Jack the Ripper; an urban legend of great infamy, a shadowy part of English history, a prominent figure central to countless books, films and even dedicated Jack the Ripper tours. Though the man is still shrouded in mystery, the atrocities he committed and the morbid legacy his phantasmal persona left behind still fascinate and intrigue scholars, authorities and the public more than a century later. With such important questions as why did he do it, who was he and how did he get away with it left unanswered, Jack the Ripper is in no danger of disappearing from our imaginations or nightmares any time soon.
Although we have never been able to solve the Ripper riddle, over the years we have learnt more about his ill-fated victims, the sadistic methods he used and the abundance of Ripper suspects. But has our preoccupation with the idea of a lone murderer, responsible for singlehandedly slaughtering Whitechapel’s working girls, turned our attention away from the fact that Jack the Ripper may be a glorified urban legend meant to tie together unconnected, senseless murders?
Jack the Ripper is not the first Jack to terrify 19th century London; that title belongs to Spring-heeled Jack, a popular urban legend based on the traditional folklore of ghosts in London which were said to stalk the streets and terrorise the living. Spring-heeled Jack was said to do just that, stalking and preying on lone women in alleys, passageways and poorly lit streets where he would rip their clothes, claw at them, disorient and frighten them – eerily similar to how Jack the Ripper was believed to operate. Spring-heeled Jack also terrorised coachmen and mailmen in the wee hours, depriving them of their post-shift gambrinous pleasure by startling them and their horses before scaling up or jumping over 10 foot tall buildings. Another similarity between Jack the Ripper and Spring-heeled Jack is their appearance. Our impression of Jack the Ripper has become one of a tall, gentlemanly figure wearing a top hat and cloak which in fact, resembles the tall, thin and gentlemanly appearance of Spring-heeled Jack, with his fire-red eyes and black cloak.
The similarities between the operation and appearance of London’s two most infamous Jacks is coincidental to say the least but you will need to decide for yourself whether this connection is nothing more than mere coincidence or if it alludes to Jack the Ripper being a modernised and hyperbolised version of an earlier 19th century urban legend…