Was Jack the Ripper his ancestor?

Retired trial lawyer Jeff Mudgett (above) attempts to identify the victims of his great-great-grandfather H.H. Holmes in American Ripper (right), a new History channel documentary series he hosts.
Retired trial lawyer Jeff Mudgett attempts to identify the victims of his great-great-grandfather H.H. Holmes in American Ripper (above), a new History channel documentary series he hosts.PHOTO: HISTORY ASIA
Retired trial lawyer Jeff Mudgett (above) attempts to identify the victims of his great-great-grandfather H.H. Holmes in American Ripper (right), a new History channel documentary series he hosts.
Retired trial lawyer Jeff Mudgett (above) attempts to identify the victims of his great-great-grandfather H.H. Holmes in American Ripper, a new History channel documentary series he hosts.PHOTO: HISTORY ASIA

Ex-lawyer Jeff Mudgett tries to prove that American serial killer H.H. Holmes, his great-great-grandfather, was also London's mass murderer

8Q

Most people would be happy to find out more about their ancestry, but Jeff Mudgett's family actively tried to stop all his research efforts about his lineage.

That is because the retired trial lawyer is the great-great-grandson of H.H. Holmes - otherwise known as the first serial killer in the United States.

Oh, and Holmes may have also been the same person as London's notorious mass murderer, Jack the Ripper.

In a telephone interview from his home in Las Vegas, Mudgett, 60, tells The Straits Times: "When I started my journey researching this history 20 years ago, my family was very upset with me. They wanted me to leave alone all that Holmes had done all those years ago.

"Back then, when Holmes was on trial, it was like the O.J. Simpson trial - every newspaper in the country carried it and the family had to move from New Hampshire to California to get away from the stigma of being associated with him. They called him the devil and the family had to run away from that."

But Mudgett was relentless, obsessively digging up stories and facts surrounding Holmes dating back to the 19th century.

After publishing the book Bloodstains in 2011, in which he relays his inner conflict of discovering his relationship to the infamous killer, he is now the host of a new History channel documentary series titled American Ripper, where he delves even deeper into his investigations.

He also attempts to identify Holmes' victims and pay tribute to them along the way.

But the main purpose of the eight-part show is to prove his theory that Holmes, who was hanged in 1896 for allegedly committing 27 murders, was Jack the Ripper.

He found evidence to suggest that Holmes had been in London at the same time that Jack the Ripper committed his murders. He also linked the two men based on the way they tended to kill their victims - with medical knowledge and surgical precision.

Mudgett says: "In my opinion, the case is basically solved that they were indeed the same person. I think it's just a matter of time before the rest of the world accepts that."

1 Why did you start researching your relation to H.H. Holmes only at age 40?

That was when I learnt of this ancestry. My grandfather had hidden this secret his entire life, even from my grandmother. I found out about it only at a family dinner party, when my grandfather finally decided to tell us the truth.

2 What prompted your grandfather to finally reveal the secret?

At the time, my grandmother had been fascinated with our ancestors and had spent quite a lot of money looking into it. She thought we were related to Civil War general Robert E. Lee and it obsessed her in her later days.

I think my grandfather, who had kept this secret of our ancestry for so long, finally decided to just come clean.

3 What went through your head when you heard this piece of news?

I was not inclined to believe it. But when I started researching, I realised it was true.

And I realised that a lot of the idiosyncrasies of my life and character could somehow be explained by this relation to him. I never once thought of murdering or hurting anyone, but I always knew I was different and I felt like this had something to do with being related to this horrible man.

4 What do you mean by idiosyncrasies?

I guess something like having a very sharp temper. I tended to get angry easily over very small issues that other people would be able to move on from quite quickly. Little things tended to bother me a lot more than they would other people.

So when I learnt about Holmes and his legendary temper, that made it easier to understand myself. Everyone tends to yearn for knowledge of his origins and mine just happened to be more terrible than others'.

5 After 20 years, does your family still object to your research efforts about your ancestry?

No. They are now 100 per cent behind me in demonstrating to the world this story and the fact that despite our origins and genes, that no one in our family went on to commit any crimes. Two people in my family were war heroes and one was a mayor in Florida, so they all decided on their own to be good citizens. That's something the family is proud of.

6 Reportedly, you have met some descendants of Holmes' victims. How did that go?

I was in Ohio and two ladies came up to me to tell me that their ancestor was a victim of Holmes and that became a very emotional meeting for me. They told me they were grateful I was looking into the victims.

7 While working on American Ripper, did you uncover anything that stuck with you for a long time?

We went to Irvington, Indiana, where Holmes had murdered an eight-year-old boy. We were at the crime scene, which was chilling to say the least.

The historian from the town described how people at the time had watched as Holmes had walked in with the boy's hand in his right hand and how he had waited for the blacksmith to sharpen the knives he was going to use to murder the boy. That was probably the most chilling thing I learnt in my 20 years of research - I almost came to tears.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as the man who attempted to identify the unfortunate who were killed by Holmes, but were not properly investigated by the American government.

If I can be known as the guy who helped them uncover that truth, I would be quite happy.

• American Ripper premieres on the History channel (StarHub TV Channel 401 and Singtel TV Channel 209) on Wednesday at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline 'Was Jack the Ripper his ancestor?'. Print Edition | Subscribe