Lila and William Young


Lila and William Young

Ask any Canadian which home grown serial killer has the most murders to his/her name and almost every one will spit out Robert William Pickton’s name. The man boasted of killing 49 women on his pig farm, so it seems logical to conclude he was the worst of the worst. But heaven help us, he wasn’t.

Ask most Canadians who Lila and William Young are and you’ll likely get a shrug. Except maybe in Nova Scotia. The people of East Chester, Nova Scotia would definitely know of them. They were the kindly couple that operated the Ideal Maternity Home from the late 1920s through to the late 1940s. They both died in the 1960s with their reputations less than stellar but without the full scope of their crimes being yet discovered.

We still don’t know and can never know how many victims can be attributed to them, but the best estimates put the figure between four hundred and six hundred. You read that right. Between four hundred and six hundred victims.

But who were their victims? How can hundreds — HUNDREDS of people die without it being noticed, without the killers being punished? The murdered were tiny, helpless, unwanted infants. Babies. Hundreds and hundreds of babies.

Lila and William Young’s victims were born alive and most if not all would have survived if fate hadn’t cruelly placed them at the mercy of the monstrous pair of hellbeasts. Lila and William Young had no mercy — they were too mercenary for that. Their motive for each and every one of the murders: money of course.

Lila Coolen Young and her husband William Young were a religious but ambitious pair. In 1928 Lila, 29, was a graduate of the National School of Obstetrics and Midwifery. William, 30, was an unordained Seventh Day Adventist minister and missionary. Together they opened the “Life and Health Sanitarium” in a small cottage in East Chester, Nova Scotia. They barely made ends meet at first with their handful of patients. But then they stumbled into a niche market. They were, simply put, at the right place at the right time.

For Canadian women of the time, abortion and birth control were illegal. Unmarried women who got pregnant were often disowned and discarded by their families. There was no government support for unwed mothers, nor was there any community support.

Lila Young was a trained midwife and found her skills much in demand. The “Life and Health Sanitarium” was soon rechristened the “Ideal Maternity Home and Sanitarium.” Ideal because they offered the ideal solution: unwed mothers-to-be could “go on vacation,” give birth, and return home without a baby and with their reputations hopefully intact.

Lila and William Young

William Young acted as doctor/chiropractor (although he wasn’t trained or certified) and was the superintendent while Lila Young was the midwife and managing director. Placing advertisements that promised to shield pregnant girls and women from gossip, i.e. secrecy, they soon had clients flocking to their door, average age 17.

And why did Lila and William Young entice these expectant women to their establishment. For money of course.

Married women paid an average of $75 for a delivery and two weeks of recuperation. Unwed women though paid between $100 and $200 in advance for room and board, delivery and arrangement of adoptions. They also paid another $12 for diapers and supplies plus an average fee of $300 for warehousing the babies between delivery and adoption. And if the baby died, that was $20 for the funeral.

Those were crippling prices for the 1920s. Wages at the time averaged between $4 and $8 per week. If the young women didn’t have the cash they were allowed to work off their debts at the home, giving the Youngs a steady flow of unpaid domestic help.

But that’s not how the Youngs made their money. No, the real money was in selling the babies.

Lila and William Young

Vacationers from New York and New Jersey would head to the Nova Scotia coast in the summer. Many of these were childless Jewish couples who were finding no Jewish babies to adopt. Both American and Canadian adoption agencies at the time had an unbreakable rule that babies must be placed with a family of the same religious background. And there just weren’t Jewish babies up for adoption.

Lila and William Young had no problem breaking that rule. “You want a Jewish baby? Here’s a Jewish baby.” Ta da, instant Jewish baby. “You want twins? Here’s twins.” Instant twins. The adopting parents didn’t ask many questions — they just desperately wanted a baby or two to take home.

Lila and William Young made money. Pots of it in fact. Babies in the 1920s sold for $1000 a head. In the 1930s the price went up to $5000 per infant. In the 1940s the price grew to $10,000 per baby. The four-bedroom cottage sanitarium grew into a 54-bedroom institution. Yup, they had 54 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, multiple nurseries, a turret and no mortgage.

Between 1937 and 1947 the Youngs banked at least $3.5 million from the sale of babies. Business really boomed in World War II. Halifax was a major port serving as the point of departure for ships crossing to England. The sailors and merchant seamen would express their love of life on the local women before heading off to war, leaving many unmarried or widowed mothers-to-be in their wake. The Ideal Maternity Home was the only institution on hand to serve the needs of these women.

So everybody was happy, right? The young women would leave their babies to be adopted and return to an unstained life. The adoptive couples would finally have the babies of their dreams. And the Youngs lived a good life as a wealthy entrepreneurial couple with five children.

Not everyone was happy. Some married women who stayed at the Ideal Maternity Home to give birth were told their darling little infants had died when in actuality they were sold to American couples. They went home empty-handed and broken-hearted.

Certainly the “unadoptables” were not happy. Some babies were too sickly, or handicapped, or unattractive, or deformed to be adopted. And some babies were just not white enough to be adopted. So what happened to these biracial babies, these handicapped babies, these sick babies?

They didn’t live. There wasn’t enough space for them, there was no money to be made off of them. There was no market for them.

Those precious unwanted infants were fed water and molasses. Only water and molasses. They got sicker and tinier and weaker. And every one of them died within two weeks.

Death by starvation is not painless. And each of those unwanted, unnamed infants suffered day after day after endless day until the end. And their crime? They were unmarketable.

William and Lila Young saved money not only by “culling” the unadoptable babies, but also by cutting costs — especially cleaning costs. The unsanitary conditions the babies and young mothers lived in were increasingly squalid until it became dangerous for their health.

In 1933 Dr. Frank Roy Davis was appointed to the office of the Public Health. He’d heard rumours about dead babies, and took it upon himself to keep an eye on the Ideal Maternity Home.

Partly because of Dr. Davis’ vigilance, on March 4, 1936 Lila and William Young were both charged with two counts of manslaughter in the deaths of Eva Nieforth and her newborn baby. Their deaths were caused by negligence and unsanitary conditions. Finally some justice!

But both were acquitted! Un-frigging-believable!

Most local Nova Scotians, including politicians and prominent citizens, supported the Ideal Maternity Home because it served such an important function. And the Youngs knew exactly which prominent citizens had used their services and lobbied this knowledge into support for their cause. (Blackmail, anyone?) This likely led to the jury’s decision to acquit.

The RCMP, under Dr. Davis’ directions, began investigating every reported death at the home for years to come.

Lila and William Young’s Ideal Maternity Home had a reported mortality rate of 8.1%. That was almost triple the Nova Scotia average of 3.1%. Terrible, right? Outrageous, right? Horrible enough.

What was truly outrageous is that those were the REPORTED deaths. The RCMP and the public health officials knew nothing about the UNREPORTED deaths, and didn’t learn about them until years later, until after the Ideal Maternity Home closed its doors.

Handyman Glen Shatford after many years of silence, and after the Home had shut down, finally admitted that he personally buried between 100 and 125 babies in a field owned by Lila’s parents. Their little bodies were first hidden in a tool shed, then finally laid to rest in butter boxes obtained from a local grocer. These tiny little victims became known as the Butter Box Babies. The rest — countless little corpses — were tossed into the sea or burned in the furnace of the Ideal Maternity Home.

Lila Young decided which babies to sacrifice in the name of cost-cutting. William Young agreed. If any biological mothers inquired, they were told their dead babies had been adopted. But mostly they didn’t inquire — they had gone back to their lives after paying the Youngs their $300 warehousing fee.

It took public health officials until 1945 (almost a decade after the manslaughter trial!) to find concrete evidence of neglect. I wonder if they had been looking hard! Inspectors found squalid conditions, swarming flies, filthy bedding, and some babies weighing half of the weight they should. Which babies would those be? Why, the unmarketable ones, I’m sure!

Lila Young responded to these allegations with charges of harassment. You gotta admit she had balls! Cast iron, no doubt.

A new amendment to the Maternity Boarding House Act changed licensing requirements, and the Youngs’ license application was rejected. Finally, some real action! They were ordered to shut down in 1945. Yeah! Finally! But they didn’t shut down. They continued to operate while they appealed.

The Youngs were then arraigned on 8 counts including violation of the Maternity Boarding House Act and practicing medicine without a license. That’s it? That’s all that could be brought against them? Eight counts and they were convicted of three.

Their convictions only netted them a fine of $150. OMFG, I can’t even wrap my head around that.

How could that be? The Youngs were advertising themselves as doctors! They put it on their letterhead! They were charging clients for their medical services! Babies died under their “medical” supervision in far greater numbers than the provincial average, not even counting the unreported deaths. Eva Nieforth died under their “medical” care. How could that not be taken seriously?

Paying a $150 fine is a whole lot cheaper than going to medical school. I’m surprised more didn’t follow the Youngs’ example. But then again, maybe they did.

And did that teeny tiny $150 penalty stop them? No, of course not. The Ideal Maternity Home and the Youngs kept on doing their lethal business as usual. How many more babies died after that? Nobody knows.

The Youngs continued to advertise “Lovely Babies for Adoption.” Dr. Davis, not giving up (he’s a hero to me), began to check into the adoptions. The state of New Jersey helped in an attempt to eliminate illegal adoptions and baby smuggling. Both Canada and the US began to watch for the unauthorized transport of babies.

The Youngs, in an attempt to get around this new monitoring, began persuading the mothers to travel to cross the border with their babies.

In 1946 Lila and William Young were convicted of illegally selling babies to four American couples. Their penalty — a whopping $428.90 fine. Oooh, so harsh! And they sold each for $10,000. That makes it a profit of …. $39,571.10.

And so they continued on doing business in their own lucrative and lethal manner despite this latest court-imposed financial hardship.

No, it wasn’t the court’s “efforts” that stopped the Youngs. It was Lila Young’s hubris that brought their empire to an end.

Lila Young didn’t like the media coverage she got during the trial. She filed a $25,000 libel suit against a local newspaper. The newspaper fought back.

Pediatricians who had inspected the Ideal Maternity Home testified to its “fly-filled nurseries,” its “striking overcrowding” and the “malnourished children.” Mothers who had been pressed into service to pay their bill testified too. One told how her baby had died after receiving no medical attention and was buried in a butter box. She also revealed that she had had to pose as a “nurse” during a health department inspection. Another mother admitted she was made to lie in adoption records and indicate her baby was Jewish.

The Youngs’ libel suit was dismissed. Their reputation was now in tatters and their baby farming empire was exposed as the heartless, mercenary operation that it was.

And so finally the Ideal Maternity Home shut down, bankrupt and debt-ridden. The Youngs sold off their property and moved to Quebec. The building, in the process of being remodeled as a resort hotel, burned down in 1962.

The revelations about the butter box burials came after. Although some of the corpses were eventually found, it was impossible to prove the cause of death. Ergo, no charges.

William Young died of cancer just before Christmas, 1962. Lila Young died of leukemia in 1967 at the age of 70. Ironically, she was interred in the cemetery adjacent to the property where the butter box babies had been buried.

I hope the pair of them suffered. I hope they continue to suffer. I hope they burn.

Belatedly, and as a result of the revelations of the horrors of the Ideal Maternity Home, child welfare authorities in Canada developed new laws to protect adopted children.

They were only four- to six-hundred children too late.

Ideal Maternity Home Survivors site
Wikipedia article on Butterbox Babies

20 Responses to Lila and William Young

  1. Carol says:

    I never even heard of them. How awful for all those babies!

  2. NavyCop says:

    Wow, I am in mental shock after reading this. I may have to check my family tree and see if I am related to these villains. Yes, I share the same last name.
    Aside from that, I am beyond impressed with hellbeasts.com. You’ve done a marvelous job building the site as an alternative for Max the Cat’s loyal followers in lieu of just sitting around troll-bashing until he comes back or admin has more time to slay the trolls.
    Thank you so much,
    NC (Teh Tranzlater of teh Internetz)

    • Cleo says:

      Thanks, NavyCop. I just hated to see our community fade away so this was all I could think of to do. Tiffany has agreed to have her stories posted here as well for the interim, including new ones, so keep checking! Thanks again for the encouragement.

      • NavyCop says:

        You’re welcome. You really did a fantastic job :)

        • cleo says:

          NavyCop, I hope you checked out the other new articles. The one that gave me the most nightmares is Yves Bureau.

          • NavyCop says:

            Brrrrrrrrrarrgle, yeah, gave me the creeps… What a disturbing image. I’m on a double, so I’ve been reading most of the articles here. Holy schnikes, Batman! There are more criminals than I thought in Canada!

          • cleo says:

            And I have only just begun. I have a whole list of hellbeasts to write about, some of them way too close to home.

          • bengalpuss29 says:

            Im from england uk cleo, and im thinking of submitting some articles to your site that have occurred here in the uk. Maybe if they turn out to be good enough you might want to put some up on the site. Anyway i remember reading about this article a while ago, but yours was definately more knowledgeable it had more information in it. Those poor babies, it just makes you want to weep when you read something like that. Sad truly sad. Anyway let me know about me writing some articles, and keep the good work up, exposing the hellbeasts.

          • cleo says:

            Articles would be very welcome. You know by now what sorts of monsters and crimes I consider worthy of exposing. Send any articles or even suggestions along and I’ll happily consider them for posting.

  3. bugman says:

    So this is what happens when there is no legal abortion and planned parenthood. Just sayin’.

    • scrappy says:

      That, and a society that blames and refuses to support single mothers while the men who impregnated them waltz away, scot free.

      • Julie says:

        Agreeing wholly with the fact that “fathers” are not held accountable.. Hence the idea of promoting chastity and responsible relationships as well as having “planning” available. Planned Parenthood? It should be called a “Night-out,-being-irresponsible, flaunting-ones-self -and-not-thinking-about-the-consequences-of-your-actions-Clinic! Yep. Agree completely.

        • awesomeblossom says:

          Julie you are a fool and a tool. Do you honestly think only single irresponsible nymphos need planned parenthood? Married “respectable” women need their services too, including abortion and birth control. And BTW the morning after pill IS NOT an abortion pill, you twat! It PREVENTS pregnancy! So why the hell would you object to it! You are judgmental, ignorant and smug so go away, read your bible cover to cover for once instead of cherry picking little passages, and stop trying to stuff your opinions up other women’s vaginas!

  4. bengalpuss says:

    Just read one of the first posts that you put up cleo, and after reading it again i was shocked at how long the youngs got away with murder literally. Whats also sad is the fact that most of those babies wouldn’t have had names and will remain unidentified. I think the youngs should be Exhumed, and their remains buried in butter boxes. The only good thing that came out of this, was that adoption laws were created to protect the children. But like you said cleo, “four to six hundred children too late. rest in peace little ones, your not forgotten.

  5. Julie says:

    Bugman and Scrappy? This story describes the people and conditions I ran into at Planned Parenthood when I was seeking inexpensive “pill” in my youth! Sorry, If Someone would promote chastity and quit promoting Abortion-on-demand pills and promiscuity is fine if no one finds out (because of modern day secrets)… We would have much less issues even with the population of 2013.

    • Veronica says:

      Hypocrite. You admit you went to Planned Parenthood looking for birth control in your youth, so you could have sex, and yet you expect today’s youths to keep their legs closed and be ‘chaste’. Well, they desire sex as much as you did, and no ‘chastity promotion’ is going to talk them out of it. “If Someone would promote chastity”, you say? CHASTITY WAS MAJORLY PROMOTED IN THE 1930’s AND 40’s WHEN ALL THIS BUTTERBABIES STUFF WENT ON, YET LOOK AT ALL THE VICTIMS THE YOUNGS HAD AND ALL THE MONEY THEY MADE OFF THE ‘UNCHASTE’ REGARDLESS! Even knowing the brutal consequences of the era, many young women still took the chance because it is only human nature to have sex! Unrealistic cultural chastity expectations, punitive attitudes towards women, and limitations placed on women’s reproductive rights is exactly what enabled people like the Youngs to do what they did. The societal views you’d like reestablished are the very ones at the root of why hundreds of babies were murdered and their mothers subjugated and persecuted.

  6. Crystal says:

    I am doing a criminal case study for school on William and Lila Young, and actually really like some of your comments, and wording, your right not many people know about the butterbox babies unless they are from down east. I wanted to say thank you for publishing this as its given me more strength and will power to make it known. Thanks so much for empowering me.

  7. Zulia says:

    Wow, I feel so sad for those babies, but that’s what happens when women aren’t allowed to use birth control or have an abortion. Those babies didn’t need to suffer.

  8. evie hampton says:

    I’m horrified! These poor babies and people wonder why no one really believes social services.
    I just recently watched the film and it made me cry, them babies being left to die because they were the wrong colour or not beautiful enough! In my opinion all babies are beautiful, even if they are handicapped! Like what Lila and William described. I’m so upset to know this was really true and the babies had no intention, not even their parents and also telling their parents that they’ve died is heartless! They are Devils Rejects and they shouldn’t of ever walked the Earth! No baby deserves being taken away from their mother (unless it’s gone through the government.) Otherwise it’s wrong!

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