‘Executed for the Wilful Murder of Sweet Fanny Adams at Alton’
This heading, with its crude wood block illustration of a hanged man, is from the top of a ‘penny dreadful’, a broadsheet telling the gruesome tale of the murder of ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ and the subsequent investigation that led to the trial and execution of Frederick Baker, her murderer.
Fanny, who was eight years old, lived with her parents in Tan House Lane in Alton. On Saturday 24 August 1867 she had been allowed to go out to play with her sister Lizzie and their friend Minnie Warner. A man approached and gave Lizzie and Minnie money to buy sweets and then carried Fanny into an adjoining field.
A search was begun when the two other girls reached home, and Fanny’s body, extensively mutilated, was found. The man who had spoken to the girls was later identified as Frederick Baker, a clerk in the office of a local solicitor. When searched, Baker was found to have a bloodstained knife in his possession and spots of blood on his clothing. In his office desk was found a diary with the entry "24th August, Saturday - killed a young girl. It was fine and hot".
The inquest jury returned a verdict of "wilful murder against Frederick Baker for killing and slaying Fanny Adams".
At his trial in Winchester the jury rejected the judge’s advice that they might consider the prisoner to be not responsible for his actions owing to insanity and after retiring for only 15 minutes returned a guilty verdict.
Frederick Baker was hanged before a crowd of 5000, in front of Winchester's County Prison at 8am on Christmas Eve, 1867.
Broadsheets like this were sold at fairs, markets and street corners throughout England, sometimes for many years after the events they relate took place.
Fanny Adams has become immortalised in popular culture, through the phrase ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ or ‘Sweet F.A.’.