Also called Spring Heeled Jack or Springald, Springheel Jack was the nickname for a mysterious sexual predator who terrorized London, England, from 1837 through 1838 and was seen again from 1843 through 1845, and in the 1860s, the 1870s, and in 1904 in other parts of England. His name came from the suggestion, by some who had seen him, that he must have had springs in his shoes because he escaped by making tremendous leaps that carried him great distances. Interestingly, a similar figure was later seen in parts of the United States, where it was sometimes connected to the sightings of UFOs. In the original sightings, some of the victims insisted that he had not looked like an ordinary human being. Instead, they said, he had fiery red eyes, clawed fingers, and the ability to make blue and white flames come out of his mouth. Tall and thin, he wore a cloak (which, according to one witness, had an embroidered W on the back), and some said a helmet and a strange, tight undergarment seemingly made of white oilskin as well. In January 1838 a vigilante committee was established to catch the attacker, whom public officials believed was a real person despite the odd descriptions, but he continued to elude police and more attacks occurred. The last Springheel Jack assault on a woman appears to have taken place in February 1838. The victim, eighteen-year-old Jane Alsop, said that a cloaked figure had lured her outside of her home pretending to be a policeman, and only after he began tearing her dress did she realize, from his red eyes, claws, and strange clothing, that he was Springheel Jack. A week later a similar figure called at another home, but he ran away after the servant boy answering the door started screaming. Residents of a British slum claimed that Springheel Jack was also responsible for the murder of a thirteen-year-old prostitute in 1845, but authorities did not believe their stories of the fire-breathing man who threw her off a bridge. Continuing Reports Even after his assaults stopped, however, Springheel Jack sightings continued in various parts of England, with most occurring between the 1850s and the 1880s. Some of them appear to be the product of mass hysteria or pranks, but others involve reliable witnesses who insisted they had seen Springheel Jack rather than a costumed imposter. For example, in August 1877 soldiers at the Aldershot Barracks at North Camp, England, claimed to have shot at Springheel Jack—wearing his customary cloak, helmet, and oilskin suit—as he bounded toward them from some distance away, with flames coming out of his mouth. When their bullets failed to strike the frightening being, the soldiers ran away. Later they would report that they heard metallic noises as Springheel Jack came at them. The last Springheel Jack sighting in England occurred near Liverpool in 1904, when people saw a man fitting his description on a rooftop. The man leaped to the ground, leaped over the witnesses, and bounded away. After this, no such figure appeared until 1938, when four children in Silver City, New Mexico, told of encountering a strange man who leapt over their heads. That same year, several people in the area of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, spoke of seeing a leaping, fiery-eyed figure who made blue flames come out of his mouth. No one connected these sightings with Springheel Jack until the late 1950s or early 1960s, when British ufologists began to suggest that Springheel Jack might have been an extraterrestrial. Since then, supporters of the theory that Springheel Jack was an alien have combed through UFO reports and discovered that some people have reported seeing high-leaping figures in areas where UFOs were previously or subsequently sighted. An alternate theory is that Springheel Jack is a being from another dimension or a demon summoned into the natural world via an occult ritual. Skeptics do not dispute that the attacks happened, but they insist that the perpetrator was actually a real person: an Irish nobleman, Henry de La Poer Beresford, also known as the Marquis of Waterford, who was living in London at the time of the Springheel Jack attacks. Often referred to as “the Mad Marquis” during this period, Beresford was well known to be a woman-hater and to enjoy jumping out of the darkness to scare people. Moreover, around the time the attacks suddenly stopped, he got married and moved back to Ireland. However, Beresford could not have been the figure sighted in incidents after 1845, because that year he died after a fall from a horse.
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning