Fifty years before Jack the Ripper’s grisly slayings rocked Whitechapel, Victorian London was terrorised by another darkly adorned phantom of the night. Although this particular assailant was never believed to have killed anyone, his antics were still as frightfully ghoulish, and his identity, just like the Ripper, remains unknown to this day, despite countless theories and suggestions.
Spring Heeled Jack was a true terror of London. His dreadful reign began around the September of 1837 when, at Barnes Common, three girls, over the course of two murky nights, were confronted by a spectre who tore at their clothes and bounded away whilst mocking them, his laughter echoing into the pitch night.
You may ask yourself what is so unusual about such an attack, but this criminal was more than your average local villain. The girls described the attacker as having fiery eyes, and then during the October a Mary Stevens, whilst heading towards the then Lavender Hill at Clapham Common, was groped then kissed by a laughing lunatic and the following night a stagecoach was alleged to have been attacked by a mystery creature.
On 11th October a Polly Adams was walking home from a fair at Blackheath when a cloaked being, with glowing eyes, accosted her. The fiend ripped open her corset with iron-like claws, exposing her breasts and spat blue flames from its mouth before mocking and leaving the scene with great, unnatural strides.
Such attacks would become eerily frequent, and most with the same pattern. Even men were attacked by the night prowler who slashed at their faces, meanwhile the ‘Peckham ghost’ was rumoured to be a similar spook and attacks occurred at Forest Gate, Dulwich, Hampton, Richmond, Kingston and Brixton where the humanoid was described as thin, but showing great agility, in a few instances alleged to have even leaped over high walls as if having springs on his feet!
On January 9 1838 the Lord Mayor at Mansion House addressed the issue and mentioned that a figure resembling ‘ghost’, ‘bear’ and ‘devil’ had, “…succeeded in depriving seven ladies of their senses”, and in the same month the name Spring Heeled Jack was coined.
In the February two sisters were visiting their brother at Narrow Street, Limehouse when, in a dimly lit passageway they saw a fleeting figure. The glow of a lantern illuminated the being and his mouth of blue flame. Then, two nights later a Jane Alsop answered her door to a man in a dark cloak and top hat who yelled, “I am a policeman, for God’s sake bring me a light we have caught Spring Heeled Jack…”, but as Jane rushed indoors to fetch a candle, the figure she returned to was no policeman but instead an entity of menace with flaming mouth and razor claws which slashed at her garments.
The legend of this eerie villain remains unsolved. Those researchers who have looked into the cases, which continued into the 1840s, and possibly beyond, suggested that SHJ may have been more than one criminal, or, an evil hoaxer, indeed the eccentric Marquis of Waterford was accused at one point, but whatever the case, such a monster has evaded explanation.
Strangely, similar attacks have occurred from Liverpool, to even parts of the USA, suggesting that there have either been many copycats to the notorious predator, or something far more sinister is at work, an unknown humanoid displaying supernatural abilities and characteristics that can infiltrate this void whenever he chooses, and slip back into the darkest corners…until the next time.