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SPRINGHEEL JACK


WORMWOOD FILES: THE SINISTER ATTACK OF SPRING-HEELED JACK

Investigation by Dr. Mality


Hullo, guv'nor! I am your humble servant, Dr. Mality, and a seeker of the strange. Tonight, I'd like to take you blokes on a walkabout through the alleys of Victorian London, in search of one of the strangest rotters ever to haunt the shores of Old Blighty...Spring-Heeled Jack!

No, no, guv'nor....it ain't that other Jack, the one who cut up some dollies around Whitechapel and the East End. That's the bloke who gets all the press. No, our boy Spring-heeled Jack is a much stranger chap. Not as much of a killer, to be certain, but still plenty dangerous. Also, it don't seem like our boy is quite human, either...and he haunted these streets for almost a hundred years without ever being caught.

What was he? A mad nobleman fitted with some amazing apparatus? A stranded alien gone wild? The Devil himself? Or just a penny dreadful folktale blown up into a hysteria by barmy Englishmen? Come this way, guv'nor...I'll take you on a tour and you can make up your own mind.

Over here, sir....here's the old London cemetery where Old Jacky may have first been spotted. That was back in 1837. A man walking home from work in the evening passed by the cemetery and saw an amazing sight...a man bouncing over the tombstones and shrubbery in leaps of over 10 feet. As the man watched in incredulity, the figure jumped right over the iron fence surrounding the cemetery, a fence 10 feet high, and landed right in the street in front of him. Our witness recoiled in fear....the man was dressed in a peculiar white outfit, his eyes burned like balls of fire and his face was cruelly pinched, with a long nose. The grotesque figure leapt into the sky again, leaving our bloke to run in fear to the nearest bobby. The report was logged and ignored as the ramblings of a drunk. Only in the months to come would the significance of the sighting reveal itself...

Over the next few months, this odd being would be spotted in all corners of London and also in the British Midlands. Always the description was the same...the immense leaps, the burning eyes, the peculiar clothing. Sometimes the figure was described as having sharp claws or wearing a helmet. And it did not content itself just to hop merrily along. Three women and one man were physically attacked by the creature. One girl, Polly Adams, was viciously assaulted, with her clothing torn and shredded. Over the years, Spring-heeled Jack seemed to have a fondness for attacking and almost raping (but stopping just short of the actual act) young women. Polly fainted from fright and was discovered by a patrolling policemen.

London police knew they had something crazy going on, but weren't sure what. The newspapers of the day had themselves a high time with the stories and soon concocted the name for the leaping maniac...Spring-Heeled Jack. Jack would not be a passing fancy, but would bedevil England for almost a century!

Look over here, guv'nor! This is Cut-throat Lane, surely not a place you'd like to linger in after dark. But that's what Mary Stevens did in October 1837...she used it as a shortcut to get from her boss's home in Lavender Hill to her own abode in Clapham Commons. Mary should have known better! A weird cloaked figure leapt at her from the darkness of Cut-Throat Lane, grabbed her tightly and started trying to kiss her! When Mary screamed loud enough to raise the dead, Jack took off in a hurry by leaping away, escaping a posse of men pursuing him

Clapham Commons was a favorite haunt of Jack's in 1837. He would run out in front of passing carriages, frightening the horses, then laughing and bounding away. He tried to asault another women and for the first time, there were footprints left behind. These peculiar prints were some of the rare physical evidence Jack left behind. The prints were 3 inches deep, suggested that the maker had dropped from a substantial height. The police began to suspect that a lunatic was on the loose, dressed up in a monster costume and wearing shoes with a powerful spring mechanism in them.

So numerous were sightings of the high-leaping mysteryman that London Mayor John Cowan declared him a public menace and ordered the organization of citizen posses to track down and capture him. A kind of hysteria gripped old London town and no doubt this heightened state of anxiety contributed to false sightings and misidentifications of Jack. The great hero of the Napoleonic Wars, the Duke of Wellington, even enlisted in the search, but was unable to apprehend his prey.

1838 not only saw no lessening of Jack's appearances but a more aggressive, visible presence in London. February 20 provided perhaps the most infamous assault in the entire Spring-Heeled Jack canon...his attack on sisters on Lucy and Margaret Scales, who were returning on foot through the notorious Limehouse district after a visit to their brother. Without warning, a grotesque figure leapt out of a small alley in front of the pair and, according to both sisters, seemed to spit blue fire directly in Lucy's face! This was the first time that Jack demonstrated the fire-spitting ability but it would not be the last. Poor Lucy was blinded by the assault, although it was never made clear if the blindness was permanent or temporary. Margaret said that the fiendish attacker laughed and leaped prodigiously to a nearby roof, making his escape. Local police found the two girls in near hysterics.

Now, look over here, guv'nor...now we're in the Bow district, home of many a Cockney lad and lass. It was here just two days after the attack on the Scales sisters that young Jane Alsop heard a furious pounding on her door. Asking what the commotion was about, she heard a voice say "I'm a policeman! For God's sake, bring a light, for we have caught Spring-Heeled Jack in the lane!" When the excited girl opened the door with lantern in hand, she saw what first appeared to be a policeman wearing a bobby helmet and a cape in the shadows. But it wasn't John Law she saw, oh no, not at all...

The young lass got the fright of her life, as a horrible figure with "eyes resembling balls of fire" leapt in front of her and "vomited forth a quantity of blue and white flame from the mouth". Jack then swooped in with taloned hands to grope and tear the terrified Jane, who beat at him and screamed. Her screams brought the attentions of her two sisters and soon, more local police. Once again, Jack escaped by a series of huge leaps over fences and hedges.

Jane was cut and bruised by her encounter with the fiend, but she gave the best description yet of the weird character. He wore tight-fitting garments "like a white oilskin" as well as a large helmet. By now, the entire city was in an uproar. Who...or what...was attacking women apparently at random? The more superstitious began to fear that the Devil himself was stalking the streets...

Jack seemed to be on a rampage. One day after scaring Jane Alsop out of her wits, he appeared on Turner Street...a much more well-to-do neighborhood than those he haunted previously. He tried his phony policeman trick again at the house of one Mr. Ashworth, but a careful servant boy cautiously got a look at the visitor first...and again noticed the glowing red eyes and strange clothes. Slamming the door in Jack's face, the boy saw him bound away with huge leaps...but he also noticed something else, something very important. As Jack's cloak flew back, the lad saw a fancy monogrammed "W" on his shirt.

This bit of evidence was to prove significant. The police theorized that the "W" may have been an indication that Spring-Heeled Jack was actually Henry Beresford, the Marquis of Waterford, who was nicknamed "The Mad Marquis" for his wild acts of vandalism and disrespect for the law. Indeed, the Marquis was responsible for bringing the phrase "painting the town red" into vogue...he and several friends actually did use red paint in a drunken orgy of vandalism after a successful fox hunt.

Beresford was known to have a dislike of the police and also had several less than successful romantic encounters. Was Spring-Heeled Jack actually the Marquis in disguise, using some sort of mechanical rig to achieve his prodigious leaps? Some still believe that he was indeed responsible for some of Jack's crimes. But, as we shall see, Spring-Heeled Jack continued to appear for many years after Beresford not only "reformed" but died. He married in 1842 and thereafter settled down to a much quieter life, eventually dying in 1859.

1838 and 1839 were Jack's busiest years. He appeared sporadically in the early 1840's but without the violence of his early encounters. Coincidentally, 1842 was a year where he was barely seen at all...the same year the Marquis of Waterford was married. But in 1843, appearances began to pick up again and the hunt was on once more for the bizarre apparition who used London as his private playground.

Now look over here...see this miserable collection of shacks and run-down houses set by this stinking swamp? That's one of the worst slums in England, known as Jacob's Island. And over there is a filthy little canal called Folly Ditch. Right there is where Spring-Heeled Jack took a life for the only time in his decades' long career.

The victim was poor Maria Davis, a poxy little "bangtail" barely out from under her mother's skirts. One day Maria was crossing the rickety bridge over Folly Ditch when Jack leapt from nowhere and landed on the bridge right next to her. Before the terrified girl could do anything, the fiend spat blue fire in her face, picked her up with ease and dumped her over the bridge into the dirty mud and water below. She had no chance and by the time others arrived to help, she had drowned. The brazen act was seen by dozens, who saw Jack again jump to safety. Never before had his actions caused the death of another.

The years rolled on. Just when people had forgotten old Jackie, he would come bounding out of the shadows to stir things up again. "Time for Spring-heeled Jack again..." the wags would say and sure enough, he would be spotted leaping across rooftops or spitting blue flame at somebody again. His appearances became less violent and more pranksterish. Was it the same lunatic who struck in the 1830's that was seen jumping from house to house in the 1850's? It hardly seems likely. The Marquis of Waterford settled down and passed away quietly and still Jack was seen

The late 1870's brought a strong flurry of Spring-Heeled sightings. It was now almost forty years since the phantom fiend was first spotted. August of 1877 saw Jack grow bold and attack a group of soldiers on patrol in Aldershot. He spat blue fire in the face of Private John Regan and jump away laughing as the other soldiers tried to shoot him down. Some reports say that Jack ignored the bullets....others say the soldiers had no live ammunition. The journalism of the period tended to be on the "sensational" side, to say the least.

In the 1880's, Jack disappeared...most of his press was stolen by another gentleman named Jack, this one not anywhere near as good a leaper but much more skilled with a knife. It seemed as if our boy had retired for good....

But no, no, guv'nor! Old Jack still had some spring in his step. This time, he jumped into a whole new CENTURY! Yes, indeed, in 1904, he made one of his last...and most spectacular...appearances in Liverpool, home of the Beatles. Amazed citizens saw a cloaked and helmeted figure clinging to the steeple of St. Francis Xavier's Church. A crowd gathered to gawk at the site..and then screamed as the figure released its grip and fell to the ground. When the spectators rushed around a wall to see Jack's body laying lifelessly on the ground, they were astounded to see a tall, thin man in weird clothes standing there unharmed. The figure ran towards the frightened crowd, leapt into the air and bounded over them, escaping into the city...

After that, there is only one more English sighting of a being that COULD be Spring-Heeled Jack. In 1920, people gathered at London's Central Railway spied a weird form in white jumping from roof to roof amongst the buildings there. Was it Jack? Could it be anybody else?

That was close to 80 years after the mysterious maniac had first been spotted. And it was truly the last time that this character appeared. At least in England. Around the world, other leaping lunatics have been spotted from time to time. For example, you Yanks had a similar character show up in Houston, Texas in 1953, although his appearances were few and far between. The mysterious "Mad Gasser of Mattoon" has some resemblance to Spring-Heeled Jack, although he preferred to attack people with noxious fumes instead of leaping like a human jackrabbit.

Who or what was Spring Heeled Jack? Well, it's pretty safe to say that no one will ever know for sure, not at this late date. Or unless Jack himself shows up to set the record straight. Some question whether there even was a Spring-Heeled Jack. It is certainly likely that some of the reports concerning Jack are dubious or fuzzy when it comes to specifics. But there were just too many reports, from too many sources to dismiss Jack as complete fiction.

Could there have been more than one person playing the role? Surely, if he was a human being, it could not have been the same person in 1904 that was jumping around in 1839. The Marquis of Waterford was eliminated as a suspect for many of the later appearances. But could he have been responsible for the earliest reports? It seemed in his character to commit such acts. After his "reformation", was it copycats who continued the tradition? Indeed, could it have been a "cult" of pranksters dedicated to carrying on the legacy of Spring-Heeled Jack?

If it was normal men committing Jack's acts, they must have had some sort of apparatus to enable him to jump. Throughout history, there have been attempts to fit men with powerful springs enabling them to jump long distances. But such attempts always ended in failure. Most notably, the Nazis tried to equip some of their crack troops with such springs, but the result was a total disaster, as almost all of the men suffered from broken ankles and torn hamstrings. Even today, nobody has been able to come up with such a device. So if Spring-Heeled Jack was a crazy human inventor, he was far, far ahead of his time.

Was Jack human at all? The superstitious believed him to be a demon or goblin of some kind. If he was a demon, he was a minor league vandal for sure. Only in the case of Maria Davis did death result from his actions. For the most part, he was a juvenile prankster, not a murderous fiend.

A daring hypothesis supposes that Jack may have been an alien astronaut stranded on Earth. His prodigious leaps may have been due to our gravity seeming weak compared to his normal gravity. Many witnesses described him wearing a helmet and some kind of slick garb. His "blue flame" could have been some kind of protective device. It is also theorized that Jack's strange behavior might have been due to his not being used to Earth's atmosphere and constantly being in a state similar to "the bends". The lonely, crazed visitor would hide from humanity, only occasionally hopping around in fits of madness.

That is a fanciful theory, but it could be that Jack was a visitor from INNER space, not another world. Quantum mechanics holds that our universe is only one of an infinite number that exist side by side. Many of the strange phenomena such as ghosts, UFOs and odd characters like Spring-Heeled Jack could be unwitting beings who "cross over" from their dimension to ours under special circumstances. I think this theory would explain much of the unexplained.

But there, good sir, our tour of Spring-Heeled Jack's stomping ground has come to an end. I hope you enjoyed our little walkabout of old Jacky's haunts. Our boy hasn't been seen in many a year now, but who knows? Maybe someday, he will come leaping back into our dull and common world. I almost look forward to it!

This is Dr. Abner Mality, turning out the lights.