Meet Jeff Mudgett: Irvington Halloween Festival Grand Marshal

In early 2017, I had the rare opportunity to work with author Jeff Mudgett when the History Channel brought him to Irvington to film scenes for their series, “American Ripper.” I was brought into the project in late 2016 after being contacted by American Ripper series supervising producer Tiff Winton. Tiff informed me that they were working on the last segment of a 6-part series based on Mr. Mudgett’s book, Bloodstains. Tiff asked me if there was any reason that they should come to Irvington. Well, you can guess what my answer was and, long story short, the “American Ripper” series was expanded to 8 episodes after Jeff and the film crew visited Irvington.
Now you too can meet “American Ripper” star Jeff Mudgett when he visits this weekend’s Historic Irvington Halloween Festival.  Jeff will be serving  as Grand Marshal of the traditional costume parade that closes the festival on Saturday at 4 p.m. Jeff will also be signing books for fans at the Bona Thompson Center on Thursday and Friday. Thursday’s event, which begins at 7 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m., is a special invitation only event for IHS members only. Never fear Ripper fans, you are invited to a public book signing, again at the Bona Thompson Center, on Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Jeff is also scheduled to speak to fans during a live presentation on stage at the Irving Theatre on Washington Street from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. during the Halloween Festival. He assures me that he will be revealing  many new details about his quest to solve the mystery of H.H. Holmes. There is no admission charge for this presentation but guests are asked to bring along a donation of unopened boxed/bagged/canned food for the Gaia Works food pantry. Personal care items, socks, knit caps and gloves would be appreciated too. Do you have a bunch of those little hotel soaps and shampoos laying around? They would make a perfect donation to the food pantry.  I also have it on good authority that Jeff Mudgett will also be a special guest on the Irvington ghost tours both Friday and Saturday nights too.
So, since Jeff Mudgett has graciously agreed to lead the Halloween Festival Parade this year, allow me to introduce you to our Grand Marshal. Jeff Mudgett received his Bachelors of Science in Nautical Industrial Technology in 1979, earning a Master in the U.S. Merchant Marine and being honorably discharged a Commander from the United States Naval Reserve. In 1986, he earned his JD from the University of San Diego. He practiced admiralty, petroleum, and criminal law before the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals and California Supreme Court before becoming the President of Links Marine in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Mudgett was living a quiet, normal life in the San Francisco Bay area when his world was turned upside down, at the age of 40, after discovering a long buried dark family secret: he was the progeny of America’s first serial killer. After learning this mind-bending news, Mudgett immersed himself into research about his murderous relative. The result of that exhaustive research was a life changing book, Bloodstains, released in 2011. The book details Jeff’s personal search for truth and understanding. The more he searched, the more Jeff became convinced that his great-great-grandfather was also Jack the Ripper, the infamous serial killer that terrorized London’s Whitechapel district just before Holmes’ murderous rampage in the United States.
Jeff’s inability to accept this horrible family secret turned from an eerie fascination into obsession and concluded with a struggle for his very survival as Jeff’s inner demons broke loose into a dance with the devil played out on the pages of his groundbreaking bestseller. Jeff Mudgett writes through the perspective of a trained, logical lawyer, not a conspiracy theorist. Mudgett, who analyzed evidence as a lawyer for many years, hopes his publication will cast a fresh pair of eyes towards solving these cold cases. After all, H.H. Holmes allegedly killed 200 people, was convicted of only one murder and the London Ripper murders have remained unsolved since 1888. You can’t get much colder than that.
One reviewer said of Jeff’s book, “Halfway through the book and right up to the terrifying conclusion you’ll find yourself asking what would you have done in his place on this unique and compelling voyage to the undiscovered. The shocking tale, based on a true story, of one man’s spiritual journey to find his roots, only to discover his direct origins are what nightmares are made of, and his family tree pure evil – Dr. H.H. Holmes, the monster and master of Chicago’s Murder Castle!”
When Jeff started writing, he did not set out to prove that Holmes was Jack the Ripper. Soon the author learned that his ancestor traveled to Europe — Berlin, Germany, Paris, France and, gulp, London, England. Jeff took a sidebar to study the autopsies of Jack the Ripper’s victims and the theory that his kin could be the Whitechapel murderer took root and grew from there.
In 2016, The History Channel approached Jeff about the American Ripper series, describing it as a true-crime fan’s dream. Jeff was tapped as the series’ lead investigator on a mission to prove his astonishing theory: Holmes as Jack the Ripper. Jeff’s end game was to discover evidence that it was his great-great-grandfather who terrorized London beginning in the fall of 1888, before wreaking havoc on Chicago during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
In the series, Mudgett partners with former CIA operative Amaryllis Fox, who offers her expertise as a career government agent who has tracked international terrorists using her knowledge of criminal networks and psychology profiles. Together, the duo embarked on an investigation, interviewing experts and historians across America and England. In between dramatic actor portrayals in well-staged and accurate re-enactments, Mudgett and Fox analyze the scant surviving evidence of the crimes including Holmes’ hand-written diaries, documents and photographs. The duo also examines the confusing schematic blueprints of the Murder Castle — a hotel once located on the southwest corner of 63rd and Wallace Streets in Chicago. The building featured a maze of dead-end hallways, blunted doors and deadly guest rooms which doubled as gas chambers. In these rooms, Holmes had installed secret chutes to transport bodies to a hidden basement where he would dissolve his victims in acid, or incinerate their remains in a furnace.
In the series, Mudgett and Fox build a psychological profile of both Holmes and the Ripper, then do their best to try and prove they are the same person. The truth seeking detectives meticulously search Chicago public records of Holmes’ marriage to Clara Lovering Holmes — Mudgett’s great-great-grandmother. The duo locates documentation of at least two fraudulent marriages along with countless bogus promissory notes, insurance scams, civil cases and liens on the property relating to the construction of the Murder Castle.
In the final episodes, Jeff and Amaryllis visit Irvington and IHS executive director Steve Barnett. The trio visit the home of Steven Lacey, the owner of the house now perched on the site where the Holmes Cottage once stood, to dig up sections of the front yard in search of remains of the poor, doomed Howard Pitezel. From there the TV sleuths visited the Bona Thompson Center where they pored over the mysterious boxes of Holmes related relics located there. Turns out that the collection of items contained a few relics that may help Jeff prove his theory.
Among the grisly relics were photographs of Murder Castle caretaker Pat Quinlan and scalpels made in England. Perhaps most compelling is the small tintype photograph that History Channel experts determined was Jack the Ripper’s 3rd victim, Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride.  IHS historian Steve Barnett has an interesting theory about how that photo made its way to the Holmes collection here in Indiana. Steve is expected to share his theory with visitors during the Thursday and Friday night Mudgett receptions at the Bona. The collection of artifacts will remain on display there through mid-November.
The startling identification of the Ripper victim photograph was revealed in the last episode which also detailed the exhumation of H.H. Holmes body from a Philadelphia boneyard. Jeff Mudgett has assured me that he has some new information about the exhumation that he can’t wait to share with Irvingtonians. Come out this weekend to the many Jeff Mudgett events during the Halloween Festival and decide for yourself: Was H.H. Holmes in reality Jack the Ripper?
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 or become a friend on Facebook.