Were H.H. Holmes, the serial killer, and Jack the Ripper the same person?

In the History Channel series American Ripper, the serial killer’s great-great grandson relates how he unraveled the mystery that has baffled the world for decades.More than 200 people in the USA were killed by the serial killer suspected to be also Jack the Ripper who killed five victims in London.

For decades, not only police authorities but the public were baffled by the heinous crimes committed by Herman Mudgett, a.k.a. Dr. H.H. Holmes, who was touted to be America’s first serial killer. No one knows for sure how many lives he took but it is believed that he was responsible for killing as many as 200 people in the late 19th century. According to reports, the crowning achievement of what was described as a “con man, opportunist and evil genius” was the construction of a building later dubbed as the Murder Castle, “a hotel on Chicago’s south side that he engineered to be a factory of death, complete with a gas chamber, a dissection room, trap doors and a basement furnace to destroy any trace of his sinister work.”

At the same time, across the Atlantic, a killer was terrorizing the streets of London, murdering and mutilating at least five victims in the Whitechapel area of the city. To this day, the killer has never been caught or identified, known only as Jack the Ripper. In American Ripper, which premieres Wednesday night (Nov. 15) at 9 o’clock on the History Channel, the mystery might yet be unraveled as a stunned attorney discovers a gruesome family secret: his great-great grandfather may have been the notorious serial killer H.H. Holmes and Britain’s Jack the Ripper. Martin Scorsese is doing a film about it, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

That lawyer is none other than Jett Mudgett, the series’ co-host, who partners with ex-CIA analyst Amaryllis Fox in searching for the truth that lasted for more than 20 years, in an all-new investigation using 21st century science and methodology to unlock the secrets of one of the biggest cold cases of all time. Mudgett told his story in an exclusive phone interview with The STAR.

Why do you need to prove convincingly that H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper are related? What is the one evidence that you’d need that can point the two together?

“Well, I was a practicing trial lawyer in California before I decided to dedicate my life to researching H.H. Holmes as my ancestor, and I was trained in forensic science and examining the evidence. In my opinion, the mystery is solved and the case is closed. Were Holmes alive today, English prosecutors could come to the United States, obtain an arrest warrant, order an extradition; they could take Holmes back to London with them, and have him stand trial for the murders of Catherine Eddowes and Elizabeth Stride.

“To answer your question, I think we’ve come up with as much evidence as we need to stand trial for those murders, and I think that’s the first time in history that a suspect has been tied to the murders, which would be necessary to have him arrested and have him stand trial for murders.”

What made you do the investigation after so many years?

“I was practicing law in California, I had an office in San Francisco, and I was at a family dinner party and my grandfather…which I explain in my book Bloodstains…decided to tell the family this horrible secret that he had carried around himself throughout his entire life. We were all shocked, we were all quite disturbed that our origin was perhaps the most evil American who ever lived, a man who was described in newspapers as the devil or a monster. So, I knew that much of what had been written about him wasn’t true, seemed like exaggerations. I decided that someone in my family needed to find out what was true and what was not. Unfortunately, the more I learned, the more horrible the man became.“

Jeff Mudgett: Of course, all my family regret being the descendants of this horrible man. If we had a chance, which we don’t, we would have chosen another origin. While H.H. Holmes was not Hitler in any aspect, he was a man who enjoyed torturing innocent young women in the most horrible ways imaginable…

Your great-great grandfather victimized more than 200 people. What happened to the families of these 200 victims. Are they cooperating in the investigation? Do they have any part in the investigation?

“That’s a great question. I’ll tell you what happened recently at a book signing. I was there showing Bloodstains to the audience. A couple of young ladies came up to me; they wanted to shake my hand, they wanted a picture. And then they explained that their family had long believed that one of their ancestors had been murdered by Holmes, and they wanted to thank me for my work in attempting to identify their ancestor as one of the victims and hopefully creating a monument or memorial testifying that these Americans needed to be identified. We need to determine how they were killed, and we need to establish justice once and for all. I was really proud of that.”

Did you ever try to disapprove your heritage?

“You know, I’ve never been asked that and I’ve been on hundreds of shows. When I first started, I did try to disprove it. When I first tell people when I travel to London or I go to New York City or Philadelphia and explain my theory, when I went to my TED Talk in Vancouver, most of the audience initially dispute my theory. They don’t believe.

“The evidence is presented to them in a gentle fashion; I don’t try to force it into anyone. I try to let them open their minds, erase the bias that they have and see how this evidence connects this American doctor to these murders and we need to take another look at this. When I first started, I did try to disprove it. But as I dug deeper and deeper into the truth, I only learned that this horrible American was indeed the horrible monster that the papers had portrayed him at the time.”

Did you find out what drove your great-great grandfather to commit these crimes without being detected?

“He was a man of incredible intellect, high IQ, one of the greatest medical students ever at the University of Michigan Medical School. When I started my research on who he was as a man, I quickly came to determine, based on his test results at the school, that he could have been a Louis Pasteur. He could have cured cancer or something wonderful and complex like that.

“Instead, he decided on a life of evil. Now, when he wrote his memoirs, there’s a certain quote that he used. When asked why he did what he did, he didn’t really know except that he had been born with evil in him as the tiger is in the jungle. I think that quote accurately sizes up how H.H. Holmes believed how he could have been as horrible as he was.”

What was it like in the basement of the Murder Castle? What was the vibe and feeling in there?

“I wrote about that in my book, and now it’s the post office that’s built on top of the Murder Castle. When you go down into the basement, you’re actually in the basement of the post office but in a location that’s very close to where these horrible crimes were committed. My first time down there, I didn’t believe in either the supernatural, in ghosts, I didn’t even believe in God. When I came back up after being in that horrible place for one hour I believed in all three and I quickly became a man of faith.

“There’s an energy in there that I tried to describe in my book but it’s very difficult. There’s an energy which was generated from the horrible things that were committed there and the innocent victims that need our help. The basement is a terrible place. It’s largely sealed by the post office. No one is supposed to go down there, and the employees there believe it is haunted.”

With all these findings, does your family feel vindicated? Does it put to rest all the questions you’ve been asking all these years?

“No, not really. I realized that any research into Holmes is like a rabbit hole. The deeper you go into that research pit, the more evidence you never realize existed comes to the top and it seems the story never ends. Watch the American Ripper. The final episode is fascinating in that we actually exhume the cadaver of who was supposed to be buried in Holmes’ grave.

“We do the DNA tests, we get the University of Pennsylvania’s help with anthropology, we try to establish the identity in as scientific fashion as possible under today’s environment. I think as you watch that show, you’ll see exactly what I mean. We were talking about an American experience, the exhumation of this horrible man and then trying to establish what parts of the legend were true by using the direct evidence we had by digging him up and scientifically testing the remains. I hope you realize that when you watch the show.”

What does the family plan to do with the remains if it’s exhumed? Are you going to have the church or priest bless it for one more time?

“That already happened. With the court permission, we had to get an American judge agree to give us permission to dig the body up to identify him and one of the stipulations of the court was that the body, whoever it was, be put back in the same condition that we found it. There was to be no media circus, we treat it with respect and honor. I think that History and the archdiocese of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania and the cemetery where the burial occurred, all did their best to make sure the judge’s orders were complied with.”

Does your family feel that the evil genius had dishonored the family name?

“Of course, all my family regret being the descendants of this horrible man. If we all had a choice, which we don’t, we would have selected another origin. I think that’s just as obvious as being human in our world. Consider being the descendants of Adolf Hitler, you wouldn’t want to be that. While Holmes was not Hitler in any aspect, he was a man who enjoyed torturing innocent young women in the most horrible ways imaginable, more horrible than Hollywood can even speculate on.

“The family is upset about where we came from, but we move on as best we can. That’s each for justice that I described where we try to identify his victims is how we’re going to do it and going to be proud of it in the end.”

You have a theory that he didn’t die, that he’s still alive, and he went somewhere else. Do you want to talk about that?

“I write about that in the final chapters of my book. It was my theory after researching my story on the Holmes curse where anyone involved in his trial and his incarceration that had bothered, irritated, or upset him either died or suffered a terrible misfortune. I thought that was strange, so I went back and researched the facts surrounding the burial and execution. Lo and behold, almost every story covered by the major newspapers was covered differently. None of the facts matched up, and the more research we did, the more we found out that something unusual had gone on. My theories are that Holmes escaped execution and had another man buried in his place. We were able to convince the judge that theory was plausible enough that he gave us permission to exhume the grave.”

Now are you convinced that it is his body and he didn’t escape?

“I better not discuss the ending of the show.”

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

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