Jeff Mudgett’s grandmother was convinced the family was descended from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
In a dogged attempt to rebut the myriad of skeptics, she hired an investigator specializing in genealogy. Much to her dismay, he confirmed there wasn’t even a remote possibility — but uncovered a definite connection between the Mudgett family and Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer. The killer was her husband’s great-grandfather, and though he had known of the direct connection, he had sought to hide it for decades.
Once Mudgett learned of his great-great-grandfather’s crimes, the story seized him. Mudgett had practiced criminal law in California, arguing Constitutional Law before The Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court. He had always been drawn to details and he wasn’t turned off by a trail that had grown cold. In fact, he saw it as a challenge he had to undertake. As he delved deeper into Holmes’ life and sordid details, it often sent him on a new path that crossed continents, leading to the discovery of a string of murders and leaving Mudgett convinced that his ancestor was, in fact, Jack the Ripper.
It took Mudgett 10 years to research and write “Bloodstains,” his first book. In the process, he had to change his writing style from the concise legal language he had used in his law career to descriptions that immediately grab the reader’s attention, each sentence meticulously formed by a vision in his mind of the scene he sought to convey. Once his book was complete, a number of publishers expressed interest, one offering a lucrative offer under one condition: that he remove the references to Holmes being Jack the Ripper. He faced a momentous decision — to take the money and attractive contract or to remain true to his convictions. The convictions won out, and he decided to self-publish instead.
Most self-published authors earn less than $50 a year, according to Bowker’s Self-Publishing Report. The path to success is steep and filled with landmines. But Mudgett refused to give up. For two years he appeared on every radio show in the country that agreed to host him. He was often insulted or ridiculed but he held fast to his convictions. Then one night he landed on Coast to Coast Radio. It just so happened that scouts for TED, a worldwide media organization, were listening and they gave him 18 minutes in Vancouver to explain the story of H.H. Holmes. The talk is still available to watch on YouTube at TEDxVancouver.
His TED talk caught the attention of The History Channel, which led to a mini-series based on his book, “Bloodstains,: entitled “American Ripper.” Mudgett teamed with CIA analyst Amaryllis Fox to launch an investigation into one of history’s most famous cold cases — who exactly was Jack the Ripper? In the process, they discovered Holmes had murdered at least 200 people, eventually constructing a hotel near the Chicago’s World Fair, complete with a gas chamber, dissection room, torture chambers, trap doors and hidden hallways, where he preyed on unsuspecting visitors and workers of the fair. At a time in which he was notably absent from Chicago, a series of murders occurred in the Whitechapel area of London — by Jack the Ripper.
Leonardo DiCaprio is set to play Holmes in the movie version of “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson, about the architect of Chicago’s World Fair and Holmes’ construction of what has become known as the Murder Castle. DiCaprio won Best Actor for his portrayal of Hugh Glass, a man that was left for dead after being mauled by a bear, but who managed to crawl and stumble more than 200 miles to reach Fort Kiowa, S.D. His rugged portrayal gives some indication of the intensity of his upcoming portrayal of Holmes.
At a time in which social media, particularly Facebook, is receiving negative publicity, Jeff says that his book may have never reached the New York Times bestseller list without it. He posts regularly on his investigations, all the rabbit holes he has encountered while following his ancestor’s trail, and the free publicity, he says, is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Readers can find him under https://www.facebook.com/jeff.mudgett.9, or by searching for Jeff Mudgett, Bloodstains the Book.
Mudgett is one of three internationally acclaimed headliners at Book ‘Em North Carolina, scheduled for Sept. 22 at Robeson Community College. For interested writers, he will be speaking about the importance of a platform and how he used media attention to propel his book to the bestseller lists. For readers, he will enthrall with the story of his famous ancestor, as well as his second book, entitled “Falling in Purple,” patterned after his favorite author, Raymond Chandler’s works, but with a modern twist. Visit www.bookemnc.org for more information. The event is free and open to the public. For more information on Mudgett, visit www.bloodstainsthebook.com.
p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of more than 20 books, including two series set in Lumberton. For information about Book ‘Em, visit bookemnc.org. For information about terrell, visit pmterrell.com.