Here is something a little different for a Halloween History and Mystery. Even after all this time, people still ask, “Who was Jack the Ripper?” The true identity of this Victorian serial killer continues to elude us 130 years after the gruesome killing spree in London’s East End in 1888. A small cottage industry, Ripperology has grown up around the murders with investigators such as Patricia Cornwell and Russell Edwards sifting through surviving evidence in search of a ‘prime suspect.’ Among the wild theories that have become legends is one that depicts Jack as a deranged surgeon who killed the women as part of a conspiracy to protect a member of the royal family, as depicted in the comic and movie “From Hell”. Professor William Rubinstein describes this story as “palpable nonsense from beginning to end”. He believes it is the very elusiveness of the solution that continues to make the Ripper mystery so attractive to writers and historians. Here is some suggested reading so you can come up with your own theory.
The Complete History of Jack the Ripper By Philip Sugden
Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell
Perhaps not as well know as Jack the Ripper, there are still people wondering “What was the Mothman?”
In West Virginia folklore, the Mothman is a creature reportedly seen in the Point Pleasant area from November 12, 1966, to December 15, 1967. One dark night, four teenagers claimed they saw a huge bird-like monster with glowing red eyes while cruising along a back road near Point Pleasant in rural West Virginia. They claimed it rose into the air, unfolded its bat-like wings, and pursued them as they sped away in terror. The next morning the sheriff’s office held a press conference, and the media dubbed the creature Mothman after the Batman series that was showing on TV.
The Mothman was introduced to a wider audience by UFO investigator Gray Barker in 1970 and later popularized by journalist John Keel in his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies. He believed the creature was linked in some mysterious way with the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant in December 1967 that killed 46 people, including some mothman witnesses. The encounters with the demonic ‘bird’ inspired the 2002 movie The Mothman Prophecies, directed by Mark Pellington. The film was based upon John Keel’s book.
There have been other, similar creatures reported in other locations but Mothman is the most famous. Here is some suggested reading that may help you decide whether Mothman was a hoax, a mass hallucination or truly some bizarre unknown cryptid creature.
The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel
A Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend by Donnie Sergent Jr., Jeff Wamsley
The Silver Bridge: The Classic Mothman Tale by Gray Barker, Allen Greenfield Andrew Colvin
Andrew Colvin (Goodreads Author) James Moseley
Do dark powers lurk on the October nights? The devil is not restricted to October. Early on the morning of 9 February 1855, people in towns across southern Devon in England, awoke to find a single line of hoof-like marks in the deep snow as if they had been branded with a hot iron. The Times said the marks were found over a distance of 40 miles on both sides of the Exe, as if “some strange and mysterious animal endowed with the power of ubiquity” had created them during the night. Houses, rivers, haystacks and other obstacles were travelled straight over, and footprints appeared on the tops of snow-covered roofs and high walls which lay in the footprints’ path, as well as leading up to and exiting various drain pipes as small as four inches in diameter.
Many explanations were put forth. They ranged from an escaped kangaroo to badgers and mice. Residents of Devon certainly were familiar with badger and mouse footprints, if not those kangaroos, that was obviously a weak explanation. One suggestion was that it was a hoax perpetrated by a balloon trailing a horseshoe-shaped grappling rope. Superstitious people preferred to believe they were the work of the devil himself. In its summary of the popular theories at the time, a writer in The Illustrated London News said “no satisfactory solution” had been found, and “no known animal could have traversed this extent of country in one night… neither does any known animal walk in a line of single footsteps, not even a man”. Forty miles is a long distance to go for a hoax and there were plnty of people who saw them, not just one or two.
Unfortunately, the evidence has long since melted away. During many years the noted Welsh writer, historian and researcher Mike Dash collated all the available primary and secondary source material into a paper entitled The Devil’s Hoofmarks: Source Material on the Great Devon Mystery of 1855 which was published in Fortean Studies during 1994. How easy will it be to find that? Almost as hard as finding a needle in a haystack I would guess. So what was it that made the devil’s footprints? Perhaps a long lost cousin of New Jersey’s Leeds Devil of the pine barrens in southern New Jersey.