Case files on female murderers released

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The Independent Online

Official files on 17 female murderers, whose cases gripped the public's imagination more than 65 years ago, are to be published this week.

The papers, which are being released by the National Archives at Kew, London, on Tuesday, include the harrowing murder of a girl with uncanny parallels to the death of Victoria Climbié, eight, who died in 2000 after months of abuse by her great-aunt.

In 1918, Edith Proctor was sentenced to hang in Leeds for starving her husband's child to death. Proctor forced Nellie, seven, to live in a tiny backroom, beat her and barely fed her, but family members were too scared to intervene.

Before Nellie died, weighing only 18lbs (8kg), one of her sisters described her as looking like "a skeleton as white as death". The file includes a picture of the girl's emaciated corpse that was shown to jury members at the trial. Proctor'ssentence was commuted to life imprisonment because she was pregnant.

Only one of the 17 women whose case papers are now being disclosed was hanged - a double murderer called Dorothea Waddingham. The others had their sentences commuted to life by various Home Secretaries.

Waddingham, one of only 12 women to be executed in England during the 20th century, was hanged in April 1936 for murdering an 87-year-old widow and her disabled daughter at a nursing home in Nottingham.

Most of the women were convicted of murdering children, including Ann Neath, who stabbed her infant son. Neath, 28, a domestic servant, had secretly given birth in her room and hid the baby's corpse under her bed. She was convicted in March 1921.

The cases were selected for release as part of the Home Office's review of the closure period applied to records. They were originally subject to closure for 100 years because they contained medical and domestic details that could not be released during the lifetime of the prisoners and, in some cases, their immediate family.