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The Life and Crimes of Frederick Bailey Deeming
John Godl

On 23 May 1892 conman, bigamist and multiple murderer Frederick Bailey Deeming was executed at Melbourne gaol, in the British Colony of Victoria, Australia. Convicted of murdering his wife Emily, whose naked body was discovered with a fractured skull and cut throat under the hearthstone of their rented house in Windsor, suburban Melbourne. In England when the mother of his victim was told the gruesome circumstances of her daughters death she recalled work Deeming had done the previous year to his then home Dinham Villa, in Rainhill, east of Liverpool. Resulting in the discovery of the remains of his first wife Marie and their four young children, entombed in concrete under the floorboards.

After murdering Emily on 24 December 1891 Deeming made his way to Perth, Western Australia, where he was arrested under the alias Baron Swanston on 11 March 1892 and extradited back to Victoria to stand trial. The press had a field day, the sociopathic savagery of the crimes guaranteed sellout editions of any newspaper hyping the story. The unsolved Whitechapel murders still fresh in the public mind, combined with Deemings British origins made it almost inevitable that the sensation seeking press would accuse him of being Jack the Ripper. Initiated and given credence, however, by reports he confessed in transit to committing two of the Ripper murders. Soon articles appeared nationwide advancing theories, suggesting his motive for the Rainhill murders being to silence a wife who discovered his awful secret and labeled him "The Jack the Ripper of the Southern Seas." Prejudicial publicity his lawyers, which included future Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, strenuously denied, seeing their clients chances of receiving a fair trial fade with each sensational headline.

Deemings handwriting was compared to samples accredited to the Ripper, as foreign and domestic papers alleged his acquaintance with Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes. Eddowes it was reported had written to Deeming during his travels, although like many other claims this too remains unproven. On 8 April 1892 a report was published in the Melbourne Evening Standard claiming he had been identified by a London dressmaker as being in the East End the night Eddowes was murdered, seeing a photograph of Deeming she recognized him as a Mr Lawson. Whom she had kept company with on 30 September 1888, meeting him again the following day she claimed he displayed an intimate knowledge of Eddowes mutilations.

In Australia the belief Deeming was the Ripper was reinforced by accounts of his conversations with doctors at Melbourne Gaol, who were sent by the Court to determine his sanity. He told Dr Andrew Shields he had on occasions gone searching for a woman (prostitute) who had given him syphilis intending to kill her, and believed in the extermination of all such woman. Lamenting his contraction of a venereal disease he said with a peculiar intensity, "I've had my own back, anyhow, as more than one of them found out."


Frederick Deeming and wife Marie.
The case also proved a sensation in Britain, questions were asked in the House of Commons. While in Rainhill extra telegraph lines had to be connected and 22 clerks hired to handle the demands of journalists, covering the inquest into the Deeming family murders. Public interest in the case necessitating the scheduling of extra rail services, as the morbidly curious descended on Rainhill and slowly shuffled passed Dinham Villa. Over ten thousand lining the streets and crowding the cemetery to watch the funeral of Marie Deeming and her children, flowers were left anonymously on their graves for years afterwards.

Born in Birkenhead, Cheshire on 30 July 1853? Deeming seems to have always lived his life on the fringes of sanity, the youngest of seven children he was known in youth as "Mad Fred" due to his abnormal behaviour. Stemming, perhaps, from the savage beatings meted out by his tinsmith father. Who died insane in a workhouse, having attempted suicide on four occasions by slashing his throat. By all accounts Deeming had a stifling relationship with his Sunday school teacher mother, who instilled her puritanical interpretation of the scriptures in him. Deeming carried a bible with him on all his travels, and was obsessed with concepts of sin and punishment. Her death in 1875 came as a crashing blow and he suffered a mental breakdown, and later claimed her spirit compelled him to kill.

Described in 1890 as a hard faced, ruggedly handsome man with fair hair, ginger moustache, blue eyes and possessing an engaging way with words. He could on occasions pass himself off as a gentleman of aristocratic birth, and woman quickly succumbed to his charms. When arrested in Perth, only weeks after murdering Emily Mather, he had already met his next victim, 22 year old Kate Rounsefell, and was making plans to marry and kill her.

In the weeks before his execution, while appeals and petitions were made and dismissed all the way to the Privy Council, Deeming reluctantly resigned himself to the inevitability of his fate. Spending the last three weeks of his life earnestly writing his autobiography, going through reams of paper as he detailed his criminal career and alleged associations with people of high rank, including Royalty. When publishers in England received word they offered him one thousand pounds for the rights, however, following his execution the government ordered the manuscript destroyed with all his personal papers, describing his writings as a ribald folly. On the eve of his execution it was hoped he would make a full confession, and he was duly asked by a doctor and clergyman whether he was Jack the Ripper. The otherwise verbose murderer refused to answer one way or the other, undoubtedly enjoying the fame the accusation accorded him.

He walked to the gallows calmly smoking a cigar, while around twelve thousand people gathered enthusiastically outside the prison to commemorate the execution of a monster. Before the noose was placed around his neck the Sheriff asked him whether he had any last words, a few moments after saying "Lord receive my spirit" the executioner pulled the lever and the drop opened with a bang. Deeming fell seven feet and four inches, death was instantaneous. His body swung limply infront of a large, breathless crowd of ticket holding officials and members of the press. After his body was taken down a death mask was made and sent to Scotland Yard, for reference in the Rainhill investigations and in case Deemings claims of being the Ripper were later proven. Displayed in the Black Museum, it was described to visitors as being that of Jack the Ripper.

After his corpse had prodded and probed with by doctors and other interested parties it was consigned to an unmarked prison grave, until renovations earlier this century resulted in human remains (many minus their skulls) being relocated to Pentridge prison. Deemings head was removed and studied for signs of criminality by doctors interested in phrenology, his cranial capacity was around 1400cc, 100cc below the average for an adult male. Anatomist Sir William Colin Mackenzie later describing it as resembling that of a male gorilla, thus reinforcing the belief of Deeming being a monster in human form.

Today Melbourne Gaol is a museum operated by the National Trust and Deemings skull part of an exhibition of former inmates death masks and skulls, forensic trophies of executed murderers. Displayed sliced in two Deemings skull resembles a hideous ashtray, perhaps the ultimate punishment for such a narcissistic man. The exact movements of Deeming at the time of the Whitechapel murders are nebulous, due to the many aliases he operated under and compounded by his surreptitious movements around the world. On 15 December 1887 he appeared before Justice McFarland in Sydney on bankruptcy charges, being sentenced to 14 days imprisonment for his failure to co˙operate with the Court.

Having hidden five hundred pounds in cash and assets from creditors and torched his plumbing workshop for the insurance, he knew the full extent of his crimes would soon be apparent and when released absconded to South Africa. Changing ships and adopting an alias to throw off pursuers he arrived in Cape Town with his family in January 1888, sending them ahead to England. He soon began bouncing bad cheques with local jewelers, evaded arrest and returned to England. There is an impenetrable 18 month haze in his known movements, between March 1888 and October 1889. A period when he appears to have gone to great lengths to cover his tracks, probably fearing Australian and South African authorities were in pursuit. His questionable whereabouts during this time were later filled with dubious police and press speculation, especially in South Africa where Deeming became a patsy for every unsolved swindle and murder that occurred in this period.

The South African Police accused him of committing elaborate mining and bank frauds during 1888, crimes which took great planning, knowledge of high finance and the ability to forge complicated geologist reports, certificates and associated paperwork sufficient to fool not only investors but bankers who knew their business. Undoubtedly beyond the abilities of Deeming, a badly educated Lancashire plumber. If he had perpetrated these frauds, which many historians rely upon as proof of his being abroad during the Whitechapel murders, he would have been in possession of 5600 pounds - an immense sum in 1888. He would have had no need to risk himself by defrauding a jeweler in Hull in 1890, let alone have been forced to sell Emily Mathers possessions in Melbourne for the funds to buy passage on a ship.

Immediately preceding the Whitechapel murders conflicting reports have him in Liverpool, Plymouth and Devon. While others still active in South Africa, or incarcerated in prison.

Deemings brother, Albert (who was married to his sister˙in˙law), claimed he had visited family members at Birkenhead in late 1888. Although his presence in Britain was first irrefutably established in October 1889, when he surfaced in Hull posing as an Australian grazier named Harry Lawson.

The prison theory is also frequently cited by historians who rule him out as a Ripper candidate, although that hypothesis is based on incorrect dates. It was in 1890 (not earlier) under the alias, Harry Lawson, Deeming was convicted and sentenced to nine months for false pretences. Having defrauded a jeweler in Hull of four hundred pounds in jewellery, before clumsily escaping to Montevideo where he was soon arrested and extradited back to Hull. His alias saving him from the addition of bigamy charges, having married local woman Miss Mathieson, who unwittingly played a part in his plans.

Like so many Ripper suspects there is no irrefutable evidence to prove Frederick Deeming was Jack the Ripper, beyond an unwritten confession and many scurrilous claims by journalists. Who also accused him of vampirism, due to a conspicuous absence of blood in his victims and at the crime scenes.

Although the conduct of the press was frequently unethical it should be noted their sleuthing evidently played a part in the discovery of the Rainhill murders, a London journalist acting on details from Australia having followed the clues to Dinham Villa before the police arrived. Informing Mrs Mather of her daughters tragic death, before prompting local authorities to excavate the cement floor of Deemings former home.

Besides problems posed by his speculative movements at the time of the Whitechapel murders, there is also a significant disparity in the modus operandi of the killings.

Jack the Ripper was an opportunist, a predator he stalked the dark streets of Whitechapel and killed at random, where and when a victim presented herself. Grotesquely mutilating his victims he made no attempt to conceal the crimes, leaving the bodies where they fell. Whereas Deemings murders were the antithesis, and he had a motive for his crimes. He murdered his first wife Marie because she was blackmailing him, childhood sweethearts she used her knowledge of his past to extort financial support from him.

Deeming had abandoned his family twice, first in Australia and again in South Africa. On both occasions she tracked him down and demanded he support them, as she did when he was incarcerated in Hull Gaol. Rejected by him she informed Miss Mathieson of their bigamous marriage, but luckily for Deeming his second wife didn't inform the police, not in deference to him but in the interests of saving her already badly damaged reputation.

Her disclosure was just a small demonstration of the trouble she could cause him, and it undoubtedly signed her death warrant. Deeming was vulnerable, he could never feel safe while she lived. In prison he carefully planned his next move, to rid himself of a burdensome family permanently.

Released on 16 July 1891 he put his plans into action, sending his wife a letter of reconciliation, reaffirming his affections and pledging to send for them once he had found a suitable home and employment. To assist she kindheartedly sent him a thousand pounds, put aside for such a rainy day.

Scouting for a secluded location to do the evil deed he surfaced in Rainhill in late July 1891, then a sleepy town nine miles east of Liverpool with a population of around two thousand.

Posing as a military officer home on furlough from India he leased remote Dinham Villa from the widowed Mrs Mather, under the alias Albert Oliver Williams, acting on behalf of a fictitious Colonel Brooks who would soon arrive from India to take˙up residence. Convincing the elderly Mrs Mather the floors needed cementing at his expense, he spent days digging a grave and packing telltale earth into travel trunks for later disposal.


The Deeming children.
Sending for his family when preparations for their destruction and entombment were complete, he murdered them on 11 August. Using a native battle-axe to render them unconscious, before cutting their throats from ear to ear. Probably killing the while they slept, as they were exhumed wearing night clothes.

He wasted no time burying the bodies, and spent the rest of the night mopping up blood and destroying incriminating evidence. Later hiring a charwoman to thoroughly scrub the house, to make sure there wasn't a trace of violence or his family anywhere.

The idea of entombing his victims in concrete came from memories of his apprentice days, when he worked on the plumbing of Chester Cathedral and penetrated the sepulchre. The experience fascinated him, as did resealing the tomb in cement.

The concept worked wonderfully in Rainhill, the soil ideal for a cemented grave. However it didn't duplicate in Melbourne, where the soil was rocky. The combination of badly mixed cement and a hastily dug grave only 18 inches deep later resulted in putrid emanations, and his inevitable downfall.

He explained his family's sudden appearance and disappearance to nosy neighbours and the Mathers, as his sister and family visiting on their way to join her husband at Port Said. Tying up all loose ends by writing to his brothers and his wife's family to inform them of their moving back to the colonies, which was accepted without concern.


Emily Mathers, the last victim.
At Rainhill he met 27 year old Emily Mathers, passing himself off as a respectable bachelor he pursued and married her on 22 September 1891, inviting virtually the whole village to the celebrations.

Announcing he would resume his military duties in India the newlyweds boarded the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm II in Southampton on 2 November 1891, but ominously arrived in the Colony of Victoria on 15 December 1891 under pretext. Hiding her away in Windsor until he had made preparations to kill her, which he did to establish a scapegoat.

He secretly purchased the cement used to entomb his family in her name, hiring a laborer friendly with the Mathers to cement over the area he had buried the bodies.

In the unlikely event the bodies were discovered he would simply blame Emily for killing them in a fit of unbridled jealousy, assisted by the Mathers labourer. Explaining her subsequent (permanent) disappearance in Australia logically, she took flight when found out. Unfortunately for Deeming the murders were uncovered in the wrong order, leaving him with insanity as his only defence against the rope.

Deemings premeditation and motive doesn't correspond with the accepted slash and run pattern of the archetypal serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Unless the two sets of murders had differing motives, perhaps the deranging effects of syphilis exacerbated an already unstable mind and caused a psychotic episode vented towards the source of his infection? - but this is speculative. Unless new evidence comes to light to satisfactorily link him to the Whitechapel murders it must be regarded as most unlikely that Deeming was the Ripper, although in my opinion he was a much lower form of life. Vile as the Ripper murders were he at least confined himself to world weary prostitutes, never stooping so low as to cut the throats of four defenceless children.

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