In 1890, on the outskirts of Croydon, South London, stood a stately mansion of victorian style surrounded by a six-meter wall. The exaggerated height of the wall was due not to the fear that someone would slip into the mansion but that someone could escape from it. No, it was not a prison: it was the most elitist asylum for men in all of England. It was such a select establishment that it was only allowed to madmen who thought themselves to be historical figures of lineage such as  Henry VIII, Benjamin Franklin, Ramses II or Frederick the Great. When several individuals coincided with the same obsession, a court of experts decided which of them was the real personality, and the impostors were rejected. However, the case that we will now deal with is not that of a historical celebrity but that of a fictional character of the time, protagonist of a series of famous cheap serialized booklets, named Spring Heeled Jack.

Since in the asylum there was already a Spring Heeled Jack, the court of experts was summoned and, after an astute examination, decided in favor of the newcomer (whose real name was Thomas Pinter), so the gentleman who until then had taken his place was send away with a flea in his ear. What tipped the scales in Pinter’s favor was his ability to fly with his bat wings exactly like the character in the serialized booklets.

However, Pinter did not stay long in the asylum because somehow managed to overcome the impregnable wall that surrounded the estate. Once free, Pinter moved in rapid flight to the City of London, where thousands of people witnessed open-mouthed his aerial somersaults. The Society for the Psychical Research quickly intervened in the matter. The SPR’s first president himself, Henry Sidgwick, sent a message to Pinter through a carrier pigeon in which he called him for an interview at the SPR headquarters in West Kensington.

Pinter went punctually to the date flying and dressed in his Spring Heeled Jack costume. The interview took place on the roof of the building in the presence of the most prominent members of the SPR. Pinter agreed to be examined by Harry Houdini, an expert in the unmasking of paranormal frauds. But the famous magician and escapist did not find any hidden device that would allow Pinter to fly. Then it was the turn of the interrogation by the scientists, who formulated more than fifty questions, all of which were answered by Pinter with such a degree of incoherence that the diagnosis was unanimous: he was mad.

But then the question was inevitable: could madness enable flight? The SPR immediately designed an experiment to find out. A collaborator named Sean Harrow was induced by hypnosis to believe himself a vampire capable of becoming a bat and of flying away. Harrow immediately assumed the role of vampire pouncing on several members of the SPR and sucking several hectoliters of their blood, after which began to wave his arms running to the edge of the roof. Under the expectant gaze of the SPR staff, Harrow accelerated to the edge … and plummeted against the sidewalk. The experiment had been a failure.

A few weeks later, a sad news came to the ears of the SPR. While flying over a swampy area of North London, Pinter had been shot by a hunter who mistook him for a duck. In this way, one of the most enigmatic cases in the annals of the Society for the Psychical Research remained unresolved.

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