John and Sarah Makin

While I so often find the long ago stories interesting, as in "The Bloody Benders" or the trial of Leopold and Loeb, they are also difficult to get all the true information.  It is often like playing telephone from a time prior to secure records, newspapers and especially the Internet.  It is often hard to distinguish the difference between fact and fiction. The case of John and Sarah Makin is just one of those stories.

The Makin's resided in Australia in the late 1800's.  During that time, as well as continued well into the 20th century, when an unwed woman became pregnant there was the stigma that shame would be brought not just to her and her family but to the child as well.  A practice was started called "Baby Minding."  In essence what generally happened is that an unwed mother would seek out a baby minder to care for her child for a fee.  Sometimes the mother, and sometimes the father was involved too, would make agreements to continue seeing the child and when the child was older they would re-introduce the child into society.  Often the children were introduced as a child of a recently deceased relative.  Sometimes the agreement was for the baby minder to find a family to adopt the child.

This practice or those similar have come to light in more modern times, especially in the Hollywood community.  Both actors, Bobby Darin and Jack Nicholson were raised by women they believed were their mothers, only to find out later in life that they were in fact their grandmothers and the women they had known as their sisters were actually their mothers.  Another famous case involved the actors Clark Gable and Loretta Young.  Gable was married when he and Young had an affair in which she became pregnant.  She was able to hide the pregnancy and for their first 19 months of her life their daughter, who later became the actress Judy Lewis, was raised in other homes and orphanages.  Then Young reintroduced her as her adopted child.  Rumor is that Lewis possessed Gables trademark large ears and Young was so concerned the secret would be let out that for a long time she made sure to hide her ears and later actually had them "clipped" so that noone would notice. However, back in the late 1800's those were not options.  

As the saying goes the only 100% form of birth control is abstinence, and that was especially true during this time.  There was no birth control and to terminate a pregnancy was much more dangerous.  Those who tried often died during the procedure or at least obtained severe infection.  Most of the "baby minders" were on the up and up, but just as we know in today's society, not everyone has or practice good intentions.  Such was the case of John and Sarah Makin. They were no longer considered "Baby Minders" but it was later termed "Baby Farmers" referring to those families in which they deceived women for money and either sold the babies or committed murder.  Together John and Sarah had 5 sons, and 5 daughters of their own.  To make extra money they became baby minders after John had a debilitating accident. They took babies in for a fee from the mothers but often when the mother came and asked to see the child excuses were made to prevent her.  Such was the case of Amber Murray who left her infant son, Horace, in the Makin's care in 1892.  She had ran an ad in the paper looking for an adoptive family and offered to pay "child support expenses."  This is how the Makin's found her.  After several unsuccessful attempts to see Horace, John told Amber that the family was moving a good distance away and would contact her when they were settled.  He told her he expected this to take approximately 6 weeks.  It was later theorized that this was simply to deter her from coming back.  The family did in fact move, but to a short distance away.  In fact they moved quite often, seemingly at least once a year.  

In October of 1892 a worker was cleaning out a clogged drain in the backyard of a home and found what the problem was.  He found the remains of 2 deceased infants.  He immediately called the police.  Records were checked and while they had already moved away, this had been previously occupied by the Makin's.  They were easily found and initially John, Sarah and four of their daughters, the youngest being 11 were all arrested.  In the end charges were not filed on the daughters and in fact, they all testified against their parents.   The police ended up searching the residence they were currently residing in as well as other previous residences and in total found the remains of at least 12 infants.  

Their trial occurred in March of 1893.  They were seemingly only charged with the murder of Horace Murray but evidence of the other murders were allowed into trial.  Amber Murray as well as another mother identified clothing found as belonging to their child.  Both John and Sarah were convicted.  The only sentence to hand out was death, however, the jury had the right to recommend to the judge leniency, to which they did for Sarah.  Eventually her sentence was commuted to life with hard labor.  

John was hung on August 15, 1893.  Sarah was released on parole in 1911 after recommendations from her daughters and died September 13, 1918.   

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