DNA Solves Mystery of 'America's 1st Serial Killer' H.H. Holmes - NBC New York
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DNA Solves Mystery of 'America's 1st Serial Killer' H.H. Holmes

An eight-part television show called "American Ripper" on the History Channel that examined the life, death and legends surrounding mass murderer Herman Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes, has concluded

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The mystery of America's first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, has finally been solved. The NBC10 Investigators revealed new attempts to discover if Holmes somehow escaped his death sentence. His grave was dug up in Yeadon, Pennsylvania. NBC10 investigative reporter George Spencer shows us that we now know for certain where Holmes' story came to an end.

    (Published Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017)

    This summer's great murder-mystery surrounding a man hanged in Philadelphia 121 years ago and known as "America's first serial killer" has been solved.

    We think.

    An eight-part television show called "American Ripper" on the History Channel that examined the life, death and legends surrounding mass murderer Herman Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes, concluded Tuesday night.

    NBC10 Investigators were first to unearth the growing mystery in April of the Holmes conspiracy that he escaped death. Then, in July, NBC10 exclusively reported that a search for the truth was underway — with Holy Cross Cemetery in Delaware County as the epicenter.

    The question all along, spurred on by the show's co-host and Holmes' great-great-grandson, Jeff Mudgett, was whether Holmes actually hanged at Moyamensing Prison in South Philadelphia in 1896 and was then buried at the Yeadon cemetery.

    Mudgett and a team of anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania exhumed bones found at the grave site Holmes was believed to be buried. Then came skeletal analysis and facial reconstruction and look backs at newspaper accounts questioning whether Holmes escaped his hanging.

    Like this news story, the television show waited a while — until the final seconds of the 42-minute season finale — to reveal the DNA evidence that would prove conclusively whether Holmes did indeed hang.

    In the end, the evidence concluded ... the body in the grave was indeed Holmes.


    DNA analysis at Kings College in London, England, comparing the skull of the skeleton in the grave to Mudgett's DNA, proved a match. By Wednesday morning, the Philadelphia Archdiocese re-interred the skeletal remains in his grave at the Yeadon cemetery.

    "Dental records and DNA testing reveal a conclusive link to Jeff Mudgett," the show announced in its final moments. "Proving that the remains exhumed are those of H.H. Holmes. The result ends a century of speculation about Holmes' final days."

    Mudgett, however, remains skeptical.

    "This doesn't deter me from my investigation. There are too many coincidences for this to be another bogus theory," he said of connections between his ancestor and theories that Holmes killed as many as 200 people in several cities, as well as, possibly London.

    Holmes is best known for his “Murder Castle” in Chicago. He built the hotel equipped with secret rooms, chambers and a spot for dissections in the basement. With visitors from around the globe visiting the city’s World’s Fair in 1893, Holmes’ unwitting guests checked in but some never left. 

    It’s believed Holmes sold his victims’ bodies, organs and bones. According to Rider University Professor Joe Wojie the going rate was about $8 to $10 a body.

    Holmes' story was portrayed in the bestselling 2003 book "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson.

    According to newspaper accounts, Holmes was marched to the gallows at Moyamensing Prison a year after he was convicted of murder in 1895.

    The prison was located on 1400 South 10th Street in Philadelphia before it closed in 1963 and was demolished in 1968. Holmes’ body was eventually interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon. Holmes requested his casket be encased in concrete so no one would steal his body.

    An 1898 newspaper article sparked the conspiracy theory that Holmes somehow escaped death at Moyamensing and ended up in South America. On Tuesday night, the History Channel show may have put a final nail in that theory's coffin.

    Watch NBC10 News at 6 p.m. to see investigative reporter George Spencer talk more about the grave excavation, the results of the DNA testing and the re-burial Wednesday of Holmes' body at Holy Cross Cemetery.