Over the last 130+ years, there have been many speculations and theories as to the identity of the infamous serial killer, 'Jack the Ripper'. Some of them seem plausible, others far-fetched. The descendant of a former UM student totally believes his ancestor was indeed the Ripper.

The suspect is Herman Webster Mudgett, who changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes, but over the years was referred to as simply H.H. Holmes (he changed his name to avoid recognition for past scandals & scams in his home state of Pennsylvania). At age 18 he was a student at the University of Vermont but wasn't satisfied with the direction of his schooling; he quit at age 19 and enrolled at the University of Michigan.

It was 1882 when he entered the University of Michigan's Department of Medicine and Surgery. While in that department, he became involved in grave-robbing. His professor, anatomy instructor William James Herdman, encouraged the snatching of bodies for the purpose of selling and supplying them as cadavers to medical facilities. The two of them would prowl the nights digging up graves – and who knows what other methods they used to fill the needed supply of bodies? Holmes graduated UM in 1884.

Now the debate: could Holmes have also doubled as Britain's 'Jack the Ripper'? First instinct says it's impossible, because “Jack” did his killings in England, while Holmes was doing his dirty work 3,945 miles away in Chicago. So if Holmes was indeed the Ripper, how did he manage it?

The Ripper killed out in the streets.
Holmes killed in the privacy of his 'murder castle'.

1) Holmes was a skilled medic. The Ripper's methods showed a knowledge of surgery.
2) Holmes' killings were from 1886-1894. The Ripper's victims were between 1888-1891.

1) Notes and letters that were from 'The Ripper' had language that contained American words and phrases rather than British.
2) Between 1888-1889, Holmes' American whereabouts were unknown; it was in this time frame when the Ripper murders began.
3) Ship logs showed a passenger by the name of “H. Holmes” was onboard a ship sailing from England to the United States, coincidentally around the time the Ripper murders stopped.
4) Forensic sketches of the men seen with the Ripper victims resemble Holmes.

So many coincidences, that Holmes' direct descendant, Jeff Mudgett, does indeed believe his ancestor was actually Jack the Ripper...and he's been investigating for years trying to prove it.

Holmes' “murder castle” was built on a vacant lot on West 63rd Street in Chicago...and he knew exactly what he was going to use it for. He would hire a group of contractors to work on a specific section, then fire them. Then he'd hire a different group, put them to work on another section, and fire them. This went on over the years, hiring and firing, so NO one except him would know the exact layout.

Opening in 1893, the finished structure – called the 'World's Fair Hotel' – had the following features:
1) Three stories tall
2) 51 doors with brick walls behind them
3) Many windowless rooms
4) Staircases that led to dead ends
5) Sealed, soundproof rooms where victims were gassed to death
6) Second floor room called his “hanging chamber”
7) Airtight vault where he locked victims to suffocate
8) Room with no door or window where he would starve people to death
9) Chutes and dumb-waiters to dump bodies in the basement

It wasn't just paying hotel customers that Holmes did in...employees were required to take out an insurance policy and make Holmes the beneficiary; he'd then kill them and collect the money.

In the basement, the victims' skeletons were stripped clean and sold to medical schools. Acid, furnaces, and lime pits were used to dispose of the remains. The 'castle' has since been demolished and a post office built on the site...but the basement is still there, underneath the new structure.

I guess we'll have to wait and see if Jeff Mudgett - the descendant of Holmes - can verify his claim/accusation.

And to think.....Holmes got all this medical/surgical knowledge here in our state, as well as his introduction to grave-robbing - at the University of Michigan.



Garfield, McKinley, & Michigan

Michigan Woman Was the First Person to Survive Niagara Falls in a Barrel

Howell Sanitarium, Early 1900s

More From 1240 WJIM AM