SOME of the more macabre elements of the town’s history are being showcased at the Smithy Heritage Centre, in Eccleston.
The ‘Murder Most Foul’ exhibition is examining some of fascinating crimes that shocked communities to their core more than a century ago.
Its highlight is dedicated to a notorious killer and bigamist as well as ‘Jack the Ripper’ suspect Frederick Bailey Deeming, who gave the village of Rainhill worldwide notoriety as the scene of the horrific murder of his wife and four children.
Deeming came to the area in July 1891 buying Dinham Villa supposedly on behalf of a military friend ‘Colonel Brookes’ ordering the kitchen floor to be replaced and concreted.
In his time in Rainhill Deeming went on to murder his first wife, Marie and their four children, burying them under the kitchen floor.
Within two months under the alias Albert Williams he had married Rainhill resident Emily Mather, who he would later murder in Melbourne, Australia on Christmas Eve, burying her in similar fashion under the hearthstone of one of her bedrooms, covering the body with cement.
Eventually all the bodies were dug out – one in Melbourne and the others 12,000 miles in Rainhill.
Deeming was finally arrested in March 1892 in Perth and extradited back to Melbourne to stand trial where he was sentenced to death, reportedly making claims he was responsible for the Jack the Ripper killings.
Throughout his life Deeming used more than 20 aliases and committed crimes on three continents. He was hanged on May 23 1892 at the old Melbourne Gaol in what had been one of the most sensational crime stories in Australian history.
And the fascination is still felt today – as one of Emily Mather’s living relatives can testify following a visit to Australia.
Rainhill-born Ann Berry (nee Mather), who now lives in Warrington, is the great-niece of Emily and on a visit to Australia in 2010 with her husband Geoff decided to visit her great aunt’s gravestone as well as the old Melbourne Gaol, which is now a visitor centre.
“The Australian people were so devastated by the Deeming story that they paid for the gravestone of Emily Mather. It’s a huge gravestone in an absolutely massive cemetery,” recalls Ann, 67.
“It was quite emotional and weird seeing the name Mather on it. It was an absolutely huge gravestone and a massive cemetery.
“We also visited the gaol and the people there were fascinated when we told them who we were.
“I remember getting the tickets and then suddenly seeing two glass cases on the left-hand side with death masks in them – one of which was Deeming’s.
“It was certainly a weird experience. They have a cell which was dedicated to Deeming and they allowed us to have a wander round and they photocopied birth certificates and details we gave them.
“And then later when we were in Sydney for the New Year fireworks overlooking the Harbour Bridge I picked up a newspaper and there was Deeming. I couldn’t believe it! They had uprooted a skull and were trying to determine whether it belonged to him or Ned Kelly.”
The Smithy’s exhibition includes information on the history of the police force in St Helens, featuring old Victorian police uniforms – a complete contrast to the modern 21st Century crime fighting outfits.
Meanwhile, historian Ted Forsyth has also been on hand to talk about grisly aspects of crime in the town’s history.
His presentations include slideshows outlining aspects of crimes in the area’s history, such as the wartime murder of Gladys Appleton who in 1944 was found dead on the driveway to the ELMS on Cowley Hill Lane.
Witnesses claimed to have seen a drunken soldier.
As police went to Rainford barracks a soldier John Davidson was in custody for being absent without leave on the night of the murder.
He denied the murder but later confessed and eventually was hanged.
In addition, some facts about capital punishment including the tale of Richard Roose, a cook who killed at least 17 people leading to a special Act of Parliament being passed so that he could be boiled to death.
“I enjoy giving the talks because other people enjoy them,” says Ted.
The exhibition runs until Heritage Weekend on Sunday, September 14.