Who Was H.H. Holmes?
“I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing — I was born with the ‘Evil One’ standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.”
His given name was Herman Webster Mudgett and he was born of May 16, 1861 and died on May 7, 1896. H.H. Holmes was one of the first documented American serial killers. He is known for Murder House. Holmes designed a hotel for the specific purpose of murder. He opened the hotel at the time of the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Holmes confessed to 27 murders but his actual body count is believed to have been up to 200. He brought his victims to his World’s Fair Hotel which was located 3 miles from the fair. (Holmes was also a bigamist and con artist)
Holmes was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire on May 16, 1861 to Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price, both descendants of the first English settlers in the area. Mudgett was the third born with one older sister and brother. His parents were farmers and Methodists. Holmes’ father was a violent alcoholic. Holmes was the victim of bullies because he excelled in school and became their target. The bullies forced him into a local doctor’s office and made him stand with a human skeleton. He later stated that this experience fascinated him. He became obsessed with dissecting animals and with death. Other notable facts about Holmes:
- Graduated from high school at the age of 16
- Enrolled in the University of Vermont in Burlington at the age of 19 (left after one year)
- Entered the University of Michigan’s Department of Medicine and Surgery in 1882. Graduated in 1884
- Stole cadavers while enrolled, disfigured the bodies and claimed victims were killed accidently in order to collect insurance money from policies he took out on each deceased person.
- First marriage fell apart and he abandoned his first wife and son.
- Holmes moved to Mooers Forks, New York and was seen with a little boy who later disappeared. No investigation ever took place after he claimed that the boy moved to Massachusetts.
On January 28, 1887, while he was still married to Clara, Holmes married Myrta Belknap in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He filed for divorce from Clara a few weeks after marrying Myrta, but the divorce was never finalized. They had one daughter together named Lucy who was born on July 4, 1889. Holmes lived with Myrta and Lucy in Wilmette, Illinois and spent his time in Chicago tending to business. Holmes married Georgiana Yoke on January 17, 1894, in Denver, Colorado while he was still married to Myrta.
The Murder Castle
Holmes went to Chicago where he met the owner of a drugstore by the name of Elizabeth S. Holton and it was not long before he was employed there. When Elizabeth’s husband died, Holmes offered to purchase the drugstore from her and she readily agreed. Holmes was able to purchase the drugstore with the funds he obtained by mortgaging the store’s stock and fixtures. Elizabeth was never seen or heard from again and Holmes told people that she had moved to California to be with relatives.
Holmes purchased an empty lot across the stree from the drugstore and this is where he built the block long hotel building. The building was 162 feet long and 50 feet wide. It was named the World’s Fair Hotel and opened in 1893 as a hostelry. The structure was a labyrinth of rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, stairways leading nowhere, and many other deceptive constructions. He constantly fired construction workers in order to hire new ones which ensured that he was the only one who had full knowledge of the building’s design.
Holmes had a partner in crime by the name of Benjamin Pietzel who was a carpenter with a criminal past. (Pietzel eventually became another Holmes’ victim and this murder is another long story in itself. Holmes also murdered Pietzel’s three children. (You can read more about this here) Holmes victims were mostly female and employees that he killed after requiring them to take out life insurance policies and naming him as the beneficiary. He also did the same to lovers and hotel guests and he killed them all.
One victim included his mistress, Julia Smythe. She was the wife of Ned Conner, who had moved into Holmes’ building and began working at his pharmacy’s jewelry counter. Holmes began an affair with Smythe. After Conner found out about the affair, he quit his job and moved away, leaving Smythe and her daughter Pearl behind. Smythe gained custody of Pearl and remained at the hotel, continuing her affair with Holmes. In 1891, Smythe told Holmes that she was pregnant with his baby, and demanded marriage. Holmes agreed to marry her, but told her that they could not have a child. He then suggested performing an abortion, and she agreed. The abortion was planned for Christmas Eve. Holmes murdered Smythe by overdosing her with chloroform and later killed Pearl. His various methods of killing included the following:
- Victims were locked in soundproof bedrooms with gas line that allowed him to asphyxiate them at any time.
- Holmes installed blow torches to incinerate victims at any time.
- Victims were taken to a secret hanging chamber.
- Victims were taken to a souondproof bank vault were they were left to suffocate.
- Bodies were put inside a metal chute or dummy elevator that dumped into a cellar where he dissected them, stripped them of flesh and sold the skeletons to medical schools.
Holmes met a railroad heiress, named Minnie Williams, while on a business trip in Boston. He introduced himself to her as “Henry Gordon”. Although Holmes had to return to Chicago, he kept in touch with Williams and sent her love letters. In February 1893, she moved to Chicago and contacted Holmes. He offered her a job at the hotel as his personal stenographer, and she accepted. After rekindling their relationship, Holmes was able to persuade Williams to transfer the deed to her property in Fort Worth, Texas to a man named Alexander Bond (an alias of Holmes). In April 1893, Williams transferred the deed, with Holmes serving as the notary. After proposing to Williams, Holmes encouraged her to invite her sister Annie to Chicago, and she accepted the invitation. Holmes eventually started a friendship with Annie Williams and even gave her a personal tour of the hotel. While working in his office, Holmes asked Annie to go inside his office vault to get a file for him. While she was inside the vault, Holmes intentionally locked her inside and turned on the gas line that led to the vault, killing her.
In October 1895, Holmes was put on trial for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel, was found guilty and sentenced to death. By then, it was evident that Holmes had also murdered the Pitezel children. Following his conviction, Holmes confessed to 30 murders in Chicago, Indianapolis and Toronto.
On May 7, 1896, Holmes was hanged at Moyamensing Prison for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. He asked for his coffin to be contained in cement and buried 10 feet deep, because he was concerned grave robbers would steal his body and use it for dissection. Holmes’ neck did not snap; he instead was strangled to death slowly, twitching for over 15 minutes before being pronounced dead 20 minutes after the trap had been sprung.
The Murder Castle was mysteriously gutted by fire in August 1895. According to a newspaper clipping from the New York Times, two men were seen entering the back of the Castle between 8 and 9 p.m. About a half an hour later, they were seen exiting the building, and rapidly running away. Following several explosions, the Castle went up in flames. Afterwards, investigators found a half-empty gas can underneath the back steps of the building. Some people believe that someone broke into the Castle and started the fire in order to destroy any remaining evidence that the police hadn’t discovered yet. Other people believe that some outraged citizens started the fire to prevent the Castle from becoming a future tourist attraction. The building survived the fire and remained in use until it was torn down in 1938. The site is currently occupied by the Englewood branch of the United States Postal Service.
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