1907: Britain’s Most Prolific Baby Traffickers – PART 2

Herbert Smith, 21, and Lottie Roberts, 20, stood in the dock at the court room in Liverpool.

The charges…obtaining £11 pounds with intent to defraud, and causing the death of the 14 day old baby boy of Lily Kitching from Grimsby.

But their story started 18 months earlier.

If you haven’t read part 1 – read it now: 1907: Britain’s Most Prolific Baby Traffickers Caught in Liverpool – PART 1

 

cafe scene

 

Lottie Bourne, her real name, was working in a café in Shrewsbury. It was here she met Herbert Smith, a bar worker and former trainee pawnbroker – who was making a big name for himself in showbiz. Both were said to be natives of London.

 

Gloucester Journal - Saturday 29 September 1906 LEO ADVERT
Gloucester Journal – Saturday 29 September 1906 . Leo Selwyn, the Handcuff King on the bill at the bottom of the article.

On the circuit he was known as the “The Gentleman Handcuff Prince and Gaol Breaker”, stage name Leo Selwyn. He was Britain’s answer to Houdini and had gained a great reputation as a conjurer and an escapologist.

 

He performed up and down the land in Music Halls and boasted to have escaped from 51 prisons – much to the amazement of the prison officials who watched his stunts.

In fact when he was arrested he told the police the cell wouldn’t hold him and he’d be out in no time. He was so good he gave up all other honest work and became the Handcuff King full time.

A love affair seemingly blossomed and both traveled the country. Lottie became an actress and probably worked as his assistant – often using the stage name Jessie.

But she became pregnant. In October 1906 they took up lodgings in Swansea, 122 Western Street, under the name of Mr and Mrs Selwyn and stayed for 5 weeks – and Lottie gave birth to a baby girl…an inconvenient one.

 

 

swansea google
Western Street, Swansea. Google Maps.
1888 - 1913 swansea
1888 Map of Swansea. National Library of Scotland.

 

western street google street view
Western Street today. Google Street view.

 

They put adverts in the paper offering the baby out to nurse, hoping they could pay someone else to take-on their child. They put her in the hands of the Landlady Mrs Philips, paying her 4 shillings a week plus expenses in the meantime.

Life on the road beckoned and Herbert and Lottie left.

But to their surprise they were flooded with offers from desperate couples eager for a baby.

A Mrs Ball from Neath in South Wales was one of those who answered the advert and she took the child in.

But letters continued to arrive at Mrs Phillips house addressed to The Selwyns, The Smiths and the Bournes.

Fast Forward 7 months, the defendants are standing in the dock, and charges of fraud and causing the death of baby Kitching are put to them by Detected Sgt Moore – “I can say it’s not dead” said Herbert Smith, with Lottie adding that “the child is alive and well.”

 

 

LiverpoolMagCourt
Liverpool Magistrates Court. Picture By Rodhullandemu – Wikipedia

 

To the other charges they said nothing. Bail was refused and they were remanded in prison.

The investigation however was in full flow. Detectives were unearthing an almost industrial scale of the trafficking of babies across the country – and the deeper they dug the more cases they found…all carried out in an almost identical manner, and in an astonishingly short amount of time.

And as the evidence built up it became clear that the people behind it were now sitting in a cell in Liverpool – a conjurer and his assistant.

So just how big was their scandalous operation? – And how many babies did the conjurer and the waitress traffic?

Find out in 1907: Britain’s Most Prolific Baby Traffickers – PART 3

To hear part 2 of the radio broadcast on BBC Radio Shropshire’s breakfast show go to this link and fast forward 2 hours and 40 minutes.

BBC Radio Shropshire Breakfast Show 26th June

A the full radio story will soon be available on the NEWS FROM THE PAST PODCAST

 

 

 

 

 

 

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