Once upon a time in the city of Chicago, there lived a sociopath. Well, according to Chi-town’s history, there have been quite a few. This is about Mudgett, or H.H. Holmes, or any number of aliases. Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City brings to hideous life the horror that was Herman Webster Mudgett, who has been described as this country’s first serial killer. He was also a consummate liar and conman. Since he cremated or stripped the flesh from his victims to sell for medical research, estimates of the number of people he murdered are just that, estimates. His hotel near the lush hunting ground of the 1893 Columbian Exposition provided him with steady flow of victims for his famed second floor, where people were lured, gassed, and slid down a chute to his basement disposal area. Hitler’s SS probably took gleeful notes on Mudgett’s efficiency methods.
But this is not about Mudgett’s grisly practices. The item of information that triggered an interest for me was what Jeff Mudgett, great-great grandson, is touting—that Grandfather Mudgett was Jack the Ripper. Jeff says FBI computer facial comparisons show a strong similarity to a Scotland Yard drawing of the Ripper from eyewitness descriptions. Handwriting analysis shows a 98 percent match, and Granddad Mudgett was absent from Chicago at the time of the 1880’s London murder spree.
Could this be true about the Jeff’s grandfather? It got me making thoughtful comparisons. The Chicago Mudgett wasn’t a typical serial killer. He was well educated for one thing, a medical school graduate. He was a consummate con artist, going by an endless string of names and cons, and didn’t kill for the pleasure/need of it, like most serial killers. He killed most often for money or to get rid of witnesses. So why go all the way to London to murder women? I link it to his understanding how to find a proper hunting ground and his need for money. This was seed money for Mudgett’s type of long con, a hotel set-up with on-site disposal capability. And what would be unusual about the sight of carts (medical school corpses) coming and going from a hotel? If he needed start-up for his perfect killing machine, he was clever enough not to concoct it in his own back yard.
The lowest of the low in those days were the prostitutes in big cities. Mudgett would see them as a convenient, marketable product lurking in the shadows of one of London’s worst slums. If they disappeared, few would pay attention or care. Bodies to sell to medical schools with no questions asked, just as he would later do in Chicago. That’s the similarity—an endless source of untraceable cash flow.
OK, somebody believes Jeff’s story because there’ a film being made that has run into back luck and not gotten finished. A new book is supposed be released that shows a DNA study of a shawl found by a Ripper victim is that of a Polish immigrant. Hello, has anybody ever heard of planting evidence?
Anyway, creepy Mudgett seems a more likely suspect. I’m open to other ideas but have to admit that there is some merit to Jeff’s connections.
M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)
Follow on Twitter @RigdonML