpret the information received, then the individual searches for a proper response, and finally, they act on a decision (Dodge, 1992). Criminals, when making decisions, maybe using the information received in a way that is not correct. In her trial, Amelia Dyer used insanity as her only defence. She had spent a lot of time in asylums. Even though the prosecution claimed her mental illness was fake, there are reasons to believe otherwise. She had a mother who was mentally ill. Because she was not mentally stable, it could be claimed that she was not making the right decisions from the stimuli she was receiving.

Psychopathic Personality

Research points to the fact that all criminal offenders may have a severe issue with their personality known as Psychopathy, Sociopathy, or ASPD. It has been suggested that violent people, like Amelia Dyer, all share some similar personality traits. They are impulsive, have low to the non-existent feel of guilt, and do not care about others, and they are manipulative. Dyer showed all the signs associated with ASPD, she did not feel any guilt, and that is why she murdered a lot of infants. She was impulsive, and she never learned from her mistakes. After being caught and released, Dyer went back to her habits. It can also be claimed that she had no empathy and was manipulative of others. A traumatic experience as a child may have contributed to this.

In a study involving a sample of 320 offenders, those who reported having experienced traumatic events in their life were more likely than the ones who did not report any traumatic events, to meet the criteria for psychotic, borderline personality, or anti-social personality (Gunter & Chibnall, 2012). Also, among the studied sample, female offenders had a higher probability of reporting traumatic events in their life than men (Gunter & Chibnall, 2012). It points to a clear connection between the traumatic life Amelia Dyer experienced as a child, her Anti-Social Personality Disorder, and her criminal activities. As a child, she had to take care of her mentally ill mother, this in one way or another, could have contributed to her personality.

Behavioural Theories

Behavioural theories maintain that the behaviour of humans, even criminal behaviour is learned through the social environment one engages with (Barmaki, 2019). Behavioural approaches psychologists support that violent disposition is not hereditary. Instead, the daily social environment experiences are what influence people’s learning and thinking. (Bandura, 1977). These psychologists suggest that learning violent behaviours might include people observing friends, or sometimes family members being rewarded for violent acts. It can also include the glorification of criminal acts in the media. Amelia Dyer was influenced to start the baby farming practice by her friend, Ellen Dane. The motive to make a lot of money is what drove her to kill. There are also reasons to believe Ellen Dane, too, used to kill infants.

Behavioural theories have suggested some factors that influence people to be violent. Among them is that they believe a socially violent act will earn rewards (Bartol, 2002). The main motive of Amelia Dyer was making money. This motive is what led her to kill. Amelia Dyer killed for personal gain; she murdered the infants as it was an easy way to make money.

Substance Abuse among Criminal Offenders

Research done shows there is a robust association between criminal offenders and abuse of drugs (Bantjes, Rabie & Almirola, (2020). Evidence has it that either consumption of all or one of alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana is typical among criminal offenders. In research conducted involving 152 inmates, 72% reported being drug addicts (Philips & Nixon, 2002). Most offenders report being abusing alcohol. Amelia Dyer used to abuse alcohol and opium, as said. She took it for many years, and even when she took laudanum in a suicidal attempt, it did not work because her body had built up a tolerance as a result of her drug abuse. Drug misuse impairs one’s judgment. It could be that her long-term abuse of drugs had impacted her cognitive ability.


Human propensities of violence are affected by mental processes. There is a significant relationship between criminal activity and psychology. For many cen...

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