Sinister "Jumpers": How 100 years ago a gang of "living dead" frightened Petersburgers
Sinister "Jumpers": How 100 years ago a gang of "living dead" frightened Petersburgers

In the spring of 1920, several St. Petersburg policemen, disguised as ordinary citizens, strolled through the dark back streets of the northern capital. Finally, they saw what they had been waiting for: strange white figures in shrouds, moving in huge leaps, surrounded the allegedly gaping passers-by. True, this time the "victims" did not start running away from the "ghosts" as usual, but pointed weapons at the criminals. So a gang was arrested, which had robbed the inhabitants of Petrograd for about two years. The fear that the terrible "Jumpers" inspired was so great that echoes of it can be found even now, exactly one hundred years later, in urban legends and, of course, in numerous novels and films that tell about that time.

The turbulent years after the Revolution became a time of expanse for crooks, crooks and thieves of all kinds and ranks. Literally over the next few years, the young Soviet militia put things in order and stopped the criminal revelry, but this did not happen immediately and cost enormous efforts and sacrifices. In the meantime, in the wake of changes and a change of power, the criminals were as sophisticated as they could. However, what the criminal Vanka the Living Corpse came up with surpassed everything that could be expected from ordinary robbers.

It all started with the idea - how to better intimidate the townsfolk so that they would not dare to utter a word while their pockets were being cleaned, and then, so that people would not be recognized, they could not really tell anything. Vanka came up with the idea of ​​dressing up during the robbery by the dead, and to make it even more scary - go up on stilts or come up with some kind of jumping rope, because the twentieth century is in the yard, it's time to involve science and technology in business. After such a masquerade, the robbed, if they tell you anything, is not scary, the militia of "flying ghosts" will obviously not be looking for! This is the kind of criminally directing talent and imagination that Ivan Balhausen showed, who gathered a whole team around him for a new business. A friend of Demidov, who was once a tinsmith, undertook to make stilts and strong springs for shoes, so that you could "jump" - quickly and high. And the faithful mistress Manka Solyonaya, who had a sewing machine (in fact, Maria Polevaya was a thrifty and needlework woman), made, laughing, huge white shrouds and caps.

A scene from a modern film about the Living Dead gang of the early 20th century

After practicing a little, we got down to business. The first trial "races" went like clockwork. In the dark, figures in developing shrouds, which moved in huge jumps (they could jump over the fence or jump out of the window unexpectedly), caused panic even among literate and well-dressed citizens, and there was nothing to say about the villagers who came to the capital on business. Rumors immediately spread throughout the city about the terrible "Jumpers", who are actually dead, but they are robbing no worse than the living. This, too, turned out to be in the hands of creative robbers. Everyone knows that fear is the burglar's best helper. He paralyzes the victim and after coping with it becomes an easy matter. For the sake of fear, the whole masquerade was planned.

Leader and gang members

Gradually the gang grew. At first, they really weren't even caught - who would believe the tales about the "jumping dead".However, a year later, when there were already about twenty people under Vanka's command, and numerous witnesses repeated the same thing, describing the robbers with all the horrifying details, the Soviet militia realized that the Jumpers gang had already become a priority task if the new government wanted to keep at least some order in the streets.

To catch the cunning criminals, a whole plan was devised. For a couple of weeks, the disguised militiamen "flitted" through the night Petrograd, telling, on occasion, right and left that, for example, "I turned a little business today - my pockets were full, they would not have cleaned it out." Finally the gang took a bite. In one of the dark alleys, the dummy "victim" finally saw that she was surrounded by huge white figures, jumping as if in a nightmare. They did not expect a retaliatory attack, so the policemen who arrived in time coped with the criminals without any problems. Thus ended the history of one of the most famous gangs of the early 20th century.

Photos from archival files about the Jumping gang

When the police found the house where the loot was kept, everyone realized that the hundred cases that became known to the law enforcement officers were just the tip of the iceberg. It seems that most of those who met with the Jumpers at night have endured such fear that they kept their misfortune a secret. Money, jewelry, even the clothes of the victims - the criminals did not disdain anything. By a court decision, Ivan Balhausen and Demidov were shot, the rest of the gang received huge sentences, and most of these people perished in the camps. However, the needlewoman Manka, after serving her due, returned to the city, which was now called Leningrad, and ended her days quietly and peacefully, working as a conductor on a tram.

Soviet militia, 1920s

However, the memory of the Jumpers turned out to be very tenacious. Even many years after the completion of this story, it made itself felt. Not only was the folklore replenished with a new chilling story about dexterous and ruthless criminals-ghosts, but the writers did not lag behind: Alexei Tolstoy in the novel "Walking through the agony", Anatoly Rybakov in "The Bronze Bird", even Korney Chukovsky described "The Battle of Springs with Vaska Sapozhnikov "- mentions of the ominous" Jumpers "are found in many books written in the 1920s and 1930s and even much later. Then the filmmakers followed: "Property of the Republic", "Walking in Torment", "Dagger" and numerous detective films and serials never tire of reminding us of this bright, albeit ominous page of the criminal history of St. Petersburg. Even a gang of gnome-robbers from the modern fantasy tale "Snow White: Revenge of the Dwarfs" scares passers-by, jumping on giant springs. Still, a good idea is worth a lot! By the way, numerous criminals-imitators, copying the style of "Jumpers", which often appeared in subsequent years, also thought so. Today, in many detectives, it is they who already appear. So, probably, this story is one of those that roam the world of art, gradually acquiring facts and events, but still, like many years ago, stirring up the imagination of viewers and readers.

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