The Mystery Of Spring Heeled Jack

In November 1872 The News of the World published a story describing a horrifying apparition in South London The article said the area was ""in a state of commotion owing to what is known as the ""Peckham Ghost"", a mysterious figure, quite alarming in appearance

"" It wasn’t long before police identified the culprit as Spring Heeled Jack For four decades the figure had attacked young women, taking an impossible leap onto the rooftops to make his getaway The first known sighting of Spring Heeled Jack was in 1837 A young woman called Mary Stevens was attacked by a “diabolical” figure in a London park According to journalist Leanne Perry, the assailant jumped “out from the dark shadows, spat a blast of blue flame in the girl’s face, then leaped onto a nearby rooftop and vanished

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” Historian Mike Dash notes that following this encounter, an influx of people reported separate incidents of being terrorised by “a ‘ghost, imp or devil’ in the shape of ‘a large white bull’” The figure would mostly target women, ringing their doorbells, then viciously claw at them when they answered This is typical of encounters with Spring Heeled Jack Most reports describe him as a hooded figure who would breathe fire into victims’ faces before he attacked Frequently, he would escape by leaping several metres into the air, and clambering over rooftops to safety

He was never caught Testimonies from Jack’s traumatised victims give us few clues In 1838 Jane Allsop answered her door to a cloaked man claiming to be a police officer He asked her to bring him a candle Once she had obeyed, he seized it from her, using the flame to reveal “hideous and frightful features” with eyes that resembled “balls of fire”

The light also showed that he was dressed in sheath-like white oilskin and helmet A report in the London Times described how he “vomited forth a quantity of blue and white flames from” before forcing Jane into a headlock and tearing out chunks of her hair with razor-sharp claws Just eight days later the demon struck again Lucy Scales was walking home when she was ambushed in an alley by a mysterious cloaked figure who breathed “a quantity of blue flame” in her face The shock caused Scales to convulse in violent seizures that lasted hours

Her neighbours heard blood curdling screams Public outrage forced the Lord Mayor of London, John Cowan, to publicly acknowledge Spring Heeled Jack’s existence However, evidence for Jack comes entirely from personal testimonies, which can often be unreliable Eye witness accounts of Spring Heeled Jack do not add up He is variously described by his victims as being short, tall, black and white

This inconsistency strongly suggests that so-called “Spring Heeled Jack” attacks were not carried out by the same person Even Lord Mayor Cowan endorsed this theory He published a letter from a member of the public, which suggested the attacks were being carried out by pranksters as the result of a sinister bet The letter said the wager demanded the mystery man to traverse London and its neighbouring villages “in three different disguises – a ghost, a bear and a devilthe unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies of their senses, two of whom are not likely to recover, but become burdens to their families” Journalist Kerry Sullivan says that at least “the later incidents were most likely copycats and/or crimes wrongly attributed to Spring Heeled Jack” In this case, a lot of the mythology about Jack may be down to mass hysteria Psychotherapist John Waller explains this is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when victims “are nourished by fear, sadness and anxiety… and subject to severe psychological strain over the preceding weeks or months

One or more then develop a psychosomatic symptom, [with others] quickly following suit” Often, the threat is imaginary but gains strength as the legend spreads through rumour and popular culture Certainly, Jack was a fixture of comics and ghost stories of the time, and this undoubtedly contributed to how he was perceived by the public There are two main theories concerning the identity of the original Spring Heeled Jack Author Peter Haining believes he was actually the “Mad” Marquess of Waterford

The Marquess had been known as an infamous prankster since 1837, when he drunkenly painted the English town of Melton Mowbray in red paint while its inhabitants slept Haining says the Marquess may have instigated the attacks due to a rumoured humiliating sexual experience that left him seeking revenge against women He had a number of well-educated engineer friends who would have been able to design “spring heeled” shoes to facilitate extremely high jumps Haining posits that the eccentric Marquess could also have mastered fire breathing to refine his ghoulish persona It is also possible that Jack was actually an alias of Joseph Darby, a world-class spring jumping champion

Darby had the physical ability to jump great distances Critically, Darby was known to practice his sport at night In one case, terrified onlookers caught him jumping over a canal in the early hours of the morning Like Spring Heeled Jack, he was wearing a thick robe and a gas helmet to shield his face Yet, based on existing evidence, neither of these suspects has a tangible link to Spring Heeled Jack or “his” crimes

For starters, the Mad Marquess died in 1859, years before Jack’s attacks ended; and Darby was born in 1831, making him just six years old when the sightings began The spooky consistency in the style of attacks suggests there is more to these gruesome tales than urban legend But differing accounts of his appearance indicate that, if Spring Heeled Jack were real, he may have been an unruly collection of violent London pranksters Given how much time has passed since the attacks, the mystery of Spring Heeled Jack will probably never be solved

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