H. H. Holmes
Photo Credit: Chicago History Museum | Getty Images

Was H. H. Holmes Jack the Ripper?

Disclaimer: The article mentions murder and violence. Readers’ discretion is advised.

H. H. Holmes is an American serial killer who is known to have killed over 27 women and is rumored to have killed many more. He is one of the earliest known serial killers in the US and is frequently compared to Jack the Ripper, one of the most widely known serial killers who killed in London, a continent away from Holmes. However, attorney Jeff Mudgett, Holmes’ great-great-grandson, claimed that it was indeed H. Holmes, who was never caught, who turned out to be Jack the Ripper.

Mudgett claimed to have personal diaries of H. H. Holmes which suggested that he was in London when the Whitechapel murders, the series of crimes committed by Jack the Ripper, peaked. The diaries narrated that Holmes wasn’t alone in London and had an associate with him. Holmes and Jack the Ripper, however, differed starkly in how they killed. While the latter was accused of murdering prostitutes around London with a knife in hand, H. H. Holmes allegedly planned his murders elaborately.

While Jack the Ripper’s motives remain unclear, H. H. Holmes, who was thoroughly trained in dissection, killed with clear motives of material benefit such as claiming insurance amounts. Despite the seemingly unplanned murders, people consider the fact that Jack the Ripper never got caught as a sign of his modestly calculated crimes. Additionally, Jack the Ripper’s murders abruptly in the fall of 1988 as mentioned in the History Channel‘s account of the serial killer.

Although many believe that H. H. Holmes committed over 200 murders in his ‘Murder Castle’, which was widely portrayed by media as a torture chamber where victims died of asphyxiation and other deadly methods, many of these accounts are suggested to be exaggerated and sensationalized. This phenomenon, however, is widely attributed to the popularity of yellow journalism.

How was H. H. Holmes caught?

H. H. Holmes was involved in a horse swindle in Texas and was arrested for it. During his arrest, he met Marion Hedgepath and pitched an idea to execute a scam and claim life insurance by faking his death. Hedgepath was supposed to help him out in case of any legal complications. In return, Holmes offered him a small share of the insurance money. Authorities did not release the insurance amount, pushing H. H. Holmes to give the scam a second shot.

H. H. Holmes met Benjamin Pitezel and this time, he suggested to fake Pitezel’s death. The two partnered up to execute the crime. However, Hedgepath, outraged by Holmes not giving him the money he promised, reported H. H. Holmes’ intentions to commit fraud to the police. The police arrested Holmes for the same case of horse swindling. Authorities began to suspect that Holmes murdered Benjamin Pitezel and his three children, aged between 7 and 14, to cover it up. They began searching through his home and belongings.

The police found torture chambers and human remains in the building. They tracked his path from Chicago to Indianapolis where they discovered the remains of Pitezel’s children, according to a report by the U. S. Sun. The allegation that H. H. Holmes killed Pitezel and his children was the only one that had solid evidence and led to his conviction. Holmes was sentenced to death for Pitezel’s murder. Further, on May 7, 1896, when they hanged Holmes in Philadelphia, he confessed to 27 murders.

The Murder Castle is a TV mini-series that follows H. H. Holmes and his ways of luring guests into his murder castle to entrap them. The show is only loosely based on the stories told about H. H. Holmes and is streaming on Apple TV+.

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