Updated: Jul 20
Recently I began revising an article Norma King had written about the first piano of Southern Cross and then of Coolgardie. In it, she stated that the notorious murderer, Frederick Deeming, who had many aliases, used to play it. She claimed in this article that his reputation as a good pianist helped detectives unravel his alias, which led to his arrest in Southern Cross. The article then went on to tell of how the piano also played a role in saving another man's life.
I was interested in learning more about this notorious murderer, so I began searching for articles written about Deeming at the time. I came across the following article of 13 April 1892 (Bendigo Independent):
“DEEMING AND THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERS.LONDON, Tuesday, April 12.The police are unremittingly, pursuing their enquiries into the antecedents of the man Deeming. In the course of their efforts to ascertain whether there is any connection between Deeming and the Whitechapel murders, they have become acquainted with the fact that previous to 1888 he paid a visit to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Whilst there he showed letter couched in friendly terms from Catherine Eddowes, the woman who was murdered in Whitechapel on September 30 of that year.”
Now I was really curious and was eager to find out more about Frederick Bailey Deeming, and the piano story was put to one side.
I quickly discovered that Deeming was hung in Melbourne for murdering his third wife in Australia. He slit her throat and buried her in cement in a house he rented in Windsor, Melbourne. A cheering crowd of 12,000 in May 1892 celebrated his hanging. His arrest and trial was sensational and was reported worldwide. This was because the police in Australia and England unravelled his true identity and they discovered the bodies of his first wife and four children buried in cement under a hearthstone in a house he rented in England. They suspected he murdered and buried them just before illegally remarrying under an alias. He then travelled to Australia with his new wife, who suffered a similar fate to his first wife. His story had it all to sell papers – fraud, bigamy, aliases, multiple murders, and to top it off, a potential link to the Whitechapel murders.
He was Australia's first convicted mass murderer who slit women's throats in a similar manner to the notorious 'Jack the Ripper'. He was known as 'The Demon' or 'Mad Fred' and was one of the first people to be labelled as a 'serial killer'.
The New York Times headline of March 17, 1892, proclaimed: “Perhaps Jack the Ripper! Discovery made in Liverpool. A man arrested in Australia,” I was surprised I was unaware that a 'Jack the Ripper' suspect was arrested in the Goldfields of Western Australia in March 1892.
Deeming was the middle child of 10, born in the County of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, England on 30 July 1853. By the age of 12, he was a plumbers apprentice. He had an obsession with knives, which became a side-line business, as he sold them to sailors.
He held a strong affection for his mother and claimed later that his dead mother visited him each night at the end of his bed at 2 am and told him to murder his wife. Frederick's older brother revealed that their mother was a Sunday School teacher who forced her views on the bible onto the young Frederick. It was claimed that he later had an obsession with sin and punishment.
Deeming claimed his mother died in 1875 and that he was devastated, as although she wasn't a perfect mother, she had been kind enough to spend time with him. However, this was a fabrication as she died at age 51 on 28 October 1877. His father died aged 67 on 18 December 1889 and the cause of death was senility.
Deeming told Dr Springthorpe, who examined him in Melbourne jail, that both of his parents had been committed to lunatic asylums, and his mother was released to have him. He also claimed his father was a brute who flogged his children and that one of his sisters had his father's child. Frederick's brother Edward recalled that their father tried to commit suicide by cutting his throat on four occasions and ended up dying insane in a workhouse.
Deeming also told Dr Springthorpe that he pushed a girl into a canal as she called him 'Mad Fred”.
All of the above claims he made while in the Melbourne jail need to be taken with a grain of salt, as his lawyers were trying to prove insanity to avoid the death penalty for Deeming. He also confessed to two of the Whitechapel murders at this time, but he also claimed that the wife he had buried in cement in Australia was alive and well. Whilst in custody, he had many epileptic fits, but not all of the police were convinced that they were genuine. Epilepsy at the time was misunderstood, and it was believed to be a sign of insanity, so perhaps he was using this to his advantage.
Being a convincing liar, his confessions are unreliable. However, his statements were lapped up by the press and the public, which makes it difficult to discern fact from fiction. This is the whole problem with investigating Deeming, as there are so many conflicting reports of where he was and what he did during periods of his life of interest. He told fantastic stories that the press or those that heard them loved to repeat. Any similar crime was attributed to him, which was easy to do, as it was often difficult to pinpoint his whereabouts due to his use of aliases and the amount of international and local travel he undertook.
Anyone that had any association with him or his victims could have their story published, as it sold papers. The West Australian of March 24, 1892, stated that they had published many thousand more issues and still found it impossible to keep up with demand, due to the public interest in the Rainhill Murder story. The story unfolded in the press like a true crime story – everyone had a theory of who he was and what he did or didn't do. Some of these recollections have since proven to be erroneous, either due to repeating Deeming's falsehoods, confusing time frames, identifying someone else as Deeming, or perhaps misinterpreting their memories to fit their theory of Deeming.
One book on Deeming called “Frederick Bailey Deeming: Jack the Ripper or Something Worse”, by Mike Covell is very well researched and relies on source documents, rather than just newspaper reports. I have used it to help make sense of the conflicting reports about him and I highly recommend it if you wish to learn more about Deeming.
Crime investigator Duncan McNab, states that Deeming discovered the body of a woman called Min Cooper with her throat slit outside his house when he was a young teenager. According to McNab, the Detective who investigated the murder stated that Deeming was “excited by his grisly find”. Deeming was a suspect but the case was never solved. I have searched online newspaper articles to find evidence of this crime in the United Kingdom, but could not find any reports of the murder. Covell's book did not mention this alleged crime, so it may or may not be true. I have also not seen it mentioned in any other reports I have read about Deeming.
Using aliases, he romanced women, stole and gained money under false pretences. According to many reports, his travels frequently took him to London's docklands area and Whitechapel, to be with prostitutes. It was also reported that he had contracted syphilis, which ignited his hatred of prostitutes and may have sent him mad. His whereabouts during the Whitechapel murders cannot be pinpointed, which is why he is still a likely suspect to these crimes.
Could Deeming be Jack the Ripper? At the time, Scotland Yard thought he may have been. His death mask was displayed in their museum, labelled as “Jack the Ripper”. Mr Lowe of the Detective Department was liaising with the authorities in Rainhill, Australia and Deeming's family in Britain.
Deeming was in jail in Hull when Frances Coles was murdered, so he could not have murdered her. However, many Ripperologists argue that not all the victims in the Whitechapel murders file were murdered by 'Jack the Ripper'. There were many newspaper articles claiming he could be 'Jack the Ripper'. In 1892 the papers covered every theory for and against him being Jack the Ripper. However, there are no reports of official inquiries carried out in Britain, no officers travelled to Australia, and there is no evidence of any serious enquiries launched to find out more about “Jack the Ripper of the Seven Seas”. If you are curious to investigate this further, there are many books written on this subject you can read.
At the beginning of the article, I quoted a report that stated that one of the victims, Catherine Eddowes, corresponded with Deeming under the alias of Jacobs. However, the witness was unable to tell whether the man Jacobs was Deeming or not when shown his photograph and British Newspaper called the story 'a romance'. At present, there is no hard evidence that Deeming did know her.
In 1881, age 27, Deeming married his first wife, Marie James, a Welsh woman from Pembroke who was aged 26. Her sister Martha had married Frederick's brother Arthur in 1879. He made his way to Sydney a year later, paying his way by working as a steward on a liner where he worked as a gas-fitter. Deeming stole gas fittings to finance Marie's trip, but he was arrested and sent to prison. He was released before Marie arrived in Sydney a year later.
According to Crime investigator Duncan McNab, his thieving partner was a lady called Eva Grant. She died from falling from her bedroom window during an altercation with Deeming. He left Melbourne for Sydney before the police could question him over the death. I again did an online search for newspaper articles concerning this and could not find any. This was also not mentioned in the book on Deeming by Covell, so at present, I am not sure whether this is true or not. Also, it was not mentioned in the surviving police records of the detectives who investigated his past to unravel his many aliases, nor was it mentioned in any of the newspaper reports I have read.
In 1882 he was employed by John Danks, an importer of plumbing and gas fittings in Melbourne. By 1883 Deeming had left Melbourne for Queensland and worked for Williams Brothers, who specialised in plumbing and gas fittings.
Deeming fraudulently obtained 200 pounds from Mr John Danks in 1883. Around this time he started a family, eventually having four children. Some accounts state that they had some children before coming to Australia, but Covell has located the birth certificates of his daughters who were born in Sydney. Bertha was born in 1884 and Marie was born in 1886.
In 1887 the shop he opened with the fraudulent money from Danks failed. He was charged and imprisoned for 14 days in December for failing to co-operate with the court during bankruptcy proceedings. Later court proceedings relating to his bankruptcy were heard in the Supreme Court of NSW on the 15th June 1888. None of the newspaper reports states that Deeming was not available for the hearings, so Covell believes it is most likely he was present for these hearings.
It was alleged he hid his creditors' money and committed arson, but failed to get the insurance money and that the family then fled to Port Adelaide to go to South Africa. On this trip, it was also alleged that he de-frauded 60 pounds from two brothers.
There is also a theory that he was in Los Angeles in April 1888 and that he married and defrauded a wealthy lady named Nannie Catching. She was a well-respected music teacher and musician. There was speculation in the press that this man may have been Deeming. However, it is unlikely, as Catching did not think the photograph of Deeming matched the man she married and the bankruptcy proceedings place him in Australia until mid-June.
There are varying accounts of when Deeming left for South Africa or did the family travel directly to England? If he was in South Africa, he could not have committed the Whitechapel murders.
Many reports of Deeming's visit to South Africa have proven to be false. It was speculated that Deeming went to South Africa with a Mr Keays in 1888, whom he murdered and mutilated. However, in 1892 the Johannesburg police determined that Deeming was not in Africa in 1888 and that he was not wanted for the murder of Keays and others. A thorough search of the National Archives of South Africa and other archives in South Africa by Covell determined that no Deeming, Demming, Dunning, Denning, Deening, Lawson or any other aliases used by Deeming through his life was present. However, the myth persists that he was in South Africa in 1888 or 1889. There were even accounts that he was in jail in South Africa during the Whitechapel murders. However, Covell provides evidence from home office files that he was not in any jail in 1888, so it is possible he was in Whitechapel at the time.
It is not clear when Deeming returned to Hull, England. However, most reports claim that in 1889 he arrived in October a wealthy man and that he had left his family at Birkenhead with his brother.
He changed his surname to Lawson and presented himself as a wealthy sheep and cattle rancher from Australia, a millionaire, and the relative of a leading English MP.
It was claimed in later newspaper reports that he stayed in the best hotels, appreciated fine clothes and mixed with traders. Here he met Helen Matheson, known as Nellie. Her mother had advertised an apartment to let and he agreed to rent it. He moved into their family home at New Walk, residing with Helen's mother and sister. The women were impressed by him and did not share other peoples concerns about his behaviour or frequent visits to the Market Weighton. They ignored or were unaware of the rumours about him.
Matheson and Deeming, then known as Lawson, married on 18 February 1890. For their honeymoon, they went to the south of England staying at Bournemouth and Plymouth for two or three weeks and then they returned to Hull.
Whilst in Hull Deeming purchased jewellery valued at 285 pounds with a cheque that later bounced. He showed Helen the diamond bracelet and said he would give it to her the next day. He then told her he had to go to town and he never returned. She waited all night at the hotel. He left Hull to go to Southampton, where he had booked a ticket to South Africa to evade the police. Nellie returned to Beverley distressed about her husband's vanishing. When she arrived, the real Mrs Deeming was waiting for her.
It was reported that Frederick contacted Marie and asked for her to deny that she was his wife if the police should call. She then decided to seek out Nellie in Beverley. The two women decided to go to the police to tell them about the bigamist known as Lawson/Deeming. The Hull police discovered that Deeming was on board the SS Coleridge which was bound for the port of Montevideo in Uruguay. They charged him with fraud, and the police arrested him and returned him to Hull. It took several months for them to return to Hull, finally arriving in October 1890. Reports of his arrest and journey were published regularly in the local papers as it was the first time the Hull police had been involved in an international manhunt.
He received nine months imprisonment and was released in July 1891. It was reported that Marie tried to use Deeming's criminal past against him to blackmail him into providing for her and the children. This provides a sound theory as to why he wanted to be rid of her.
It appears as though the discovery of Deeming's bigamy and his arrest due to the fraud had most likely saved Helen's (Nellie's) life. However, Helen's mother reported in 1892 that they did not believe Deeming murdered Marie and the children. She was quoted as saying: “He walked out with my daughters on the road, and lived with us in a house situate in a very quiet part, he being the only man in the house. He could have murdered the lot of us if he had liked, and he never gave any signs of violence.”
The press was sympathetic towards Helen's predicament. The reporting on the case quickly died down and Helen was then able to lead a quiet life, her occupation being School Mistress. She resided in Paisley, Scotland and then was Mistress at Saint Hill Public Elementary School in Sussex. Helen lived until 1939, aged 71. She was buried 47 years to the day that Deeming was hanged.
Research by Covell shows that Frederick Deeming was in Beverley, England, between 1889 and 1890 looking for a wife. He proposed to a recently widowed Jane Gibson, who was running the Foresters Inn. Newspaper reports stated that a few years prior he represented himself as an Australian squatter and he offered to provide for herself and her children. He showed her 300 pounds in his purse, but she refused his proposal. Deeming returned a few years later and she then agreed to marry him. Her wedding dress was provided and all the arrangements for the wedding were made, but before the date was fixed she discovered some of his statements were untrue and, fortunately for her, she changed her mind. He recovered from her refusal quickly as he ended up marrying Emily Mather shortly after.
There is strong circumstantial evidence that Deeming may have killed another young woman named Mary Jane Langley soon after his release from jail in Preston for fraud.
On Thursday, July 30, 1891, William Langley and his wife left their farm to attend a farmers market and pay their rent, leaving their 18-year-old daughter, Mary, at home to complete some chores. She waved goodbye to them from the garden gate and that was the last they saw of her.
When they returned home at 6.30 that evening, they noticed that she had not done any chores. Their son William told them that she went to Hull to get her photograph taken. The parents assumed that she had decided to stay with her boyfriend Albert Hall, as they had recently found a letter from him that stated: “I shall only be too happy to go to Cleethorpes with you”.
When they had still not heard from her the following day, William Langley went to Hull to speak to her friends in an area they had previously lived at. He discovered that Mr Hall was working in Hessle, so she was not with him or any of her friends.
Enquiries revealed that she had her photograph taken at the photography store at 3 pm and she told the photographer that she was going to head to Marfleet via the train. A gatekeeper at Marfleet Station claimed to have seen her arrive at the station at 5.10 pm, although other sources claim they saw her there at 2.19. Annie Severs of Sycamore Farm claimed that she saw a girl in a black dress who had got off the train from Hull at Marfleet just after 2 pm. She recalled her gold watch and chain. Mary had to cross the fields of the farm to get home and they briefly spoke to one another. Annie claimed she saw a tall, rough-looking man pass before Mary. Some ruled out Annie's account as it was at odds with other witnesses statements.
Another witness was a man named Kitching who was on a rolling machine in a field, saw a woman dressed in black with an umbrella pass by, but he did not see anyone else or anything out of the ordinary.
William Langley told his wife he had a dream that a dog had run from a ditch on the lane outside their property and that he went to the ditch where he found his daughter dead in the ditch. He had to pass this ditch on the way to the police at Marfleet Station and he indeed discovered his daughter slightly concealed in the drain below the bridge. A local man named Taylor was passing by and went to Lower Farm to get Doctor Soutter, who examined her body.
His findings were reported in the press as follows:
“The ditch was perfectly dry, and there were no apparent signs of a struggle. Deceased was lying on her left side, partly concealed from view under the bridge with her head resting on her umbrella, and her clothes turned up as far as her knees. A wet handkerchief was found near the body, and, singular to relate, her jacket and hand were found some distance away. A jagged wound in the girl's throat was discovered, sufficient enough to fit a person's fist, and it could not have been self-inflicted. The girl's silver Geneva watch and gold Albert were missing. The body was left until between four and five when the East Riding police arrived.”
A suspect named James Rennard was charged and sent to Hull Borough Gaol to await trial, but the trial collapsed as the evidence didn't fit their case. The footprints in the drain did not match Rennard's shoe size, there were no bloodstains on the outsides of his trousers or coat, the watch in his possession was a male's watch, not female, and a bloodstained man wearing a felt hat on Beverley road that witnesses saw could not be found. The jury returned a verdict of 'wilful murder against a person or persons unknown.”
It was revealed in the trial that she had not been sexually assaulted.
Masses of people turned up for Mary's funeral. The headstone on her grave reads:
“In affectionate remembrance of Esther, the beloved daughter of William and Mary Langley of Southcoates, who died August 2nd 1883 aged 6 years and 10 months. Also Harriet, sister of the above who died at Preston (in Holderness) March 20th 1888 aged 21 years, Also Mary Jane, sister of the above, who was suddenly cut down July 30th 1891, aged 18 years. It was not that our love was cold, that earthly lights were burning dim, But that the Sheppard from his fold, Had smiled and drawn them unto him. (A Middleton)”
Her parents suffered much loss as her young sister Esther died of brain fever and Harriet died of Dropsy.
The press claimed in 1892 that Deeming may have been involved. However, some reports claimed that Deeming was back in Rainhill when the murder occurred. The local press stated that Deeming stayed at the Railway Hotel adjacent to the Rainhill Station for a few weeks when the murder occurred. Another claimed that Deeming went to the Villa for a few days, then the hotel for a few days before returning to London. It was also reported that a ledger featured Miss Mather ordering a barrel of cement on July 23rd, which is used as proof that Denning was in Rainhill at this time. However, it is possible that Deeming sent Ms Mather a telegram asking her to order it for him, or that her mother, who was in charge of letting the property, was carrying out his plans that he ordered before taking the property.
These reports contradict other sources relating to Deeming's whereabouts at the time and no definitive source can be found whether Deeming was in Rainhill at the time of the murder. Unfortunately, we will never know if he can be ruled out as a suspect. However, among his possessions listed after his arrest in Australia was a Gold Albert with 3 Pendants, a silver Chronograph watch and 4 purses. Mary's father and brother stated that her silver Geneva watch and gold Albert and her purse was missing. Could these items be hers?
In 1891, he returned to his legal wife in Rainhill, Lancashire, England. However, he had no intention of remaining with her, as he rented another house in Rainhill known as Dinham Villa under the name of Albert Oliver Williams from an agent named Mrs Dove Mather. He paid 6 months rent in advance, stating that it was being rented for a Colonel Brooks. No Colonel was ever seen there, but Deeming was living there. He bought four barrels of cement, trowels, sand and a broom, in the name of his next fiancee, Miss Emily Mather, the agent's daughter.
As he made efforts to exclude visitors, the neighbours became curious. On 1 July, a woman and four children occupied the house. He told neighbours that she was his sister. Three weeks later, she visited friends in Liverpool with the baby. She told them that her husband was at home looking after the other children. She returned home and the children and she were never seen alive again.
Neighbours reported that “Williams”, as he was known to them, was happily whistling around the yard for several days. He told them that his 'sister' had gone to Port Said to join her husband.
He complained to the landlord of the Commercial Hotel that the drainage of Dinham Villa was very defective. He explained that he had been repairing the floors and had engaged a plasterer to complete the cementing of the hearth. A charwoman who was brought in to clean out the house complained of the strong smell of chloride of lime. Afterwards, Deeming left the house and disposed of the furniture. He again took up his quarters at the Commercial Hotel, but he was frequently absent from Rainhill.
It was reported that at a later date, he gave a dinner to seventeen of the villagers, and it was at this festivity that he announced his intention of marrying Miss Emily Mather.
He was constantly in the habit of displaying money and diamonds, and he seemed anxious to create the belief that he was a man of means. On some occasions, he appeared in a military uniform. Towards the end of his stay in Rainhill, he left the Commercial Hotel and lodged with the Mathers. His marriage with Miss Mather took place hurriedly on the morning of 22 September 1891, and the newly married couple left the village suddenly. Miss Mather's brothers and sisters objected to the wedding, but she ignored their concerns about her new husband.
Deeming (as Williams) and his new wife travelled to Australia on board the Kaiser Wilhelm 11 in November.
Go to Chapter 2
“Frederick Bailey Deeming: 'Jack the Ripper' or something worse?”, Covell, M, Creativa, 24 September 2014
"Deeming” (Contributed) The Southern Cross Times, 3 November 1900, p3 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/206584631
“A Few Goldfields Firsts: A Chronicle of Early Coolgardie-Policemen, Pianos, Parsons and Passouts” Dryblower, The Sunday Times (Perth), 9 May 1920 p1, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/57965855
“Did Jack the Ripper roam the streets of L.A.?” Bartlett, J: LA Weekly, https://www.laweekly.com/did-jack-the-ripper-roam-the-streets-of-l-a/ 24 May 2017.
"Don't Marry in Haste” Dead and Buried, Episode 1, Season 2, Godden, C & Hooper L, http://www.deadandburiedpodcast.com/dont-marry-in-haste, 24 February 2019.
“Jack the Ripper Suspects: Was killer Frederick Deeming hanged in Australia? McNab, D: 7News.com.au, 7 November 2019,https://7news.com.au/original-fyi/crime-story-investigator/jack-the-ripper-suspects-was-killer-frederick-deeming-hanged-in-australia-c-490935
“The Windsor Murder: Deeming sentenced to Death” Lilydale Express, 6 May 1892 p3, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/252177692
“The Historic Piano of the Demon – Deeming, Saves a Man's Life” Truth (Brisbane) 7 April 1901 p2, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/200507169
“The Windsor Murder – Deeming's Confession” Wagga Wagga Express, 12 May 1892 p3, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/145529905
“Piano and Violin” Sunday Times (Perth) 16 February 1930 p1, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/58375505
“The Windsor Murder. Startling Developments” The West Australian (Perth) 18 March 1892, p3, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/3033292
“The Mystery of Deeming's Coffin: The story of a contemplated murderer” Dryblower, The Sunday Times (Perth) 18 March 1934 p10, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/58716477
“Deeming and the Whitechapel Murders” Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA: 1855 - 1901), Saturday 28 May 1892, page 3 ) (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/174511191)
“Another Letter from Swanston to Miss Rounsfell” West Australian (Perth), Friday 25 March 1892, page 5, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/3033628
Queanbeyan Age (NSW: 1867 - 1904), Wednesday 25 May 1892, page 2