Alton in Hampshire, England, is home to a particular tragic and haunting story. A story that captured newspapers and imaginations at the time and would go on to create macabre words and phrases that are still used today but for whom few know the dark, etymological root.
In today's episode we step back into 1867 to explore a haunting Victorian crime that devastated a community- shadows of which may still be present today.
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Speaker A: Hi, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of Haunted History Chronicles. Few people who use the expression sweet Fanny Adams know of its origin. However, there was a time when it would have been recognized instantly, when the name Fanny Adams made sensational headlines, created a wave of horror, revulsion and pity. Little Fanny Adams was killed on Saturday, the 24 August 1867. Nothing much ever happened to disturb the rural Hampshire community of Alton. Certainly none of the inhabitants could recall a local murder during their lifetime. So Fanny's mother, Harriet Adams, probably thought it quite safe for three small children to wander off alone towards Flood Meadow, just 400 yards from their home in Tanhouse Lane. There can be nothing more abhorrent than the murder of someone so innocent. In today's episode, we're going to step back to the year 1867 to explore the events leading to this tragic death and the ghostly echoes it has left behind. Her friend Minnie Warner, both eight years old, set off up the lane with Fanny's seven year old sister, Lizzie, when they were approached by a man dressed in black frock coat, light waistcoat and trousers. Despite his respectable appearance, he had obviously been drinking, and the proposition he put to the children remained chillingly familiar to today's police officers. He offered Minnie three halfpence to go off and spend with Lizzie, while Fanny could have a half penny if she alone would accompany him up the Hollow, an old road leading to the nearby village of Sholden. Fanny took her half penny, which refused to go with him, whereupon he picked her up and carried her into a nearby hopfield, out of sight of the other children. It was then almost 01:30 p.m.. At about 05:00, having played together since Fanny's abduction, minnie Warner and Lizzie Adams made their way home. Seeing them return, a neighbor, Mrs. Gardner, asked where Fanny was, then rushed to tell Mrs. Adams. When the children had explained what had happened, the anxious woman hurried up the lane where they met the same man coming from the direction of the hollow. Mrs. Gardner accosted him. What have you done with the child? Nothing, he replied equably, maintaining this composure as he answered Mrs. Gardner's other questions. He told them he'd given them money, but only to buy suites, which he often did for other children. He told them that Fanny had then rejoined the others. His air of respectability impressed the women, and when he told them that he was a clerk of a local solicitor, William Clement, they allowed him to leave. However, at 07:00, with the sun beginning to set and with the child still missing, worried neighbors formed a search party. Laborer Thomas Gates found Fanny's head stuck on two hot piles. While he was tending to the crops, fanny's ear had been severed from the head, which had two large cuts from mouth to ear across the temple. Further investigation discovered the dreadfully mutilated remains in the hot field with arms and legs that were separated from the trunk. There were three incisions on the left side of the chest and a deep cut on the left arm, dividing her muscles. Fanny's forearm was cut off at the elbow joint and her left leg nearly severed off at the hip joint, with her left foot cut off at the ankle point. Her right leg was torn from the trunk and the whole contents of her pelvis and chest were completely removed. Five further incisions had been made on the liver, her heart had been cut out and her vagina was missing. Clothing was cut and scattered around the field. Most of Fanny's body parts were collected on that day, but an arm, foot and intestines were not found until the next morning. 1ft was still in the shoe and still clutched in one hand with the two half pence that Baker had given to Fanny. On hearing of her daughter's death, the distraught Mrs. Adams ran to tell her husband, who was playing cricket on the butts south of the town. Then she collapsed from grief and exhaustion. George Adams reacted to the news by returning home for his shotgun and setting out for the hot fields in search of the murderer. Fortunately for both, neighbors disarmed him. Later that evening, superintendent William Cheney arrested the obvious suspect at his workplace, the solicitor's office in Alton High Street. I know nothing about it, said 29 year old Frederick Baker, in the first of many protestations of innocence before Cheney escorted him through an angry crowd to Alton police Station. The wristbands of Baker's shirt and his trousers were spotted with blood. His boots, socks and trouser bottoms were wet. You won't hang me, will it? He said nonchalantly, explaining that it was his habit to step into the water and out walking. But he could not explain how his clothing came to be blood stained, nor more evidence found on his persons of two small knives, one of them stained with blood, the suspect was locked away. While Superintendent Cheney checked on his movements that afternoon, witnesses confirmed that he'd left the solicitors shortly after 01:00 p.m.. Returning at 03:25 p.m.. He again went out until 05:30 p.m.. Mrs. Gardner and Mrs. Adams had seen him coming from the direction of the Hop field sometime after 05:00 p.m.. If, as it seems likely, he'd killed Fanny Adams during his first absence, had he returned to commit further depredations on his victim's body. Baker's fellow clerk, Maurice Biddle, spoke of seeing him in the office at about six that evening. When he had described his meeting with Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Gardner, baker had seemed disturbed. She'll be very awkward for me if the child is murdered, he told Bizzle. Later they went over to the Swan for a drink, where the Morose Barker said he might leave town on the following Monday. To his colleague's observation that perhaps he would have difficulty in finding a new job, baker made the significant reply I could go as a butcher. On the following Monday, while searching Baker's office desk, cheney found his diary. It contained a damning entry which the suspect admitted writing shortly before his arrest. It read 24 August, Saturday. Killed a young girl. It was fine and hot. At his trial, Baker maintained that his entry written when he was drunk simply meant that he was aware a girl had been murdered. Meanwhile, a local painter, William Walker had found a large stone in the hopfield with blood, long hair and a small piece of flesh adhering to it. This, pronounced Dr. Louis Leslie, the Alton divisional police surgeon was probably the murder weapon. His post mortem finding was that death had been caused by a crushing blow to Fanny's head. Tuesday evening saw the inquest before deputy county coroner Robert Harfield at the Duke's head inn after viewing the gruesome remains. Hearing the evidence and the handcuffed prisoner's reply when the coroner asked if he wished to say anything. No, sir. Only that I'm innocent. The jury returned a verdict willful murder against Frederick Baker for killing and slaying Fanny Adams. He was remanded to Winchester prison to await the formal committal hearing. This was held at Alton town hall on Tuesday, the 29 August before local magistrates still protesting his innocence. The prisoner was committed for trial at the next county assizes. A large crowd awaited his removal from the town hall and the police were only able to protect him from the violence of the mob. With great difficulty, baker's trial opened at Winchester asises on the 5 december little Minnie Warner was carried into court to testify. The defense strongly challenged her identification of Baker and also claimed, perhaps correctly that it was impossible for his small knives to have dismembered the unfortunate Fanny so thoroughly. But the defense case centered on Baker's mental state. A sad tale of hereditary insanity. His father had shown an inclination to assault, even to kill. His children cousin had been in asylums four times. Brain fever had caused his sister's death. He'd attempted suicide after an abortive love affair. Apparently unimpressed, the jury rejected Mr. Justice Meller's judicial advice that they might consider the prisoner irresponsible for his actions through insanity. Possibly the inevitable verdict today. After retiring for only 15 minutes, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Frederick Baker was hanged before a crowd of 5000, a large proportion of whom consisted of women in front of Winchester's county prison at 08:00 a.m. On Christmas Eve, 1867. Following the execution, it became known that Baker had written to the parents of the murdered child to express deep sorrow over the crime that he had committed in an unguarded hour and not with malice a forethought. He earnestly sought their forgiveness adding that he was enraged at her crying. But it was done without any pain or struggle. The prisoner denied most emphatically that he had violated the child or had attempted to do so. Poor Fanny's headstone, which was erected by public subscription and renovated a few years ago, is placed by her grave. The headstone bears the following inscription sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams, aged eight years and four months, who was cruelly murdered August 24, 1867 fear not them which kill the body, but rather fear him who is able to kill both body and soul in hell. Hundreds of persons have visited the cemetery over the years. Fanny's headstone might have been the only reminder of the tragic affair had it not been for the macabre humor of British sailors served with tins of meters, the latest shipboard convenience food. In 1867, they gloomily declared that their contents must surely be the butchered remains of Fanny Adams. Gradually accepted throughout the armed services as a euphemism for sweet nothing. It passed into common usage over time, becoming shortened to sweet FA. The large tins the mutton were delivered in doubled as mess tins. These all cooking pots are still known as fannies. At Alton's Flood Meadows in Hampshire, the ghost of young Fanny Adams, who was murdered in 1867, still often seen playing in the area where she died. People have been able to see her making daisy chains or skip through the grass. But on approaching the girl, she simply fades away. The location of the old Leaven Bottle pub in Alton was once home to the local doctor's surgery. It was here that the remains of Fanny Adams were brought to be put back together as best as possible. Many believe the pub is still haunted by her presence all these years later. Over time, the name and story of Fanny Adams has slowly eroded away, a name living on in a different connection entirely. A spectral presence is a mere shadow compared to the flesh and bones of the young girl that once played and laughed in this area. History doesn't have to be lost, though, and as long as we remember her story, she'll be remembered. Thank you for listening. Bye for now. If you like this podcast, there's a number of things you can do. Come and join us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Spread the word about us with friends and family. Leave a review on our website or other podcast platforms to support the podcast further. Why not head on over to join us on Patreon, where you can sign up to gain a library of additional material and recordings? And in the process now you're helping the podcast continue to put out more content? On a final note, if you haven't read it already, then you can find my piece In Search of the Medieval in volume three of The Feminine Macabre over on Spookeets.com or via Amazon. Links to the book will also be in the episode description. Thank you everyone for your amazing support.