Spring Heeled Jack
Spring Heeled Jack – was he a creature, an alien, or a plain-old man wearing a strange costume and a powerful, hidden jumping apparatus? During the 1830’s, this ‘man’ terrorized England. Described as tall, thin, powerful, wearing a black cloak, the man could jump 20 to 30 feet vertical with ease. It was reported that he had large pointy ears and nose, with red (or orange) glowing eyes, and capable of spitting an odd white and blue flame from his mouth.
The Early Sightings
The first Spring Heeled Jack sighting may have occurred in September of 1837 in London, England. A businessman was returning home from work late at night when a mysterious figure vaulted over the railings of a nearby cemetery. The railings were at least 10 feet high but the creature effortlessly leaped over the wall and landed directly in the path of the strolling man. The creature was described as having pointed ears, large glowing eyes, and a large pointed nose.
A short time later, another report surfaced when Spring Heeled Jack was said to have attacked a group of people – 3 women and 1 man. All of the victims ran except for Polly Adams, who was left behind. Spring Heeled Jack tore off the top of her blouse, grabbed her breasts, and began clawing at her stomach. The attack knocked Polly unconscious where she lay until being discovered by a policeman patrolling his beat.
The Mary Stevens Incident
In October of 1837, Mary Stevens, a servant, was returning to her employer’s home on Lavender Hill. While passing through Cut Throat Lane in Clapham Common, Spring Heeled Jack sprang from an alley, tightly wrapped his arms around her, kissed her on the face, and began running his hands down her blouse. When Mary screamed, Spring Heeled Jack ran from the scene. Local men were alerted by the screams and quickly arrived on the scene. They searched for the assailant to no avail.
The next day, Spring Heeled Jack struck again at a location very near Mary Stevens home. He sprang in front of a passing carriage causing the carriage to careen out of control and crash. Witnesses at the scene claimed that Spring Heeled Jack escaped by springing effortlessly over a 9 foot wall.
Very shortly after the carriage incident, Spring Heeled Jack accosted a woman near Clapham Church. In this particular incident he left behind physical evidence – investigators discovered two footprints embedded three inches deep in the ground. The depth of the prints seemed to suggest some type of ‘spring’ mechanism in the shoes of the assailant. Note: A similarly-described spring apparatus was tested by the Germans during the war and resulted in a 85% failure rate (the men broke their ankles).
A few months later, January 1838, London’s Lordy Mayor Sir John Cowan declared Spring Heeled Jack a ‘public menace’. A posse of men were formed to search for the individual responsible for the attacks. It was during this time that the great Duke of Wellington, who was now 70 years old, joined in the search. Some sources indicate that the Duke may have had several close encounters with Spring Heeled Jack. Unfortunately, Spring Heeled Jack was never found and despite the increased scrutiny, intensified his attacks during the following months.
The Lucy Scales Incident
On February 20, 1838, Lucy Scales (18) and her sister Margaret Scales were returning home at around 8:30 PM, from their brother’s house in the Limehouse area. Reports indicate that Spring Heeled Jack jumped out in front of Lucy Scales and spat blue fire in her face. Written reports indicate that Lucy was ‘blinded’ – whether this blindness was temporary, permanent, or simply a figure of speech is not known. After the attack, witnesses claim that Spring Heeled Jack jumped from the ground to the roof of a house and made his escape.
The Alsop Incident
Two days later, on February 22, 1838, Jane Alsop (18) was in her home on Bearhind Lane in the district of Bow, when she heard a rapping on the door. She answered the door and found a black cloaked man who exclaimed “I’m a policeman. For Gods sake, bring me a light, for we have caught Spring-heeled Jack in the lane” (a black cloak was traditional uniform attire for policemen of this era). Jane, who lived with her father and two sisters, went to fetch a light for the man. She returned with a candle and as she was handing the light to the man, it shone on his face and she noticed that it was Spring Heeled Jack himself. He immediately spat a blue and white ‘gas’ into her face. She attempted to run back into the house but he held on tightly to the back of her hair. One of her sisters managed to pull her out of his grasps and drug her back into the house. Spring Heeled Jack continued banging on the door some time before hastily leaving. Witnesses claim that Spring Heeled Jack left quickly, dropping his coat in a field by Jane’s home. Another person was seen scooping up the coat and leaving the area leading police to believe that Spring Heeled Jack may have had an accomplice. The Lambeth police took Jane’s statement:
“He wore a large helmet and a sort of tight-fitting costume that felt like oilskin. But the cape was just like the ones worn by the policemen. His hands were as cold as ice and like powerful claws. But the most frightening thing about him was his eyes. They shone like balls of fire.”
The following day, yet another incident occurred on Turner Street near Commercial Road. Once again, Spring Heeled Jack knocked on the resident’s door and when a servant boy answered the door, Spring Heeled Jack asked to speak to the master of the house, Mr. Ashworth. The boy turned to call Mr. Ashworth when he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, that the visitor was none other than Spring Heeled Jack. With glowing orange eyes and clawed hands, Spring Heeled Jack waved his fist at the boy and leapt completely over the top of the houses on Commercial Road. The lad was able to supply an additional piece of evidence – under his cloak, the boy noticed that Spring Heeled Jack had an embroidered letter ‘W’ on his shirt. Similar to a coat of arms, the Gold ‘W’ seemed to indicate someone of royalty.
It was the Ashworth attack and the servant boy’s subsequent description of the attacker’s monogrammed shirt that led police to suspect Henry, the Marquis of Waterford as the culprit. The Marquis was an Irish nobleman known for his sometimes cruel and unusual sense of humor. Police surmised that the Marquis accomplished his leaping feats via springs hidden in his shoes. This theory was later abandoned when the Marquis died tragically in 1859 (he was thrown from his horse) while the attacks continued unabated for some time after his death.
After the Ashworth incident, attacks continued during the next year (1839). They stopped for a short while and then continued again in 1843. In 1845, the only known incident, involving a fatality, occurred on a bridge in New York, far across the ocean from the London attacks. In broad daylight, Spring Heeled Jack jumped towards a young prostitute, grabbed her by the shoulders, and spat fire into her face. The stunned girl was then thrown into a sewer below where she tragically drowned.
The Final Attacks
Things grew quiet for several years before flaring up again during 1877 in London. In Caistor, Newfolk, there were several reports of Spring Heeled Jack traveling across the town by jumping from rooftop to rooftop.
In August of 1877, Spring Heeled Jack appeared before a group of soldiers in Aldershot’s North army camp. A Private John Regan was standing sentry at the camp when he heard the noise of someone dragging something metallic down the road. He went to investigate and finding nothing unusual, turned to return to his assigned post. When he did, Spring Heeled Jack leapt at him and spat blue flames from his mouth into the boy’s face. Other sentries heard the commotion and hurriedly ran to his aid. Witnesses claim that Spring Heeled Jack jumped over the men, clearing them by 10 feet or more. The sentry fired at the intruder and claimed that bullets did not affect him (note that some reports indicate that these sentry men were not allowed live ammunition – ‘blanks’ were used to warn off evil-doers). The sentry described the attacker as tall and thin wearing a helmet and oilskin suit.
One month later, in Lincolnshire, Spring Heeled Jack was seen hurdling over several houses. As in the Aldershot episode, residents fired at him with shotguns to no avail. These witnesses claimed that the shots did hit Spring Heeled Jack and sounded like they were hitting some sort of metallic object.
Another occurrence was reported in January of 1879 where Spring Heeled Jack once again startled a carriage and horse team. The driver was crossing a bridge in Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Court, when Spring Heeled Jack, clothed in black and flashing menacing orange eyes, jumped onto one of the horses backs.
In September 1904, South of Liverpool in England, Spring Heeled Jack appeared on the roof of a church. He was spotted hanging on the steeple of St. Francis Xaviers on Salisbury Street. Onlookers claimed he suddenly dropped from the steeple and fell to the ground. Thinking that he had committed suicide, they rushed to the point where he had landed (behind some houses) only to find a helmeted man, clothed in white, standing there waiting. He scuttled towards the crowd, raised his arms, and took to the air over William Henry Street.
The final recorded event occurred in 1920 at the Central Railway Station in London. A man in a white cloak was seen jumping back and forth from rooftop to the street below.
Several Spring Heeled Jack theories have been proposed. Everything from a man with some sort of spring apparatus to the devil himself (it was reported that cloven footprints had been found at the site of one of the incidents) has been offered as explanations. Lack of hard evidence leaves a lingering cloud of mystery over this anomaly.
Possibly Daniel Cohen offers our best explanation. In the Encyclopedia of Monsters, Daniel noted that ‘penny dreadfuls’ were very popular during the era. These magazines, similar to modern day comic books, often featured stories of Spring Heeled Jack. Titled Spring-Heel’d Jack – The Terror of London, these stories may have distorted many of the facts we glean from this case although the chance of these events being entirely fiction seems unlikely…