William Bonin-The Freeway Killer

First of all, let me apologize for the hiatus between posts. Rest assured that I am back and you can look for regular posts from the Reignmaker1911.

Freeways aren’t anything spectacular, other than the daily hazards that accompany driving they aren’t looked upon as dangerous. They run through cities, counties and states, allowing us to maneuver about this country of ours. Unfortunately between 1972 and 1980, numerous freeways in southern California became the final resting place for a great many, the number may be in the hundreds. At least 36-44 male victims are accredited to a single murderer. The highways and byways of California ran red with the blood shed by William George Bonin who raped, tortured and murdered these men. Though many murderers used these thoroughfares as their killing fields, it was the wicked exploits of William Bonin that earned him the title of, “The Freeway Killer.”

Born January 8, 1947 to alcoholic parents, William Bonin along with his older and younger brothers, were raised primarily by his grandfather, a convicted child molester.  The pattern of abuse and the vicious cycle of rape permeated Bonin’s life at an early age. As a child young William was raped by his father. At the tender age of 6 Bonin was sent to an orphanage. During this period he was subjected to constant sexual assaults perpetrated by the older boys. Eventually, William became a willing participant in the homosexual sex acts with the other boys. At the age of 9, Bonin was released from the orphanage and began his transition from prey to predator as he began to molest younger boys in the area.

In 1965 Bonin enlisted into the Air Force and was sent to Vietnam. While logging over 700 hours of combat and patrol time, Bonin earned a Good Conduct Medal. William Bonin also displayed exemplary courage under fire by risking his own life to save the life of a fellow soldier. Bonin was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force in October, 1968 and returned to Connecticut to live with his mother before moving to California. Air Force officials later learned however that Bonin, during his tenure in the service, had sexually assaulted two fellow soldiers at gunpoint. From this point the depravity and sexual sadism of William Bonin would reach new depths.

William Bonin 1
William Bonin

In 1969 Bonin would have his first run-in with law enforcement.  He was arrested for the sexual of assault of 5 young men throughout Los Angeles County. During the assaults Bonin picked up the boys while driving around then handcuffed and sodomized them. During pre-trial evaluations Bonin was diagnosed as a “mentally disordered sex offender” and upon conviction was remanded to Atascadero State Hospital. It was here that the light was shed on the abuse Bonin received as a child. Though he had no memory of the abuses, physical evidence proved otherwise and the doctors deduced that his subconscious had repressed any ability to recall the experiences consciously. Doctors also found a variety of other physical and psychological anomalies. They reported brain damage in the area that is thought to restrain violent impulses; manic-depressive illness, and several unexplained scars on his head and backside. As with the abuses; Bonin could not recall the origins of his scars. Bonin remained at Atascadero for five years. He was released, not due to being cured but due to fact that nothing more could be done for him. On his file the doctors simply stated that he was no longer a danger to others. Though he was examined at great length by neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists; the actual treatment William Bonin received is unknown to this date.

Obviously Bonin had not read his own chart because within 16 months of his release he had sexually assaulted 14 year old David McVicker at gun point and attempted to abduct another teenage male. Bonin received a sentence of one to 15 years in prison. McVicker would be his last rape victim that lived to testify.

Released in October of 1978, Bonin was anxious for a fresh start. He immediately moved to the town of Downey, CA and soon found employment as a tow truck driver. William even met a girl with whom he began dating. He told friends the he and she went to nearby Anaheim every Sunday. Bonin became acquainted with fellow Downey resident Everett Fraser. Fraser would throw elaborate parties at his home, to which he would always invite Bonin. A 22-year-old factory worker and part-time magician named Vernon Butts was in attendance at one of these parties. Over time Butts became enamored with Bonin and was excited by sadistic homosexual activities. Sharing the same ideology, the ne’er-do-well Butts leapt at the chance of becoming Bonin’s first accomplice. Together, they would prowl the highways of Southern California in Bonin’s olive drab van, looking for teens to ravage.

Vernon Butts
Vernon Butts

In May of 1979 the body of 14-year-old Reseda resident, Thomas Lundgren was discovered in Malibu. Lundgren had been emasculated as well as slashed across the throat, stabbed, and strangled to death. In August the remains of Mark Shelton, a 17-year old from Westminster were found at Cajon Pass. On August 5, 1979, sometime between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., Bonin and Butts picked up Marcus Grabs. Grabs was hitchhiking along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. The depraved duo sodomized, beat and stabbed Grabs over 70 times. They then dumped the body in Malibu Canyon. Butts would go on to assist Bonin in at least 5 more murders. Despite the obvious similarities in modus operandi of the three killings, officials in Orange as well as Los Angeles County refused to acknowledge the possibility of a serial killer being in operation. However, that manner of thinking would change as the death toll continued to rise.

Three weeks later the mutilated and semi castrated corpse of 15-year-old Donald Hyden of Hollywood would be found near Ventura Freeway. On September 12, 1979, the body of David Murillo, 17, was found in the same vicinity. Both teens had been sodomized and strangled with a ligature. David’s head had been bashed in with a tire iron. Eight days later, an 18-year-old Newport Beach youth named Robert Wirostek was abducted as he cycled to his job at a grocery store: his body was found on September 19 alongside the Interstate 10 Highway.

In late November 1979 a corpse of an unidentified youth was found in Kern County. The victim was savagely beaten, then strangled to death before his body was discarded. On December 2nd, the nude body of 17-year-old, Frank Dennis Fox was found alongside a highway five miles east of San Diego.  On December 13th another John Doe was found, mutilated and discarded like trash. In early January of 1980, the body of Michael McDonald from Rialto was found fully clothed body in San Bernardino County Approximately a week and a half later the strangled corpse of 15-year-old, Long Beach teen, John Kilpatrick was found in Rialto.

In early 1980 Bonin had recruited a new accomplice, another sexual psychopath, Gregory Matthew Miley. On February 3rd, while driving from Downey to Hollywood they met a 15-year-old hitchhiker named Charles Miranda. They forced Miranda into the van and robbed him of his wallet. Bonin then over powered the boy and beat and raped him. Bonin then goaded Miley to join in, not being able to sustain an erection, Miley raped the boy with a blunt object.

Gregory Matthew Miley
Gregory Matthew Miley

On February 5th 1980 the two men abducted, raped and killed James McCabe. The 12 year old boy was waiting at a Huntington Beach bus stop for a bus to Disneyland. The two men tricked young James into the van by promising to take him to Disneyland. Once inside, Miley drove as Bonin beat and raped the boy. Eventually Miley pulled over into secluded area and as Bonin strangled the boy with a tire iron, Miley jumped up and down on his chest. James McCabe’s body was left near a garbage dumpster in the Garden Grove area of the city of Walnut, CA. These monsters used McCabe’s six dollars, his Disneyland entrance fee, to purchase themselves lunch.

Ronald Gatlin, an 18 year old from Van Nuys, CA was found in March 1980. Not only was Gatlin beaten and sodomized as the others were; Gatlin suffered deep lacerations in his ear and neck resulting from being tortured with an ice pick. His body was found in the city of Duarte. One week later, on March 21st, 14-year-old Glenn Barker was also raped, beaten and strangled to death with a ligature; which had become Bonin’s signature method of murder. Unlike the others, Barker’s body bore multiple cigarette burns, possibly the evidence of a new accomplice. Later that same day 15-year-old Russell Rugh was abducted from a bus stop in Garden Grove. He too had been raped, bound, beaten and strangled to death. His body was found laid next to that of Barker’s in Cleveland National Forest in Southern California.

One evening in late March, Bonin encountered William Pugh at a function held by Everett Fraser. Bonin offered him a ride, agreeing to take him wherever he was going. Once inside, Bonin asked Pugh if he would like to engage in sexual intercourse with him. Shocked by the question, Pugh attempted to jump out of the van at the next stoplight. Bonin grabbed him by the collar, snatched him back in and according to Pugh; confessed to him his exploits as “the Freeway killer”.  He told Pugh just how much he enjoyed picking up teenage males to rape, torture and murder. He then leaned in even closer and said, “If you want to kill somebody, you should make a plan and find a place to dump the body before you even pick a victim.” He dropped Pugh off at home without incident. Pugh, a common thief had never killed anyone; that would all change very soon.

Harry Todd Turner was a 15-year old runaway from a boy’s home in the Lancaster community. Bonin and Pugh found the boy street walking in Los Angeles and offered him $20.00 for sex. Once inside the van, Bonin bound, raped and bit the boy numerous times. Exhausted from the assault, Bonin told Pugh to beat the child. Pugh beat Turner about the head and body for several minutes with a blunt object. Bonin then strangled Turner to death with his own T-shirt and discarded him near the Santa Monica Freeway.

April 10, 1980 proved to be a busy day for the psychopaths; abducting 16-year-old Steven Wood from Bellflower, as well as 18-year-old Lawrence Sharp from Long Beach hours later. Both young men were sodomized, beaten and strangled with Wood’s naked corpse being discarded beside the Pacific Coast Highway. Sharp would be found in May behind a Westminster gas station.

Bonin would re-team with Vernon Butts in the April 29, 1980 kidnapping of 19-year-old Daren Kendrick. Kendrick was abducted from the parking lot of his job. While he was raped and beaten like the other victims, Kendrick was forced to swallow chloral hydrate which left him with caustic chemical burns on his mouth, chin, chest and stomach. The young man also suffered an ice pick being driven through his right ear that caused a fatal wound to the upper cervical spinal cord. His body was found in Carson near the Artesia Freeway.

On May 19th Bonin asked Butts to accompany him on his next foray. Butts declined the offer and Bonin went on alone to abduct a 14-year-old South Gate boy named Sean King. According to Bonin, King’s body was discarded in Yucaipa, though to date his remains are yet to be found. Excitedly, Bonin returned to Butt’s home and bragged of the killing to his accomplice.

In late May, Bonin asked a 19-year old, mentally challenged drifter by the name of James Munro to move in with him. Impressed with his demeanor, Munro agreed to the arrangement. Bonin also convinced his supervisor at the Montebello delivery firm for which he worked to give Munro a job. Approximately a week later Munro and Bonin spotted Steven Jay Wells at a bus stop on El Segundo Boulevard. After being enticed into the van, Wells was driven to Bonin’s apartment where, according to Munro, the youth was raped, beaten, and strangled with his own T-shirt. The two men then stuffed the lifeless body into a box and proceeded to the home of Vernon Butts. Bonin asked Butts for advice concerning methods of disposing of the corpse with Butts simply responding, “Try a gas station like’ or ‘where’ – I don’t know which – ‘we dumped the last one.” Wells’ body was found discarded behind a Huntington Beach gas station.

James Munro
James Munro

Unbeknownst to Bonin, William Pugh had been arrested in May for an unrelated car theft. While incarcerated, Pugh heard on the news of law enforcement’s search for the perpetrator of the rash of murders. Confiding to a counselor, Pugh expressed that he may know who is responsible for these crimes. The counselor relayed the information to a LAPD homicide sergeant named John St. John. St. John interviewed Pugh, finding his testimony to be credible; St. John decided that Bonin might indeed be the Freeway Killer.

Round-the-clock surveillance of William Bonin began on June 2nd, 1980, the same day that Steven Jay Wells was murdered. On June 11 police observed Bonin attempting to pick up five separate teenage boys. William Bonin was arrested later that evening while sodomizing a young man in his van. In July, police arrested 22-year-old Vernon Butts, charging him as an accomplice in six of the “freeway” murders.

Bonin was formally charged with 14 counts of murder, eleven counts of robbery, plus one count each of sodomy and mayhem. Butts, charged with 6 counts of murder himself and fearing the death penalty, began to tell police of other accomplices. James Michael Munro, who upon Bonin’s arrest had stolen his car, was arrested in Michigan on July 31 and returned to California to stand trial on charges of killing Stephen Wells. Miley was arrested in Texas and charged with the murders of Charles Miranda and James McCabe. Butts, Miley and Munro all agreed to testify against Bonin in exchange for being spared the death penalty. Pugh, also attempting to save his own skin, agreed to a plea deal in exchange for his testimony and eventually received 6 years for manslaughter.

Bonin expressed no remorse for what he had done. Once confronted with the evidence Bonin freely confessed to police concerning the crimes for which he was charged as well as to those that law enforcement knew nothing of. Bonin confessed to killing 21 young men and boys, though officials cite that through blood and semen stains as well as hair and carpet fibers, the number of deaths for which he is responsible may possibly be double that. He shared aspects of each crime in horrifying detail. After his arrest Bonin told a reporter “I’d still be killing. I couldn’t stop killing. It got easier each time.”

Bonin’s trial began on November 5, 1981in Los Angeles County. Here he was charged with the murder of 12 of his victims, the victims who were murdered within the county jurisdiction. Vernon Butts, Greg Miley and James Munro testified for the prosecution. They spelled out details of the torture suffered by assorted “freeway” victims, the glee with which Bonin inflicted pain and the roles each of them played in the commission of these atrocities. In return; Butts, Miley and Munro drew life sentences in return for their testimony against Bonin.

On January 5, 1982, after eight days of deliberation, jurors convicted Bonin on ten counts of murder and ten of robbery. (He was acquitted in the deaths of Thomas Lundgren and Sean King.) Two weeks later, he was formally sentenced to death. About one year later he was convicted in Orange County of the other four murders, for which he received a second death sentence. Though sentenced to death, Bonin took advantage of the American legal system and appealed his sentence a number of times. After exhausting all of his appeals, on February 23, 1996, William George Bonin was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison. Bonin was the first person to be executed by lethal injection in the history of California.

 

 

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Definitely Not The Farm Old McDonald Had

During my periods of incarceration, I’ve found myself, on several occasions, in the company of individuals that I thought were the embodiment of pure evil. As I sat in the dining halls and day rooms, I listened to men tell stories of street life and give graphic accounts of murderous events that have taken place on the underbelly of society. Regardless of how vile and disturbing the stories passed around behind prison walls were, they pale in comparison to the horror I discovered during the research for this post.

Until recently, I had never heard the term, “baby farm,” before.  Also, until recently that is, I had always considered infants exempt from violent crime. True, periodically you would have an isolated case of violence of some sort toward a baby, but it wasn’t commonplace. The truth is; you don’t realize how much you don’t know until you learn something.

During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, baby farming was a popular form of income in Europe, Great Britain and the United States. Baby farming meant the taking in of an infant or child for payment. Women would advertise themselves as a child care provider and take in as many infants and children as they could. baby farmers were paid in the understanding that care would be provided. Some baby farmers “adopted” children for lump-sum payments, while others cared for infants for periodic payments. In the case of lump-sum adoptions, it was more profitable for the baby farmer if the infant or child she adopted died, since the small payment could not cover the care of the child for long.

Children born out of wedlock, divorced mothers and poverty stricken families often brought unwanted children to these places. Mistresses of married men were forced to place their babies in these farms to conceal their affairs. The black market sale of babies and children was prevalent during this period also. Acquired through baby farms, crooked social services workers or simply kidnapped, infants were regularly sold to wealthy families. If a child could not be sold or pimped out to community pedophiles they were neglected to the point of death or simply murdered outright. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances regarding the child’s conception, the mother could not appeal to authorities concerning the whereabouts of her child. To do so would cause the woman a great deal of shame and ridicule; illegitimate births were frowned upon heavily during that era. If the parent did return to claim the child, the “farmer,” would tell them that the baby died of natural causes or taken by a social services worker. Usually, simply threatening to expose the infidelity of the woman and her lover to the community was enough to quell any investigation

Baby farms, black market adoption houses and child procurers caused the child mortality rate to skyrocket during this period as infants were murdered by the thousands. Of the hundreds of baby murderers of this period, three caught my attention as the most sadistic: Amelia Dyer, (England), Marianne Skoublinska, (Poland) and Enriqueta Martí, (Spain).

Amelia Dyer 1
Amelia Dyer

Amelia Dyer was born in 1837 and earned the title of the most prolific baby farm murderer of Victorian England. A nurse by trade she began using her home to house infants of young women who had conceived illegitimately. Fathers of illegitimate children had no financial obligation to the child or mothers during this time which left the mothers in desperate need of housing and child care. Dyer portrayed herself to be a kind woman that would provide a safe and loving home for the child. She would advertise to nurse and adopt a baby, in return for a substantial one-off payment and adequate clothing for the child. In reality, Dyer would farm off the babies for adoption while allowing the rest to die of neglect and malnutrition. Eventually Dyer took to murdering each child herself which allowed her to keep most, if not all of the fees. Dyer ran her business unnoticed until a doctor made note of the number of infant deaths in her establishment. The authorities were alerted and Dyer was arrested and convicted; not of murder, but of neglect. Dyer was sentenced to 6 months hard labor.

Upon her release, Dyer resumed her murderous career. Learning from her mistake of involving doctors, Dyer would now dispose of the bodies of murdered infants herself. Over the years, Dyer would attract the attention of the police several times. Each time they would get close, she would fake a nervous breakdown, relocate her business and take up an alias name to work under. After several bodies of infants began to surface, each linking to Dyer in some manner, authorities devised a plan using a decoy mother to set Dyer up. The plan was successful and as Dyer sat, expecting a distraught mother to show up, the police came and searched her premises. As they entered the home, the stench of death overtook many of the officers. No bodies of infants were found, however, authorities did find direct evidence linking Dyer to the murder of at least 20 infants. Estimates conclude that after decades of being in business Dyer was responsible for at least 400 deaths of infants and children. Amelia Dyer was found guilty of murder and on Wednesday, 10 June 1896, she was hanged at Newgate Prison in London, England.

Marianne Skoublinska was a Polish murderess that operated her baby farm in the late nineteenth and centuries. Not much is known about Skoublinska and her baby farming business. What is known is that in the late 1800’s, Madame Skoublinska left the baby farming business to begin a lucrative career in post pregnancy infant disposal, or after birth abortions. It seems that a parent or parents of unwanted infants paid Skoublinska to destroy the baby.

It is unknown exactly how long she operated this business, but in 1890 the public learned of the sinister livelihood of Marianne Skoublinska. Police and firefighters were called to a fire at her place of residence. As the fire was extinguished bodies of five children were found, not in bed but buried in various sections of the home. During the autopsy the physician determined the these children had not perished as a result of the fire but had received life ending injuries previous to the fire being set, one of which bore distinct traces of the skull having been battered in. Skoublinska was immediately placed under arrest.

During the investigation and trial the true horror of this woman’s deeds were exposed. As the police questioned neighbors they found that Skoublinska had only resided in that particular home for four months. As they dug for evidence in rubble of Skoublinska’s home, it is said that fifty bodies of children were found. Neighbors also testified of Skoublinska’s boasts of having the fattest, healthiest hogs in the district on account of the exceptionally good feed she provided for them. The truth was, she often Marianne Skoublinska 1threw the bodies of babies to the hogs to be devoured.

Marianne Skoublinska stood accused of the murder of 76 infants and children. She was charged with setting fire to her cottage, containing the bodies of five little children, in order destroy evidence and collect on the insurance on her property. At the trial it was established that not a single child who was entrusted to her care and entered her den ever left her house alive. It was also shown that she charged two different amounts for, “taking care” of children, fifteen roubles for allowing the baby to die in a few weeks, and twenty for killing the baby within a day or two. Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence against her, Marianne Skoublinska could not be convicted of murder and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Enriqueta Martí was never a baby farmer; but she was a prostitute, kidnapper, procuress of children, pedophile, cannibal and child murderer. Born in 1868, Marti

Enriqueta Marti
Enriqueta Marti

made an attempt at normal domestic life however, the seedier side of Barcelona, Spain attracted her and she became a prostitute. During the day she would dress as a homeless person, begging for hand outs and looking for children that seemed lost or abandoned. When she found a child she wanted she would take them by the hand and lead them where she wanted. The child was normally pimped out to area pedophiles then murdered the child later that evening.

Eventually her dreams of socializing with Spain’s elite came true. Her pimping and prostituting gave her the income necessary to live well and attend all of the gala events where the wealthy of Barcelona gathered. It is probable that in these places she offered her services as procurer of children. It was her connections with the wealthy that enabled her to continually operate a brothel that made whores of children aged 3 to 13. Though she had been arrested for operating such a business, Enriqueta was never tried and the matter of the brothel was lost in the judicial and bureaucratic system.

Marti was also a practitioner of black magic and considered a witch doctor. The ingredients she used to make her remedies were made from the remains of murdered children. Ranging from infants up to children of 9 years,  she used everything that she could; the fat, blood, hair, and bones (that normally she turned into powder). For this reason, she did not have problems disposing of the bodies of her victims. Marti sold salves, ointments, filters, cataplasms and potions all of which were supposedly cures for diseases and ailments which had no cure at the time. Wealthy people of Barcelona paid large sums of money for these remedies.

The true number of children taken by Marti is unknown. Over a twenty year span experts theorize that Enriqueta Martí may be the most dangerous serial killer in the history of Spain. During her years of operation in Barcelona the public suspected that someone was kidnapping babies. Throughout this period there were many children who disappeared without a trace and the fear among the population was crippling.

On February 10, 1912 Marti kidnapped her last victim, Teresita Guitart Congost. On February 17th, a neighbor of Marti, Claudia Elías, saw a little girl playing with another child through the window of Marti’s home.  Elias, having never seen the children before, asked Marti about them. Marti gave know response and began to keep all curtains to her home closed. A child fitting the little girl’s description had been reported missing; Elias, finding Marti’s behavior peculiar, reported her suspicions to a neighborhood businessman and to the authorities. Under the guise of a chicken inspection, law enforcement gained entry to the house and found the two girls. One in fact was the missing Teresita.

During questioning, the other child; Angelina, gave a frightening testimony. She told of another child, a boy named Pepito. Unbeknownst to Marti, she had witnessed Marti kill Pepito on the kitchen table. She explained how Marti dismembered Pepito, “like a chicken,” the little girl described. The girls further told authorities about how they themselves were lured away from their parents by Marti promising candies to them. After questioning the girls were returned to their homes.

During the investigation, authorities searched Marti’s current home as well as two of her previous places of residence. From their searches they found countless jars containing parts of children. In hidden rooms they found fifty pitchers, jars and washbowls with preserved human remains: greasy lard, coagulated blood, children’s hair, skeletons of hands, powdered bones and pots with the potions, ointments and salves already prepared for sale. Throughout the walls and ceilings of the homes were skeletons of infants and young children. Authorities also recovered blood soaked bags; some containing children’s clothing while others contained small human bones.

Enriqueta was imprisoned in the “Reina Amàlia” jail to await judgement. She tried to commit suicide by slashing her wrists with a knife of wood. Fearing that a successful suicide attempt by Marti would cause a riot among the community who wanted to see Marti tried and executed, she was put on 24 hour watch by other inmates. It would be those inmates that killed Marti while in prison custody. The death of Enriqueta robbed authorities of the opportunity to completely expose all of her secrets. The kidnapper and murderer died the early morning of May 12, 1913.

As a result of these women and murderers like them, laws were put in place around the world to protect children. One thing for certain, when driving through rural areas, I will never look at farms the same again.

Exposure to a Georgia Tann is Deadly for Children

 

The primary target of male serial murderers is women. Recently I’ve become curious about the existence of female serial killers and their tendencies. Though some women kill their husbands or significant others in a fit of passion or rage, the focus of many female serial killers are children.

fml-a25babythief.jpg
Georgia Tann

In the early to mid 1900’s, children became very profitable to those wicked enough to use their innocence for their own vile motives. Many used children in their sweat shops, forcing children to work ungodly hours for little or no pay. Others pimped children out to pedophiles willing to pay top dollar to live out their sickest fantasies with a child. Regardless of the purpose; if someone wanted a child, one of the biggest child brokers of the day was Georgia Tann.

Born July 18, 1891, Georgia Tann would reap untold millions by kidnapping and selling children from 1920-195o. The same woman is responsible for the murder of children; her death toll may number in the thousands.

As a young adult Tann began her career in social work, it was during this period when her warped views of wealth and parenting began to take shape. Employed at the Mississippi Children’s Home-Finding Society, she began to view wealthy people as the higher type and poverty stricken women as “breeders” often referring to the women as cows. She convinced herself and others that that poor people were incapable of proper parenting.

In 1920, Tann began her career as a baby snatcher. Her father, who was a judge, would sign papers deeming poor mothers as unfit parents thereby enabling Georgia Tann to “legally” remove a child from the birth parents and sell the innocent to the highest bidder. In 1924, Tann moved to Tennessee and began working for the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, where she turned part-time baby snatching into big business.

Shortly after her relocation to Tennessee she became an acquaintance of Memphis’s corrupt and powerful mayor, Edward Hull Crump. With the help of the mayor, Georgia eventually set up her own orphanage. Tann and her lesbian partner, Ann Atwood Hollinsworth, began selling children around the country to anyone willing to pay her price, often receiving as much as $100,000 in today’s money for babies. In Memphis, most of Tann’s crimes were accomplished with the aid of Memphis Family Court Judge Camille Kelley. Just as her father did in Mississippi, Judge Kelley would facilitate the removal of a child from its birth parents simply with the stroke of a pen. In other cases, single parents would drop off their children at nursery – when they came back to collect them, they would be told they had been taken away by welfare officers. Tann was also documented as taking children born to unwed mothers at birth, claiming that the newborns required medical care. When the mothers asked about the children, Tann told them that the babies had died, when they were actually placed in foster homes or adopted.

Georgia Tann dealt with only white children. Blonde hair and blue eyes brought the highest price. She lied about the child’s intellect and health to fit the adoptive parent’s desires. Tann would alter the children’s records and falsify birth certificates to make them more appealing to prospective adopters.

People ordered children as if they were ordering furniture, and Tann gladly supplied the demands, charging astronomical figures. She sold children to known molesters, abusers, for labor (one child toiled in a field at 18 hour days, eventually running away). She sold a baby to replace a dead baby. If the adoptive family angered her or would not bend to her extortive demands, she would remove the child. Records indicate that Georgia Tann sold well over 5000 children and killed hundreds more.

The children that Tann could not place were simply discarded like waste. Once deceased, the tiny corpses were simply buried in the yard. So many children died while in Tann’s care that at one point, the infant mortality rate in Memphis, TN was highest in the country and many more deaths were never reported. Many children died as a result of neglect and abuse; in 1945 it is estimated 40-50 children died in less than four months while housed in the illegally operated home. Children were starved, beaten, molested, mentally abused, and received no medical attention. Infants were kept in appalling conditions in suffocating heat. Some were sedated until they could be sold. Many were ill. In public, Georgia Tann spoke out loudly against child abuse, baby selling, corruption, and advocated child welfare reform.  Privately, Tann preyed on young girls, sexually, physically, and mentally abusing her charges.

By 1940, alerted by the rising infant mortality rate in the city, some people were on to Tann. By 1950, officials began a long-overdue investigation into Tann’s business. State investigator Robert Taylor reported the horror of what had taken place at Tann’s orphanage, saying: ‘Her babies died like flies.’ As authorities closed in on her dealings, cancer was ravaging Tann’s body. Conveniently for the corrupt politicians who had collaborated in her black market baby trade, Tann was too sick to be questioned about her crimes. Georgia Tann  and her allies would never see justice in this life. On September 15, 1950, she died of cancer.

The Georgia Tann/Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal resulted in adoption reform laws in Tennessee in 1951.