Henry Howard Holmes, One of Americas first Serial Killers
I researched who is to be believed as the one of america’s First Serial Killers, Herman Webster Mudgett aka Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. He had confessed to 27 murders, but only 9 could actually be proven. He had several victims during his time and choose what he felt was the perfect place for these murders. Herman was born on May 16th, 1861 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire to Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price, both of whom were descended from the first settlers in the area. His father was a very violent alcoholic and his mother was a Methodist who would often read the bible to her son.
Holmes had a privileged childhood. It has been said that he appeared to be unusually intelligent at an early age. Still there were haunting signs of what was to come. He expressed an interest in medicine, which reportedly led him to practice surgery on animals. Some accounts indicate that he may have been responsible for the death of a friend. As a child Herman was scared of the local doctor and when this got out bullies at his school forced him to view and touch a human skeleton. It turns out that this fascinated Herman so much that he actually scared the bullies who forced him into very badly.
During much of his life he was considered a loner and very shady. Herman would later graduate from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1884, but while he was enrolled there he began to explore a new area or hobby. He would steal bodies from the lab disfigured the bodies, and claimed that the people were killed accidentally in order to collect insurance money from policies he took out on each deceased person he had stolen.
After Graduation he began to dabble in more shady work such as pharmaceuticals, real estate and promotional deals under his created alias H. H. Holmes. On July 4th 1878, Holmes married Clara Lovering in Alton, New Hampshire; their son, Robert Lovering Mudgett, was born on February 3rd 1880 in Loudon, New Hampshire (in adult life Robert was to become a Certified Public Accountant, and served as City Manager of Orlando, Florida). On January 28th 1887, while he was still married to Clara, Holmes married Myrta Belknap in Minneapolis, Minnesota; their daughter, Lucy Theodate Holmes, was born on July 4th 1889 in Englewood, Illinois. (in adult life Lucy was to become a public schoolteacher).
Holmes lived with Myrta and Lucy in Wilmette, Illinois, and spent most of his time in Chicago tending to business. He filed for divorce from Clara after marrying Myrta, but the divorce was never finalized. He married Georgiana Yoke on January 9th 1894 in Denver, Colorado while still married to Clara and Myrta. He also had a relationship with Julia Smythe, the wife of one of his former employees; Julia later became one of Holmes’s victims. While in Chicago, Holmes had started to grow even more shady and criminal.
Holmes took a job in a drugstore which he would buy and promise to let the current store owner live even after her husband died. When her husband died however she simply disappeared and as people began to question where she was Holmes lied and told them she went to California and liked it there so much that she decided she would stay there. These people would actually turn out to be his first victims in his long murder spree and it is unknown how and when he murdered them. Holmes purchased a lot across from the drugstore and built what would be later known as his Murder Castle (which is where it is believed that he hid the bodies of Dr. E. S. Holton and his wife).
Holmes would open it up as a hotel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, with part of the structure used as commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes’s own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a maze of over one hundred windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly angled hallways, stairways to nowhere, doors opened only from the outside, and a host of other strange and labyrinthine constructions.
Holmes repeatedly changed builders during the construction of the Castle, so only he fully understood the design of the house, thus decreasing the chance of being reported to the police. Holmes selected mostly female victims from among his employees (many of which were required as a condition of employment to take out life insurance policies for which Holmes would pay the premiums but also be the beneficiary), as well as his lovers and hotel guests. He tortured and killed them in some of the worst possible ways you could imagine.
Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time and some were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office where they were left to suffocate. He would then take the victims’ bodies and drop by secret chute to the basement where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also cremated some of the bodies or placed them in lime pits for destruction.
Holmes had two giant furnaces as well as pits of acid, bottles of various poisons, and even a stretching rack which he would use to help dispose of the bodies and any evidence. Through the connections he had gained in medical school, he sold skeletons and organs with little difficulty and therefore was able to get rid of even more evidence. He had some of the best methods for disposing of all of his victims and the evidence that anything had ever even happened which is why it is so difficult to determine just how many victims he actually had and who they were.
There were also trapdoors and chutes so that he could move the bodies down to the basement where he could burn his victims’ remains in a kiln there or dispose of them in other ways. All the while, Holmes continued to work insurance scams and it was one of these scams that led to his undoing. He joined forces with Benjamin Pitezel to collect $10,000 from a life insurance company. Holmes would leave Chicago due to the economy and move down to Fort Worth, Texas, to a property that he inherited from two sisters he promised to marry and later murdered.
He had planned to build another castle, but would abandon that idea and move about the US as well as Canada and he was believed to have killed several more victims on his travels, but no evidence of this could be found. Holmes’s murder spree finally ended when he was arrested in Boston on November 17, 1894, after being tracked there from Philadelphia by the Pinkertons(a national detective agency). He was held on an outstanding warrant for horse theft in Texas, as the police had little more than suspicions at this point and Holmes appeared ready to leave the country, with his unsuspecting third wife.
After the custodian for the Castle informed police that he was never allowed to clean the upper floors, police began a thorough investigation over the course of the next month, uncovering Holmes’s efficient methods of committing murders and then disposing of the corpses. While Holmes sat in prison in Philadelphia, not only did the Chicago police investigate his operations in that city, but the Philadelphia police began to try to unravel the Pitezel situation, the fate of the three missing children.
Philadelphia detective Frank Geyer was given the task of finding out and his quest for the children, like the search of Holmes’s Castle, received wide publicity. He would eventually discover their remains essentially sealed Holmes’s fate, at least in the public mind. Holmes was put on trial for the murder of Pitezel and confessed, following his conviction, to 27 murders in Chicago, Indianapolis and Toronto, and six attempted murders. Holmes was paid $7,500 ($197,340 in today’s dollars) by the Hearst Newspapers in exchange for this confession.
He gave various contradictory accounts of his life, claiming initially innocence and later that he was possessed by Satan. His faculty for lying has made it difficult for researchers to ascertain any truth on the basis of his statements. On May 7, 1896, H. H. Holmes went to the hangman’s noose. His last meal was boiled eggs, dry toast, and coffee. Even at the noose, he changed his story. He claimed to have killed only two people, and tried to say more but at 10:13 the trapdoor opened and he was hanged, it took him fully 15 minutes to strangle to death on the gallows.
Afraid of body-snatchers who might capitalize on his corpse, Holmes had made a request: He wanted no autopsy and he instructed his attorneys to see that he was buried in a coffin filled with cement. This was taken to Holy Cross Cemetery south of Philadelphia and two Pinkerton guards stood over the grave during the night before the body was finally interred in a double grave also filled with cement. No stone was erected to mark it, Larson states, although its presence is recorded on a cemetery registry.
Holmes attorneys had turned down an offer of $5,000 for his body, and even refused his brain to Philadelphias Wistar Institute, which hoped to have its experts analyze the organ for better understanding of the criminal mind. Larson recounts a series of strange events afterward that gave credence to the rumors that Holmes was satanic, including several weird deaths and a fire at the D. A. s office that destroyed everything there save a photograph of Holmes. During this case, another American phenomenon arose from society’s fascination with sensational crime.
Thousands of people lined up to see the Chicago murder site, so a former police officer remodeled the infamous building as “Holmes’s Horror Castle,” an attraction that offered guided tours to the suffocation chambers and torture rooms. But before it opened it mysteriously burned to the ground. So many people who’d rented rooms from Holmes during the fair had actually gone missing that sensational estimates of his victims reached around 200, and some people perpetuated this unsubstantiated toll even today.
Its likely that Holmes own figure from his recanted confession is low, but there is no way to know just how many he actually killed. In the end he was so worried that someone would want to do to him what he had done to so many others that he felt the only way he could rest in peace was to be encased in concrete. He was one of the first ever serial killers and one of the worst. It was horrible what he did and all of the lives lost because of this man. In my opinion his request for a protected grave was one of the things that show you how crazy this man really was and how smart he was all at the same time.
In my opinion the starting point in H. H. Holmes spiral to murder would be that as a child, schoolmates forced him to view and touch a human skeleton after discovering his fear of the local doctor. The bullies initially brought him there to scare him, but instead he was utterly fascinated, and he soon became obsessed with death. He started by stealing bodies from the morgue, would disfigure them and then claim they were accidentally killed so he could collect on an insurance policy he would take out on each person.
Some of his fellow students became scared of him while trying to bully him, he was a bigamist, some felt he was charming, he was manipulative, and many of those around him viewed him as suspicious and shady. H. H. Holmes seemed to have the perfect idea on how to get rich and how to get away with murder and in fact he did for a long time. He was a very smart man and that is the reason that I believe he was able to go so long without getting caught.
On New Year’s Eve, 1910, Marion Hedgepeth, who had been pardoned for informing on Holmes, was shot and killed by a police officer during a holdup at a Chicago saloon. Then, on March 7, 1914, the Chicago Tribune reported that, with the death of the former caretaker of the Murder Castle, Pat Quinlan, “the mysteries of Holmes’ Castle” would remain unexplained. Quinlan had committed suicide by taking strychnine. Quinlan’s surviving relatives claimed Quinlan had been “haunted” for several months before his death and could not sleep.