The Leaping Boogeyman Who Terrorized Victorian England

Depiction of Spring Heeled Jack. Ancient Origins

Panic on the Streets of London

Although the attacks perpetrated by Jack were at best embellished and at worst, complete fiction, it is interesting to note that there were a large number of reports about this cloaked figure in London at the time. The situation got so bad that a letter referring to the demon’s deeds was published in The Times. By this stage, ‘Jack’ had attacked a total of seven women.

The Mayor then ordered the police to track down the fiend and offered a reward for any information leading to Jack’s capture. They found nothing and over the years, tales of Jack’s deeds were exaggerated. In each successive story, he became more evil, leaped higher and possessed sharper claws. The story of Jack was so well known that he was blamed for almost every instance where a victim was attacked by someone in the shadows.

Later Sightings

Given the notoriety enjoyed by Jack, it isn’t surprised to learn that a few local fools tried to claim responsibility. One noteworthy instance occurred in the aftermath of the attack on Jane Alsop. Thomas Millbank boasted that he was Spring Heeled Jack in a pub and was arrested by James Lea, the man who caught the infamous Red Barn Murderer, William Corder.

What’s interesting is the fact that while Millbank obviously wasn’t Jack, he almost certainly attacked Alsop. He had been wearing white overalls and a greatcoat on the night in question and dropped the coat after attacking Alsop. The police even found the candle he dropped but incredibly, he escaped conviction because Alsop insisted that her attacker breathed fire and Millbank acknowledged that he was unable to perform that feat.

Sightings of Jack declined barring a wave of them in 1843. After that, he was spotted every few years in different parts of the UK. In reality, these attacks were carried out by different individuals and the hysteria surrounding Spring Heeled Jack ensured he received the ‘credit.’ One such instance occurred in 1847 in Devon when a Captain Finch was convicted of assault on two women. During the two separate incidents, Finch wore horns and a mask, a skullcap and a skin coat probably made from the hide of a bullock.

One of the most famous later ‘sightings’ of Jack occurred in 1877 at Aldershot’s barracks when a sentry spotted a strange figure moving towards him in the darkness. After issuing a challenge which went unheeded, the sentry was stunned when the figure leaped at him and began slapping him in the face. The sentry claimed that he shot the figure, but the bullets had no impact. In all likelihood, if he did shoot, he probably used blanks. Finally, the figure leaped away with incredible speed.

Jack was allegedly chased and shot at in Lincolnshire in 1877, while the last ever sighting occurred in Liverpool in 1904. While Spring Heeled Jack was never caught, there are plenty of theories. I will look at one of the most favored on the next page.