Title: The Edward Street Baby Farm
Author: Stella Budrikis
Genre: True crime
Publisher: Fremantle Press
Published: October 2020
TW: Child abuse, child death, neglect
The Edward Street Baby Farm recounts the story of Alice Mitchell, a so-called ‘baby farmer’ accused of neglecting and killing five-month-old Ethel Booth. The novel takes place in the heart of Perth city and contains places you will most certainly recognise if you’re a local. The mention of familiar street names gives the book an eerie feel and roots it in reality, whilst simultaneously driving home how awful these crimes were.
Whilst Alice Mitchell is only brought to justice for baby Booth’s (as Ethel is referred to in the book) death, it is also believed that she is responsible for dozens of other child deaths. The book details the mistreatment of the children in Alice’s care while also touching on perspectives of other individuals involved in the case. Health inspector Harriet Lenihan and Dr Ned Officer were both deemed complicit in the Booth case.
Author Stella Budrikis has done an excellent job of painting a picture of what life in Perth was like during the early 1900s, injecting tangents of descriptive language into the story that work well as a reprieve from the depictions of child abuse and neglect. This story can be quite exhausting to read at times, and I did find myself having to put it down after reading a few chapters. The author’s writing isn’t poor by any means; it is so well written that you can’t help but feel so deeply connected to the plight of the poor children in this book. Budrikis has put a commendable amount of research into this story and it has certainly paid off. One thing I would have liked to see in the book is a section of photographs, depicting life in Perth in this era. I find nonfiction books with this inclusion to be a more immersive reading experience.
The book states the facts clearly whilst adopting somewhat of a narrative style, which I found easier to read and able to digest information more easily. The nonfiction elements in this book are clear without being clinical, which I think readers will appreciate.
If you enjoyed books such as Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack The Ripper, this one is similar in the way it captures life in Perth during a similar time period. A truly masterful piece of true crime that covers a case everyone should know about.