February 2, 1905
“Angel maker” Elisabeth Wiese (51, pictured) is executed
Elisabeth began a career as a midwife, though when she found herself unwed and pregnant, she switched professions to better provide for herself and her child. Elisabeth (whose surname was Berkefeld at the time) picked up the mantle of abortionist, which was illegal. During this time she delivered her daughter Paula Berkefeld and married Heinrich Wiese. After several arrests for performing abortions, the family relocated from Hanover to St. Pauli.
The marriage between Elisabeth and Heinrich was initially seemingly happy, though when it began to turn sour Elisabeth contemplated killing her husband for financial gain, according to Heinrich. She first attempted to poison his food and coffee, which Heinrich started to suspect. He demanded to see his bitter-tasting coffee, threatening to have it examined. Elisabeth responded by angrily throwing it out. She also attempted to cut his throat with a razor as he slept, though she was unsuccessful.
Elisabeth next attempted to come into wealth by forcing Paula into prostitution. Paula fled the country in 1902, and became a maid for a family in London.
Finally, Elisabeth settled into the position of “angel maker,” also referred to as a baby farmer. She placed advertisements in newspapers offering her services to mothers who wished to have their children adopted by other families. Often, these mothers were unwed — a severe social stigma at the time — or otherwise unable to care for their children. Sometimes, the married and financially-secure mothers had found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. Regardless of their reasons, the mothers would contact Elisabeth and pay her fee — $1,000 USD plus $250 US in “hush money” (approximately $13,000 and $3,300 today, respectively) — to have their children placed with adoptive parents. The majority of this fee was meant to go to the new parents as a maintenance cost for raising the child, though baby farmers found profit in keeping the fees and killing the children.
The downfall of Elisabeth came when one client changed her mind and wanted to take back her child. Elisabeth claimed the baby had been adopted by a rich family in another country but could not — or would not — provide additional details. The mother went to police, with others joining her with similar complaints, and Elisabeth was investigated. She was subsequently arrested when no evidence of wealthy adoptive families abroad could be found.
No bodies of children were found, though it was noted her kitchen stovetop had shattered in a way indicative of high heat over excessive lengths of time. Because of this, it was suspected Elisabeth had burned the babies in her oven. Other speculations involved the children being poisoned with morphia, thrown into the Elbe River, or “sold by Wiese for unnameable purposes.”
Elisabeth went on trial in October 1904. With no physical evidence against her, the testimony of Heinrich and Paula were crucial. Heinrich recounted the multiple times Elisabeth had attempted to kill him while Paula detailed the death of her son. According to her testimony, Paula became pregnant in London and returned home to deliver her son. Elisabeth assisted in the birth. Paula claimed Elisabeth took the newborn and immediately threw him into a bucket of water; Paula lost consciousness soon after. When she awoke, the baby was nowhere to been seen and Elisabeth simply explained he had died.
Elisabeth was convicted of the murders of five infants in her care (as well as other lesser charges, including forgery), and was sentenced to death. She was beheaded by guillotine on February 2, 1905, pleading her innocence to the end.
Wunder, Olaf. “Sie war noch grausiger als Honka Elisabeth Wiese, die „Engelmacherin von St. Pauli“.” May 28, 2019. Accessed: February 2, 2020. https://amp.mopo.de/hamburg/historisch/sie-war-noch-grausiger-als-honka-elisabeth-wiese–die–engelmacherin-von-st–pauli–32587674 (image source, German)
“Baby Farmer Condemned to Death.” The Spokane Press. November 1, 1904
“Woman Accused of Many Murders.” The Washington Times [Washington D.C.]. October 29, 1904