When quarter moon hath paled,
And the bitter night is black.
When dying lanterns failed,
Along comes Spring-heeled Jack!
Today when we think of the darkened cobblestone streets of 19th Century London, the character that often comes to mind is the infamous Jack the Ripper, of 1888. Jack, also known as Leather Apron and the Whitechapel Murderer was believed to have been responsible for the murders of 11 victims. He was never captured or conclusively identified. His reign of terror began on the 3rd of April, 1888 and seemingly concluded on the 13th of February, 1891.
Less commonly known however, 51 years prior to Jack the Ripper’s first murder in the year 1837, another Jack terrorized the streets of 19th Century London. His name was Spring-heeled Jack.
Spring-heeled Jack first appeared in October of 1837, where it’s alleged he leapt upon a woman from the shadows and kissed her face and then tore her clothing, with what she described to be claws, that were as cold and clammy as those of a corpse.
Described by some as having horns, and eyes that burned like balls of flame. Many victims claimed his hands were unnaturally clawed and that he bore a resemblance to the devil himself. Though often described to be dressed as a gentleman. The most unusual trait of all, his ability to leap over gates and high walls, some 9 feet tall (hence the name Spring-heeled Jack, if that wasn’t obvious). It was by this means he always seemed to evade capture, leaping over walls and fences in a single bound. Often laughing maniacally as he did so.
It’s believed one possible candidate could have been the identity (or one of the many) behind the notorious legend:
“EXTRAORDINARY CASE.—”SPRING-HEELED JACK.”—Teignmouth was greatly excited recently, in consequence of a “Spring-heeled Jack” investigation before the Magistrates. A delinquent of this genus occupied himself during the winter in frightening and annoying defenceless women, some of whom were rather roughly handled. The police having been on the alert for some time, suspicion fell upon a Captain Finch, of Shaldon—a man of alleged ill health, and apparently sixty years of age, about the last person that could have been suspected.”
— Newspaper Article from the National Library of Australia
Strangely, the last recorded sighting of Spring-heeled Jack was in Everton, Liverpool atop Saint Francis Xavier’s Church, 1888. The same year Jack the Ripper first appeared. Reports of Spring-heeled Jack continued until about 1904 in England. Three years after Jack the Ripper’s last murder.
A curious period, the Victorian London of 1837 to 1904. A stretch of time, 67 years of torment and terror throughout the streets of London, that essentially led to a string of 11 murders.
It was a time of tall tales and what some might call mass hysteria. Was there ever a demonic gentleman terrorizing the night? Belching blue flames and leaping over walls? Were there a string of copycat assailants wreaking havoc, preying on the vulnerable, simultaneously building an eerie legend?
Is it possible, that through the decades of ‘Spring-heeled Jack’ evading capture, that a different kind of Jack was looking on in amusement. Eventually so inspired that he/she decided to try his/her hand with evading the authorities also? Only unlike Spring-heeled, the Ripper played a far more sinister game.