The History Channel's upcoming eight-part docuseries American Ripper poses a tantalizing question for viewers: Is H.H. Holmes also Jack The Ripper? On the face of it, this seems like the wildest of conspiracy theories; but could there actually be some merit to the idea? The identity of Jack The Ripper has been the subject of much speculation for centuries, and this would provide a tidy conclusion to the lingering mystery. But is it even feasible?
Actually, yes — if timing is the only consideration. While the Ripper's five known victims were killed in Whitechapel, London from December 1888 through February 1891 (according to the website for London's official Jack the Ripper tour), Holmes' killing spree at the Chicago World's Fair didn't start until 1893 (according to Biography.com). It's conceivable that the American murderer could have journeyed across the Atlantic to hone his skills before returning to Chicago. Also, while the Ripper is widely assumed to have been a surgeon or a physician due to the methodical way he dissected the corpses, Holmes was a doctor who studied in the anatomy lab of the University of Michigan's department of Medicine and Surgery… a fact the University advertises on its own website.
Lending even more credence to this idea is the fact that American Ripper's investigation is led by H.H. Holmes' own great-great-grandson Jeff Mudgett, in collaboration with former C.I.A. operative Amaryllis Fox.
Probably viewers should be hesitant to give too much credence to this idea. The theory is convenient because it's impossible to disprove from the Ripper side of the equation; given that the serial killer's true identity has never been discovered, one can't eliminate suspects based on any biographical information. However, the timing starts to get complicated when you examine things from Holmes' side of the equation.
While it's true that the known murders of both serial killers didn't overlap, the truth of the matter is a bit more complex. While the World's Fair that would be Holmes' playing ground didn't open until May of 1893 — over two years after the Ripper's last known victim was killed — the American doctor's history in the Windy City stretches back farther than that.
According to Biography.com, Holmes first moved to Chicago in 1886 — two years before the Ripper's first known victim was killed. Upon settling in to his new home, Holmes began working in a pharmacy, and soon began construction on the hotel that would become known as the killer's "murder castle," all while running a series of insurance scams that would eventually land him in prison for fraud prior to the discovery of his murders.
So, in order for the theory posited in American Ripper to work, Holmes would have had to have been traveling back and forth from Chicago to London — not an easy or short trip in the late 19th century — for a period of about two years, murdering women across the Atlantic while simultaneously holding down a job, building a hotel, and running insurance schemes in the States. Seems pretty far-fetched.
That doesn't even take into account the two murderers' extremely different methods. While the Ripper was mobile, stalking sex workers through the streets of Whitechapel and leaving their bodies to be discovered by the police, Holmes was stationary, drawing his victims to him in his "murder castle" and quietly disposing of their corpses in his cellar. Those two modus operandi don't really seem like they belong to the same person, do they?
It seems like the only thing Holmes and the Ripper have in common is that they were both surgeons, and they were both operating around the same time; other than that, it seems extremely unlikely that they could have been one and the same. American Ripper has an uphill climb if it wants to convince viewers of the plausibility of its theory. But who knows? Maybe the series is waiting to shock the world with some surprising, incontrovertible proof that two of the most notorious serial killers in the world were actually the same person.