Ripping off the Dargle

2010-09-22 00:00

DID Jack the Ripper once stand drinks at the bar of the Tanglewood Country House in the Dargle? Well, if he did, he didn’t pay for them.

The hotel that is now called Tanglewood Country House was originally a house built by Alfred Singleton in 1864. It was then rebuilt in 1885 as a hotel by his son, Gilbert Singleton.

Some accounts have the Fannin family involved with the hotel. Certainly it was Thomas Fannin who settled in the area in 1847, and coming across a stream that reminded him of the Dargle stream in his native Ireland, named his farm after it. In time this became the name for the entire valley.

In 1888, a familiar face at the bar of Singleton’s Hotel was a Mr Demming who had leased nearby Portmore House. He gained a reputation for ordering rounds of drinks and then forgetting to pay. Being a likeable chap this foible was overlooked and a bar tab opened on his behalf.

One day Demming invited everyone to a lavish tennis party at Portmore with catering provided by the hotel. When the bill was sent the following day it was discovered Demming had skipped along with all his belongings. Bill and bar tab remained unpaid. And so the tale of the thrifty English rogue entered local folklore.

Well over a century later, in 2003, Alan Hunt, a member of the Barmy Army following the English cricket Test team around South Africa, happened to stay at the hotel, now renamed Tanglewood Country House. A power cut caused by a thunderstorm saw Hunt settle down to a lamp-lit evening in the bar where he read the hotel’s history. “What I came across in there was to startle me,” he later wrote.

In the history, compiled by the late Barbara Line, Hunt read that some years after the Demming episode a member of the Fannin family went on a trip to Britain and while staying in London visited the famous waxwork museum, Madame Tussaud’s, where, in Murderers’ Row in the Chamber of Horrors, he found himself face to face with the wax model of the man he knew as Mr Demming. The waxwork bore the name Frederick Bailey Deeming who had been executed in Australia in 1892 for the murder of his four children and two wives. (Other accounts say it was Mrs Singleton who visited Britain, but all agree on the identity of the waxwork.)

Now what startled Hunt, also a keen student of the exploits of Jack the Ripper, the unidentified murderer who killed several women in the Whitechapel area of London in 1888, was the fact that Deeming remains to this day one of the suspects.

Deeming was born in England in 1853. At the age of 16 he ran away to sea and to a subsequent life of crime that included bigamy, robbery, fraud and murder. In 1881, he married Marie James and they lived briefly at Birkenhead before heading for Melbourne, Australia, in 1882. By 1886 Deeming and Marie had two daughters, Bertha and Marie.

Deeming worked in Sydney and Melbourne as a gasfitter. He swindled one employer out of £200, while his theft of brass fittings from another saw him sent to prison for six weeks. In 1887, he was charged with fraudulent insolvency but jumped bail and disappeared.

In 1888, his family in England learnt that Deeming and his family were returning to England but his exact movements between 1888 and 1889 are unclear. It is known that Deeming visited South Africa during this period but he is also known to have returned to Birkenhead, England, at least once, where his wife Marie was staying with relatives and that she had another child. Deeming was also involved in a Transvaal diamond-mine swindle in 1889 (see box).

By November 1889, Deeming was living in Hull in the north of England and passing himself off as a retired Australian sheep farmer named Harry Lawson. There he bigamously married 21-year-old Helen Matheson in February 1890, subsequently disappearing during their honeymoon along with the wedding gifts.

Somewhere during this time, Deeming visited Marie and his (now) four children in Birkenhead. He gave Marie several hundred pounds and announced he was leaving for South America and would send for her and the children once he was settled. Meanwhile, before his departure, he swindled some jewellers in Hull. He was arrested on his arrival at Montevideo and extradited back to England and sentenced to nine months in prison.

On his release from prison in July 1891, Deeming headed to the Liverpool area using the name Albert Williams. He took a lease on Dinham Villa, a house in Rainhill, Merseyside, supposedly on behalf of a military friend, a certain Colonel Brookes. However, Deeming himself took up residence at Dinham Villa. Neighbours recalled seeing a woman and several children at the house. They were told by “Williams” that they were his sister and her children. Shortly afterwards, Deeming complained that the drains at Dinham Villa were defective, and the kitchen floor needed to be replaced. He had in fact murdered his wife and four children and he buried them under the new floor.

He then married Emily Mather on September 22, 1891, and in November (under the name Williams) they went to Australia and rented a house in the Melbourne suburb of Windsor. On December 24 or early on December 25, 1891, Deeming murdered Emily and buried her under the hearthstone of one of the bedrooms. He subsequently left the property. In March 1892, a prospective tenant complained of “a disagreeable smell” in the second bedroom. The hearthstone was lifted and the body of Emily was discovered.

The murder sent a shockwave through Melbourne and the Age newspaper likened the nature of the murder to the Whitechapel murders of Jack the Ripper in London.

Police investigations set about looking for “Williams”, but were unaware of his true identity. In early 1892, Deeming was using the name Baron Swanston and courting again, but the police were closing in and on March 12, 1892, he was arrested for the murder of Emily. Her murder had attracted considerable international media interest and while Deeming was being returned to Melbourne, news of the discovery of the Rainhill murders in England arrived in Australia. The police connected the dots.

Deeming was found guilty of murder and spent his last days writing an autobiography and doggerel poetry: “The Jury listened well to the yarn I had to tell, But they sent me straight to hell.” He was hanged on May 23, 1892.

Following Deeming’s arrest, speculation grew that he was Jack the Ripper. For example, on March 17, 1892, the New York Times reported the story with the headlines: “Perhaps Jack the Ripper. The Startling discovery made in Liverpool. A man arrested in Australia.” While Deeming’s movements at many stages of his career are obscure, it appears he may have been in England in late 1888, the time of the Whitechapel murders.

According to Hunt (via e-mail), when Deeming was arrested in Australia “he told his lawyer and warders he was the Ripper. He also wrote a confession which was either destroyed or taken by one of the warders as it was described as ‘rambling and obscene’.

“As to evidence of Deeming in London during the [Ripper] murders, there isn’t any … proof but a drapery shop owner identified someone looking like Deeming as a man who discussed with her details of the case and showed a lot of interest in the double event [the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on September 30, 1888] soon after, but the witness wasn’t taken seriously.”

Speculation that Deeming was Jack the Ripper continues. As recently as April 2009 it was reported in the Age that Geoff Crawford, a biomedical scientist from Melbourne, wanted to conduct a DNA test on Deeming’s skull and match it to evidence collated during the Ripper’s murder spree in 1888. Crawford said there was evidence to suggest Deeming was the Ripper: “The very severe slashing of the throat of his two wives and three of his four children is similar,” he said. “His make-up is of a psychopath. He saw women as a disposable asset. He got the money out of them and cut their throats — Jack the Ripper had a similar approach,” he said.

Moral of the tale? Be wary when offered a drink in the Dargle.

• Acknowledgements: Peter Delmar, Alan Hunt, Wikipedia and

Deeming the Gold Digger

IN an article headlined “The Story of Deeming — Notorious Bluebeard” in the Sunday Times of May 25, 1941, a “special correspondent” reported that in evidence led at his 1892 trial, Deeming disclosed “he had been resident at several places in South Africa, mainly in the Transvaal”.

Police evidence recorded “that Deeming had been manager of a gold mine at Klerksdorp, that he had lived in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Kimberley and Durban, and in every place he left a trail of murders and frauds.

“At Durban, when escape seemed almost impossible, he sent a death notice to the Klerksdorp and also to the Cape Town papers. It was even stated that he caused to be erected just inside the gates of the West Street Cemetery, Durban, a tombstone with the inscription, ‘Sacred to the beloved memory of FBD’.

“While at Klerksdorp, Deeming had a wife (one of many) and four children whom he had brought by rail and coach from the coast. Later he sent them back to Cape Town, and from there back to England where he deserted them.

“While the police were under the impression that Deeming had died and been buried in Durban and the hue and cry had died down, that arch villain was on his way back to England.”

An inset story with a photograph of Deeming taken in a Johannesburg studio provided further background on Deeming’s time in South Africa. A “Mr James Reid, of Elmtree ... remembers Deeming when he came to buy pick handles from Reid for the mine which Deeming was managing at Klerksdorp.”

The current issue of the South African Mining and Engineering Journal refers to Deeming in an article on salting. It says:

“What must have been one of the earliest cases of ’salting’ on the Rand was carried out by the notorious Deeming, the Rainhill murderer, who arrived in Johannesburg in 1889 and posed as a mining expert. A manager of experience was required for the Nooitgedacht Gold Mining Company. Deeming presented himself to the directors in Johannesburg, talked very big and was appointed. While in Klerksdorp he seems to have gone about in well-polished top boots proclaiming his own merits to all and sundry in an aggressive manner.

“The flamboyant character of his reports to the mine office aroused suspicion, and Mr Kidger Tucker went down to inspect operations on the spot. What he found caused him to suspend Deeming immediately.

“Deeming had, on demand, shown some chunks of banket rock with which he had secretly mingled rich Pietersburg quartz.”

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