New Series Explores the Question: Was H.H. Holmes Also Jack the Ripper?

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iStock

In the nearly 130 years since the Whitechapel murders, a plethora of officials, amateur detectives, writers, and scholars have come up with different theories about Jack the Ripper’s true identity. While so far none have been proven, a new History Channel series will dive deep into one of the more out-there ideas currently circulating. As Entertainment Weekly reports, American Ripper will follow the relative of a contemporaneous American serial killer on the hunt to prove that his great-great-grandfather left a life of crime in the U.S. to become London’s Jack the Ripper.

Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, better known as H.H. Holmes, was a famous American serial killer who murdered at least nine people, primarily women who visited his Chicago hotel during the 1893 World’s Fair. Holmes’s great-great-grandson, Jeff Mudgett, alleges that diaries he inherited from the doctor prove that Holmes, who was reportedly in London during the Whitechapel murders, was also Jack the Ripper. The eight-part History Channel series posits that Holmes escaped his execution in the U.S. and went on to become the UK’s most notorious serial killer, committing up to 200 murders in total while evading authorities.

Mudgett, a lawyer, has been researching Holmes since he first discovered their relationship two decades ago. He and his team exhumed Holmes’s body to get a DNA sample in order to test the theory that it was not Holmes who was executed and buried in April 1896. Mudgett isn’t the first to wonder about the true identity of the body buried in Holmes’s grave; in the immediate aftermath of his death, there were already conspiracy theories spreading that the infamous murderer was very much alive, and had managed to flee the country.

But then the timeline gets a little fuzzy. Jack the Ripper is believed to have killed at least five women in London’s East End in 1888, and could possibly be linked to even more murders in the area up until 1891 (though these could have been the work of another killer or killers). Holmes was arrested in 1894. So if he was also Jack the Ripper, he would have committed the Whitechapel murders before, not after, he was sentenced to death for the killings in his Chicago “Murder Castle.”

There are other potential American links to Jack the Ripper that go beyond Holmes, though. Some experts believe that Jack the Ripper could have been another identity of the “Servant Girl Annihilator," who murdered eight people in Austin, Texas in the 1880s. The (still unsolved) murders ended in 1885, just a few years before Jack the Ripper began terrorizing London.

Whether or not Mudgett's hunch turns out to be true, Holmes has already made an indelible mark on pop culture. He was the subject of Erik Larson’s 2003 bestselling book The Devil in the White City, which Leonardo DiCaprio purchased the film rights to in 2010. Though it's still listed as being in development, Martin Scorsese is attached to direct, and said the script was still being worked on in December 2016.

Tune into the History Channel on July 11 at 10/9 c to catch the first episode of American Ripper, and evaluate the evidence for the H.H. Holmes/Jack the Ripper connection for yourself.

The Mongolian Princess Who Challenged Her Suitors to a Wrestling Match—and Always Won

iStock.com / SarahWouters1960
iStock.com / SarahWouters1960

In a lot of fairy tales, a disapproving father or a witch's curse stops the princess from finding Prince Charming. But things were a little different in 13th-century Mongolia. Any single lad, regardless of status or wealth, could marry the khan's daughter, Khutulun. There was just one caveat, which the princess herself decreed—you couldn't take her hand in marriage until you took her down in a wrestling match. If you lost, you had to give her a handful of prize horses.

Sounds easy, right? Nope. After all, this is the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan we're talking about!

Born around 1260, Khutulun was an intimidating presence. According to The Travels of Marco Polo, the princess was "so well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess." She was also the picture of confidence. She had mastered archery and horsemanship in childhood and grew up to become a fearless warrior. Whenever her father, Kaidu—the leader of the Chagatai Khanate—went to battle, he usually turned to Khutulun (and not his 14 sons) for help.

Nothing scared her. Not only did Khutulun ride by her father's side into battle, she'd regularly charge headfirst into enemy lines to make "a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father," Marco Polo wrote. The 13th- and 14th-century historian Rashid al-Din was more direct, writing that she "often went on military campaigns, where she performed valiant deeds."

It's no surprise that Khutulun had suitors lining up and down the street asking for her hand in marriage. The princess, however, refused to marry any of them unless they managed to beat her in a wrestling match, stipulating that any loser would have to gift her anywhere between 10 to 100 horses.

Let's just put it this way: Khutulun came home with a lot of prize horses. (Some accounts say 10,000—enough to make even the emperor a little jealous.) As author Hannah Jewell writes in her book She Caused a Riot, "The Mongolian steppes were littered with the debris of shattered male egos."

On one occasion, a particularly confident suitor bet 1000 horses on a match. Khutulun's parents liked the fellow—they were itching to see their daughter get married—so they pulled the princess aside and asked her to throw the match. After carefully listening to her parents' advice, Khutulun entered the ring and, in Polo's words, "threw him right valiantly on the palace pavement." The 1000 horses became hers.

Khutulun would remain undefeated for life. According to legend, she eventually picked a husband on her own terms, settling for a man she never even wrestled. And centuries later, her story inspired François Pétis de La Croi to write the tale of Turandot, which eventually became a famed opera by the composer Giacomo Puccini. (Though the opera fudges the facts: The intrepid princess defeats her suitors with riddles, not powerslams.)

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

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