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Inside the grave of serial killer H.H. Holmes

Exhumation Ends 120 Year Mystery of H.H. Holmes’ Death

American Ripper ends over a century of rumors that H.H. Holmes escaped his death sentence.

The last episode of American Ripper aired Tuesday on the History channel, finally bringing closure to a mystery that has endured since H.H. Holmes was hanged in 1896. The series, co-hosted by Holmes’ great-great-grandson Jeff Mudgett, focused on the search for clues to support Mudgett’s theory that his ancestor was Jack the Ripper. While it’s an interesting idea (and who doesn’t want to discover conclusive proof of the Ripper’s identity?) I was just tuning in to see the remains of H.H. Holmes exhumed from his concrete grave.

According to records, Holmes was hanged at Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison, transported to Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, and buried beneath a layer of concrete. Holmes purchased two burial plots with the money he made by selling his confession to Hearst newspapers. Per his request, he was buried in an unmarked grave at the center of those two plots, at a greater depth than normal.

But soon after, rumors began to circulate that Holmes, the consummate con artist, had managed to swindle his way out of the noose. This was seemingly supported by the mysterious deaths of several people who had been involved in his trial.

The skull of serial killer H.H. Holmes
A mugshot of Holmes beside his skull

Mudgett and Holmes’ other living descendants were granted permission by the court to exhume Holmes back in April with the assistance of archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania. During the dig, they first uncovered an empty pine box. Digging further, however, they came to a slab of concrete with bones beneath.

In the conclusion of American Ripper, it was revealed that forensic analysis of the remains showed a “conclusive link” to Jeff Mudgett. This discovery ends over one hundred years of speculation, proving even Holmes couldn’t cheat death.

Mudgett plans to continue investigating the connections between Holmes and Jack the Ripper, and is hoping History will green-light a second season of American Ripper.

Remains of H.H. Holmes returned to the grave
Remains of H.H. Holmes returned to the grave. Image via Bloodstains

Holmes was re-interred in his original grave on Wednesday morning.

Exhuming serial killer H.H. Holmes

H.H. Holmes Skeleton Found in Concrete with Brain Intact

What was found inside the grave of H.H. Holmes? Researcher Jeff Mudgett reveals the details of the exhumation.

Back in May news broke that the body of H.H. Holmes would be exhumed for a DNA test. Jeff Mudgett, the great-great-grandson of America’s first serial killer, is hoping to determine whether the rumors that Holmes escaped the gallows in 1896 are true or not. He believes Holmes may have been Jack the Ripper, which is the basis of the History channel series American Ripper, and is hoping to find supporting evidence.

So what exactly did they find when they dug Holmes out of his unmarked grave in Philadelphia’s Holy Cross Cemetery?

The dig, lead by archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, first uncovered an empty pine box, Mudgett told NBC. Then, a few feet deeper, they hit concrete.

Holmes feared that grave robbers would steal his body after burial, so he requested to be entombed in cement. The teamed cracked open the concrete sarcophagus and found a man’s skeleton inside.

“Chills went up and down my spine,” Mudgett said. “To see that skeleton and that skull with the brain still inside, which is a phenomenon that scientists still have not explained…scared the heck out of me.”

Anthropologists are still testing the remains at UPenn. If there is any substantial clues to be gleaned from the bones, it will likely be featured in a future episode of American Ripper.

Update: DNA proves Holmes didn’t escape the gallows

World's largest Ouija board

Haunted Hotel Sets World Record For Largest Ouija Board

The haunted Grand Midway Hotel in Windber, PA set the first ever Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Ouija board.

The Grand Midway Hotel in Windber, PA has a long history of ghostly occurrences emanating from it’s sordid past, including ghost miners, prostitutes, and even the spirit of a little girl who may be buried in the basement. So when owner Blair Murphy was looking for something to fill the giant blank canvas of the roof, a Ouija board just seemed natural.

Murphy contacted Guinness World Records for the dimensions of the largest Ouija board, and discovered a category for talking boards didn’t even exist. They let him know what to do, and he got to work along with his girlfriend Camille Zamboni and friends.

World's largest Ouija board on the roof of the Grand Midway Hotel

The board, completed in October 2016, measures 44 feet by 29 feet with a 10-foot planchette on wheels. It was officially named the World’s Largest Ouija Board by Guinness on October 28.

The record says:

The largest Ouija board measures 121.01 m² (1,302.54 ft²), achieved by Blair Murphy and Team Grand Midway (USA) in Windber, Pennsylvania, USA, on 28 October 2016.

The Ouija board was created on the roof of the Grand Midway Hotel, whose haunted reputation contributed to the inspiration for this record attempt.

Playing the world's largest Ouija board

UPDATE: World’s largest Ouija board OuijaZilla unveiled in Salem

Centralia

Centralia’s Underground Mine Fire Has Been Burning for Almost 60 Years

Besides a few homes and smoldering cemeteries, not much is left of the small Pennsylvania town that’s been burning since 1962.

Hex Murder: Pow-Wow Witchcraft in York County, Pennsylvania

Witchcraft, hexes and murder in 20th century Pennsylvania? The strange case of folk ritual magic gone wrong in York County’s not-too-distant past.
The Nelson Rehmeyer hex murder house in York County, Pennsylvania
The Nelson Rehmeyer hex murder house in York County, Pennsylvania

It is difficult to imagine witchcraft trials in the 20th century. In the 1920s, however, York County, Pennsylvania was still steeped in old Dutch mysticism, a superstition that lead to a brutal murder which still haunts the area. The house pictured above, located in what is known locally as Hex Hollow, is now considered one of the most haunted houses in Pennsylvania.

In 1928 it was the home of Nelson Rehmeyer, the place where he would be killed.

Recent: Family finds remains of Pow-wow ritual in walls

Pow-wowing was a form of ritual folk magic practiced by the Pennsylvania Dutch. It was rooted in a book published in 1820 by German author John George Hohman. The Long Lost Friend was a “collection of mysterious arts and remedies for man as well as animals.” It contained spells, remedies, recipes and talismans to cure ailments and domestic troubles. It became entwined with folk traditions in Pennsylvania when it was translated to English and renamed Pow-Wows.

When Rehmeyer’s neighbor John Blymire began to suspect he was cursed after years of illness and bad luck, he followed the advice of local witch Nellie Noll, known as the River Witch of Marietta. She instructed him to find and burn Rehmeyer’s copy of Pow-Wows, the source of his spells, and bury a lock of the man’s hair.

Powwowing: The Long Lost Friend by John George Hohman

Long Lost Friend or Pow-Wows by John George Hohman
J. Ross McGinnis, author of Trials of Hex, reportedly owns Rehmeyer’s copy of Pow-Wows, as well as the lock of hair Blymire took to bury. via York Town Square

When Blymire, along with young accomplices John Curry (14) and Wilbert Hess (18), broke into Rehmeyer’s home, they were unable to find the book. Rather, they bludgeoned Rehmeyer, bound him to a chair and set him on fire in a desperate attempt to lift the curse. Interestingly, Rehmeyer’s body did not completely burn despite being doused in kerosene. According to McGinnis, a pervading theory at the time was that the hounds of Hell returned to claim one of their own.

Today the house is owned and maintained by Rehmeyer’s great grandson. You can tour the house and see artifacts that belonged to Rehmeyer, including his clock which apparently stopped at 12:01am, the time of death determined by the coroner.

The place where Nelson Rehmeyer was killed in the Pennsylvania hex murder house
A window in the floor of the hex murder house reveals burn marks remaining from Nelson Rehmeyer’s death.

Further Reading