Both of these infamous names are probably familiar to you. Two serial killers in the late 1800s: one in England, one in America, with two different ways of killing, yet there is a theory that they were the same person.
It is often believed that Jack the Ripper, as the name implies, was a brutal and messy murderer, when that wasn’t the case. He was meticulous, often killing prostitutes on the streets of Victorian London who would likely not be missed. He would choke his victims first, which was partly how he never attracted attention. Then he would mutilate their bodies and, in three cases, remove their organs. Due to the meticulous nature of his killings and the careful removal of the organs, specialists believe he may have had some medical training or at least some anatomical knowledge. Nobody knows how many people the Ripper killed. There were 11 murders that occurred in Whitechapel between April 1888 and February 1891, although it is debated as to whether they are the work of one culprit. Five of these, known as the ‘Canonical Five’, are widely attributed to the Ripper. Mary Jane Kelly, the final ‘Canonical Five’ victim, was found dead, not on the streets, but in her bed.
In America on Christmas Eve 1891 Julia and Pearl Smythe, thought to be H.H. Holmes’ first victims, went missing. Holmes was infamous for his ‘Murder Castle’: a hotel in Chicago with three stories and a basement. The Murder Castle included torture rooms, with a chute to the basement, secret passages, surgical tables and tools, apartments, plus a storefront. Holmes would sell his victims’ organs and bones on the black market. In 1894, Holmes was arrested and, in 1985, put on trial for the murder of Benjamin Pietzel. It later became clear Holmes also murdered Pietzel’s children. Holmes confessed to 27 murders, although some of these ‘confessions’ were about people who were still alive. On the 7th May 1896 Holmes was hanged. It’s confirmed that he killed nine people, but the real number may be closer to 200.
So, were H.H Holmes and Jack the Ripper the same person?
The trail of Ripper murders ends at the start of 1891, and Holmes’ murder spree is thought to begin at the end of 1891. Should they be the same person, the times work out conveniently for Holmes to travel between England and America. During this gap, ship records show that a H. Holmes made this journey, making it plausible this could be the same H. Holmes as the one who ran the Murder Castle. Holmes was renowned for being a document keeper, however between 1888 and 1891, i.e. the time of the Ripper murders, Holmes had no documents and there was no trace of where he was.
Despite beliefs that the Ripper was a messy killer, he was methodical with his killings. Although not on the same meticulous level as Holmes’ castle, this could have been the lead up for Holmes to develop his killing style. Jack’s final victim being found in bed suggests a progression to no longer committing random murders in the street. Both killers removed their victim’s organs – Holmes was a qualified doctor, and the Ripper was believed to have some medical training.
Sketches of what the Ripper supposedly looked like, drawn from the testimonies of over 13 witnesses who saw the Ripper in action, eerily match photos of Holmes. For Jeff Mudgett, Holmes’ great-great-grandson, who believes the Ripper and Holmes were the same person, the similarity is close enough that, were the case happening today, it would warrant an arrest.
Finally, the infamous ‘Dear Boss’ letter ‘written’ by the Ripper, in which he first gives the title ‘Jack the Ripper’, and sent to the Central News agency in 1888, is thought by linguists to have American idioms. The letter gloats about murders already attributed to the same killer, known previously as ‘The Whitechapel Murderer’, among other names. Should Holmes and the Ripper be the same person, it would make sense as to why this letter appeared to be written by an American.
Despite what seems to be a lot of evidence for the two killers being the same person, a lot of it can be picked apart. None of the evidence is solid enough to pinpoint the two men as being one person – it is merely circumstantial. Moreover, many people believe that the ‘Dear Boss’ letter wasn’t written by the killer, but a journalist or a local looking to create more action.
Holmes was a common name in the 19th Century, so this does not prove that H.Holmes of the Murder Castle was in England at the time of the Ripper killings. Holmes was also known to go by different names; his real name was Herman Webster Mudgett. It could be coincidence that another H. Holmes was travelling to America in 1891.
Lastly, while Holmes sought to gain the life insurance money from his victims, thus fuelling his greed, the Ripper murdered the poor. There was no financial gain for the Ripper by carrying out his murders, and so he did not murder for the same reason as Holmes supposedly did. If the motives are different, then the murderers could be too.
With all the evidence being circumstantial, and the case over a century old, we may never know who the Ripper was and if it was Holmes after all. It’s up to us to come up with our own conclusions with this conspiracy theory.