Friday 6 April 2007

Spring Heeled Jack

During the year 1788 a vicious attacker prowled the streets of London. The sinister fiend, often described as an 'inhuman monster', slashed, cut and sliced around several female victims in a two year reign of terror. The man and his evil acts have become the stuff of legend.

Unfortunately, descriptions of the vile 'monster', at the time, were inconsistent, leading some experts and authorities to argue as to whether the victims were merely fabricating the stories.

Some victims described being approached by a man holding a bunch of flowers. The man would then ask the victim if she would like to smell the bouquet, and in many cases when the woman neared, he would stab her in the face with a hidden spike or blade hidden among the petals. Other women claimed that the fiend slashed at their clothing, hurled abuse at them, and in some bizarre attacks the attacker would attach knives to his knees and swipe at the buttocks and hips of his victims.

During the series of hideous assaults, many local men were afraid to approach attractive women in the street for fear of being reported to the police, although the local authorities were also under scrutiny, with many victims claiming that the police were not doing enough to capture the mysterious villain. Several vigilante groups were set up, but these kind of gangs often picked out the wrong culprit and many pick-pockets and the like were often scrutinised for being the prowler. Some sceptics argued that the night prowler did not exist at all and was some wild creation imagined by some of the so-called victims. Hysteria was at an equilibrium during the height of the frenzy.

A club calling itself the NO MONSTER CLUB was formed by various local men who took to wearing badges in order to be able to identify themselves to women as harmless.

A 23-year old man named Rhynwick Williams was believed to have carried out the attacks when one victim, an Ann Porter, identified the man after he attempted to assault her for the second time. Williams had a strong alibi for several of the attacks however that had taken place, but during such a period of panic he was still convicted after to farcical trials and spent some six years behind bars.

Several reward's were put up for capture of the lunatic, but the mysterious demon seemed to vanish into thin air after two years.

Some fifty years later and another, and quite similar fiend was stalking the streets of London. 'Spring Heeled Jack', as the phantom was to become known, was a similar street prowler who assaulted many women, and his exploits are now the stuff of legend, eclipsing the more obscure London Monster, yet forever remaining in the shadow of Jack The Ripper who emerged fifty years later.

These strange fifty year cycles may simply be coincidence, but all three of these fiends of the foggy streets had similar motives, to stab and assault women.

Spring Heeled Jack emerged in 1837 when he appeared to several victims including Polly Adams as she walked back to The Green Man public house in Blackheath. She was returning from a brief visit to the local fair where she'd been approached and grasped by a sinister man. Upon walking home on Shooter's Hill, a figure bounded out from the darkness and grabbed her. The figure wore a dark, swirling cape and seemed to have eyes that burned into her own. There was a sulphuric smell from the fiend and blue fire flashed from his lips towards her face, he kissed her, all the while his iron-like nails dug into her flesh, drawing blood and ripping at her dress, tearing it from her body with ease. The shredded garments revealing her curving figure to the night. The figure mocked, yet did not attempt any further malicious action such as rape, but merely bounded off, with great strides into the night.

Polly was one of many to be attacked by the grim marauder and certainly not the last. However, the shadowy figure was only brought to national attention in 1938 via the disclosures of the Lord Mayor in January 1838 at Mansion House.

The reign of terror began, or was at least first noted in the September of 1837 when he assaulted four people (three of them women) at locations in and around the capital. One evening of that Autumn a businessman took a short cut on his way home. The route took him past the cemetery where the man encountered a shadowy figure which vaulted from over the railings, springing him into the air. The figure landed with a thud in front of the terrified man who turned and fled. Despite his state of horror and panic he managed to recall that the figure had glowing eyes, pointed nose and pointed ears. The following night the figure displayed his first violent streak when he appeared to three girls in the same area. The mysterious character sprang from behind the railings once again, but when he landed he attempted to rip the coat from one of the girls who managed to flee, accompanied by her friends. They described the figure as having glowing eyes and mocking them. As one of the other girls tried to run Spring-Heeled Jack attempted to grab her breasts and tear at her clothes. The girl collapsed and was found in the same area unconscious by local police.
Servant girl Mary Stevens was attacked a month later at Cut-Throat Lane near Clapham Common. She had been visiting her parents house at Battersea and was heading back to Lavender Hill when she was confronted by a tall figure adorned in black who leapt from the darkness and grabbed hold of her. The stranger slobbered over her face, attempting to kiss her lips and grope her breasts. The woman screamed and the figure fled into the night. The woman was heard by many local people who calmed her down and she told them of the terror that came in the night. Unfortunately for the victim, she was blamed for having an over-active imagination, but on the following night he was back, and in the same area. A carriage drawn by horses was halted by a mysterious figure. The horses ran in horror, causing the carriage to crash and injure the coachman. Bizarrely the figure escaped the scene by effortlessly leaping over a nine-foot high wall. Then, another female was attacked, this time by a figure in a dark cape at Clapham Churchyard. Again, the harasser escaped from the site but left two mysterious footprints in the mud which were around three-inches deep and appeared as though the person who had left them had been wearing some kind of apparatus

During 1938 the Spring-Heeled Jack (as he was to become known in this year) enigma reached an equilibrium. In the February of this year the athletic phantom attacked eighteen-year old Lucy Scales who was with her sister Margaret. It was 8:30 in the evening and the pair were visiting their brother’s house in the Limehouse area. With Lucy walking slightly ahead, she reached the entrance to Green Dragon Alley and was startled by a cloaked stranger who emerged from the shadows and blew bright blue flames from his mouth into the face of the young woman. The girl collapsed in her terror, her distress causing her to fit on the ground and Jack leapt high over Margaret onto a nearby house roof and away into the evening mist. Two days later another eighteen-year old woman was assaulted, it occurred at Bearhind Lane in the district of Bow. Jane Alsop was reading a book on this particular evening, it was just before 9:00 pm and the bell of the front gate sounded. Jane answered the door to a man in a cape who claimed that, “I’m a policeman, bring a light! We’ve caught Spring-Heeled Jack in the lane!”. With excitement Jane ran into the house to fetch a candle and returned to the door with it lit only to be confronted by a terrifying sight. The stranger was illuminated in the flickering flame, revealing a grinning face of what she knew to be Jack. The figure blew a stream of phosphorescent gas at the girl which partially blinded her. Sensing her disability he then began to fondle her, tearing at her clothes with cold hands. Jane screamed into the night, alerting her sisters who came to her aid, dragging her from the attacker and shutting the door of the house in his horrid face.
Jane was quizzed by the Lambeth Police Court and she described in detail a man wearing a large helmet, an oily, tight-fitting costume and a cape similar to that worn by the police. She shuddered when she thought about how cold his clawed hands were and that his eyes glowed like fire. Soon, the local newspapers realised that a real figure was attacking these women and so the name Spring-Heeled Jack hit the headlines and vigilante patrols were sent out to roam the areas. The Duke of Wellington came out of retirement in order to hunt Jack down. Armed with two pistols he went off into the night, but came back with nothing.

A week after the Jane Alsop incident Spring-Heeled Jack appeared at a house in Turner Street, just off Commercial Road. A servant boy answered the door to the shadowy figure who hid his face with his dark cloak and asked, in a deep voice if he could see the master of the house. As the boy turned away though, Jack made an error by stepping into the light where the boy could view the monstrous sight before him; glowing orange eyes and an evil sneer, clawed fingers and under the cloak an intricate embroidered design that resembled a coat of arms and the letter ‘W’ stitched in gold. The boy yelled with horror, alerting many people in the neighbourhood and causing a furious Jack to leap over the houses in Commercial Road and out of sight.
The male witness was interrogated after his encounter and many people believed that the mysterious ‘W’ stitched in gold on the strangers chest may have had connections to the Marquis of Waterford (Henry de la Poer Beresford), a widely known prankster known for his notorious hoaxes and jokes, which tormented and irritated many. However, how the Marquis managed to construct shoe apparatus to enable him to leap over twenty-feet into the air was beyond most theorists. Others believed that a whole posse of hoaxers were at work, in communication throughout the city. Throughout his days at Eton and Oxford the Marquis was known as a joker, during one extravagant day he painted a town red, slapping crimson all over people’s windows and doors, and even painting a watchman! Although fined for the activities, the Marquis and various associates continued their nasty frolics, and on one occasion he was blamed for the vicious attack on a Polly Adams whilst at the Blackheath Fair in 1837. The woman described her attacker as having ‘pop eyes’. In fact, his eyes were a noticeable characteristic, which possibly may well have linked him to the SHJ attacks. It is alleged however, that the family crest at the time was not a ‘W’ but many pinned the attacks on Waterford who was related to the various areas where the attacks took place. However, in 1842 the Marquis married and lived in Ireland, but a second wave of attacks emerged, only this time right across England, and included the murder in 1845 of a thirteen-year old prostitute named Maria Davis. Strange London leapers were still reported throughout London after the 1838 assaults but reports were inconsistent and sporadic throughout the late 1830s and early 1840s. In 1845 Jack was reportedly seen in daylight when he assaulted a prostitute crossing a bridge in the capital. He grabbed her shoulders and breathed fire into her face and then tossed her into an open sewer and watched her drown.

The Marquis of Waterford died in 1859 but in 1877 in Norfolk a similar figure was seen bounding across the rooftops in Caistor. Witnesses described the man as having large ears and adorned in something resembling sheepskin. He was also seen in an oily suit, a shiny helmet and seemed immune to bullets when he was fired upon by a sentry at Aldershot. Private John Reagan was guarding the powder magazine of the North Camp when he heard something ‘shrill and metallic being scraped’. With rifle at the ready the guard had a look around but found nothing. Upon returning to his box he felt a cold hand on his cheek which frightened the life out of him. Another sentry became alerted and they both saw the shadowy figure of Spring-Heeled Jack, his head garb shining under the moon. He leapt into the air and appeared behind them, laughing. Reagan raised his rifle and shouted, “Who goes there ?”. The dark figure charged the soldiers who, according to some sources only fired blanks. Jack spewed forth blue flames from his mouth, causing the sentries to run with fear.
A similar caped marauder was seen a month later in Lincolnshire, leaping over the thatched cottages in a rural village. The tranquillity was broken by his presence and the locals emerged with their shotguns only to hear their bullets strike something metallic. In the January of 1879 a man in a cart crossed a bridge on the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction canal. It was around 10:00 pm when he was confronted by an evil-looking figure in black that leapt from the undergrowth and landed on the horses back. The man tried to whip the ‘thing’ which eventually sprang off into the undergrowth. A year after this incident a Spring-Heeled Jack type figure was seen on the other side of the world, in Louisville, Kentucky. The figure leapt at women, ripping at their clothing. The culprit was described as male, with pointed ears and a long nose, long fingers and wearing a dark cape. He was adorned in a black shiny uniform and wore a helmet. A bright light was often seen on the attackers chest and he spouted blue flames at his victims as if to startle or temporarily blind them so he could grapple and grope them. Once the attack had concluded the figure was said to escape by leaping effortlessly away. Some fifty to sixty years later the same kind of figure appeared in Massachusetts where a number of attacks were connected to him. He was allegedly cornered on one occasion by four police officers but leapt a ten-foot tall fence to escape them. In most cases though, the attacker was described in familiar ways, with details which usually echoed the original London leaper. However, many Americans tended to connect their ‘Jack’ with UFOs, as they often felt that the figure was too tall and hideous to be human and walked like an astronaut does when striding across the surface of the Moon. In fact, in 1953 in Houston, Texas, a shadowy figure was seen crossing a lawn, the figure had a glowing outline, and either wings or a cape. The figure faded into the darkness but three witnesses claimed they heard a whooshing across the rooftops and a white torpedo-like object fizzed across the sky. Just over twenty years after this incident a motorist driving through the Yakima Indian reservation in Washington was startled to see a black figure leap fifteen feet out of a ditch and approach his car. The motorist believed the figure was around seven-feet tall, had long hair and wore a dark uniform with white markings on it. The driver sped off only then to see a strange light whiz across the sky.
In Lancashire during 1904 SHJ was blamed for many of the sightings involving a figure which was seen leaping from roof to roof. In Everton a strange figure was seen on the steeple of St Francis Xavier’s in Salisbury Street. As the crowds gathered the figure leapt into the darkness below. Many felt they had witnessed a suicide, however a few minutes later a figure in a helmet, dressed in white emerged from the shadows and hurtled towards the crowd. Women screamed as he approached but the figure somehow managed to fly above them, disappearing over William Henry Street.
Sixteen years later in Warrington another figure glowing in white was seen leaping across the rooftops in Horsemarket Street. The figure jumped the railway station and was never seen again. However, in 1948 another SHJ-type entity was seen prowling in the south of Wales. A weird-looking fellow was sighted leaping over a stream at Watery Lane, but this could have been anyone.

However, during the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s there are still recorded accounts of such figures. Some may well be hoaxes perpetrated by people who just do not want the legend to die, but some are weird all the same.
In the mid ‘70s at Westbury Street a weird prowler was spotted on several occasions and even pursued by the police. Said to have had red glowing eyes, the mystery entity was said to stand six to seven-feet tall, be adorned in all black and wear a dark cape. The figure was observed on number of occasions leaping from house to house, from roof to roof. The figure was also seen to walk down the side of houses and local pubs. One night the prowler was surrounded in the back room of Dexel Tyres but vanished without trace.
In the Summer of 1983 in County Durham, at a spot known as Nannygoat Bank, an odd figure was said to have been watched as he effortlessly cleared a six-foot high wall after flashing at people in the area. The figure was said to have worn pink tights and knickers on his head and exposed himself to motorists who passed on the A68 road. Whilst hardly sinister, the figure was noted for his athleticism as he escaped four farmers one night, leaving them trailing in his wake as he sped off across the fields never to be seen again. Yet three years later in Southern Hertfordshire a cyclist riding along a country road was startled to see a manly figure almost gliding over hedgerows. The figure leapt into the road, slapped the witness in the face, laughed and then jumped back into the field and took off. The witness described the man as wearing all black and having a long chin.
On December 2nd 1996 strange footprints were seen to trail for over two-hundred yards at Walton Park. The foot size was measured at around a ‘10’ and the strides measured three-feet apart, but most peculiar was the fact that the prints appeared to be burned into the soil!Meanwhile in 1995 in a village in West Surrey, a local school was terrorised by a figure in black with glowing red eyes, that appeared to children one evening during a leaving disco. Apparently none of the teachers ever saw the ghostly figure, only the children. The figure frightened the children who claimed that the ‘man’ wore black boots, gloves and played a flute-like object. The incident has become one of many similar ghost stories from around that particular area.


theo paijmans said...

Hi Neil - what is your source for this?

"...A year after this incident a Spring-Heeled Jack type figure was seen on the other side of the world, in Louisville, Kentucky. The figure leapt at women, ripping at their clothing. The culprit was described as male, with pointed ears and a long nose, long fingers and wearing a dark cape. He was adorned in a black shiny uniform and wore a helmet. A bright light was often seen on the attackers chest and he spouted blue flames at his victims as if to startle or temporarily blind them so he could grapple and grope them. Once the attack had concluded the figure was said to escape by leaping effortlessly away..."

I know the tale quite well from a number of secondary sources, but no author to date has given or was able to cite the primary source. I suspect therefore that this could very well be a yarn in the convoluted saga of SHJ.



Neil A said...

Theo, I'll check on my sources and have to get back to you as this blog was pasted from my self-published book 'CLANDESTINE CREATURES'.