In the nearly 130 years since the Whitechapel murders, a plethora of officials, amateur detectives, writers, and scholars have come up with different theories about Jack the Ripper’s true identity. While so far none have been proven, a new History Channel series will dive deep into one of the more out-there ideas currently circulating. As Entertainment Weekly reports, American Ripper will follow the relative of a contemporaneous American serial killer on the hunt to prove that his great-great-grandfather left a life of crime in the U.S. to become London’s Jack the Ripper.
Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, better known as H.H. Holmes, was a famous American serial killer who murdered at least nine people, primarily women who visited his Chicago hotel during the 1893 World’s Fair. Holmes’s great-great-grandson, Jeff Mudgett, alleges that diaries he inherited from the doctor prove that Holmes, who was reportedly in London during the Whitechapel murders, was also Jack the Ripper. The eight-part History Channel series posits that Holmes escaped his execution in the U.S. and went on to become the UK’s most notorious serial killer, committing up to 200 murders in total while evading authorities.
Mudgett, a lawyer, has been researching Holmes since he first discovered their relationship two decades ago. He and his team exhumed Holmes’s body to get a DNA sample in order to test the theory that it was not Holmes who was executed and buried in April 1896. Mudgett isn’t the first to wonder about the true identity of the body buried in Holmes’s grave; in the immediate aftermath of his death, there were already conspiracy theories spreading that the infamous murderer was very much alive, and had managed to flee the country.
But then the timeline gets a little fuzzy. Jack the Ripper is believed to have killed at least five women in London’s East End in 1888, and could possibly be linked to even more murders in the area up until 1891 (though these could have been the work of another killer or killers). Holmes was arrested in 1894. So if he was also Jack the Ripper, he would have committed the Whitechapel murders before, not after, he was sentenced to death for the killings in his Chicago “Murder Castle.”
There are other potential American links to Jack the Ripper that go beyond Holmes, though. Some experts believe that Jack the Ripper could have been another identity of the “Servant Girl Annihilator," who murdered eight people in Austin, Texas in the 1880s. The (still unsolved) murders ended in 1885, just a few years before Jack the Ripper began terrorizing London.
Whether or not Mudgett's hunch turns out to be true, Holmes has already made an indelible mark on pop culture. He was the subject of Erik Larson’s 2003 bestselling book The Devil in the White City, which Leonardo DiCaprio purchased the film rights to in 2010. Though it's still listed as being in development, Martin Scorsese is attached to direct, and said the script was still being worked on in December 2016.
Tune into the History Channel on July 11 at 10/9 c to catch the first episode of American Ripper, and evaluate the evidence for the H.H. Holmes/Jack the Ripper connection for yourself.