'The Child Remains': The true story behind the 'Butterbox Babies' who were sold, starved to death in a maternity home
An expectant couple's intimate weekend turns into terror when they discover their secluded country inn is a haunted former maternity home where unwanted infants and mothers were murdered.
Michael Melski's supernatural thriller 'The Child Remains' is based on the chilling story of a maternity home in Nova Scotia, where 400 to 600 children were starved to death by a couple who ran a maternity home. The infamous couple also ran an illegal adoption center at the time and if the kids were not "marketable", meaning disabled, deformed, ill or even were of a mixed race, they would be refused medical care and were put on a diet of molasses and water until they starved. They lasted no more than two weeks.
The bodies would then be disposed of in wooden grocery crates called butter boxes, thrown into the ocean or just tossed into the furnace.
This dark tale is from the 1930s at the Ideal Maternity Home in East Chester, Nova Scotia. It was run by William Peach Young and his wife Lila Gladys Young.
William was an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister and chiropractor, and his wife was a midwife who claimed she was an obstetrician. The home, opened in February 1928, was initially called The Life and Health Sanitarium. It claimed to provide both maternity care for local married couples and discreet birthing and placement for unwed mothers. They charged exorbitant prices for an abortion, that went up to $500.
The mothers who made around $8 a week in the area at the time, had to work for the Youngs till they could foot the bill. They had to pay on arrival - anywhere between $100 and $500 for room and board, delivery, and the adoption of the baby. There were additional charges levied, including $20 for the burial of a child. There were also legal contracts signed with the mothers that would give William legal power over their children and the adoption process. If they didn't sign it within the first two weeks of the birth, there was an additional $30 fine.
The Home became a hub for illegal adoptions across the United States and Canada as the US laws had not legalized adoption across religious backgrounds, leaving many Jewish families without any adoption options. The Youngs soon realized what their market was - they would provide these desperate childless couples with babies from the Home and would charge up to $10,000 for a child, the minimum being $1000.
The situation in Halifax, which is a nearby port to Nova Scotia served to their advantage. Because business was booming during WWII, ships who were crossing to England from the North Atlantic ended up there. The seamen trying to make the most of their time on land would end up leaving many women pregnant and the Home was almost the only place that could give them these new mothers services they needed.
The revenue for the home is said to have been $60,000, for the Youngs in the mid-40s, excluding the baby sales. They approximately sold 700 children, and even if the average cost for one was $5000, they made a total of $3.5 million. They added assets, paid off the mortgage for the Home, built their own home, bought cars and gained notoriety, because of the number of adoptions as well as mortality rate.
But this was just the tip of the iceberg - the true horrors that went on inside the maternity home were revealed much later.
The children they couldn't sell were burned in the Home's furnace or buried in the backyard of the property. They are also said to have separated and created siblings and twins according to what their customers wanted. In some cases, they even told the local mothers that their child had died so that they could use it for their benefit.
Thankfully, it didn't last much longer. In 1933, The Liberal Party's Dr. Frank Roy Davis came into the Public Health sector and the home was brought to his attention. After much pressure, the Home had to employ a registered nurse for the first time. Bette Cahill, in her book 'The Butterbox Babies' talks in depth about the Youngs and their downfall.
1936 was the year when they were arraigned for manslaughter charges after a woman named Eva Neiforth and her child died at the Home. However, they won the case but it prompted Davis to ask the RCMP to investigate the Home. It followed charges of fraud and it became known that the Home and the Youngs, who were a part of the influential fabric of the time had been operating for 17 years without a license. When The Maternity Boarding House Act was amended in 1940, they applied for one but were refused. In 1945, the Home was finally closed.
They were involved in the trial for a long time. They were left penniless and bankrupt and all their profits disappeared. William died of cancer several years later and Lila died at the age of 70 of leukemia. However, because the birth and adoption records at the time weren't as clear, one can never really know the real number of the children that died there.
'The Child Remains' releases in theatres in Los Angeles on June 5.
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