Jack. It’s a name that conjures up images of men behaving badly, and can be found in various myths and legends. Referring to someone as ‘jack the lad’ implies a mischievous nature, and then there’s the Halloween legend of the nefarious Stingy Jack and his jackolantern. And who could forget good old Captain Jack Sparrow?
Here is a list of six real-life Jacks whose legacies still haunt the popular imagination.
1. Jack the Ripper
Perhaps the most famous Jack of all time, least of all because his real identity remains a mystery to this day. Theories of his true identity abound, including Aaron Kosminski, a poor Polish barber, and Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert. This vicious serial killer of prostitutes who terrorised London’s East End in the 1880’s gave himself the memorable nom de plume, “Jack the Ripper” in a letter to London’s Central News Agency. The jury is still out on whether or not the real killer wrote the letters, or if it was the work of an imposter. Either way, the use of this name has assigned the name “Jack” to history as one belonging to a truly evil man.
Jack Returning to Victorian London, we find another Jack whose real identity was unknown. He would terrorise his hapless victims at night with his fearsome appearance his eyes were like glowing red balls, he had clawlike fingers, and wore a tightfitting white oilskin underneath a dark cape. Springheeled Jack earned his nickname due to his amazing ability to leap over high fences and thus evade capture. At first, people believed he was a spirit, but then came to realise that he was a madman of flesh and blood. Some theorised that his true identity was that of eccentric Irish noble, the Marquess of Waterford, who was known for his love of foolish pranks.
3. Jack Sheppard
Born in early 18th century London, this Jack grew up in a poor neighbourhood and turned to a life of crime despite his training as a carpenter. He is notorious not for his crimes, but for his numerous escapes from imprisonment, the most notable being from Newgate prison in 1724. He has arrested soon after and sentenced to death. This was one predicament from which Jack could not escape, and he died on the gallows at Tyburn. He was given the nickname “Jack the Lad” due to his boyish stature and appearance, which made him popular with the ladies. Dozens of women lined up at his execution, weeping and throwing white flowers on the ground.
4. Calico Jack
No list of notorious individuals would be complete without a requisite pirate. John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham was well-known during the “Golden Age of Piracy” (16501725) and was so named because of the brightly coloured Indian cloth he wore. Famous female pirate, Ann Bonny, was under his command, and together they terrorised the Caribbean. He is remembered more for his daring rather than his skills as a pirate, though, and legend has it that when Bonny visited him prior to his hanging she said “…if you had fought like a man, you need not have been hanged like a dog”.
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5. Jack Kevorkian
Jacob ‘Jack’ Kervorkian (1928-2011) was an American pathologist and euthanisia activist who was convicted of second degree murder after being directly involved in a voluntary euthanasia case. These activities led to the media dubbing him “Doctor Death”, and Jack wrote extensively on the subject of death, dying, and the rights of the individual to choose. He himself died unassisted from a thrombosis, just shy of his 83rd birthday. Doctor Death also gained notoriety during his lifetime by advocating that deathrow inmates voluntarily submit to medical experimentation under anaesthesia in lieu of a conventional execution.
6. Jack Nicholson
This infamous Hollywood actor, renowned for his charismatic voice, arched eyebrows and devilish grin, is notorious as much for his drinking and womanising as he is for his stellar performances. Notable roles include the axewielding Jack Torrance in 1980’s “The Shining”, and The Joker in 1989’s “Batman”. He is famously quoted as saying, “with sunglasse on, I’m Jack Nicholson. Without them, I’m fat and 60”.