50 years before Jack The Ripper terrorized London’s East End in 1888, another Jack gained notoriety in England. For a century he proved to be a terrifying menace, yet to this day nobody has been able to shed light on the true identity of:
September, 1837. London England. Polly Adams was walking through the area of Clapham late one night when a tall man in a black cape jumped out of nowhere and accosted her on a deserted street. The attacker tore her clothes, grabbed her breasts and clawed her stomach. A policeman found her lying unconscious while on the beat.
A month later, in nearby Barnes Common, Mary Stevens was walking home when a man sprang in front of her from a nearby alley. She suffered a similar ordeal to Polly Adams.
The very next day, not far from where Mary was attacked, the same fiend sprang in front of a moving carriage, scaring the driver and causing him to lose control and crash the vehicle. In full view of the driver and other witnesses, the man took off again, escaping by clearing a 9-foot wall with one bound!
This remarkable feat was not the only unusual feature of this strange entity. More horrific was the description of this person as provided by his victims and witnesses:
A man with bird-like claws for hands, glowing, protruding red eyes with blue flames emitting from his mouth. His face was long with a pointy chin. He wore a black cape and had a maniacal laugh…
And of course, he could jump incredible heights. The whole city of London was now in fear of the entity now known as Spring-heeled Jack. Even the Lord Mayor was forced to get involved after receiving numerous letters from panic-stricken residents. He declared Spring-heeled Jack a ‘public menace’ and an official group of policemen and volunteers was formed to catch the culprit.
More incidents followed and SHJ continued to make headlines.
20 February, 1838, Limehouse District, London. Lucy Scales and her sister were walking home around 8.30pm when Spring-heeled Jack jumped right in front of Lucy and spat blue flames in her face, temporarily blinding her. He made his escape by jumping from the ground onto the roof of a house.
Two days later on February 22nd, he struck again, this time attacking Jane Alsop at her very home in the Bow District.
Late that night, there was a knock on the door and being the only occupant awake in the house, Jane answered it. The late-night visitor claimed to be a policeman and announced that he had captured Spring-Heeled Jack. He demanded that the young girl bring a candle at once for it was very dark outside. When Jane returned with the lit candle, she noticed in its light, that the visitor, with his glowing red eyes, was none other than the fiend himself. He spat blue and white flames in her face and grabbed her hair with his ‘metallic’ claws. He tore at her clothes but luckily Jane’s family were roused by her screams. Her sister came to her rescue and pulled her out of his grasp.
A few more attacks followed but after 1839, there seemed to be a few decades of solace for the people of London, as SHJ disappeared from the limelight…
1877, Aldershot, London. In an army camp in Aldershot, young Private John Regan was attacked- Spring-heeled Jack spat blue flames in his face but then fled when other sentries on duty came to his aid. The bounding menace apparently let out a demonic cackle as he leaped over all the men clearing over 10 feet. The soldiers fired shots at him but it did not seem to affect him.
Spring-heeled Jack Heads North
A month after the Aldershot incident, SHJ was spotted in Lincoln, Lincolnshire. He made other appearances in various parts of England- his last reported sighting being in Liverpool in 1904. Hanging from a steeple of St. Francis Xavier’s Church, onlookers watched in shock as he let go off the steeple, falling straight to the ground. Thinking that he committed suicide, they rushed to the spot where he landed. To their surprise, they found a cloaked figure, standing, unhurt. He then ‘raised his arms and took off’.
This last sighting was over a hundred years ago. The legend of Spring-heeled Jack has become a mystery of the past. Or has it?
14 February, 2012. Scott Martin and his family were travelling home by taxi from Stoneleigh at around 10pm on Valentine’s Day, when they saw a strange man run across the road at lightning speed and jump over 15ft wall on the side of the road. The family were terrified by the apparition and the cab driver refused to drive back alone.
Hoax & Hysteria?
A few eyewitness accounts have suggested rational explanations for SHJ’s supposedly supernatural feats.
One witness claimed to see a spring apparatus attached to his leg (hence his name). Another stated that he had seen an emblem/crest beneath Jack’s cloak, suggesting that the fiend was of royal stock. In 1838, the Lord Mayor received a letter claiming that the chauvinistic Marquis of Waterford was responsible for the attacks. The ‘Mad Marquis’, as he was known, was notorious for playing sadistic tricks on women and became the police’s number one suspect until he moved to Ireland in 1843. The possibility that there could have been more than one Spring-Heeled Jack, is very likely.
I have not read a sceptic’s thoughts on the blue flames and the high-jumping however. I have made an attempt at calculations regarding the leaping. According to a few websites, an average NBA Basketball star can jump up to 30 inches vertically (that’s 2.5 feet). Michael Jordan can reportedly jump up to 40 inches (3 feet). SHJ was said to clear walls of 10 feet! The world high-jump record, which currently stands at 2.5 metres (8 feet) comes close but doesn’t apply as SHJ used to leap forward and land on his feet (something I’ve never seen a high-jumper do!).
As for the blue flames, I was reminded of The Hound Of The Baskervilles where the said hound’s supernatural appearance was due to a phosphorus mixture. Considering that scientists dismiss this as artistic licence on ACD’s part, for in real life phosphorus would have killed the dog, I think we can dismiss this as an explanation for Spring-Heeled Jack’s mouth of flames as well.
So my perceptive readers, what do you think? Was Spring-heeled Jack an elaborate hoax? Or was something more sinister afoot?
Other ‘real’ related Monsters
– The Mothman
– The Perak (of Czechoslovakia)
– The Monkey Man (of India)
Boar, R. & Blundell N. The World’s Greatest: Unsolved Crimes. Octopus Books Ltd. 1984.