Haunts & Jaunts: Born with the devil in me

Born with the devil in me

“Jeff Mudgett speaks to the crowd at the Bona Thompson Center in Irvington during the H H Holmes exhibit.” (Photo by R. Hinton)

   When I met Jeff Mudgett he had a firm handshake, personable and an easy smile. I liked him immediately. He held court over the H.H. Holmes display at the Bona Thompson Center in Irvington. Being Grand Marshal for the 2017 Irvington Halloween Festival parade also provided quick smiles, laughs, and stories of days gone by; including the ghost story still haunting him to this day. Jeff Mudgett—great-great-grandson of Herman Webster Mudgett (serial killer H.H. Holmes)—has his own beliefs of the devil in his family.

   Mudgett, a retired trial lawyer, found out about the skeleton in the family closet later in life. Good thing I would suppose. Is this something you would want to travel with through your childhood? It’s now, however, a passion for him to dig into family roots trying to make sense of a controversial theory he has formulated: was H.H. Holmes actually hung outside a gathering of spectators at Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison on May 7, 1896? Or someone else? And, could Holmes have been the infamous Jack the Ripper?

“The infamous ‘Murder Castle’ in Chicago. Mudgett is working towards excavating where the hotel once sat (currently the parking lot of a post office).” (submitted photo)

   In July of 2017 the History Channel portrayed Mudgett’s quest in the eight-part series American Ripper. You either loved or hated it. In 1888 the White Chapel district of London, England reeled from the killing of several prostitutes, with an added bonus of mutilating their bodies. London authorities believe it was someone with surgical skills, and possibly an American. “Ripperologists”have identified countless suspects, and Holmes could readily be added to that list. Mudgett bases his suspicion on a couple of diaries he inherited from Holmes (the man liked to brag!). And… Holmes WAS in London during that time period! Coincidence? Holmes’ murders in America and the killings in White Chapel are eerily similar. “There are too many coincidences for this to be another bogus theory,” Mudgett adamantly states. “I know that the evidence is out there to prove my theory and I’m not going to give up until I find it.” Trust me when he says that!

“Jeff Mudgett explains theories involving his great-great-grandfather.” (R. Hinton)

   A prisoner is given a last request. Holmes’ was that his coffin be interred in concrete. He didn’t want his body dug up. To conceal his identity perhaps? Who knows what went on in this man’s mind. His death was supposed to bring closure to a short career of psychopathic mass murder, but for Jeff Mudgett, it became a search for the truth. An 1898 newspaper article lit a fire, claiming Holmes had schemed his way out of the hanging, escaped and was living in South America. Holmes’ grave was dug up in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeardon in 2017. Tests were conducted. In the end the evidence concluded—the body in the grave was indeed Holmes! Dental records and DNA revealed a conclusive link to Jeff Mudgett. Case closed? No, there were too many unanswered questions on that final episode of American Ripper. There always are. Is it over? Not hardly. Jeff states that NBC News retracted the statement that the DNA extracted from the grave conclusively “proved the remains matched my own. They are now considering removing any reference to the alleged Holmes dental records.” Holmes purportedly claimed-”I was born with the devil in me… he has been with me ever since.”

   Indeed so!