YEADON, PA — Back in early May, CrimeFeed brought you the news that the body of storied con man and serial killer H. H. Holmes, aka Herman Webster Mudgett, was being exhumed for testing.
As far back as 1898, there were rumors that the notorious manipulator may have somehow escaped execution for his crimes. Newspaper articles of the time suggested that he may have managed to bribe his way out of his death sentence, substitute another person or medical cadaver in the noose, and slip away, possibly to South America.
A paper called the Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean reported:
“Within two hours of the hanging, an undertaker’s wagon containing a casket drove out of the prison yard. That casket was supposed to contain the body of Holmes. Instead, it contained Holmes living.”
With renewed interest in Holmes due to continued press reports of the long-promised feature film of Erik Larsen’s Devil in the White City, set to star Leonardo diCaprio as Holmes, and the TV show American Ripper, in which Holmes descendant Jeff Mudgett attempts to prove his theory that his great-great-grandfather was also Jack the Ripper, investigators got the go-ahead to exhume whoever might be buried in Pennsylvania’s Holy Cross cemetery and verify the identity once and for all.
Much about Holmes remains a mystery, including the breadth of his criminal activity. While popularly known as a prolific serial killer, who designed his own “murder castle” in which to torture, murder, and dissect his victims, some believe that his real crimes fall more into the realm of insurance fraud and nefarious business deals. His body count is unknown, with a range of nine possible victims up to 200, depending on the source.
University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Samantha Cox was in charge of the examination and testing of the remains that were exhumed from Holy Cross. While she reported that the body itself was too decomposed to allow for DNA testing, which was the original plan, she and other researchers were able to use dental records to ascertain that it was, indeed, H. H. Holmes who was laid to rest in that plot.
While the corpse itself had decayed, Cox reports that the clothes on the body were almost perfectly preserved, and the killer’s trademark mustache was still intact and attached to his skull — just as Salvador Dalí’s was, in his recent exhumation.
The skeletal remains have been reinterred in the grave by the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Main photo: H. H. Holmes [Wikipedia]