October is a peculiar time in Vodeo. Even though the cool Wet season has passed and the hot Dry is beginning, October brings cold, howling winds that whistle across the country. The skies turn dark and gloomy, and the sun shall not be seen until November. The usually laid-back and happy-go-lucky Vodeans seem to come down with a collective depression, their moods dour and miserable, and their outlook gripped by a sense of terrible foreboding. Nobody goes outside for too long, and when night falls, everyone is inside, and nobody dares to venture out at all. The country closes down from a case of national paralysis that only lifts once the sun rises on the morning of November 1.
Why is this? Is there some strange climatic circumstance that makes the country cold and gloomy at this time of year? Is October the anniversary month of some ghastly tragedy that happened long ago but still burns in the national memory? Is it something stranger and unexplainable? No, it's because October means it's time for Curious Vodeo once again! Last year I brought you five weekly entries that took us from historic Cambria to the evils of Auroa and Kingseat, with a bunch of strange sights in the sky thrown in for good measure. This year the tradition continues, so turn the lights down low and listen to the wind outside as I bring you the first of this year's five strange tales of the Dominion's dark side. Today we will visit Gerrise, where a figure from the first Adelaidean era still haunts the city well into the second.
Tender Loving Care
For many, the arrival of a new baby is an occasion for joy and celebration. For others, it is a time of shame, despair, and worry. And for the enterprising sort, it is an occasion for profit. While today the birth of a child out of wedlock scarcely raises an eyebrow, even as late as the 1970s it was an event that brought great dishonour and social stigma upon the mother and her family (not to mention the poor child). Women were "encouraged" to give their babies up for adoption until society finally said it had had enough and allowed mother and child to be together, band of gold on her ring finger or not. For much of the 20th century, babies were usually adopted out to families, but in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, they were sometimes given over to women known, chillingly, as "baby farmers". These women would accept the responsibility of caring for their little charges in exchange for a fee, either a lump sum or ongoing. It is important to note that not every baby in the care of a baby farmer was illegitimate - in some cases, mothers would hand them over only temporarily, as a result of financial hardship, or - as some wealthier women did - to get someone else to look after them until they could care for themselves. For those who managed the job well, it could be quite a nice little money-earner. One such baby farmer was the honourable Mrs Phyllis Parker, a more well-known member of Gerrise society in the closing years of the 19th century. Mrs Parker, a widower for some 20 years, kept a clean and tidy house in the more respectable suburb of Steadtown, and this fact alone made mothers more willing to leave their children in her care. She would gladly take on the care of the babies and children, promising to take good care of them - knowing full well that the authorities seldom ever knew about the babies' existence, as well as that the mothers would never come back for them. Owing to Gerrise's swelling population at the time, there was no shortage of customers willing to pay to be rid of such a devastating secret; and pay they did - poorer mothers were charged about £5, while wealthier women could be charged as much as £80 - plus another £40 if the father wanted his involvement kept secret (to give you some idea of the value of this, £120 is today worth about US$1,300, but in the 1890s it was worth many times that).
Despite Mrs Parker taking on a large number of children over the years, there was no shortage of deaths in her care. There was nothing suspicious about this, and indeed it was quite normal for the time, owing to the high infant mortality rates (around 80-100 per thousand births), proliferation of disease, and abysmal state of available sanitation and healthcare. However, it was noticed that the sound of crying babies was never heard for long periods; this was passed off as due to the generous use of opium-based medicines commonly used at the time to calm crying babies. Owing to the lax childcare legislation in effect at the time, she wasn't required to keep records of the children she took in, and so the authorities simply had no idea how many children she had accepted, or what their conditions were like.
Mrs Parker was well-known around Gerrise at the time, but became even more well known when a toddler died in her care in 1894. A coroner's inquest did not hold her responsible owing to poor hygiene standards, but when another infant died in her care later that year, the townsfolk began to talk. At that time, stories of murderous baby farmers were starting to be published in newspapers and cheap “penny dreadfuls”, telling stories of baby farmers from different parts of Vodeo and around the world who had been caught and paid the price. Parker began to be suspected of having deliberately killed infants and children in her care, but without any evidence, some dismissed it as slanderous rumour - she was, after all, a woman of honour, selflessly taking care of those brought into the world and abandoned at her doorstep by careless mothers. Before long, Mrs Parker had become something of a bogeyman, with children fearing even walking on the same street as her house and parents threatening to send misbehaving children to live with her. However, Mrs Parker found that this reputation paid dividends for enforcing complete compliance from the children in her care, lest they should misbehave and never be heard from again.
In May 1895, Parker took on the care of an infant boy by the name of Emmanuel Sutcliffe. His mother, Sarah, had been unable to care for him, and had asked Parker to care for him; she agreed to do so at the cost of ten shillings a week. A few months later, Sarah came to visit her son, but was told by Parker that it was her rule to never allow the mothers of her children to visit, as seeing their children again could cause “undue distress” to both mother and child. Defeated, Sarah left, never to see young Emmanuel again.
By a twist of coincidence, Parker’s downfall came in two different places on the same day in March 1896. A railway inspector named Charles Makin was examining the underside of the railway bridge over Peadons Stream when he discovered the remains of three infant children wrapped in dark cloth and hidden in the underside of the decking.Police investigators were unable to identify two of the bodies, but were able to identify the third – one Emmanuel Sutcliffe.
At around the same time, Parker was seen boarding a train with a baby and a hatbox, but left with only the hatbox and no baby; railway porters later testified that the hatbox was unusually heavy. When police compared reports of Parker’s trip with the information provided by Emmanuel’s mother, they realised what they were dealing with. On March 16, Parker received a knock at the door, but instead of meeting an expectant mother, she found herself face-to-face with the Gerrise Police. What investigators found struck them dumb. The house reeked with the stench of human decomposition, and upon further investigation, it was found that there were nearly thirty infants buried both underneath her house and in her garden, and another five wrapped in blankets and placed in her attic. It was also noted that Parker had seemed to be in the middle of packing some belongings, perhaps spooked by the news of the discovery of the bodies in the drain.
Parker was immediately charged with murder, and appeared at the Gerrise High Court five weeks later. There, she showed no remorse, and candidly outlined the variety of methods to murder the babies while still drawing a substantial income; these included starvation, overdosing on drugs, drowning in a washtub, suffocation, strangulation, incineration, and even burial while they were still alive. She was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out at the (now Old) Gerrise gaol on August 12, 1896. She remains one of eleven women executed on Vodean soil between 1647 and 1971, when the death sentence was abolished.
Steadtown was badly shaken by the revelations of Parker’s evil deeds, but eventually life settled down and the suburb got on with life. Parker’s house on Northborough Street was burned to the ground by persons unknown between her sentencing and execution, and the house that sits where hers did dates to 1911; for years after her execution, nobody wanted to build on such cursed ground. In the decades since, however, the owners of the house have reported the smelling the unmistakeable foulness of death and hearing the sound of babies crying, even when there are no babies in the house. A shadowy figure in late 19th-century attire has been seen roaming the house at night, and doors locked when the owners retire for the night have often been found unlocked in the morning.
At this point in our story, the tale of Phyllis Parker takes a turn for the hair-raising. On the morning of her execution, she reportedly turned to one of the guards and said “I’ll see you again soon, sir.” The guard replied that that was unlikely, and a few minutes later, Parker was swinging from the end of a rope. A few nights later, the same guard was conducting his nightly patrols when he saw the unmistakeable figure of Phyllis Parker staring at him from her empty cell. When he strode over to investigate, she cackled and said to him again with a twisted grin, “I’ll see you again soon, sir”, before vanishing before his eyes. The guard was unable to make sense of what he had just seen, nor of the ladies’ handkerchief that had just fluttered to the ground at his feet.
The story of Phyllis Parker is based on five real-life baby farmers: Minnie Dean of New Zealand, Hilda Nilsson of Sweden, Amelia Dyer of Britain, and John and Sarah Makin of Australia, each of whom contributed at least one of their methods and/or murders to her (the Makins also lent their name to the railway inspector); the date of her death is a combination of both Dean’s (August 12, 1895) and Dyer’s (June 10, 1896). Parker’s strange apparition and the mysterious handkerchief are also shared with Dyer, who made a ghastly reappearance after her death at Newgate Prison in nearly the same fashion as Parker. I find stories of baby farmers to be fascinating reads, and so I decided that I had to start Curious Vodeo ’19 with one.
Next week we shall trek deep into the mountains of Vadiorare, where on a monsoonal night 51 years ago, five young hikers met their fate in a manner still unexplained to this day.
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You know the deal.
Phyllis Parker is part of Steadtown's history, but where she is now, well that's no mystery.
Just read this. This is quite similar to what happened to Antigo around the time under Pretanic rule. The Inmar School of Higher Learning, a vocational school for Antigoans, was set up in 1880, to allow Antigoans to have better job prospects into the kingdom itself. When the school eventually was granted autonomy to manage itself, it started out pro-Antigoan programmes that evokes national identity. There is this one subject - Cuppa Religious Studies, however - that raised some eyebrows by some local governors, especially since some of the students and companions mysteriously vanished from the school. While some came up with theories that the extreme sect of Cuppa that advocates child sacrifices have been revived, the governors rebuffed the thought since well they thought it was obliterated from any records, especially since many of the Antigoans then denounced the sect (due to the pro-Catholic Pretanic pressure). Eventually, when inspectors came to investigate the school, initially nothing seemed amiss, until they found mass grave of children aged 7-12 numbering in the thousands buried under a new administrative building. The school was forced to close down and pressure was placed on the crown to tightly regulate the curriculum being taught or practised in the kingdom. Many schools in Antigo were then forced to close during the purges in 1922, though there were underground schools established which promoted Antigoan culture and Cuppa. The Antigoans then started demanding independence from the crown over the rise of nationalism in the shires.--Happy mapping and God blesses you, ZK (talk) 11:30, 10 October 2019 (CEST)