“This here is Satan – we might say the devil, but that ain’t right, and gennelfolks don’t like such words. He is now commonly called ‘Spring-heeled Jack.” H. Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, 1840-1850.
The dark, rain-soaked streets of Victorian London were the homes of many. The overworked and oppressive residents of the city, the vagrants who made their way to the capital for work to be met with nothing, and those who wander the streets in search of more unsavoury opportunities. With the city-wide Metropolitan Police organisation not being established until 1827, and even then with poor performing police officers and rising crime levels, the overall real threat of coming across misfortune on the streets was higher than ever.
One of these unfortunate figures gained a fair bit of attention and alarm from the residents of London. The newspapers and public called him Spring-Heeled Jack. They called him a demon, a phantom of the night, and many residents went on high alert to protect their neighbourhoods. The word began to spread throughout London, and Jack became mainstream news.
Spring-Heeled Jack, a tall, thin man, wore what could be described as an excellent super-villain outfit; a skin-tight oilskin suit paired with a black cape. He had eyes like ‘red balls of fire’, and was said to have had razor sharp claws, either biological, or home-made, the reports aren’t clear. Witnesses say that Spring-Heeled Jack could breathe blue and white flames out of his mouth and nostrils, immensely terrifying anyone he came across.
The crowning descriptor, however, was the ‘spring-heels’. After committing his deeds, witnesses say that Spring-Heeled Jack would leap away from the scene, jumping over large walls and gates and disappearing into the night. Spring-Heeled Jack would never be caught.
October 1837, London. Mary Stevens, a local working girl on her way home after visiting her parents, decided to take a shortcut home through Clapham Common, an urban park in South London. The streetlights were dim on this dark evening, and as Mary Stevens made her way through the nearby snaking alleyways, someone jumped out of the dark and gripped her tight. Locked in a grapple, Stevens was sexually assaulted as the stranger kissed her face and groped at her with hands that ended in sharp metal, tearing her clothes in the process. Mary let out a scream, and her attacker quickly leapt away at the sound, startled, and left the alleyway quicker than he had entered it. The local residents immediately banded together in search for the assailant, but came up with nothing.
The very next day, several witnesses reported seeing a mysterious figure jump in front of a passing carriage, seemingly deliberately, which caused the carriage to swerve off the road and crash, leading to the severe injury of the carriage driver. The witnesses said the figure jumped away over a high wall, laughing a strange, high-pitched, garbled laugh.
Over the decades, big wave sightings of Spring-Heeled Jack have petered down to single sightings dotted around the U.K. It’s possible that Jack’s demonic powers did not include long-lasting life or immortality, so it makes sense that he would not survive from the Victorian era into present day without garnering more significant attention.
Piquerism is often defined as the sexual fetish of cutting or pricking another person’s skin, and it’s often debated that the real person behind Spring-Heeled Jack, behind the costume and fire-creating chemicals, behind the razor sharp clawed gloves, was seeking out fulfilment of this fetish. Going so far as to disguise himself and take to the dingy streets of London, bribing policemen and witnesses. It’s a bit of a far reach, but a common possible theory presented by sceptics.
The effort needed to rig together this costume and contraptions, assuming the high jumps were real, would have been astounding to produce in the Victorian age. The blue flame effect would also require some knowledge of chemistry, pointing towards an educated suspect. This would narrow the suspect pool greatly, as education was still somewhat of a privilege, and rich Caucasian males usually were the only beneficiaries. Since so much time has passed since the alleged events, the mystery behind this cold case has only grown as Spring-Heeled Jack still lingers in the collective consciousness.
Still at Large?
Spring-Heeled Jack has been transformed into a faint urban legend of sorts, often only being brought up in comparison to sightings of a dark figure on the side of the road, running and leaping, keeping up with a car. This is a common urban legend, as it is often fun as a child to imagine the same thing on long road trips. However, if Spring-Heeled Jack turns out to be a fantastical cover-up for the crimes of a sexually deviant nobleman, then it’s telling what wealth and influence can do to influence and subvert the public perception.
You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do. – Director