H. H. Holmes’ victims: Dr. Russell

You may recall that Holmes’ first alleged victim, Robert Leacock, was also a doctor. Leacock was “a friend and former schoolmate” whom Holmes killed in for his life insurance. (If you’re at all familiar with serial killers, you know that choosing a victim who’s actually connected to you is just a bad idea if you want to stay out of jail.) Holmes’ second confessed victim, Dr. Russell, was a tenant in Holmes’ so-called Murder Castle.

It seems that, while Holmes plotted and intended to kill Leacock, Russell was in fact a mistake. He had been behind in his rent and, when the two men argued about payments, Holmes “struck him to the floor with a heavy chair.” This single blow was enough to make Russell stop breathing.

Since the men had been in Holmes’ office, he locked the door and then thought quickly. He had a second body on his hands and no planned means of disposal, and his first thought – handing the body over to a Chicago medical college to be used for dissections – was apparently foiled, although he doesn’t say how. Instead Holmes sold Russell’s body to a man he refuses to name, although he hints that he’s told other people the man’s name in the past.

Holmes spends more time talking around this anonymous buyer than he does about Russell’s murder. He informs his readers that this man paid between $25 and $45 for each body and that, when Holmes doesn’t explain how he disposed of his 27 victims, he sold their remains to this man. Even though Holmes is writing and publishing this confession mere weeks before his own execution, he refuses to name this man.

There is also nothing in Holmes’ confession about how he covered up this supposed murder in other ways: cleaning out Russell’s apartment, or fending off concerned friends and relatives, for example. He only writes about – or rather, around – getting rid of Russell’s body before moving on to the murders of Julia and Pearl Connor.

Unlike Julia and Pearl, whose mysterious disappearances had been noticed and connected to Holmes prior to his newspaper confession, Dr. Russell does not seem to have been a true victim. His name and the scant details of his death, very much mimicking the fictional death scene of Nannie Williams in Holmes’ Own Story, seem to have been added to boost Holmes’ supposed body count.

The speed of Russell’s supposed death after the single blow with the heavy chair is suspicious, although there wasn’t enough time left for anyone to question Holmes about it. He simply presents Russell’s murder as part of his argument about how, now that he’s taken a human life, it’s so much easier to do it again. Leacock was killed for money, but Russell was murdered accidentally in a moment of high emotion. It was a mistake, yes, but Holmes was able to respond in such a way as to remain free – and free of suspicion – in order to enact 25 more murders.

The main argument about Dr. Russell’s death seems to be that killing is a slippery slope, and that Holmes had found his preferred means of body disposal early on in his career. Nothing exists of Russell but his last name and he’s quickly bypassed as Holmes moves on to two better-known victims his readers will have already heard about.

Ripper suspect: George Chapman

George Chapman – no relation to Annie Chapman; birth name Seweryn Kłosowski – is one of the oldest Ripper suspects. Although he was arrested, tried, and hanged for three poisonings, police at the time thought he may have been the Ripper. Let’s see if we agree.

Chapman was born in Poland in 1865. At age 14, he was apprenticed to a surgeon, and in October 1885 he enrolled in a brief course in practical surgery at the Warsaw Praga Hospital. It’s unclear exactly when he left Poland for England, but he was working as a doctor’s assistant in Warsaw until December 1886, and a receipt from February 1887 still places him in Poland. He settled in the East End as a hairdresser’s assistant in either late 1887 or early 1888.

So far Chapman seems to be a plausible Ripper suspect. The Ripper was thought to have anatomical knowledge that could be attributed to being a butcher or a doctor, and Chapman had medical training. He had also moved to the East End shortly before the murders began and records can prove he was there during the Autumn of Terror. On top of this, he was a known serial killer. So what’s the hesitation?

Jack the Ripper killed women on the street by cutting their throats and then mutilating their bodies with a knife or knives. There is no known connection between these women, although various people have done their best to hook them together in a conspiracy.

George Chapman murdered his mistresses by poisoning them with tartar-emetic. He had a string of relationships with women who presented themselves as his wife, and while some of them left Chapman because he was violent, three of them died because of him. Chapman’s first known murder was of Mary Isabella Spink in 1897; his second, Bessie Taylor in 1901; and his third, Maud Marsh in 1902. Reports at his trial indicate that he was physically abusive to all three, as well as the other women – some mothers of his children – who left him, perhaps before he could murder them, as well.

Suspicions were high enough after Marsh’s death for the bodies of Spink and Taylor to be exhumed, as well, in order to prove poisoning. Chapman was charged with Marsh’s murder, brought to trial, convicted on March 19, 1903, and hanged on April 7 with his motives still unproven. Although he inherited a legacy from Spink, there was no monetary reason for him to have murdered Taylor and March.

No less than Fredrick Abberline himself considered George Chapman to have been Jack the Ripper. When he spoke to the policeman who arrested Chapman, he’s reported to have said “You’ve got Jack the Ripper at last!” During the initial investigation Abberline had interviewed Chapman’s “wife” at the time, who apparently reported that he was out and about at all hours. However, Chapman – who was then still going by Seweryn Kłosowski – was not named as a suspect in 1888. It was only his arrest for serial poisoning that put his name on the short list.

So: we know that Chapman in the East End at the proper time, and that he was violent toward the women in his life. He had medical training. And we also know he was a murderer, but the question remains: would the Ripper have switched from using a knife to using poison? From killing strangers who could not have been connected back to him to murdering his own “wives”?

What do you think? Did they really capture Jack the Ripper at last?

Ripper suspect: James Maybrick

Remember back when we were discussing Montague John Druitt and we learned it’s bad luck to have died shortly after the Ripper murders were “finished”? James Maybrick, a Liverpool cotton merchant, had some of that same luck, except “died” doesn’t quite fit here. His wife was convicted of his murder and sentenced to death.

Florence Chandler was 18 when she met 42-year-old Maybrick on a sea voyage to Liverpool. It lasted six days, which was long enough for the couple to go from strangers to being engaged. They married in 1881 and had two children by 1886. He had multiple mistresses; she had at least one affair. He sickened suddenly in late April 1889 and died 15 days later. The inquest declared it was arsenic poisoning. Florence became the key suspect.

The trial was sensational, especially since this was an American woman, and the judge’s conduct in particular likely led to her death sentence being commuted to life in prison. In 1904 the case was reexamined and Florence was released. She was the more interesting Maybrick until 1992, when “the Ripper diary” hit headlines.

The provenance of the book is confusing, especially since the story has changed a few times. The contents aren’t really any more enlightening, since the author of the diary never gives his own name. He claims responsibility for the murders of the Canonical Five, as well as two others. And apparently this anonymous author is supposed to be James Maybrick.

The “diary” surfaced in 1992 and has been subjected to multiple tests to determine whether the ink could have been used in 1888. The book itself is less controversial, since the binding and the pages are apparently of the correct vintage, but someone could have found the book and then written the story themselves much later. Some of the details “the Ripper” provides about the murders are inaccurate, but align with oft-repeated parts of the story that someone who was not the Ripper might have heard in the decades since. In fact, the owner of the diary made a statement in 1995 that his wife actually wrote the diary while he dictated. (His solicitor submitted a repudiation of this affidavit, and then he withdrew the repudiation. Just to make things even more confusing.)

The idea seems to be that James Maybrick embarked on the murders as a reaction to his wife’s infidelities, even though it seems that she only began her affair after he had continually cheated on her with multiple women. I suppose we can counter these double standards by arguing that she murdered him when she found out he was murdering other people, even though a twenty-first inquiry into the case revealed that Maybrick was taking multiple medications at the time of his death, most of which were poisonous. It’s highly unlikely Florence Maybrick killed her husband, and it’s also highly unlikely that James Maybrick was Jack the Ripper.

But the diary isn’t the only piece of evidence that surfaced naming the previously unsuspected Maybrick. In 1993, a year after the diary was presented to the world, a man named Albert Johnson bought an antique pocket watch with a strange etching inside. Someone had scratched in the initials of the Canonical Five women (not including the two unidentified women from the diary), James Maybrick’s signature, and the words “I am Jack.” Separate examinations determined that the scratches were not recent – say, if someone had come across the diary story in 1992 and decided to fake them on an true antique watch – but the timing is still puzzling. If Maybrick was a Ripper “nobody” until the diary surfaced in 1992 because it reached the hands of a new owner, how coincidental is it that the pocket watch also changed hands and came to light a year later?

The diary made a splash in the 1990s with books arguing both for and against its authenticity, but it – and James Maybrick – has been largely dismissed by those studying the case. If the Ripper had left a diary for us to find, that would have been big news indeed – even bigger if he’d gotten all the details right and actually signed his name. But the diary goes the way of the shawl and the letters: an interesting splash for experts to argue over, but ultimately not the key to unlock the mystery.

Have you heard about the Ripper diary and the pocket watch? What did you think when you first learned about them? (Does Jack the Ripper strike you as the type to keep a diary in the first place?)

Ripper suspects – Joseph Barnett or George Hutchinson

It’s been a while since I’ve shared some of my research instead of my writing musings, so let’s jump back in to Jack the Ripper and consider a pair of suspects: Joseph Barnett or George Hutchinson. These are an “or” pair instead of an “and” pair, because nobody’s (yet) suggested that they worked together, but the story behind them is very similar.

Both Barnett and Hutchinson are connected to Mary Jane Kelly, the last of the so-called Canonical Five victims of Jack the Ripper. Choosing either Barnett or Hutchinson as the Ripper clearly makes Mary Jane Kelly the last. It actually positions her at the center of all of the murders.

Joseph Barnett was Mary Jane Kelly’s boyfriend. The two of them met in April 1887 and decided to move in together on their second encounter. The vast majority of what we know – or think we know – about Mary Jane Kelly comes from Barnett’s testimony at the inquest after her murder. He lived with her until the end of October 1888, when they quarreled and separated.

Barnett had been living with Mary Jane Kelly at 13 Miller’s Court when they separated. It was a very small room, with only a single bed, and one of the reasons for the separation seems to be that Mary Jane was letting other women sleep there. Since this was the Autumn of Terror where women were being murdered in the streets, and since Mary Jane had a steady room that wasn’t in a lodging house, it seems like it was a kind thing for her to do.

Another instigating factor for their separation also seems to have been the fact that Barnett had lost his job as a fish porter, resulting in Mary Jane Kelly’s return to sex work. Barnett apparently disproved of this as much as he did of her offering their small, shared space to other women, and so he left her. Their separation was the reason why Barnett was not also sleeping at 13 Miller’s Court the night of November 8-9, and why Mary Jane Kelly was alone and murdered there.

Barnett was not a suspect at the time. In fact, Inspector Fredrick Abberline personally cleared him after a four-hour interrogation, which included an inspection of Barnett’s clothes. No blood was found, and Abberline, at least, was satisfied.

The same cannot be said for Bruce Paley who, in 1996, named Barnett as the Ripper. According to Paley, Barnett decided to become the Ripper in order to scare Mary Kelly off the streets and force her to stop making money through sex work out of fear of being murdered. On the one hand, Barnett’s plan seems to have worked if Mary Jane Kelly was worried enough to allow other women to sleep indoors with her. On the other, he apparently couldn’t scare her enough to stop. Thus, Paley argues, Barnett was driven to kill the woman he loved because he couldn’t save her otherwise.

George Hutchinson also became a Ripper suspect not in the 1880s but in the 1990s, this time in a 1998 book by Robert Hinton. Hutchinson was known to the police at the time because, after Mary Jane Kelly’s murder, he made a statement to the police about a man he had seen with Mary Jane Kelly shortly before her murder. Hutchinson, unemployed, apparently had plenty of time that night to hang around Miller’s Court and get a good look at anyone who passed by.

Abberline also interviewed Hutchinson, although he was considered only as a witness and not a suspect. Hutchinson had known Mary Jane Kelly for three years and his incredibly detailed description of the man entering the room with her was explained because Hutchinson thought the man looked “foreign,” which piqued his interest and concern. After all, women were being murdered, so of course he would memorize every detail about any man who seemed to be going into his friend’s room as a client.

Although numerous skeptics have doubted Hutchinson’s description of the Ripper, he wasn’t accused of being the murderer himself until Hinton. And here the story sounds very similar: angry that Mary Jane Kelly was supporting herself through sex work – and not relying on him as her sole sexual partner and source of money – Hutchinson orchestrated the Ripper murders, hoping to scare Mary Jane Kelly into stopping.

Hinton suggests that Hutchinson, after seeing Mary Jane Kelly take that client into her room and that client later depart, snapped. Hutchinson therefore went into 13 Miller’s Court himself, shook Mary Jane Kelly awake – or tried to, considering the reports that she was very drunk that night – and was confronted with the reality of the woman she was instead of the apparent perfection he had preciously imagined. With this ideal shattered, Hutchinson lashed out and killed her.

So: two men who knew Mary Jane Kelly, and were known to have been close to her at the time of her death. One of them was cleared as a suspect by Fredrick Abberline, and the other never even considered to be one. More than a century after the Ripper murders, each in turn became accused of being the Ripper to turn Mary Jane Kelly away from sex work … and into his arms.

What do you think? Was there something in the air in the 1990s? Would a man ever actually turn to serial murder as a way of pursuing the “perfect” woman? Or should we let Barnett and Hutchinson rest in peace?

Interview with Grab the Lapels

Melanie over at GTL has interviewed me for her Meet the Writer Series. Go on over and check it out! If GTL is new for you, Melanie explains:

Meet the Writer is a feature for which I interview authors who identify as women. We talk less about a single book or work and more about where they’ve been and how their lives affect their writing. Today, please welcome Rebecca Frost. 

She starts off by explaining a bit how we met. She tracked me down through this website and we emailed back and forth for quite a while about true crime, books, reading … the good stuff. And then we realized we actually have a friend in common.

Melanie asked if I’d like to be featured in her Meet the Writer series, and I jumped at the chance. Head on over to her blog to see what I have to say.

H. H. Holmes’ victims: Emeline Cigrand

Emeline Cigrand is the eleventh victim H. H. Holmes claims in the newspaper confession published two weeks before his execution. She is likely one of his real victims – not a lie created to bump up his body count.

She was also connected to Holmes long before his confession.

Emeline Cigrand was brought to Chicago to work as Holmes’ stenographer. Depending on the version of the story, Holmes either hired her through a Chicago typewriter firm, or Benjamin Pitezel met her while he was away on the “Gold Cure” for alcoholism and then informed Holmes of the beautiful secretary. Either way, it was known that Emeline Cigrand moved to Chicago in order to work for Holmes.

The story Holmes tells in his confession is the same one he sold her parents after her disappearance: that she had met a man and was going to leave him for her. The difference is that, in responding to Peter Cigrand in a letter, Holmes argued that Emeline had indeed married this unnamed man and had then moved away with him suddenly. In a second letter, sent a few weeks later, Holmes claims that the new “Mrs. Phelps” has been located and her unexplained absence satisfactorily clarified.

The Cigrands carefully examined the last letters they received from their daughter. One of them said she was going to get married, and the very last one lamented that she had in fact married a bad man and would leave him as soon as possible. Upon closer inspection, this last letter was determined to be a forgery.

The truth, at least as Holmes claims it in his confession, centers on the large vault he had installed inside his “Murder Castle.” Because Emeline had become his mistress as well as his indispensable secretary, he couldn’t let her go.

Holmes writes that Miss Cigrand stopped by on her way to her wedding and Holmes offered her a counter proposal: if she wrote a letter to her fiancé telling him that she decided, at the last moment, she could never be happy with him, Holmes would take her to another city and live there with her as husband and wife. The letter to the fiancé made it clear that it would be useless to look for her, thereby covering Holmes’ trail.

He says she was “very willing” to write the letter, except he also tells readers that, at the time he made this proposal, Emeline Cigrand was locked in the room-sized vault. The only way for her to escape it is to agree to write the letter, which she apparently did, before suffering a slow and lingering death.

It seems that, in spite of this turn of events, Emeline did not think to destroy the letter, or perhaps Holmes forged one to the fiancé the way he seems to have done with one to her family. Either way, Emeline disappeared at the end of 1892 and Holmes did not confess until 1896. He maintained that she had married and gone abroad with her new husband.

Emeline Cigrand is believed to be a “true” victim of Holmes, along with Julia Connor (and her daughter) and Minnie Williams because she was known to be his mistress. Holmes killed for money, the way it seems he killed Minnie’s sister, Nannie, but he also killed women once he had tired of them or they became annoying to him. It seems that Emeline Cigrand may have also known more of Holmes’ dealings than he felt comfortable and so, in his mind, the only way to ensure her silence was through her death.

Holmes’ bald statement that he locked Emeline Cigrand in the vault and left her there to die just increased the legend surrounding his Murder Castle and his own status as a heartless killer. While this confession may have allowed her family to gain some measure of closure, it would have also been terrible for them to read.

H. H. Holmes and the 27 body problem

There are many considerations that come along with being a serial killer, some of them more practical than others. One of these is “What do you do with the bodies?” In order to be labeled a serial killer in the first place, there have to be multiple victims. Serial killers therefore have to figure out what to do with the bodies so that they don’t get caught. But what are your options if you’re a nineteenth century physician living in Chicago?

One answer is, of course, H. H. Holmes’ “Murder Castle” … and that might offer up some actual solutions in the midst of all of the myth. There were at least some human remains discovered in the basement, but hardly enough to credit Holmes’ claim of 27 total victims, even if the final 4 were killed elsewhere. At times Holmes has also been suspected of buying a “glass-bending furnace” in order to cremate his victims, especially when authors like to multiply that number by a factor of 10. If Holmes used his “castle” as a hotel during the Columbian Exposition, then there are at least 250 bodies that have to be accounted for.

The bodies of his final victims – Benjamin, Alice, Nellie, and Howard Pitezel – were all found. So if Holmes didn’t bury or cremate the others, what happened to them?

  • sunk in a lake – in Holmes’ Own Story, after Holmes says Minnie Williams killed her sister, Nannie, he helped Minnie get Nannie’s body into a trunk and then rowed out into Lake Michigan and threw the trunk over.
  • sold – Holmes had, after all, been a medical student and would have known that medical schools had difficulty finding cadavers for practice. He claimed to have sold some of the bodies to “a party … whose name I withhold” and who paid him between $25 and $45 per body. (Even in his “confession,” Holmes refuses to reveal the names of anyone who supposedly helped him with the 27 murders. This mysterious party is likely still out there, buying corpses for either medical dissection or insurance scams, as Holmes wrote those words.)
  • used for insurance – Holmes claims he killed his first victim because he knew the man was insured for a large sum. He doesn’t explain how he got his hands on any of that money, especially since he gets confused in referencing his own previous stories, but presumably this man’s body had to be identified and returned to his loved ones.
  • left to be discovered – Holmes claims he killed one man after taking him out on a fishing trip. Holmes learned the man had money and presumably killed him in order to rob him. How he explained the absence of his fishing partner at the end of the day isn’t clarified.
  • self-defense – Holmes also says he shot at least one of his victims in self defense. In this case the body was quickly discovered and taken care of.

Even in his written confession to 27 murders, Holmes doesn’t always mention what, exactly, became of the bodies after he killed them. But remember, Holmes was writing in 1896. No one was watching CSI or reading true crime books. When he makes a casual mention of storing a body for months, nobody questions what state it would be in by the time he would have wanted to stage his insurance scam.

Holmes makes one nod to the realities of hiding a dead body when he admits that he selected the Pennsylvania office for Benjamin Pitezel because of its proximity to the city morgue. People in the area would be used to the smell of decomposition, so he hoped that Pitezel’s body would not be discovered until he was unidentifiable. But this raises a question: if he knew that a single dead body could alert the neighbors, how in the world was he supposed to kill over a dozen in one location without being discovered?

Holmes’ confession, lengthy as it is, still leaves numerous questions surrounding his supposed victims, and his reliability already falters because he named victims who were in fact still alive. There is no doubt that Holmes was a murderer, but not of 27 people.

Ripper suspect: Robert Mann

This is another suspect that makes most people ask “Who?” He’s not a famous author, painter, or prince, so if you know who Robert Mann is, you’ve either read M. J. Trow’s 2009 book or seen the Discovery Channel documentary. Robert Mann was basically a nobody, making him a prime candidate for being the killer who was never identified.

Mann was the mortuary attendant at the Whitechapel Workhouse, so we know for certain he was in the area at the right time. He even has a direct connection to the murders, since both Polly Nichols’ and Annie Chapman’s bodies were taken to that mortuary. There was even a bit of confusion during the inquest into Polly Nichols’ death so Mann’s name made it into the newspaper reports.

Mann was asked what, exactly, he had done with Polly Nichols’ body, and who was there while he did it. The wounds to her abdomen were not discovered at the scene but only after she had been undressed at the mortuary, and the coroner seems to have gotten very frustrated with Mann’s changing testimony about witnesses. One newspaper reported the coroner concluding his questions with the statement that “It appears the mortuary-keeper is subject to fits, and neither his memory nor statements are reliable.” It appears Mann changed his story too many times to suit the coroner.

At Annie Chapman’s inquest, Mann’s occupation gets specified as being a “watchman,” meaning he wasn’t ever supposed to have touched the bodies at all. Considering how the “mortuary” he was watching was really a shed and not a proper mortuary in the first place, it seems plausible that he could have been asked to help. Right?

M. J. Trow argues that Mann, who died in 1896, was actually the Ripper, so he did a lot more than that.

But … why Mann? Well …

In 1988, to mark the hundred-year anniversary of the murders, FBI agent John Douglass composed a psychological profile of Jack the Ripper. (If you’re a fan of Mindhunter, Douglas is the real-life Holden Ford.) You can read Douglas’ full profile here. A lot of it should be familiar: white male, low social standing, broken family life, socially inept … nothing surprising, and nothing to say it wasn’t Mann.

Trow follows Mann’s life as closely as possible, and there’s nothing in it to conclusively prove that he couldn’t have been the Ripper. He fits the profile, at least, and everyone knows he was around at the time of the murders because his name made the papers. According to Trow, everyone else just overlooked Mann before this, both during his life and after his death. And isn’t that the perfect marker of a serial killer who was never identified?

Mann is an interesting case because he can be shown to at least have been around bodies and death, even if we can’t say for sure that he was obsessed with either, or the creation thereof. He could have just been a resident of the workhouse, stuck with the job they gave him, and confused and overwhelmed by the coroner’s inquest.

Or he could have been a cunning murderer hiding behind the mask.

What do you think? Is Mann one of the top likely Rippers, or was Trow just grasping at straws?

Ripper suspect: Lewis Carroll

Remember how the you can basically accuse anyone who was alive in 1888 of having been Jack the Ripper? In 1996, author Richard Wallace decided to make the case for Charles Dodgson – pen name, Lewis Carroll. The man who wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1856 was meant to have murdered multiple women in 1888 … and to have confessed to all of it, if anyone happens to be clever enough to see.

The main point (slash problem) is that these confessions and clues are all in anagram form. Even then, at times Wallace needs to misspell something or otherwise get creative with his interpretations.

Most of these messages, Wallace argues, are from two of Carroll’s books: The Nursery “Alice” and Sylvie and Bruno. Both were first published in 1889, which at least works from a timing standpoint. If Carroll had been Jack the Ripper, he would have had time to commit his murders and then confess to him by the time the books went to press. So, clearly, the various lines of verse can be reworked into confessions and descriptions of the murder scenes.

Well. “Clearly.”

The problem with anagrams is that texts can be reworked to say just about anything, given a “codebreaker” with enough determination. Yes, fine, Carroll’s verse can be translated into murder confessions, but that’s only one possible interpretation … and assumes that Carroll started with his confession and worked everything backward into children’s literature. This is a level of dedication and focus at times seen in fiction, but not exactly documented in real life.

If the anagrams convince you, though, you should probably know a few other details. For example, Carroll was vacationing in East Sussex from August 31 through the end of September 1888. That covers the dates of the murders of Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Kate Eddowes. On November 9, when Mary Kelly was murdered, Carroll was in Oxford.

You might point out that Wallace claims Carroll didn’t work alone – apparently this Ripper was in fact a duo and included his friend Thomas Vere Bayne – but Bayne was in Oxford with Carroll in November. Perhaps Carroll might have made multiple trips into London in order to complete these murders (a similar argument is made for suspects such as Walter Sickert and Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, whose schedules likewise seem to leave little room for murder) but that would be an incredible stretch.

Wallace doesn’t rely solely on his anagrams. He also argues that Carroll’s life and childhood set him up as the sort of man who would indeed kill women for his own pleasure. He even argues, as many authors of the 1990s seem to, that Carroll was a victim before he ever made the murdered women his victims. In spite of these claims, though, there’s nothing in Carroll’s life that points to such acts of violence.

This theory argues that the Ripper was the sort of person who would publicize his crimes for all the world to read while laughing behind his hand because people didn’t realize the actual content of the text. True, there were all those Ripper letters that made it seem like the killer wanted to write about his crimes, and yes, Carroll was an author who wrote about many strange things, but … that seems to be the limit.

If you’re a fan of anagrams, you can turn any piece of writing into a confession of murder. Lewis Carroll is an interesting historical figure who has been examined for many reasons in both his public and personal life, but he wasn’t Jack the Ripper … even if he could be anagrammed into saying so.

Ripper Suspect: H. H. Holmes

There’s been this trend lately of explaining unsolved murders by blaming someone who was caught for a different series of murders. While on the one hand it makes sense – at least in these cases the chosen suspect has indeed proven to be a murderer – it can also feel like grasping at straws. In the case of Jack the Ripper, some have proposed that American killer H. H. Holmes was actually responsible for the deaths in Whitechapel in 1888.

If you need to review who Holmes was, here are Part I, Part II, and Part III of his rather lengthy, and often convoluted, story. So: what does Holmes have going for him?

He was alive at the time: check. He was a confessed murderer – at least sometimes: check. And, um … well …

The problem with Holmes is that all of his confirmed murders were very closely tied up in money or other personal gain. Holmes doesn’t seem to have murdered because murder was fun and all he needed to enjoy himself, the way many serial killers are depicted. Holmes was a con artist who talked his way out of situations if he could but killed people to clear the way if he had to. This M.O. does not describe what happened in Whitechapel in the autumn of 1888.

Further, although Holmes was alive at the time, there are no records of his having traveled to England at all. (Adam Selzer looks at this in his book, H. H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil, if you want to read about the reasoning behind dismissing this, and other, Holmes rumors.) True, Holmes liked using false names, but Selzer has also tracked down various stateside interactions during those specific months. In none of his various confession or life stories does Holmes mention traveling to England, although he does suggest that Minnie Williams took the Pitezel children there.

It would seem that, if Holmes concocted his 27 supposed victims for his newspaper confession in order to make money and help them sell more headlines, that he really should have mentioned the Ripper murders if he had been responsible. Instead, this confession outlines the murders of people who then turned up to announce they were still alive, and also created fictional people to add to his death toll. It is true that Holmes was accused of many crimes after his arrest, but the Ripper murders were not one of them.

Granted, as a confessed murderer whose confessions must be in doubt, Holmes makes a better Ripper suspect than many. But why accuse him in the first place?

Holmes is marketed as “America’s first serial killer,” while the Ripper often gets the byline of “world’s first.” Even the origin of the term “serial killer” is debated between an American and a Brit. If the Ripper turns out to be American, then Holmes becomes “world’s first” and America can claim the dubious honor and add more titles to the true crime bookshelf.

Was Holmes a murderer? Yes. How many people did he actually murder? That’s still a mystery, but the number is far below his top claim of 27. Did he murder Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly? No.

Who did? Good question.