Forensics tests have confirmed that the person buried in H.H. Holmes’ Philadelphia-area tomb is in fact “America’s first serial killer” whose murder spree was documented in the book Devil in the White City.
In March, the Delaware County Court approved a request by Holmes’ great-grandchildren to exhume the grave, a pine box that was “filled with cement, buried 10 feet in the ground and covered again with cement,” the Associated Press reports. The body was exhumed in April.
The exhumation came after a History Channel special titled American Ripper revived a century-old rumor that Holmes bribed his way out of Philadelphia’s Moyamensing prison on the day of his execution by hanging and, after his grave was filled with a cadaver, escaped to South America.
“Within two hours of the hanging an undertaker’s wagon containing a casket drove out of the prison yard,” according to a 1898 report from the Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean. “That casket was supposed to contain the body of Holmes. Instead, it contained Holmes living.”
Because of the amount of cement in Holmes’ grave – to “ensure his body against the vandalism or scientific curiosity of ghouls” – the corpse’s clothes and even Holmes’ mustache remained in good condition. However, the body had completely decayed, and with no available DNA for testing, forensic experts relied on Holmes’ teeth to confirm his identity.
“It stank,” University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Samantha Cox said of Holmes’ corpse. “Once it gets to that point we can’t do anything with it. We can’t test it, can’t get any DNA out of it.”
Following the tests, Holmes’ body was reinterred at Yeadon, Pennsylvania’s Holy Cross Cemetery.