A new TV documentary series aims to prove that Jack the Ripper, the still unidentified serial killer who stalked the streets of London in the late 1800s, was the same man who is known for creating a “murder castle” in Chicago.
That man is the infamous H. H. Holmes, one of America’s earliest and most demented serial killers. Holmes was also the subject of the hugely popular 2003 book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are rumored to be working on an adaptation of the tome.
H. H. Holmes’ murder castle included a drugstore on the first floor. A con man as well as a serial killer, he would trick people out of their money and property before taking their lives. Appearing as a normal building, the second floor was complete with disorienting connected rooms that were designed by Holmes to confuse his victims. Some rooms were made into gas chambers. To dispose of the bodies, there were actual chutes that dropped into the basement which was filled with acid vats and a crematorium.
Interest in Holmes was recently revived thanks to American Horror Story: Hotel. Evan Peters played James March, a character heavily inspired by Holmes.
The true identity of Jack the Ripper has long haunted true crime aficionados. The serial killer brutally slit the throats of and disemboweled at least five women in 1888 and may have gone on to kill more. Folklore surrounds the legend of Jack the Ripper, leaving nearly every true crime lover with a different idea about who, exactly, this elusive criminal could have been. In fact, there are now over one hundred researched theories, and a relative of Holmes is ready to add another.
This new documentary series, American Ripper, is showing in eight parts on the History Channel, the first of which aired on July 11th. The series takes a look at evidence uncovered by Holmes’ great great grandson, Jeff Mudgett, a retired lawyer. So far, the reviews are not great, pointing to the cliché, clunky feel of the show, as well as the conjecture that is presented as evidence. So far, it doesn’t seem like Mudgett should be as confident as he is with his hypothesis.
In a promo, Mudgett is seen saying, "I am a descendent of the devil. I have uncovered credible evidence which suggests that Holmes was Jack the Ripper." This tone is carried through the episode, with Mudgett leaning hard on dramatic declarations.
The episode opens on a graveyard where Mudgett and his collaborator for the series, “former C.I.A. operative” Amaryllis Fox, are attempting to exhume the corpse of H. H. Holmes from its supposed resting place. There have long been rumors and questions surrounding whether or not Holmes was able to escape his own execution by bribes and a phony corpse.
Mudgett and his sister, Cynthia, appear to be proponents of this theory. Mudgett strongly believes that Holmes escaped his execution in Philadelphia and then fled to London where he continued to murder. According to Mudgett, Holmes traded places with another convict and was able to fool all those present for the highly documented public execution.
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Packed with highly dramatic reenactments, American Ripper shows its hand early, relying on foreboding music to make the story more frightening. A deep voice narrates throughout, a mustachioed actor playing a smirking Holmes in reenactments.
We have yet to see any truly notable evidence that these two killers were the same man, but to be fair, only one of the eight segments has been shown.
Investigator Amaryllis Fox joins forces with Jeff Mudgett on the show to investigate the case by using criminal profiling techniques. She's skeptical of his claims: “H. H. Holmes is so premeditated that he’s built a hotel for the purpose of killing his victims and disposing of their bodies. Jack the Ripper was looking for targets of opportunity and leaving their bodies for anybody to find. So that’s one glaring difference between them.”
These are big claims—sure to grab headlines and attention. This is a problem within the true crime and investigation genre, a tendency toward sensational conspiracy theories that end up hurting the investigation more than they help. Although the families of the victims of these killers are long deceased, there are many other examples of true crime media frenzies where that is not the case.
The genre of true crime is growing more and more popular in this time when we are all craving answers and clear examples of right and wrong in a world settling forever into the gray. It seems likely that we will see more wild connections and more TV shows, documentaries, and podcasts seeking the answers to old questions. For now, answers do not seem likely, but that won’t stop networks from finding ways to capitalize on the unknown.
This Story Was First Published on Hunt A Killer.