What Do Jack the Ripper, H. H. Holmes, and Pennsylvania Have in Common?
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No two words send a chill down the spine quite like the phrase "Serial Killer." And no two serial killers were more fond of their work than H. H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper.
H. H. Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudget in New Hampshire in 1861. He claimed to have been the victim of an abusive father and classmates who bullied him. He married for the first time at the age of 17 and had a son two years later. He divorced and married several more times with one unfortunate spouse eventually becoming one of his kills.
In 1884 Holmes enrolled in the University of Michigan's medical school and it is here that he found his calling - a career that had nothing to do with healing the hurts of others.
Holmes began his criminal pursuits by scamming insurance companies. First, he would convince an accomplice to take out a policy. Then he would steal a cadaver from the medical school and disfigure the human remains beyond identification. It was this body that the beneficiary presented as the "insured" in order to cash in on the policy.
Holmes moved to Chicago just prior to the 1893 World's Fair. He built a huge structure that came to be called by all who saw it as Holme's "Castle." The massive site was a city block in length and three stories tall. While some of the space was rented to unwitting tenants running actual businesses, much of it - particularly the basement - was a place of horrors specifically designed so that Holmes could trap, torture and kill his victims. And victims were easy to find with visitors by the thousands looking for room and board during the World's Fair.
In 1894 Holmes arrived in Philadelphia where he went back to his old insurance cons - one of which required that he kill his accomplice, Benjamin Pitezel. With police now on his trail Holmes left Philly and embarked on a cross-country killing spree that included three of Pitezel's young children.
Holmes was arrested in Boston and brought back to Philadelphia where he was tried for fraud and the murder of Pitezel - just one of the estimated 100 or more people he'd killed over the course of his grisly career.
H. H. Holmes was found guilty and hanged in Philadelphia's Moyamensing Prison on May 7, 1896. When he fell the rope did not snap his neck instantly, as was common. Instead Holmes was left to suffocate - a sickening process that took more than a quarter of an hour. A fitting end, it seems, for the monster H. H. Holmes.
Jack the Ripper was London's - and probably the world's - most famous serial killer. Shockingly, however, he too has a possible connection to Pennsylvania.
Although there are many Ripper suspects, one man that modern investigators believe to be the most credible is James Kelly. Kelly murdered his wife in 1883 using a stiff blade knife which he plunged repeatedly into her neck. Not surprising, Kelly was sent to Broadmoor Asylum for the insane - but he escaped in 1888, just before the Ripper murders began. London police tried to find Kelly in November 1888 after the Ripper's last known killing, but they were unable to locate him.
Apparently, Kelly left London with ease and boarded a ship that carried him to New York. From there he traveled throughout the United States. Although no murders can be definitively tied to Kelly, newspapers reported slasher-type killings in several of the areas in which he was known to have spent time. It seems, however, that Kelly's London sensibilities were out of step with Pennsylvania. When he visited the Keystone State he reported that the mosquitoes and climate were too uncomfortable for him and he quickly moved on.
In 1927 Kelly inexplicably returned to England and showed up at Broadmoor asking to be re-committed. He died there two years later of natural causes.