Routinely described as every parents’ nightmare, there is nothing to instil fear in working parents like their children coming to harm at the hands of a minder, au pair or nanny.
Most people over 30 remember the baby-face pictures of English au pair, Louise Woodward, as she sat in court looking stunned.
Here are some of the more notorious cases:
The Woodward case was enormous on both sides of the Atlantic, raising issues about inexperienced au pairs minding babies for wealthy parents, working motherhood, and exposing enormous anti-Americanism in Britain.
English au pair Louise Woodward, 19, was convicted in 1997 of the involuntary manslaughter of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen. Matthew had suffered a fractured skull and a bloodclot on the brain. He had been in Louise’s care when he fell unconscious and was rushed to hospital, dying five days later.
The prosecution said that Matthew displayed the classic symptoms of shaken baby syndrome and that Woodward had shaken him violently and hit his head against a hard surface.
Her defence said Matthew’s death had been caused by an old injury sustained weeks before. She was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in jail. But days later, it was reduced to involuntary manslaughter by the presiding judge. She was released, having spent 279 days on remand.
This was the case that has convulsed New York since last October.
Marina Krim had been out swimming with her third child and returned to her Upper West Side apartment to find her nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, stabbing herself in the throat. In the bathtub lay Krim’s children, Lucia, 6, and Leo, 2. Both had been stabbed to death with a knife.
Ortega, 50, was in a medically-induced coma for a week afterwards but survived. When interviewed, she admitted resentment towards the family, who she found too bossy. Hours later, she was charged with first degree murder.
It has since emerged that Ortega had money problems and had sought extra pay from her employers.
She was arraigned at her hospital bedside and the judge ordered she be held without bail and undergo a psychiatric evaluation as to her competency to stand trial. He also ordered she be placed on suicide watch.
Ewa Nowakowska was 19 when she came from Poland to work in London as an au pair for the Adleye family in 2004.
Nowakowska at first claimed baby, Jonathan, fell off the bed and landed on a carpet while she was cooking chips at the family home in Harlesden. But in court she admitted dropping Jonathan accidentally after becoming dizzy.
The baby suffered a 6cm skull fracture and further injuries which suggested he might have been shaken. He died 24 hours later of severe brain damage.
In court, she was found not guilty of his murder and his manslaughter. Outside court she said: “I could never have harmed Jonathan. I loved him very much. What happened was a terrible accident.
Peggy Dunne hired Ann Franklin in Jul 1992 by placing a classified ad in the Irish Echo. The 25-year-old was the daughter of Irish immigrants and the Dunnes and the Franklins were part of the same Church of the Resurrection parish in Rye county in New York.
The Dunnes spoke with her reference, who gave a glowing recommendation, and visited the police station to ensure she didn’t have a past. They were told they had no right to that information.
However, six months later, bruises began to appear on baby Kieran’s face. A month later, police were summoned. Franklin said she was playing with the boy on the floor when he suddenly went limp. He was rushed to a hospital.
A medical examination showed his skull has been crushed and he spent a week on life support before his family were told his outlook was hopeless.
A year later, Franklin admitted she had thrown the baby six feet across the room when he had pulled her hair. She was sentenced to up to 25 years in jail for manslaughter and was released on Mar 2, 2010.
It turned out that her nanny reference was a childless personal friend. Franklin had also been arrested for stealing clothing, money and jewellery.
Kieran Dunne’s death paved the way for ‘Kieran’s law’, allowing FBI searches of prospective nannies’ backgrounds.
In Dec 1991, the Fischers in Westchester County, hired Swiss au pair Olivia Riner, 20, to care for their infant daughter, Kristie.
After a few weeks, while they were at work, there was a fire in the nursery that killed the 3-month-old. Riner ran from the home and made no attempt to save the burning baby.
Flammable liquid was poured around the baby in a circle. The au pair was acquitted and no one else was charged with the murder.
There were two books written about this case.
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