Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847, Minnie Dean moved to Southland, New Zealand, in 1868.
In 1872 she married Charles Dean. Fourteen years later, in 1886, they moved to a twenty-two acre ranch called "The Larches".
Shortly after the estate was destroyed by fire. A small house (22 by 12) was built. Minnie opened up a baby farm, a place where mothers could drop off their illegitimate children, no questions asked. The babies were cared for until an adoptive family could be found.
That was the pretense, at least.
In October of 1889 Minnie Dean was brought to the attention of the police after a six month old died in her care. In May of 1891a six week old girl also died. The causes of both were found to be natural; one of convulsions after taking ill, the second of inflammation of the heart valves and lung congestion. Infant mortality rates were high all around, and children often died of natural causes.
The investigation also found that she had tried, without success, to take out life insurance policies on several of the children.
In 1892 Dean was again under suspicion. Police in Christchurch apprehended a three week old that Dean had acquired from the mother for twenty-five pounds. They found her in a ramshackle boarding house feeding the infant curdled milk from a bottle.
In May of 1895 she was again brought under scrutiny -- this time for boarding a train with an infant and detraining without one.
Police searched her property and found the remains of two infants buried in the flower garden. They were both identified as babies two grandmothers had relinquished into Deans custody. Findings showed that one had died from an overdose of the opiate laudanum.
The skeletal remains of an older boy were later found.
The theory was that she had killed one infant on the train and placed her body into a hatbox. She then went and received the second infant, killed her, and wrapped her into a parcel. She left the train carrying both concealed bodies.
Minnie Deans trial began on the 18th of June, 1895. She was sentenced to death by hanging. On the 12th of August, 1895, Minnie Dean was brought to the gallows. She maintained her innocence.
She also became the only woman to ever be legally hanged in the country.
The story of Minnie Dean has since become somewhat legendary, with mothers threatening their poorly behaved children that if they didn't stop she would send them to Minnie Dean's house where they would never be heard from again.
For more information:
Crime New Zealand
New Zealand History