H.H. Holmes: Did The 'Devil In White City' Fake His Own Execution?

H.H. Holmes was executed by hanging on May 7, 1896. Per his request, the convicted killer's body was buried 10 feet deep and his coffin was encased in concrete. More than 120 years later, Holmes' grave is being exhumed amid rumors that he faked his own execution and subsequent death.

A native of Gilmanton, New Hampshire, Herman Webster Mudgett was described as an "unusually intelligent" child with a keen interest in medicine. According to some reports, the boy performed experimental "surgeries" on neighborhood pets in an attempt to learn about their anatomy.

While studying medicine at the University of Michigan, Mudgett was accused of stealing cadavers from the school's laboratory. Rumors suggest he used them for macabre experiments. However, Mudgett later admitted he used the cadavers to commit insurance fraud.

As reported by CrimeMuseum.org, Mudgett purchased life insurance policies for the already deceased people, removed them from the lab, and "planted" their bodies elsewhere. He then collected the insurance money when they were discovered and declared "dead."

After completing school and obtaining a medical license, Herman Webster Mudgett changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes and moved to Chicago -- where he was hired to work at a pharmacy. He later purchased the pharmacy along with a vacant lot across the street.

H.H. Holmes designed a three-story building, which included his personal residence, retail space, and a hotel, to be built on the vacant lot. Although there were several disputes between the doctor and the building contractors, the so-called "castle" was completed just in time for the 1893 World's Fair.

According to reports, "all of Holmes' employees, hotel guests," and love interests were required to have insurance policies -- which named the doctor as the sole beneficiary. Authorities later determined the unusual requirement was part of another life insurance scam. In fact, H.H. Holmes was suspected of participating in numerous scams and other crimes throughout the United States.

As reported by Biography, H.H. Holmes was ultimately arrested and charged with insurance fraud. Amid the investigation, authorities found evidence suggesting the doctor was also responsible for the deaths of numerous people. A subsequent search of Holmes' "castle" revealed "a series of passageways, secret rooms, gas chambers, vaults and acid pits," which were reportedly used to kill and dispose of the doctor's employees, friends, and hotel guests.

During a police interview, H.H. Holmes admitted killing a total of 27 people. Due to the sheer number of victims and the brutal way they were killed, the doctor was eventually labeled America's first serial killer.

Although he is suspected in as many as 200 deaths, H.H. Holmes was charged with and convicted of only one murder. The doctor was sentenced to death by hanging and was executed on May 7, 1896.

The circumstances surrounding Holmes arrest, conviction, and execution, are fairly well documented. However, Jeff Mudgett, who claims to have inherited H.H. Holmes personal diaries, believes the doctor faked his own execution. He also suspects the "Devil in White City" and "Jack the Ripper" were the same man.

According to Mudgett, the diaries describe "training" sessions between Holmes and an assistant -- which reportedly took place in London. As reported by WhiteChapelJack.com, the doctor instructed his assistant to "to murder prostitutes and excessively mutilate their bodies" in an attempt to draw attention away from his own crimes.

Although the murders in Chicago and London took place within the same general timeframe, and the victims were primarily women, there is simply no proof that H.H. Holmes traveled to London and committed murder. Skeptics also cite the obvious differences in the way the women were killed and what was done with their remains.

Despite evidence to the contrary, H.H. Holmes' family is on a quest to prove whether the doctor faked his own execution and whether he was Jack the Ripper. Their investigation is being documented in the History Channel's "American Ripper." In addition to featuring the exhumation of H.H. Holmes' grave, the series will explore whether the doctor knew or actually was Jack the Ripper.

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