In November of last year, I was contacted by a supervising producer named Tiff Winton who was working on a series for the History Channel called “American Ripper.” At the time, the crew was finishing up episode number five of a projected six part series. Tiff said she was “cold calling” me based on an article she read on the Internet about our October tours of Irvington. She explained that the series was based on a book written by H.H. Holmes’ great-great-grandson, Jeff Mudgett, called “Bloodstains.” The book advances Jeff’s theory that his forefather was none other than Jack the Ripper.
Knowing that our tour covers H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer, and his crime in Irvington, Tiff asked me if there was any reason that the film crew should come here. I informed her that the scene of the crime is located here, the house still stands and that the remains of his victim, 10-year-old Howard Pitezel, may well remain scattered around the property. Oh, and by the way I said, we have a collection of items that belonged to H.H. Holmes himself. Well, long story short, Tiff was on her way from Chicago the next day and lo and behold the American Ripper series jumped from six to nine episodes.
The mysterious collection was gifted to my wife Rhonda and I on an Irvington ghost tour 13 years ago. Details about the origin of the collection and the elderly couple who owned it are as mysterious as the contents. The collection contains over one hundred photographs, medical instruments, handwritten documents and letters, articles of bone, human hair and assorted ephemera directly linked to H.H. Holmes himself.
The team of experts assembled by the American Ripper production company helped authenticate several of the items in the collection as belonging to Holmes or his associates. But one mystery remains: who assembled this collection of macabre relics? Was it Holmes? Was it an accomplice? A victim or a relative? Maybe an investigating officer or a legal adviser? I invite you to visit the Bona Thompson Center this Friday and help us solve the mystery of the H.H. Holmes collection.
The exhibit, titled “The Devil in the Circle City,” opens Fri., October 6th and will run through November 15th at the Bona Thompson Center, 5350 University Avenue. The exhibit opens at 5:00 p.m. and closes at 7:00 p.m. Not only will you have the opportunity to be first in line to view the artifacts in the Holmes collection, you will also have the chance to meet a friend of mine, author Judy Nickels. Judy has written an excellent book on H.H.Holmes’ last wife, Hoosier Georgiana Yoke.
Judy’s book, “A Competent Witness: Georgiana Yoke and the Trial of H. H. Holmes”, details the last months of H.H. Holmes life on the run including his time spent in Irvington. Judy’s book tells the story of Holmes as viewed through Georgiana’s eyes. Her award-winning book is the result of eight years of research, during which Judy literally retraced the steps of the book’s main character. Georgiana Yoke was from Franklin, Indiana and until Judy published her book, Georgiana’s name was familiar to only the most devoted crime buff and H.H. Holmes researcher.
Georgiana was born on October 17, 1869 in Clark County, Illinois. She grew up in Edinburgh and graduated from high school there in the spring of 1888. She continued her education at the Central Normal College in Danville, Indiana, a school of around 500 students. The Yoke family was prominent among the early settlers of Garfield Park and the family name can still be found memorialized there. Judy related, “There is a stucco or concrete arch not far from Fountain Square where you enter the Garfield Park neighborhood, that has YOKE carved at the top. Also, in the neighborhood there is a Yoke Avenue, also Manker and Nelson are streets named after family members.” The Yoke family was also instrumental in the formation of the Holliday Park area near Irvington.
In March 1893 Holmes began his courtship of Georgiana and asked her to marry him later that summer. She accepted, and became the third and final wife of H. H. Holmes. Holmes neglected to inform her that he was still married to both of his previous wives. Most historians believe that Georgiana was oblivious to Holmes’ career as a murderer. Author Nickels will tell Georgiana’s story as only she can do, filling in the blanks and setting the record straight on the beautiful woman who testified against her serial killer husband on Halloween in 1895. Guests wil have an opportunity to purchase Judy Nickels book and have it signed that evening.
Fans of the History Channel’s “American Ripper” TV series will recognize some items that will be on display at the Bona Thompson Center this Friday. You are invited to come and peruse the collection of photographs and look into the eyes of the many people as they gaze out through the haze of time. Who are these people? Are they family members? Acquaintances or are they victims? Come see these photographs and decide for yourself.
I will also be there to sign copies of the new guidebook to the exhibit, “The Mystery of the H.H. Holmes Collection,” which I wrote as a companion for the collection. All proceeds from the sale of the guidebook go to the Bona Thompson center. The book teases out theories about the collection’s origins and who may have assembled it. Proceeds from the sale of this guide will support the creation of a permanent exhibit in 2018. KEMBA Credit Union is a gracious sponsor of this exhibit.
In addition, on Monday evening October 9th at 7:00 p.m., I will be hosting a talk in Greenfield at the Hancock County Public Library (900 W McKenzie Rd., Greenfield). The subject will include the Holmes collection and a possible connection to that city as well as stories about the ghosts and folklore of Greenfield. The talk is free to the public.
This weekend’s opening at the Bona Thompson Center represents the first event in a month long series of events culminating with a three-day visit by the star of the “American Ripper” series, H.H. Holmes great-great-grandson Jeff Mudgett. Jeff will be the honorary Grand Marshal of the 2017 Historic Irvington Halloween Festival — proving once again, there is no place like Irvington in October.
Al Hunter is the author of the “Haunted Indianapolis” and co-author of the “Haunted Irvington” and “Indiana National Road” book series. His newest books are “Bumps in the Night. Stories from the Weekly View,” “Irvington Haunts: The tour guide” & “The Mystery of the H.H. Holmes collection.” Contact Al directly at Huntvault@aol.com or become a friend on Facebook.