There’s this thing in comics, and you’ll see it in some horror franchises too, where the secret identity of a character will change. The most famous example of this would be Robin the Boy Wonder, an identity used by at least six different characters, but my personal favorite is Flash, a title that has been passed down through four generations of heroes. FRIDAY THE 13TH is probably the best example of this in horror films, starting with Mrs. Voorhees, moving to Jason, and having him replaced at one point with Roy. Creating legacies is an important part of building a myth.
Another big part of building a myth is having that “thing”. That little bit that makes your story stand out from others. Sometimes this can be an iconic symbol, like a hockey mask or a lightning bolt. Sometimes it’s a phrase like “kill for mommy” or “My name is (insert favorite Flash here) and I’m the fastest man alive”. As wrestling fans know, you can even have a specific “move” like the “Stone Cold Stunner” or “The People’s Elbow”.
You don’t usually find this kind of thing in reality, John Wayne Gacy didn’t hand over the clown costume and boy killing to someone else, but sometimes it does happen. Such is the case with Whipping Tom.
1681 was a pretty relaxed year for the English. Aside from Oliver Plunkett being falsely convicted of treason (a sentence that ended with Oliver being hung then drawn and quartered) in the Popish Plot, nothing too exciting was going down. It was in these quiet days, some hundred years before the Second Continental Congress would give the King George the bird, that Whipping Tom returned to terrorize the women of London, as explained in the prose sheet WHIPPING TOM BROUGHT TO LIGHT AND EXPOSED TO VIEW:
His first Adventure, as near as we can learn, was on a Servant Maid in New-street, who being sent out to look for her Master, as she was turning a Corner, perceived a Tall black Man standing up against the wall, as if he had been making water, but she had not passed far, but with great speed and violence seized her, and in a trice, laying her cross his knee, took up her Linnen, and lay’d so hard up-on her Backside, as made her cry out most piteously for help, the which he no sooner perceiving to approach (as she declares) then he vanished.
To the women of England, this was a reminder of what had happened a decade earlier. At least, smart people who know way more than I do think it may have started a decade earlier. Little is recorded about the first Whipping Tom; all that remains is a mention of the attacks of 1672 is a single sentence on the prose sheet that explains Whipping Tom “is of the Generation of that Whipping Tom, that about Nine years since proved such an Enemy to the Milk-wenches Bums”.
Was the Whipping Tom of 1681 the same Whipping Tom of 1672? The common belief is that they are not the same person, but that they may have known each other. Perhaps the first Whipping Tom, too old to spank random women, handed his spanking rod to a son in order to keep the legacy alive. Maybe old Whipping Tom, on his deathbed, handed the name to the neighbor boy who so patiently say with him as he lay dying. We’ll never know.
What we do know is that the second Whipping Tom seemed to take the job seriously. He would follow women into dark alleys or poorly lit courtyards and, when he was sure no one was near, he would grab them tightly. As his victim struggled to break free, Whipping Tom would force the woman over his knee, lift her dress and viciously beat her buttocks. Sometimes he would use his bare hand, sometimes he would use a rod; in either case, his victim would be hit multiple times as she cried out for help. As he beat his victim, Whipping Tom would “SPANKO!” then run off into the darkness, leaving the woman frightened and confused.
Whipping Tom attacks seemed to happen every night, and as quickly as he would appear, he would vanish, always yelling out his catchphrase. Word spread through London that Whipping Tom was no mere man – he had supernatural powers that allowed him to move quicker than any man could without the Devil’s help. This being some two hundred years before Robert Peel would create the Metropolitan Police Force, the people of London found that they couldn’t count on their government to help them, so they took matters into their own hands.
Women began to carry knives and travel in packs. Some men would dress as women and walk the streets alone at night hoping to trick Whipping Tom into attacking them. Vigilante gangs were formed to patrol the streets. None of it seemed to help. Time and again, Whipping Tom would find a woman walking alone and strike. With the cry of “SPANKO!” the citizen watchdogs would come running to the scene, only to find a woman on the ground alone.
Late into 1861, two men, a haberdasher from Holborn and his friend were tried for the attacks. Their names, how they were captured, and what the outcome of the trial was has been lost to history. If these men weren’t Whipping Tom, there is no clear reason why the attacks stopped. Perhaps it was them, and the speed of Whipping Tom was because it was two men covering the area. If it wasn’t them, their capture could have convinced the real Whipping Tom that it was the right time to retire. Either way, the streets of London were safe for women to walk at night again.
Well, as safe as they could be in 1681. I imagine it was still a shit time for them, but now they didn’t need to worry about being beaten around the ass. Either way, the cheerful cry of “SPANKO!” stopped, and Londoners felt secure again.
To the residents of Hackney in 1712, Whipping Tom was a name most of them had likely never heard; after all, he was running around London, a little over five miles away. One man who had heard the name was Thomas Wallis.
Wallis had found himself alone, wronged, he felt, by a woman whom he had deep feelings for. What the woman had done to so anger Wallis we don’t know, but Wallis claimed that she had been “barbarously false” to him. Chances are this woman wasn’t into him even though he held a door for her one time, and this angered Wallis because he was a sad sack piece of shit.
Whatever the case, Wallis wanted revenge not only on the “barbarously false” woman but on all women so he found himself a sizable branch from a birch tree and headed off on the night of October 10 looking for his first victim. Wallis found her in a field and, as the man he took his cues from had done three decades earlier, Wallis grabbed her, pulled up her dress, and beat her with his branch.
Wallis went out each night looking for a woman to attack. On some nights he would attack multiple women; he kept careful count of the beatings – Wallis had a goal of beating a hundred women before Christmas, and he was getting close; by the end of November, he had attacked upwards of seventy.
Wallis never reached his goal. He was taken into custody on December 1 and quickly confessed to his crimes. During his trial, Wallis explained his beliefs, those being that “unless woman be whipped out of their wicked pride and baseness, mankind will become women’s slaves”.
Wallis spent a year in prison where he was whipped by women twice a week. All things considered, I’m sure Oliver Plunkett would have happily traded places with him.