Dagmar Overbye (1887 – 1929)

This piece is just the first of a series for those who are interested in researching and portraying a female serial killer.

Danish serial killer Overbye murdered anywhere between 9 and 25 children during a seven-year period (1913-1920) although some historians believe the figure could be as high as 200. She was born in 1887 and little is known about her early life. Overbye worked as a professional child caretaker where she was supposed to look after children born outside of marriage. It was known as a ‘babyfarm’ or an unofficial adoption agency, and it was the scene of her serial killing spree.

All of the murders happened in Copenhagen, Denmark and she killed the unfortunate victims via strangulation and drowning or else she burned them to death. Overbye buried and burned the corpses or else she hid them in the loft. There are scant details regarding her arrest in terms of how she was eventually caught. It is remarkable that she was able to murder so many children over such an extended period without arousing suspicion. Her trial was one of the most talked about in the history of Denmark and her actions resulted in changes to the nation’s childcare legislation.

During the trial, Overbye’s lawyer tried to defend his client by saying she was abused as a child. This cut no ice with the jury as she was found guilty of nine murders and the judge had no hesitation in sentencing her to death. Only three women received the death penalty in Denmark during the 20th century, but like the other two, Overbye’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

After her arrest, over 180 children were reported missing from her ‘baby farm’. There is a possibility that these reports came from parents who committed their own misdeeds and they sought to cover things up, but one has to assume that Overbye almost certainly killed more than 25 children. She never spoke about her reasons for murdering the children; perhaps she saw herself as a missionary whose job was to get rid of unwanted babies. Whatever the reason, Overbye took it with her to the grave as she died in prison in 1929.

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