It’s not every day you discover you are the great-great-grandson of one of the most notorious serial killers in history.
Jeff Mudgett, an American lawyer, was sitting down for a family gathering when his grandmother announced that she’d recently hired a genealogist. She wanted to find out whether her family was related to Civil War General Robert E. Lee only to be told not only that they weren’t, but that she “should let sleeping dogs lie” as her family was related to a criminal who had been hung for stealing horses.
Jeff’s brother questioned whether this could be H.H. Holmes, a Chicago-based serial killer who killed an estimated 200 people in his infamous “murder castle” and who was also sentenced to death for selling stolen horses.
In response, their father exploded declaring “That name shall never be mentioned at this table again!”
A fascinated Jeff soon realised that he and his brother were the great-great-grandsons of H. H. Holmes – birth name Herman Webster Mudgett.
“Before I allowed this discovery to change my life I did some research and investigation because so much of the whole story [of H. H. Holmes] is legend and lore. Low and behold I found out that my great-great-grandfather was as horrible a monster as the stories had said,” Jeff said.
As to why his grandfather committed such heinous acts, Jeff says he hopes to find this out on History’s The American Ripper in London. In the investigative documentary series, Jeff and ex-CIA agent Amaryllis Fox make the case that H. H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper could have been one and the same.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m on the quest is to determine that. I’m not a doctor or psychiatrist but I don’t believe the man was crazy or psychotic. He had an incredible IQ and graduated from medical school.
“I think he could have been a Louis Pasteur had he chosen that path but instead he decided evil was his life. I think if we do some work identifying what that character trait was and is, we might be able to prevent future serial killers like him,” Jeff said.
When first approached with the idea that Jack the Ripper and H. H. Holmes could have been the same person, Jeff dismissed it as too far-fetched but after being presented with the evidence, he felt compelled to investigate further.
“The more research I did, the more I thought the connection was genuine, this has a real chance of being true. This could solve a 130-year-old cold case – perhaps the most infamous cold case in history.”
As to why H. H. Holmes would have been in London in 1888, Jeff is unsure, but thinks if he did murder the five prostitutes ‘Jack the Ripper’ did, it could have been out of admiration for the attention that the British press gave shocking crimes.
“I don’t know why Holmes was in London but my theory is while he was there he was reading the papers - he read about murders in London being sensationalised in British newspapers I think he enjoyed that and even envied that. I think Holmes knew that while he needed to be careful in London he always knew he had an escape route – all he needed to do was buy a ticket back to America and he could be gone the next day.”
Jeff says investigations featured in American Ripper in London will include exhuming H. H. Holmes’ body in the hopes of matching his DNA with that extracted from the victims of Jack the Ripper.
However, Jeff also puts forth the theory that Holmes may have faked his death and that the body is in fact someone else – a theory that Jeff is keen to explore via DNA.
“We hope at first to confirm whether it really is Holmes’ body or not because many of the legends state that Holmes committed another great fraud and another man was buried in his place.”
H. H. Holmes has a similar notoriety to Jack the Ripper in the US, and was the subject of Erik Larsen’s bestselling book The Devil in the White City, which Martin Scorsese is making into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Larsen, he’s incredible and his book is captivating,” said Jeff.
“I’ve heard from inside reports that Devil in the White City will be the greatest Hollywood movie of all time. I haven’t been contacted by movie makers yet but I expect they could do after watching American Ripper in London!”
American Ripper in London starts on Tuesday August 8 at 9pm on History, BT Channel 327/379 HD.