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On the Trail of a 120 Year Old Preston Murder Mystery

Mike Covell and gravestone of Mary Jane Langley

LOCAL HISTORIAN and Ripperologist (i.e. someone who studies the Jack the Ripper murders and associated mysteries), Mike Covell, visited Preston and Hedon yesterday to research the case of an unsolved macabre murder of an 18 year old girl from 120 years ago. In his own words below, Mike gives his report from his trip. Reproduced with kind permission from Mike Covell. See his Blog: From Hell, From Hull – Hedon and Preston trip for original article:

THIS MORNING I had the privilege of travelling to Hedon and Preston, on the trail of a 120 year old murder mystery. The case occurred in 1891 when a young girl by the name of Mary Jane Langley was murdered on Long-lane, Preston. Her body was discovered by her father, and despite a man being arrested and appearing before the magistrates, no one was charged with the murder. A newspaper report at the time claimed:

“Startled by the terrible discovery, he rushed off to Hedon and obtained the services of… a medical man, who visited the spot, examined the body, and stated that life had been extinct for some time. The jugular on the left side had been severed. The gash in the neck appeared to have been with a large knife, which, however, could not be found. There were footmarks in the ditch, and it appeared as if there had been an attempt to push the body under the archway which spans the dyke to connect two fields. All the circumstances pointed clearly to murder. When Miss Langley left home she was weaving a watch and gold albert guard. These articles were not on her when she was found, and it is believed that after her throat had been cut they were taken from her. It is hoped that her watch and chain will hereafter be important factors in bringing her murderer to justice.”

Although a suspect was found and interviewed, there was no evidence linking him to the murder of Mary Jane Langley and the jury returned a verdict of “Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown,”

I wanted to look into the murder a little more, and decided that the best way to do so was to take a field trip…

The bus to Preston was bumpy and the wind and rain hammered at the windows. I sat at the front on the top deck, watching the fields of Holderness and outlying villages that surround Hull. I had been to Preston and Hedon some years ago, and had even been to Sproatley, so a few landmarks were familiar, but I took a map just in case I got lost.

Getting off the bus in Preston I decided to visit a location that I had been informed was known as “Long Lane.” It was here that Mary Jane Langley’s body was discovered in 1891, although the lane is sign posted as “Neat Marsh Lane.” I had asked a few locals prior to visiting, and all confirmed this was the right place.

The lane was 1.5 miles long, with drains and ditches along either side of the road. Several farm houses, out houses, and homes were dotted along the lane, but the flat fields of Holderness, the rain, and the wind, made this an eerie place to spend time. Eventually I came across a ditch with a bridge over that matched the newspaper reports from the period about 1.2 miles from the main road. I took several photos of the ditch and looked over into the shallow depths trying to imagine what Mr. Langley must have felt when he found his young daughter brutally murdered in the ditch.

After spending a few moments at the ditch I returned to Wyton-road, and proceeded to the Nags Head in Preston. It was here at this public house that “Jack” Rennard had taken to drink before setting off along Long-lane back to Hull, and thus becoming a suspect in the murder of Mary Jane. I spoke briefly to the staff who were really helpful, but sadly the landlord and landlady were ill and unable to talk. I informed the staff what I was researching and they were interested to learn about the story and outcome of the trial, and the pubs connection to the case.

At this point I left the pub and headed through Preston, taking in the architecture of the local buildings and narrow streets. Eventually I came across Hedon railway station, looking down along the track towards Hull. Mary Jane had left the train at Marfleet, but my ill health stopped me from taking the track to that station.

Hedon was bustling as I had picked Market Day and the fresh produce on display was mouth watering. The smells from local bakery’s and the hustle and bustle was amazing. In the past I have visited Hedon on nights out, and passed through on the bus and in car, but this is the first time I have explored the shops and buildings. I eventually found the Hedon Museum, and the staff were very keen to hear about Mary Jane, even going so far as explaining that Neat Marsh Lane was known locally as Long Lane.

Everyone was really helpful, and I aim to return in the past to look at the location in greater detail. I took plenty of photos and am hoping to feature the story of Mary Jane Langley in print at some point in the not too distant future.

I must thank all the staff at the Nags Head in Preston, and the staff at Hedon Museum for the help and assistance.

Mike Covell, 9th Feb 2011

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