Did Dr. H.H. Holmes really have a cadaver body double at his own execution?
If this rumor were proven to be true, it would prove that Holmes had pulled off one of history’s ultimate swindles. Aside from being one of the most heinous serial killers who had ever graced the shores of the United States, he was a notorious con artist. In fact, it would be one of Holmes’ swindles that would alert authorities to his murderous tendencies and ultimately led to his execution in 1896.
The rumor of Holmes’ escape began shortly after his execution. Newspapers of the day were not above creating sensational and often fabricated headlines in order to boost sales. Stories of Holmes residing comfortably in South America as a simple coffee bean farmer had been a widely held belief by some fringes of society. While most of these old wives’ tales slowly fizzled out into obscurity, it was a rumor that persisted, even in modern times.
The History Channel’s American Ripper series, starring Holmes’ great-great grandson, speculated that not only was there a real possibility that Holmes – whose real name was Herman Mudgett – could have been the mysterious Jack the Ripper, but also took into account the legends of Holmes’ escape. While there are many secrets Holmes kept that died along with him, a petition from the family of Mudgett was able to persuade a judge to have the grave exhumed and put at least one theory concerning the famed serial killer to bed, once and for all.
Prior to his execution, Holmes requested his coffin to be encased in cement in order to ward off grave robbers who may have wished to steal his corpse. This unusual request, while practical, made exhuming the killer’s grave a difficult task.
After removing the cement, officials found Holmes’ corpse in excellent condition. Even his signature mustache had been found still attached to his skull. Unfortunately, in spite of the favorable conditions Holmes’ body had been found in, extracting a DNA sample was not easy. Due to the age of the samples, it was determined that they would not be usable and instead dental records were used to confirm that the body had belonged to H.H. Holmes.
Holmes was re-interned to the Holy Cross Cemetary in Yeadon shortly thereafter. While there are still a great many things that will remain a mystery about Dr. H.H. Holmes, we can now say with a degree of certainty that the notorious serial killer hanged for his crimes.