An imaginative rendering of Springheel Jack at Aldershot, England, 1877.

Fortean Picture Library

The attacker was tall and thin, had pointed ears and fiery eyes, and wore a cloak. He tore at his female victims' clothes and ripped their flesh with hands that felt like iron. When he escaped, he did not run; he bounced away. Those who saw his feet swore he had springs in his boot heels.

At first, the authorities had a hard time believing what victims were telling them. But by January 1838 so many Londoners had seen the figure that the Lord Mayor formed a vigilance committee to capture "Spring Heeled Jack."

In one especially notorious incident, he tried to snatch 18-year-old Jane Alsop right out of her own house. According to the London Times (February 22, 1838), he "presented a most hideous and frightful appearance, and vomited forth a quantity of blue and white flame from his mouth, and his eyes resembled red balls of fire. . . . [H]e wore a large helmet, and his dress, which appeared to fit him very tight, seemed to her to resemble white oil skin." The young woman was saved by family members.

One day in 1845, in full view of frightened onlookers, Jack tossed a prostitute off a bridge; she drowned in the open sewer below. Sightings of a comparable figure were recorded elsewhere in England in 1877. In 1904 more than 100 residents of Everton saw a man in a flowing cloak and black boots making great leaps over streets and rooftops.

Who -- or what -- was Spring-heel Jack? Some suspected that he was a rowdy nobleman, Henry, Marquis of Waterford, who died in 1859. Doubters countered that Jack-like leaps are physically impossible. During World War II German paratroopers who put springs in their boot heels got broken ankles for their efforts. Was Jack an alien? In July 1953, three Houston residents reported seeing a tall, bounding figure "wearing a black cape, skintight pants, and quarter-length boots." For a few minutes he remained visible in the pecan tree into which he had jumped. He disappeared shortly before a rocket-shaped UF­O shot upward from across the street.

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