TODAY 1st August marks the 123rd anniversary of the discovery of the bloody body of Preston girl 18-year-old Mary Jane Langley. Her throat had been cut with a jaggard wound described as the size of a man’s fist. She had been murdered on the 30th July and her body hidden under a brick bridge over a ditch.
The murder and mystery surrounding the death of Mary Langley caused a media frenzy at the time and the subject was the main topic of conversation across the district. The scene where the body was discovered on Preston Long Lane (now Neat Marsh Lane) was visited by hundreds of people with a morbid curiosity about the case. The Hull Daily Mail reported how residents in Hedon were standing in the streets at a ‘unusually early hour’ discussing the case. By the following week it had become national news and a talking point across the country. “Thousands” apparently visited the Hedon Road Cemetery for the unfortunate girl’s funeral a few days later.
Despite this being ‘big news’ for several years, over time the murder became forgotten, meriting little mention in local law-enforcement or historical studies. But local Hull historian Mike Covell has researched the case extensively; he has introduced the modern generation to the reported details and mysteries surrounding the murder, particularly through his e-book “The Marfleet Murder Mystery”.
In Mike Covell’s words: “It is a Victorian story of murder and mystery, of early criminal investigation, psychics, and dogs being arrested. It is a story like no other, and told through the columns of the press of the period.”
Mary Langley, who lived down the lane where her body was found, had walked up to Marfleet railway station on the morning of her murder on Thursday 30th July 1891 to take the train to Hull in order get her photograph taken. The trip had not been sanctioned by her father who had expected her to stay at the family home that day. She made her appointment with the photographer – getting a photo taken would have been quite an unusual treat at the time – and later got the train back to Marfleet and it is believed that her murder took place on the walk back home and her body later hidden under the bridge.
Mary’s father William had gone searching for her on the Friday and it was reported that he had seen a dog scenting about the bridge where the body would be later discovered. Another report claims that William dreamt on the Friday night about a large dog rushing out of the brick bridge and that his daughter’s body was there. It was whilst on his way to report the girl’s disappearance that he ventured to look closer at the bridge and the body was discovered.
Dr. James Soutter from Hedon attended the scene and examined the body later stating: “A jagged wound in the girl’s throat was discovered, sufficient enough to fit a persons fist, and it could not have been self inflicted.”
Several police forces, including Hull, Hedon and Sproatley, joined forces and several suspects were arrested. One of these, Jack Rennard, was arrested along with his dog “Rough”. Rennard was put on trial for the murder but found not guilty of the crime. The murder still remains unsolved to this day.
In March 1892 it was reported that police had another supposition of who could have committed the crime; the suspect, who had been released from Hull jail on July 16th 1891, was Frederick Bailey Deeming. Mike Covell in his book reveals startling observations linking the bigamist, fraudster and murderer Deeming, with the Preston murder. He says that the “case for Deeming being the murderer is certainly stronger than the case for Rennard being the murderer.”
Frederick Bailey Deeming is also on the list of those suspected of being the notorious London Whitechapel Murderer known as “Jack the Ripper”. He was hanged in Melbourne, Australia on the 23rd May 1892 having been convicted of beating his wife about the head and cutting her throat. He was suspected of many more murders.
Mike Covell’s book re-ignites interest in this macabre murder – but more than that it is a painstakingly-researched attempt to answer some of the questions and resolve some of the issues raised but left unanswered at the time. And, as indicated above, it raises some interesting questions of its own!