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Lila Gladys YOUNG






Butterbox Babies
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: "Baby farmer" - The Ideal Maternity Home was the source for an illegal trade in infants between Canada and the United States
Number of victims: 2 - 100 +
Date of murders: 1928 - 1947
Date of birth: 1899
Victims profile: Babies
Method of murder: Starvation
Location: East Chester, Nova Scotia, Canada
Status: On March 4, 1936 was charged with two counts of manslaughter in the January deaths of Eva Nieforth and her newborn child, allegedly caused by negligence and unsanitary conditions at the home. Acquitted at a three-day trial in May 1936. Convicted on June 5, 1946 of illegally selling babies to four American couples and fined a total of $428.90. Died of leukemia in 1967.
photo gallery

Young, Lila Gladys

Lila Coolen was the daughter of devout Seventy-Day Adventist parents, born at Fox Point, Nova Scotia, in 1899. 

At age twenty-six, she met and married William Peach Young, an Oregon native transplanted to New Brunswick, where he aspired to the role of an Adventist medical missionary without benefit of ordination or medical training. 

Soon after their marriage, with Lila expecting the first of five children, the Youngs moved to Chicago, where William was licensed as a chiropractor in December 1927. 

Two months later, they moved back to Nova Scotia, opening the Life and Health Sanitarium in East Chester, forty miles southwest of Halifax. Lila entered service as a professional midwife, and their establishment was soon rechristened the Ideal Maternity Home and Sanitarium, with William acting as the superintendent and Lila as managing director. 

Clients flocked to the home in response to newspaper advertisements that read: IDEAL MATERNITY HOME Mothers Refuge also department for girls. NO PUBLICITY Infants home in connection. Write for literature. East Chester, N.S. Brochures for the home promised to shield Expectant Mothers from gossip, but every service had its price. 

Married women seeking refuge with the Youngs paid an average of $75 each for delivery and two weeks of convalescence in the early days of operation, but unwed mothers, frightened of scandal, faced a stiffer price. The Youngs demanded an average of $100 or $200 in advance for room and board, delivery of the infant, and arranging subsequent adoptions, plus another $12 for diapers and supplies, with an average two-dollar weekly maintenance fee for warehousing infants between delivery and adoption. 

If a baby died at the home, the mother was charged $20 for a funeral--performed by the Youngs handyman at a standing rate of fifty cents per corpse, with white pine butter boxes standing in for coffins. 

In short, it was the classic baby farming racket, elevated to an art form. Girls without the ready cash in hand were some-times allowed to work off their debts at the home, thus providing the Youngs with a steady stream of unpaid domestic help. Medical care was another realm open to shortcuts, with Lila and William each billing themselves as doctors on their letterheads. 

In fact, Lila delivered the babies herself, while William knelt at the bedside in prayer, but some clients saw a more ruthless side of the Youngs, complaining of Lilas rough--even brutal--handling. She was physically immense, one client recalled. She had an overwhelming presence and a great sense of power. She could strike terror into people. No one dared challenge her. In short order, the Ideal Maternity Home became a virtual baby factory, hosting scores of unwed mothers averaging age seven-teen. 

Between 1928 and 1935, Lila reported 148 births and twelve infant deaths at the home--a mortality rate of 8.1% that nearly tripled Nova Scotias 3.1% average. 

On March 4, 1936, Lila and William were charged with two counts of manslaughter in the January deaths of Eva Nieforth and her newborn child, allegedly caused by negligence and unsanitary conditions at the home. Both were acquitted at a three-day trial in May 1936, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police adopted a policy of investigating each reported death at the home in years to come. One problem, of course, was the issue of unreported infant deaths. 

Handyman Glen Shatford would later admit burying between 100 and 125 babies in a field owned by Lilas parents near Fox Point, adjoining the Adventist cemetery. We buried them in rows, he said, so it was easy to see how many there were. In a typical case, recalled by Shatford from April 1938, an unnamed infant lay in the Youngs tool shed for five days, covered by a box, before it was driven to Fox Point for burial. 

A motive for the surreptitious disposal may be found in Lilas standard charge of $300 to board a baby for the rest of its natural life. Some were farmed out to a neighbor who cared for their needs at three dollars a week, while others reached the end of their natural lives in record time. Some adoption rejects--including children of mixed race or those with physical defects--were reportedly starved to death on a diet of water and molasses. 

For all the money paid to Lila and her husband by their pregnant clients, the Youngs made their greatest profit from adoptive parents, charging an average of $800 to $1,000 per infant in the 1930s, escalating to an average $5,000 per head during World War II. In the 1940s, Ideal Maternity earned $60,000 per year from its live-in clients, including a special $50 fee from any mother who specified adoptive parents of a particular religion. On the flip side, Lila and William banked at least $3.5 million from the adoption--i.e., sale--of infants between 1937 and 1947. 

One client who changed her mind in 1946 and sought to get her child back was told the boy had already been placed for adoption, but he might be retrieved ... if the mother could come up with $10,000 in cash. 

By 1943, the Youngs were housing seventy infants on any given day. Their original cottage had grown to a sprawling complex of fifty-four rooms, fourteen bathrooms, and multiple nurseries, valued at $40,000 with no outstanding mortgage. 

Clients could reserve private or semiprivate rooms, if they were put off by the thought of sleeping on a common ward. Business was so good, in fact, that Lila began to brag ... and thereby caused herself no end of grief. 

Public health officials had been watching the Youngs for a decade, but they found their first concrete evidence of neglect in 1945, inspectors reporting squalid conditions, swarming flies and filthy bedding, some infants weighing 50% of the norm for their age. 

Lila fired back with charges of harassment, but her time was running out. A new amendment to the Maternity Boarding House Act of 1940 broadened licensing requirements to incorporated companies, and the Youngs license application was swiftly rejected, Ideal Maternity ordered shut down in November 1945. 

It was not that simple to close a multimillion-dollar business, of course. and the Youngs continued to operate without a license while their case was on appeal. U.S. Immigration officers joined the chorus of complaints in early 1945, citing evidence that Lila had smuggled black market babies into the States. In March, the Youngs were arraigned on eight counts including violation of the Maternity Boarding House Act and practicing medicine without a license, but their conviction on three counts, on March 27, resulted in a piddling fine of $150. 

On June 5, 1946, they were convicted of illegally selling babies to four American couples, fined a total of $428.90. William, drinking heavily by now, was later convicted of perjury based on his testimony at the June trial, but babies were still being born at Ideal Maternity in early 1947. 

The end, when it came, was as much a result of Lilas arrogance as any official action. Fuming at media coverage of her case, she filed a $25,000 libel suit against the local newspaper, thereby opening the floodgates of damning testimony from all sides. Jurors dismissed her suit after brief deliberation, and the trial exposed her operation for the brutal, mercenary sham it was. Ideal Maternity was closed before years end, the Youngs bankrupt and debt-ridden, selling off their property and moving to Quebec. 

The home, scheduled for conversion into a resort hotel, burned to the ground on September 23, 1962. 

Cancer claimed Williams life before Christmas, and Lila died of leukemia in 1967. Her tombstone bears the legend: Till We Meet Again.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


The Story Of The Ideal Maternity Home

By Sue Artigan -

Lila Gladys Young was daughter of Salem and Bessie Coolen. The family was of strong Seventh-day Adventists faith. Lila became a teacher, after finishing school, then taught school in Fox Point, Nova Scotia.

In 1925, at the age of 26, she met William Peach Young (b. 11 Jan 1898), and they were married in 1925. William was an unordained Seventh-day Adventist minister from Memramcook, New Brunswick. He graduated from the Medical Evangelists College in 1923.

He was a self-designated medical missionary, caring for the sick and spreading the gospel along the South Shore. They moved to Chicago, and in December 1927, William graduated from the National College of Chiropractic. The same year, Lila graduated from the National School of Obstetrics and Midwifery.

They returned to Nova Scotia and in February 1928 opened "The Life and Health Sanitarium - Where the Sick Get well.". They worked out of their 4 bedroom cottage in East Chester, with barely enough money to buy cots for the patients to sleep on. Lila started delivering babies, and within a year the Youngs were specializing in maternity services, largely for unwed mothers. Their business became known as The Ideal Maternity Home And Sanitarium.

William was the superintendent, Lila the director. (**Reference Bette L. Cahill)

Privacy And Discretion Guaranteed

Privacy And Discretion Guaranteed: Payment on arrival was a condition, between $100 and $500 for room and board, delivery, and the adoption of the baby. It was an additional $12 for layette, and a baby sitting service of $2 per week. (charged in the early days of operation).

The opportunity to work off debt, if unable to pay their bill, was an option for theyoung mothers. Burial fees of $20 were also charged to cover the cost of the burial of babies that died at the Home. The $20 included $5 toward a shroud, and $15 for the Youngs, who would be present at the burial. The burial fee included a white pine "coffin". They were "lovely butterboxes", (from the local grocer) mitered and very, very smooth, according to Lila, and always lined with satin.

Elaborate contracts were signed by the unwed mothers, giving William the power of attorney and legal authority over their babies and their adoptions. If not signed within 14 days of the birth, they were charged an additional $30.00. By the time the girls left the Home their bills often exceeded $300.00. *(Average wages at this time were: Sales clerks $8 per week, domestics $4 per week)

With the increase in the number of babies for adoption, the American tourist trade, hard working lawyers, and the Greed of the Youngs, a whole new, wealthy adoption market opened, and many babies found new homes in the USA, where many couples were restricted from adopting, due to age, state laws, etc. These grateful new parents were very generous, and made large and generous "contributions" to the Home out of "gratitude".

Many of these children found good homes, but not in all cases "legal". In many cases, these new parents were not aware that siblings (twins) may have been separated to provide them with their chosen child, or that the child may have been secretly taken away from it's mother. In the mid 40's the pregnant girls coming to the Home were generating revenues of about $60,000, for the Youngs, but the real money was coming from the baby sales.

Babies were sold for between $1000 and $10,000 each. On top of that, donations were demanded and expected. Even allowing for the "rejected" babies and those who died - at least 10 percent of the total - and sales to the less lucrative local market, it is reasonable to estimate that half the babies, 700 or so, were sold for an average of about $5,000. That is a total of $3.5 million.

The Ideal Maternity Home was big business.

In 1933, the Youngs had plans to expand the Home. Over the next few years there were many changes, some of which William did himself. The Home was growing in reputation and with that the number of births and adoptions. In 1939 the Youngs paid off their mortgage on the Maternity Home, and then built their own home, a three story house containing nine bedrooms, three bathrooms, den, dining room, living room and kitchen.

(Now under new ownership, and formerly operated as the East Chester Inn).

Over the next six years they bought new cars and land and continued to add to their assets. By 1943, the Youngs were well on their way to wealth. After several additions and expansions, the cottage they started with in 1928 was now a huge structure with 54 rooms and 14 bathrooms. The home had elegant turrets and was surrounded by expansive lawns and greenery and most important to the Youngs - mortgage free.

By 1933 some people were taking an interest in the Home. The Liberal Party swept into office and Dr. Frank Roy Davis was appointed to the Public Health portfolio, and he was introduced to problems at the Ideal Maternity Home. He heard some of the gossip regarding baby deaths at the Home, and for the next 15 years that he spent in office, he proved to be an enormous thorn in the Young's business lives. Also in 1933 - in response to mounting pressure, the Youngs were forced to hire their first Registered Nurse.

On March 4, 1936 the Youngs were arraigned on two counts of manslaughter related to the death of Eva Neiforth and her baby, but succeeded in winning the case. Following this Public Health Minister Frank Roy Davis ordered the RCMP to investigate all known deaths at the Home.

In the years that followed they were charged with fraud, and under constant investigation. The Youngs had built up a strong support group, which was constantly there and supported them. This included prominent citizens, and politicians. They "presented" themselves very well, and if things looked as if they might go against them, they weren't above threatening, as there were now, many prominent people in society, and politics, who had discretely used the services of the Home over the years. Up to this time the Home was permitted to operate without license (17 years).

In 1940 The Maternity Boarding House Act was amended, and William and Lila applied for license, and were turned down. On November 17, 1945, based on findings from inspections the Ideal Maternity Home was ordered closed.

Despite this, the Youngs were still advertising "Lovely Babies for Adoption". Frank Davis continued in his battle to be rid of the Ideal Maternity Home forever and began to track some of these adoptions. New Jersey officials came to his aid as they were also trying to crack down on illegal adoptions and baby smuggling. In the fall, a New Jersey newspaper reported that the smuggling scheme had been uncovered. To avoid an even bigger scandal, child welfare officials in Canada and the U.S. remained on the lookout for the unauthorized movement of adopted babies that didn't have government approval. To get around this one, the Youngs devised an alternate strategy which was to convince the birth mothers to travel with their babies to the U.S.

After numerous charges, and some unsuccessful court appearances, fines, etc., the Youngs announced that they were closing their Maternity Home and opening a Hotel. About the same time a Montreal newspaper article was released, telling of the Young's business, bringing unfavorable attention from both Canada and the U.S again. The Youngs were back in court again, attempting to sue for slander, but lost their case.

Following the trial, the Youngs developed serious financial problems, their reputation hurt their business, their profits dwindled, and they were now in debt.. Bankrupt, they left East Chester, penniless, as they were when they arrived thirty years earlier. Two of their five children moved to Sudbury Ontario, one to the U.S., and two remained in Nova Scotia. The Home was destroyed by fire in 1962.

Several years after their hasty departure, William died of cancer, and Lila returned to Nova Scotia and resumed teaching school near Fox Point, where she grew up, In 1969, at the age of 70, Lila died of Leukemia and was buried in the Seventh -day Adventist Cemetery in Fox Point...close to the many babies, in their Butterbox Coffins, who didn't have a chance to enjoy life.


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.

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.

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.


Butterbox Babies is a 1992 book by Bette L. Cahill describing life in the 1930s at the Ideal Maternity Home in East Chester, Nova Scotia.


The Ideal Maternity Home, a discreet residence for unwed pregnant mothers, was operated by William Peach Young, an unordained Seventh-day Adventist minister and chiropractor, and his wife Lila Gladys Young, a midwife. They opened "The Life and Health Sanitarium", later called the Ideal Maternity Home in East Chester, Nova Scotia in February 1928.

From 1928 to 1945 the unlicensed Ideal Maternity Home promised both maternity care for local married couples and provided private birthing and placement of children of unwed mothers. However, it faced serious allegations of profiteering from the fees charged to female residents and adoptive parents, and for the home's high rates of infant mortality which were later proven to be caused by starvation.

Any baby deemed "unadoptable" due to physical or mental handicaps was allegedly starved to death on a diet of only molasses and water. Within two weeks the child would succumb and was either buried behind the IMH property, in a field adjacent to a nearby cemetery, dumped into the ocean or burned in the home's furnace.

The nefarious methods allegedly used by the Youngs also included separating or "creating" twins to meet the desires of their customers. And, they were said to have sold newborns belonging to local married women who were told that their child had inexplicably died. Since many births and deaths went unrecorded, the full extent of the atrocities committed at the Ideal Maternity Home will never be known.

During WWII, business at the IMH was booming because nearby Halifax was a major port that was the departure point for convoys crossing the North Atlantic Ocean to England. The sailors & merchant seamen left behind many unmarried or widowed expectant mothers. The IMH provided the only place that could provide for these women and their offspring.

The birth mothers would be charged $500 and they would work at the Home for many months in order to pay their maternity bills. Although the Nova Scotian government officially closed down the IMH in November 1945, the Youngs continued to operate and sell babies under the illusion of a hotel for a while longer. However, the heyday of the war years had ended.

The Ideal Maternity Home was the source for an illegal trade in infants between Canada and the United States. During this period, the laws in the U.S. forbid adoption across religious backgrounds. There was an acute shortage of babies available for Jewish couples to adopt.

The home provided these desperate people "black market" adoptions charging up to $10,000 for a baby (in 1945 prices). A few babies were never legally adopted and yet they were brought across the border to the U.S. Hundreds of babies ended up in Jewish homes in the United States, mainly in New York and New Jersey.

This dark chapter in Canadian history has been documented in several books, plays and a movie. The title of Bette Cahill's book, Butterbox Babies, and the subsequent movie is a reference to the "butter boxes," wooden grocery crates from a local dairy used as coffins for the babies murdered at the Ideal Maternity Home.

A group of the Survivors of the Ideal Maternity Home, now scattered throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe continue to meet, provide support, and assist one another with birth family searches.

Film adaptation

The book was made into a 1995 film starring Susan Clark, Peter MacNeill, Catherine Fitch, and Michael Riley, and directed by Don McBrearty.


  • Butterbox Babies, Seal Books 1991. ISBN 978-0-7704-2517-3

  • Butterbox Babies: Baby Sales, Baby Deaths-New Revelations 15 Years Later, Fernwood Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1-55266-213-7




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