Many people, upon hearing that they are the progeny of a mass-murderer, bury this fact and shy away from it as much as possible. Jeff Mudgett, a lawyer and former Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, instead takes his direct lineage to one of history’s most notorious killers and runs with it. He also has taken his crusade everywhere from TED to the printed page to prove that his relative was, in fact, Jack the Ripper.
Jeff’s great-great-grandfather was a man named Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes aka “H.H. Holmes”. The American serial killer was active at the end of the 19th century and executed in 1896, overlapping with the Ripper’s reign of terror in Whitechapel.
He is most famous for his “Murder Castle” in Chicago, a hotel that he had built to lure young, unattached female attendees of the World’s Fair looking for a place to sleep. He would then trap and kill the unsuspecting women within a series of passageways, secret rooms, gas chambers, vaults and acid pits. After his capture, Holmes confessed to 27 murders, but it’s possible that the actual number of Murder Castle victims may have been closer to 200.
The Infamous “Murder Castle”
Through a series of cons and acts of misdirection, H.H. Holmes built his murder castle piece by piece. He found his in as a pharmacy clerk for an elderly woman and her sickly husband, weaseling his way into taking ownership of the property from the couple. However, Holmes had eyes for the property across the street, and soon bought the building. The new pharmacy was located in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood on the corner of 63rd and Wallace streets. He began construction on what neighbors called “the castle”—an architectural beast whose name would later morph into what we know it as today, “the Murder Castle.”
To evade discovery, Holmes put his devious habits into action by firing and hiring a series of construction crews (and usually “refusing” to pay them for what he claimed was shoddy work). Holding tight onto the architectural plans, he only doled out bits and pieces of the blueprints to the crews working on it, so no one would realize his horrifying intent. The building included a basement, a series of shops at street level, and two stories sitting on top of the shops that comprised the hotel. His intention was to have the property finished by the time the World’s Fair, also known as the Columbian Exposition, had opened to the public.
When complete, the hotel was a maze of hallways, soundproofed rooms that often locked from the outside, and gas pipes that were controlled by a panel in Holmes’ own closets. Additionally, closets had peepholes and secret panels that led to passageways which Holmes passed through as he pleased, trapdoors in floors and ceilings, and horrifying greased chutes that funneled his hapless victims to the basement of the building. When police finally raided the building after Holmes’ arrest, they found a human-sized oven that could heat to 3000 degrees, turning his victims to untraceable ashes. While many who went missing after checking into Holmes’ hotel simply disappeared forever, Holmes was also known to sell skeletons to medical schools. It’s unknown how many of those prepared cadavers were actually his victims, hidden in plain sight.
Below is an old photograph of the 3 story ‘castle’ which Holmes had erected on 601-603 W. 63rd St. in Chicago, just prior to the arrival of The World’s Fair in 1893.
“Bloodstains”: A Review
or, after reading it…”How H.H. Holmes gave me a brain tumor”.
The Holmes Diaries
Jeff Mudgett claims that he inherited two diaries from his grandfather, and after expert handwriting analysis, determined H.H. Holmes had authored them. He includes long transcriptions from these diaries, though without the inclusion of photocopies. Excerpts Mudgett includes detail several of Holmes’ murders, a prurient story of his childhood rape by a priest, and the story of his escape from prison and his staged execution.
That’s right. In addition to claiming to know the identity of Jack the Ripper, Mudgett also asserts that H.H. Holmes tricked someone into going to the gallows in his place and went on to live a long life in the shadows.
Mudgett posits that, according to the diaries, his great-great-grandfather was present in London with one of his assistants (a literal partner-in-crime) during the Whitechapel Murders. According to Mudgett, the diaries describe “training sessions” between Holmes and his assistant. The man was instructed to murder prostitutes and excessively mutilate their bodies in order to cause a sensation in the country. Holmes’ intent here was to distract from his own murders and sexual-organ harvest of upper class women. Rich women’s ovaries would supposedly have healthier hormones in them to aid in Holmes’ pursuit of a youth serum that would allow him to live an unnaturally long life.
There is a certain logic to Mudgett’s theory about Holmes’ role in the Ripper killings. Objections to Holmes’ candidacy as a Ripper suspect include the difference in M.O. between the methodical Holmes and the almost hysterical sexual sadism of the Ripper. Mudgett’s theory, however, makes it so that the mutilations were a deliberate forensic countermeasure to throw people off Holmes’ trail and accomplished by a different hand (though under Holmes’ direction).
Unfortunately, in the opinion of this reviewer, the melodramatic tone of Bloodstains calls the credibility of Mudgett’s story into question. It is undeniably over the top, though Mudgett does beg forgiveness from the reader preemptively during the introduction.
“…Be patient with my sometimes struggling writing. Remember, there were no ghost-writers involved with the creation of Bloodstains—just a ghost.”
Patience is also necessary to withstand the long rambling segments in which Mudgett describes hallucinations of Holmes’ ghost. Coincidentally, around the same time Mudgett inherited the diaries, he also inherited the murderer’s arrogant and demanding spirit. He literally sees his great-great-grandfather’s face and hears the man’s voice in his head, trying to convince Mudgett to become a killer as well.
Doctors explain the hallucinations, attributing them to an equally coincidental development of a brain tumor and periodic life-threatening seizures. The illness threatens Mudgett’s life throughout the story, and at one point he is given a terminal diagnosis. The tumor also miraculously dissipates around the same time that Mudgett solves a few personal mysteries surrounding his ancestry.
The Ripper theory presented in Bloodstains is probably the least absurd part of the story, and though it has been the major takeaway for many reviewers, plays a very small part in the scope of the book. The entertainment value of Bloodstains may appeal to some Ripperologists. Anyone searching for physical evidence and critical analysis, however, will likely be frustrated with the read and should stick to Mudgett’s TED talk.
Jeff Mudgett on H.H. Holmes as Jack the Ripper
In this presentation, Jeff Mudgett, author of “Bloodstains”, addresses a crowd at a TEDx event in Vancouver.
For a deeper look into the nightmarish world of HH Holmes and his inafamous Murder Castle, check out Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.