Why do people believe H.H. Holmes was Jack the Ripper?

There are few serial killers in history that are more infamous than Jack the Ripper. Even now, his names can send shivers down the spine of anyone familiar with the case. His identity is one of the greatest mysteries of all time. 

On the other side of the Atlantic, active at nearly the same time as Jack the Ripper, was another killer that was nearly as infamous–H.H. Holmes. While there are 5 murders attributed to Jack the Ripper, H.H. Holmes confessed to an astounding 27 kills. Together, these men had women terrified on both sides of the ocean.

Except…what if they had more in common than just their penchant for violence and the time frame they were active? Is it possible that Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes was the same person?

While the suggestion might seem too crazy to be real at first, there is a surprising amount of evidence  that points to this theory being correct. Even more convincing, the great-great grandson of H.H. Holmes himself thinks this possibility holds water. 

Is it possible that the mysterious identity of Jack the Ripper has been under our noses this entire time?

Unraveling the Enigma: H.H. Holmes and the Jack the Ripper Connection

First, to decipher whether Jack the Ripper and H.H Holmes could be one in the same, we have to ascertain whether it’s even possible based on the timelines. Both serial killers were active at relatively the same time, and were an entire ocean apart from one another. 

Proponents of the theory say that H.H. Holmes could have easily made the trip to London and back with enough time to complete all the murders ascribed to both him and Jack the Ripper, but is that really true? Let’s break down the timelines and see.  

*Jack the Ripper’s murders will be in italics, H.H. Holme’s murders will be in bold. This is not a complete list of presumed murders for H.H. Holmes, but includes significant ones within the timeline.

  • August 31, 1888- Mary “Polly” Nichols in murdered 
  • September 8, 1888- Eliza Ann Smith is murdered 
  • September 29, 1888- Elizabeth Stride is murdered 
  • September 30, 1888- Catherine Eddowes is murdered 
  • November 8, 1888- Mary Kelly is murdered 
  • April 7, 1891- John DeBrueil died of apoplexy in H.H. Holmes murder castle 
  • December 1891- Julia Smythe disappears, presumed murdered 
  • December 1892- Emeline Cigrand disappears, presumed murdered 
  • July 5th, 1893- Minnie and Nannie Williams disappear, presumed murdered 
  • November 1893- Harry Walker disappears, presumed murdered 
  • June 1894- George Thomas is killed by H.H. Holmes and Benjamin Pietzel 
  • July 1894- Milford Cole disappears, presumed murdered 
  • September 4, 1894- Benjamin Pietzel is murdered 
  • October, 1894- Alice, Howard, and Nellie Pietzel are murdered 

As you can see, there is no overlap between the two murder sprees by the two different killers. The gap between the last killing by Jack the Ripper and the first by H.H. Holmes was 6 months. So, if Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes was the same person, they would need to travel from London to Chicago within that time span. 

By the 1860s, crossing the Atlantic was something that could be done in a matter of weeks, rather than a matter of months. To get from New York to London during the time of these killers, it would take between 8 and 15 days. 

Even accounting for the time it would have taken Holmes to get from New York to Chicago, there are still plenty of weeks left. Which tells us that as far as the timeline goes, it is possible that a single person could have completed both the Ripper murders and the Holmes murders. 

Potential Clues 

Now that we know that the timelines work out, what other reasons are there to believe that both of these sets of murders were committed by the same person?

The first grisly connection is the style of killings. H.H. Holmes is notorious for his killings taking place in his infamous Murder Castle, a building he had built that was full of traps and killing rooms. When compared side by side with Jack the Ripper’s more simplistic slayings, it doesn’t really match up. 

Except…the Ripper killings were carried out before the Murder Castle was complete, and it’s widely believed that whoever committed these crimes was someone with some sort of history as a medical professional. Holmes just so happened to be a trained medic, meaning that the careful removal of organs from Jack the Ripper’s victims could have easily been done by Holmes. 

Even more compelling is the fact that H.H. Holme’s paper trail went cold between 1888 and 1889, and conveniently enough, that was the exact time when the Ripper murders were occuring. 

Researchers have also noticed something strange about the letter sent to the media by Jack the Ripper in the middle of his murders. The letter, called the “Dear Boss,” letter, was written in such a way that it appears that the author was actually American, not a native Londoner. If this letter was truly penned by an American, there’s no reason that American couldn’t have been Holmes. 

Perhaps the most convincing argument for Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes being the same person is a single name on a ship log from late 1888. The name reads “H. Holmes”. 

Holmes actually had a colleague, Edmund Buckley, that hailed from Whitechapel. This would have given Holmes a reason to visit Whitechapel in the first place. While in Whitechapel, Holmes could have begun his string of murders as Jack the Ripper before fleeing back to the states and beginning the construction of his Murder Castle. 

The theory might seem unreal from the outside, but when you dig a little deeper, the clues start to add up.

Remaining Doubts: Were Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes Different People?

The evidence, and the idea, that Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes is the same person is tantalizing. Solving one of the world’s biggest mysteries and linking it to another notorious serial killer seems almost too good to be true–and sadly, that might be the reality. 

Sure, on the surface, everything works out time wise for the murderers having the same identity, but coincidences aren’t exactly evidence. And as exciting as it is to put all the puzzle pieces together, there is no concrete proof that H.H. Holmes committed the Ripper murders. 

There isn’t even proof that Holmes ever traveled to London. 

H.H. Holmes was a busy man, even if most of what kept him busy was different types of crimes and schemes to make money. Taking the extensive amount of time out of his life to go to London just to murder women seems unlikely. 

Then there is the idea of product versus process killers. H.H. Holmes may have killed in strange and elaborate ways, but at the end of the day, he was  only really in it for one thing–money. The body of the victim was meaningless to him. Their deaths were simply a  way for him to gain something. 

Jack the Ripper, on the other hand, was a product killer. Research suggests that, despite how gory the crime scenes were, Jack the Ripper killed his victims quickly and quietly. It wasn’t until they were dead that he would begin to mutilate them. This means that the goal of the killing for Jack was to acquire the product, which in his case, was his victims bodies. 

The Dear Boss letter isn’t a great clue, either. These days, it’s believed that the letter wasn’t even written by Jack the Ripper himself, but was instead written by someone looking to drum up excitement and hysteria in the wake of the killings. This means that, even if an American did write the letter, said American probably wasn’t the killer. Just a copycat. 

And lastly, what should be the most concrete piece of evidence, the ship log, also has to be taken with a grain of salt. “Holmes” was a common enough name at the time that “H. Holmes” could have been anyone. 

It’s easy to see why people latch onto this theory so much. There isn’t anything that definitively proves that Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes wasn’t the same person, and some clues line up well enough to look convincing, at least from a distance. 

The sad truth is, though, that were probably two killers brutalizing their victims in the late 1880s. It might be easier to imagine that there was only one boogeyman who just so happened to be a cross continent killer, but the most obvious answer is that Ripper and Holmes were simply different individuals. 


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