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 Time Baby Ruth Sued Babe Ruth

Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1920, the Curtiss Candy Company introduced the Baby Ruth candy bar, causing a certain baseball player with a very similar name to take notice. Babe Ruth was having a monstrous year—his 54 home runs in the 1920 season were more than any other team in the American League. If you were going to misappropriate someone’s name for a candy bar, Ruth’s was a logical choice.

Sensing opportunity, the Great Bambino struck back by creating his own Babe Ruth Home Run Bar. Curtiss quickly sued Ruth’s company for trademark infringement. But what happened next was surprising: When the Sultan of Swat accused the company of using his name, Curtiss feigned shock. Its bar was named after “Baby” Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland.

For years, this has been the oft-repeated explanation, but the argument makes no sense. Cleveland had been out of office for more than two decades and dead for 12 years when the bar debuted. “Baby” Ruth herself had died of diphtheria in 1904, at just 12 years old. Although the country’s most famous baseball star would seem much more likely to have a namesake candy than a former president's departed child, the courts sided with Curtiss.

When Ruth learned of the verdict, he bellowed, “Well, I ain’t eatin’ your damned candy bar anymore!” Somehow, the Baby Ruth bar survived without his support.

What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

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iStock

What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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