1838, February 20: The Jane Alsop Assault

On a February 20, 1838, Jane Alsop, who lived with her father and two sisters on Bearbind Lane, on the outskirts of the village of Old Ford in the district of Bow in the East end of London, England, answered a violent knocking at the front gate to their house. A man in the shadows by the front gate identified himself as a police officer, and asked her to bring a light... for, he claimed, he had captured the infamous Spring-Heeled Jack, a strange leaping hoodlum who had been rumored to be frightening people in random parts of London.

        Excited, Alsop fetched a candle, hurried out to the gate, and handed the light to the policeman. He threw off his cloak and held the candle to his chest; in the flickering light he presented a hideous appearance, his eyes resembling red balls of fire. She noted briefly that he wore a large helmet, and a tight-fitting suit that appeared to be a white oilskin... and then he vomited out blue and white flames.

        Alsop screamed, and tried to run; but Spring-Heeled Jack (for that’s who it was) pinned her head under his arm, and began to rip her dress and body with fingers that felt like iron claws. Still screaming, she freed herself and ran, only to be caught again near the front door. As Jack clawed at her face and neck, and tore out patches of her hair, Alsop’s father and sisters dragged her into the house and slammed the door. The fiend banged on the door until one of Alsop’s sisters leaned out of an upstairs window and called for a policeman. Before anyone could catch him, Spring-Heeled Jack leapt away into the shadows.

        The Alsops reported the assault at the Lambeth street office of the police, which was just a few blocks away, that same evening. The above is essentially the incident as reported by the Alsops to the police, and also a good summing up of how it is typically represented in modern accounts. What most modern accounts tend to forget to mention, however, is that after Jack had run off, a different figure was seen to retrieve Jack’s cloak and run off also... so he wasn’t there alone. Another difference often missed is that Bearbind Lane isn’t inside the district of Bow; it was in fact described as "a lonely spot between the villages of Bow and Oldford," and so a better place for Jack to escape from after the assault.

        It’s very strange that with this incident Jack goes from merely scaring people to actually baiting someone out and physically assaulting them. Miss Alsop was in shock for most of the night after, and in extreme pain for some time after the assault due to the injuries to her arm and the various cuts and scratches over other parts of her body; her dress was nearly torn completely off of her. Miss Alsop’s family was of better standing in the London commmunity than previous victims of the strange attacks; that, coupled with the Lord Mayor’s announcement made a month previous meant that this attack was seriously attended to by the police and fully reported in the London newspapers.

The Investigations

        Two separate investigations were made by London authorities of the Alsop attack, and are typically not mentioned in modern tales of Spring-Heeled Jack. One investigation focused on the idea that the attacker was alone, and knew the Alsops by name. The reasons for this was the fact that in the confusion, and with how isolated the Alsops' house was from other structures, there was plenty of opportunity for a single assailent to sneak back for his own cloak. That this assailent knew the Alsops by name came from the fact that, when the young lady had called for help from the upstairs window, three people had set out from the John Bull public house just a little ways off, and the three had come upon a tall person in a cloak as they were climbing the hill to the house; this tall person told them that a policeman was wanted by Mr. Alsop... and the three continued to the rescue, not paying further attention to the cloaked person leaving the scene.

        The general police investigation followed leads that quickly focused them on a carpenter named Millbank, who was seen walking away from the disturbance wearing a white hat and white fustian jacket, accompanied by a bricklayer named Payne. The police waved off Jane Alsop's description of the helmet and white oilskin outfit as a mistake made in the stress of the moment, allowing them to focus on Millbank... plus they had a witness testimony that was very incriminating. James Smith, a coach-wheelwright and the same man who had seen Millbank and Payne walking away from the area of the attack, later ran into the two men again and stated in court:

"Paynes said to the other, ‘It was rascally; I would not have had it done upon any account,’ or words to that effect. I was carrying my work upon my shoulder at the time, and they recognised me, and the man in the shooting-jacket said, ‘There's the –––– who was in the lane.’ He then came up to me, and caught hold of the wheel I was carrying, and pulled it off my shoulder, saying at the same time, ‘What have you to say to Spring Jack?’ I desired him to leave my wheel alone, and then Payne came and took him away."

Millbank and Payne naturally denied the charges, but Millbank also admitted he was so drunk that night he had very little recollection of the evening. When the Alsop sisters were asked to testify, all stated that the man who attacked Jane was not drunk.

        The conflicting testimonies led the magistrates to call for further investigation, but this only made matters worse as a new witness, a shoemaker named Richardson, added new, unknown, suspects to the list... a young man in a large cloak accompanied by a boy, who made a joke about Spring-heeled Jack being in the lane. Worse still, this suspicious character was seen by a witness who also claimed to have met Millbank and Payne previously. Smith insisted that Millbank was guilty; Richardson insisted that Millbank was not. More witnesses appeared with more suspects, and more investigations were called for; but the case seems to have never been legally resolved... Jane Alsop's attacker was never identified.