The 'Newlands Baby Farm Murders'.

There is a darker side to the history of the Wellington suburb of Newlands, which came to light in 1923 with the discovery of a tiny body in sand hills in Lyall Bay. The investigation which followed led to a harrowing tale of murder, intrigue and betrayal, which became renown as the ‘Newlands Baby Farm Murders’.

Newlands couple Daniel and Martha Cooper, who lived on a small farm on Newlands Road, were well respected in the community and at the Johnsonville church which they attended regularly.

Daniel Cooper called himself a health specialist and set up offices on Wellington’s Lambton Quay. The offices were reportedly a front for an illegal abortion clinic, and Cooper was eventually charged with 10 counts of criminal abortion. It was through his surgery that he met young, unmarried pregnant girls. For those who did not want to undergo a dangerous abortion procedure the Coopers offered the women a place to stay, at their Newlands property, and promised to find a home for the babies when they were born. For this service they charged a fee of 50 pounds.

However, it was not easy in those days to find a good home for a child and it became obvious that murdering the new-borns was a cheaper and easier solution. The Coopers’ downfall came soon after the discovery of the body at Lyall Bay. An anonymous letter came into the hands of police. It read: “It looks as if Cooper has been up to his tricks”.

Already under suspicion for illegal abortions it did not take police long to make the connection, although as it turned out, the body had nothing to do with them.

A search of the Coopers Newlands property by police turned up three tiny corpses. The couple were charged with the murders, two relating to children fathered by Cooper himself with the couple’s housemaid.

The trial caused huge public interest with people queuing for hours before it began to get a good seat. Daniel Cooper was found guilty of the murders and hanged at the Terrace Gaol on June 16, 1923.

Martha Cooper pleaded that she had only taken part in the atrocities because her husband had forced her to, although it was reportedly her, who had been the one who starved the wee babies to death.She was acquitted of the charges and left the country soon after.

The Newlands Road house was demolished in 1973, and despite speculation that more bodies would be discovered, none were. The property is still a vacant section.

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