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Minnie Dean
Minnie Dean has the dubious honor of being the only woman to be legally hanged in New Zealand.
Christened Williamina Dean, she was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1847. She married and had two daughters. What happened to her daughters is unknown. In 1868 she emigrated to New Zealand and lived in Southland with an old woman she called Granny Kelly. In 1872, she married Charles Dean, an old Southland settler. In 1886 the Deans moved to a 22-acre estate known as The Larches, at East Winton. Winton is situated 19 miles from Invercargill on the railway that then ran from the Southland capital to Kingston.

A fire destroyed their home when they first moved in and a small twenty-two feet by twelve feet dwelling was built. Minnie Dean set up a baby-farming business, advertising children for adoption.The babies she took into care were illegitimate children brought from their mother's, provided no more questions were asked.

In October 1889, Minne Irene Dean, came to the attention of the authorities after a six-month-old baby died three days after being taken ill whilst in Dean's care but the death certificate showed natural causes due to convulsions. Two years later, in May 1891, a six week old baby died, again in Dean's care. An inquest was held but it found that death was from natural causes.

Dean became more secretive with her dealings and began advertising using false names. In May 1895, a railway guard reported he had seen a woman board the train with a baby but disembark without it.This happened within the train range of East Winton and police began their enquiries. This led police to a Mrs Hornsby who resided in Dunedin. She told police she had handed over her one-month-old grand-daughter with money to Dean at Milburn, four miles north of Milton.

Police brought Mrs Hornsby to The Larches, Dean's residence. There she recognised not only Dean but a piece of baby's clothing belonging to her grand-daughter. Dean was arrested and sent to Dunedin to await trial. Police searched the flowerbeds and found two babies bodies buried. Charles Dean was also arrested and the six children in their care were taken away by police. The two bodies were identified as Eva Hornsby (Mrs Hornsby's grand-daughter) and Dorothy Edith Carter (handed over to Minnie by her grandm
On August 12, 1895, Minnie Dean, at Invercargill prison , was marched to the gallows. Her final words were "No, I have nothing to say, except that I am innocent".
other). The search continued and another baby's body was found. Dean was charged with the murder of two infants. After further examination of the case, the charges against Charles Dean were dropped.

The police theory was that she had taken the Carter infant on the train from Winton and changed trains to get to Lumsden. During the trip to Lumsden she had killed the child and concealed it's body in a hat box she was carrying. Staying overnight in Lumsden, she boarded the Waimea Plains train to Gore, where she then boarded the Dunedin Express. At Milburn, she met Mrs Hornsby, leaving the hatbox and it's contents in a waiting room.

She was accompanied by Mrs Hornsby on another train to Clarendon, the next station on the way to Dunedin. She alighted with Eva Hornsby in her arms and waved goodbye to Mrs Hornsby who continued on to Dunedin. It is here, where Eva Hornsby was smothered. Dean wrapped her body into a parcel and boarded the train back to Clinton. On the way she picked up the hatbox from Milburn. Now carrying two dead babies, she went back to Winton.

The case was heard at Invercargill. Many witnesses stepped forward to deliver their testimony. The jury heard:

Oilcloth found wrapped around Dorothy Edith Carter's body was from the Dean's home.

The railway guard who saw Dean get on the train with the hatbox and baby and leave carrying a hatbox only.

A friend who lived with the Deans for fourteen years identified Minnie's handwriting as the signature 'M.Gray' in the Bluff poison register.

Dean claimed she had carried flower bulbs in the hatbox - but the woman who Dean said she had got them off said she had only given her flower cuttings.

The clothing found in Dean's possession was identified as that of Dorothy Edith Carter.

Several bottles of laudanum and chlorodyne were found in Dean's bedroom.

Even though Dean was identified by both grandmothers as the woman they gave their grand-daughters to, she denied it, but finally admitting it under duress and with the evidence of the clothes.

The verdict was guilty of the murder of Dorothy Edith Carter. The sentence - death by hanging.

Back to Murder Index

Minnie Dean, the baby farmer, the first and last woman to be hung in New Zealand.

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