1907: Britain’s Most Prolific Baby Traffickers – PART 5

Baby Kitching had been missing for weeks…presumed dead.

Taken from his teenage single mother, in Grimsby, on the promise of a loving home, devoted parents and a bright future…and the Kitchings had paid £11 pounds to secure it.

But Lily had been duped by a conjurer and his assistant; Herbert Smith – stage name Leo Selwyn The Handcuff King, and Lottie Roberts – actress and former waitress.

magic on stage
Herbert had made a name for himself as a conjurer and escapologist – with Lottie as his assistant. Stage name Leo Selwyn the Gentleman Handcuff Prince and Gaol Breaker. She called herself Jessie.

 

IF YOU HAVEN’T READ PART 1 – DO IT NOW  1907: Britain’s Most Prolific Baby Traffickers Caught in Liverpool – PART 1

 

However, it was the Grimsby case that blew the lid on their entire operation.

When more money was demanded from the Kitchings the grandmother went to the police in Liverpool after discovering they’d been given a false address.

The baby boy was nowhere to be found, he was possibly dead or in a workhouse…but after extensive inquiries the police managed to trace him.

He’d been fostered by a Mrs Flatters in Lincoln on the promise of 5 shillings a week – which never arrived. She described how she’d met Lottie at the train station and taken the child who was very cold and suffering from ill-attention. The boy was still alive!

 

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When Herbert stood in the dock he admitted everything – and told the court that Lottie was innocent and had only been doing what he told her.

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In his defense he said the situation wasn’t so black and white. He described how he’d befriended a woman in Bristol who’d told him there was nothing for her and her child but the river or the workhouse. Her story was an age old one told in just nine words –

“a faithless lover, a baby born, a lost situation”.

 

 

suspension bridge
Bristol Clifton Suspension Bridge 1900. Picture Paul Townsend (Flickr user brizzle born and bred).

He and Lottie had found the child a foster parent – and it was doing well.In summing up the judge gave Smith credit for helping TWO women in this way. But said the prisoners had however carried out a systematic fraud with very mischievous results.

It’s thought they’d made at least £166 but probably more – that’s 9 and half thousand in today’s money

Herbert Smith was sentenced to 15 months in prison and Lottie Roberts 8 months – both with hard labour.

treadmill--a-sentence-prison
A vertical treadmill was a common punishment used for hard labour. Often inmates would Prisoners usually did ten minutes on and five minutes off the tread wheel for up to ten hours. Picture, Victorian Crime and Punishment (http://vcp.e2bn.org/)

 

But as for the fate of the children – most of them remain untraceable…

The Baby's Museum; or, Rhymes, jingles and ditties, newly arranged by Uncle Charlie 1882

 

To HEAR the full story go to episode 6 of the NEWS FROM THE PAST PODCAST

Or go to SOUNDCLOUD

 

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