Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor – Sir William Gull – Dr. Thomas Neill Cream and George Chapman, both murderers, each with a history of wife killing – author, Lewis Carroll – avant-garde, painter, Walter Richard Sickert, and Lord Randolph Churchill, who was iconic British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s father, as well as a number of other men, have all been suspected of being the infamous, serial killer, Jack the Ripper. In addition to the aforementioned names, notorious serial killer, H.H. Holmes, born Herman Webster Mudgett on May 16, 1861 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, was added to the list of suspects by, of all people, his great-great grandson. The 315 page book “Bloodstains” published by EC Printing.com in 2011, was written by retired trial-lawyer, Jeff Mudgett. After learning of his familial connection to the killer, Mudgett has spent the past two decades attempting to prove that H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper, were one and the same man. Thanks to The History Channel’s, eight episode series, “American Ripper,” Mudgett was given a wealth of resources to do just that.
In brief, Jack the Ripper’s known murders occurred in London, England between August 31 and November 9 of 1888, during which time, five women were murdered with varying degrees of savagery. The women, in the order of their deaths, were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. I recently finished watching the eighth and final episode of “American Ripper,” which premiered on television in the United States and the UK on July 11, 2017. In the first episode, Jeff Mudgett, teams up with retired, CIA operative, Amaryllis Fox, who worked in counterterrorism, and wrote in-depth, psychological profiles during her time with the agency. Mudgett and Fox’s objectives were twofold: prove that Holmes could’ve committed the murders in England in 1888; and if that weren’t enough, discover whether he faked his own death on May 7, 1896, when he was executed by hanging at Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia.
The series is full of dramatic re-enactments of both the Ripper’s crime’s and Holme’s life in general, beginning with his childhood. When he was just a boy, Holmes began assisting the Gilmanton town doctor in dissecting corpses. Furthermore, during his formative years, it is suspected that Holmes killed his first victims, two of his own cousins, both of whom died by drowning; other mysterious deaths of children, according to historical records, took place during the time in which Holmes lived in Gilmanton, but there is no evidence definitively linking him to the deaths. After a short, unsuccessful teaching career, Holmes pursued a degree in medicine, and would graduate from the University of Michigan in 1884.
During the course of the series, as Mudgett and Fox piece together clues to solve an approximately 130 year old cold case, they speak with and utilize the services of, but not limited to, the following: Forensic technicians; hand writing experts; historians; and retired members of law enforcement with knowledge of historical police investigative procedures. As the series progresses, Fox – who admits, when Mudgett first approached her that she was very skeptical – is able to use her expertise to build psychological profiles of Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes, in order to compare and contrast their similarities and differences. What at first appeared to her on the surface of things to be radically different modus operandi, in not only the manner in which the two men selected and killed their victims, but also their motivations, begins to not be so cut and dry as she discovers that the two killers weren’t all that dissimilar.
In Illinois, in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood located on the southwest corner of 63rd and Wallace Street, now the site of a post-office, once stood, H.H. Holmes, murder castle. The building was built a little bit at a time, by different construction crews that Holmes would hire and fire, so that no one group of men knew the complete layout of the building. A hotel served as a front for the murder castle, and was at the height of its operation during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where guests, more often than not, single women, checked in, but were never seen or heard from again. Holmes disposed of victims in a variety of gruesome ways. He could gas them in their sleep, pumping poison into the vents from pipes he controlled in his office. He also enjoyed tricking and trapping victims. In their attempt to flee from him, they would encounter a confusing series of dead-end hallways; soundproof walls that would muffle their cries for help; doors that when opened, led nowhere, but instead were bricked up from the floor to ceiling. After Holmes killed his victim, he would dump the body down a chute that led directly to the basement of the building. The basement was where Holmes would carry out his ghastly work of disposing of the bodies. He often times, would make profits from his killings by harvesting organs, and selling intact skeletons to unsuspecting medical schools. Additionally, the killer-con man, would sometimes preserve the bodies, and collect on life insurance policies he had taken out in his victim’s name before murdering them.
While in prison, awaiting his execution, Holmes was paid $7500 – which would be worth the equivalent of approximately $206,000 dollars in today’s economy – by the Hearst Corporation to pen his autobiography. Although speculated that Holmes killed upwards of two hundred people, he confessed to the murders of twenty-seven individuals, five of whom, were later found to be alive.
Jeff Mudgett, like many individuals before him, presents an interesting case as to why he believes he is right regarding the identity of Jack the Ripper. The following pieces of information that struck me, while I was watching the series, and made me lend more credence to Mudgett’s theory, as opposed to some of the truly, ‘out there’ nonsense I’ve read and heard regarding the ripper’s identity is as follows: H.H. Holmes was constantly embroiled in litigation due to his various schemes. He had a paper trial that started from the time he arrived in Chicago in 1886, and lasted until a few weeks before the ripper murder’s began in 1888, and then it suddenly stops, only to be picked up again, a few weeks after the ripper murders end. A passenger manifest from London to New York, a short time after the ripper murders come to end, shows that on board was an H.H. Holmes, also listed in the manifest, was one of the many aliases Holmes used when scheming. Holmes was an organ harvester who profited from his kills, and with the exception of Elizabeth Stride, different parts of the ripper victims’ anatomy were removed from their bodies, which leads me to the piece of information that really made me take note. Discovered amongst H.H. Holmes possessions, after his death, was a box of photographs. The pictures were of family members, friends, and there was one picture, not a newspaper clipping, but an actual picture of Jack the Ripper’s third victim, Elizabeth Stride. Why would Holmes have that picture? Did he know her? This post was meant to serve as an overview of what the series as a whole delves into. I had no interest in giving a breakdown of each individual episode, and what is learned because that would be a disservice to those of you who want to watch the series. In general, I found the series, as a whole, a compelling watch, which held my interest throughout all of the episodes.