H. H. Holmes

Several months ago I thought it would be a good idea to research a bunch of cases and put my notes in a folder to go through and compose later.  It did not take long to realize that was not the greatest of ideas.  I generally research a case and then compile it together here while it is still fresh in my mind.  Today I decided to go through that stack and see what was in there.  To my surprise there were a few in there that at some point I apparently did the research again and published them.  There were a few others that I was surprised that I had not done that with... this is one of them.

If you are really a true crime enthusiast then you likely know about H.H. Holmes.  Some say he started it all, while most agree that while he is not truly the "First American Serial Killer" as some claim, he is one of the first, especially in the modern era.  Then again I guess we have to ask ourselves what is the "modern era" to us now.  I imagine one day this phrase will not qualify for this case and I am unsure that day is not soon.  I do believe one thing is certain, no matter whether we believe his crimes to be of modern era, or ancient, it is likely that decades, or maybe even centuries from now people will still be fascinated with Holmes and his crimes.  Why? Well, partly because especially for the times they were pretty elaborate in nature but more than likely it will be because while he practically committed them in plain sight while the nation was focused on the World's Fair right there in Chicago in 1893.

No one likely knows exactly when H. H. Holmes (born as Herman Webster Mudgett) really began his crimes.  Nor does anyone truly know just how many victims fell to him.  He confessed to the murder of 27 people, but it is said that some of those were not true. Only nine victims could be confirmed but some say the real number could have been as high as 200.  This number was widely based on witnesses near him and reports of missing persons in areas in which he was known to be in.  He was eventually found out, captured, and convicted.  He was executed in Philadelphia by hanging in May of 1896.  He had been arrested in November of 1894 and it was unusual for the times that he would be allowed to live as long as he did but investigators were hoping to not just connect him to other crimes but to all but study him and his behaviors to learn from him.  In fact, while in jail a local newspaper paid him a large sum of money to hear his confessions, which also delayed things but in the end not all of his confessions could be proven.  Some believe that like we would see in cases such as Henry Lee Lucas decades later, Holmes confessed to things he did not do in order to not just delay his death but to keep the investigators interested.  It is very common, although investigators knew little about it then, that serial killers have large egos and crave attention.  By confessing to crimes it kept the investigators coming back for more. This gave Holmes not only the attention from them and the media, it also prolonged the time until he was put to death.

As is often the case Holmes was brought down basically by his own mouth inside a jail.  In July of 1894 Holmes was arrested in St. Louis after being caught for the crime of "horse swindling." While he was in jail he talked to another inmate named Manion Hedgepeth about a plan to bilk an insurance company of $10,000 by faking his own death.  He asked Hedgepeth for the named of a trusted lawyer and promised to give him $500 (a large amount of money at the time).  Hedgepeth did as he was asked and put Holmes in contact with an attorney who apparently heard of the plan and agreed to help.  However, the insurance company seemed to be catching on so he had to end his plan, at least as it was. He then convinced an associate, Benjamin Pietzel to continue with the plan only Pietzel would be the "victim."  Pietzel and his wife Carrie had five children and earning money the legal way was not always Pietzel's priority.  It was said that Pietzel spoke to his wife about the insurance scam and they agreed and believed they would be splitting the proceeds between themselves and Holmes.  The problem was that despite what the Pietzel's believed was the plan, Holmes had other ideas.  Instead of faking Benjamin Pietzel's death, and finding a corpse that looked like Pietzel, Holmes did actually murder him.  But, to keep appearances up Holmes told Carrie Pietzel that her husband was in hiding in London basically waiting for the "heat" to die down.  He then convinced her to allow her three middle children, Alice, Nellie and Howard to go with him, where ever "here" may have been.  He kept Carrie basically on the run, chasing him different places so to speak while he continued to lie to her about Benjamin, as well as where he was with her other children.  

In the meantime investigators in Philadelphia had some major questions about the death of Benjamin Pietzel and began looking into and for H.H. Holmes.  Manion Hedgepeth it seems put them on his trail.  It appears he was not happy because he had done his part in hooking Holmes up with the attorney (who apparently remained in on the deal with Pietzel), but had never been paid as promised. It is likely obvious that they had no clue just what kind of devil they were chasing or what they would discover. But detectives were on Holmes' trail although they seemed to be at least a few steps behind.  At some point the detectives were lead to Toronto Canada to a home in which Holmes had rented.  In the cellar they found a trunk and inside they found the bodies of Alice and Nellie Pietzel.  Holmes would later confess to forcing the girls into the trunk and drilling a hole in which he placed a hose inside emitting gas inside.  Investigators now know that Benjamin Pietzel was not Holmes' only victim.  Next the trail led them to Indianapolis Indiana where Holmes had rented another home with woman named Georginna that he had married in January of 1894.  This was by all accounts his third marriage but it seems that none of his wives were privy to what Holmes was doing.  At any rate by the time they got to Indianapolis Holmes was gone again, but the remains of another victim, Howard Pietzel, were found in the chimney ash.  All that would be left of the child were bits of teeth and bone.  During all of this, investigators would also be lead back to Chicago where speculation would run amok and would lead them to a place in which they would never be able to know exactly how many lives H.H. Holmes had taken or grasp the evil that had taken place. 

Holmes' scams began early.  Between 1882 and 1884 he attended the University of Michigan's School of Medicine and Surgery.  It was said that while he was there he would steal corpses' that he would disfigure and then claim to an insurance company the person had died accidentally to cash in on an insurance policy that he had taken out on the "person."  Over the next few years he ran a few more scams it seems and there were even rumors of deaths surrounding him so by 1886 or 7, in order to avoid suspicion, and to distance himself from past acts he had changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes.  In August of 1886 Holmes made his way to Chicago where he befriended a couple who owned a drugstore.  Mysteriously the husband soon died and it was said that Holmes talked the woman into selling him the business.  Not long after she supposedly sold Holmes the business (although it seemed to be more like a contract as he was to give her payments), she too disappeared.  If anyone asked about her Holmes would simply say she moved out to California with relatives. 

Across the street from the drugstore was a large piece of land.  It was here that Holmes began construction on what would be known as his grand hotel in the beginning and later as his torture chamber. By the time it was done, it was 3 stories high and took up an entire block of the neighborhood.  It would open in 1893 and was known to some as the World's Fair Hotel and to others as The Castle.  The bottom floor was devoted to stores and shops, including his newly located drugstore.  It would later be learned that throughout the building process Holmes often fired workers "left and right" or would not pay them to the point in which they quit.  It was thought that this was a calculated move so that not one single person knew the entire lay out of the hotel.  There were doors that when opened would be simply to brick walls; there were stairs that lead to no where. Most importantly there were sound proof rooms that had been fitted with gas lines.  It was during this time that Holmes met Benjamin Pitezel.  After the hotel was built Holmes went about hiring staff for the hotel as well as businesses.  It was said that a vast majority of these employees were women who were required to take out life insurance policies in which Holmes would pay the premium but to which he was also the beneficiary. It is thought that some of the victims were placed in the soundproof rooms, some were hanged in what was later dubbed "The Hanging Room," while others still were locked in a vault to simply suffocate.  It is believed that once his victim had died in the hotel he would all but put their bodies in a chute that went to the basement.  It was in the basement that apparently Holmes would decide his next move on what to do with the bodies.  It has been said that some of the bodies were totally stripped of their skin and the skeletons then sold to a local medical school.  Holmes had a variety of ways to get rid of the bodies and with his medical training he not only could do it with precision but also knew benefited by selling parts and organs.  

The nine supposed confirmed victims of H.H. Holmes were obviously Benjamin Pietzel, three of his children, a mistress of Holmes' name Julia Smythe Conner and her daughter, Pearl, the sister of another wealthy mistress, Minnie Williams, and an officially unidentified man and woman.  It is also pretty much determined that Minnie Williams herself was likely a victim of Holmes' also but for whatever reason it is not officially in the confirmed list.  She disappeared around the same time as her sister.  It is possible that she was the unidentified woman.  After Holmes' crimes were exposed a man by the name of Charles Chappell came forward with the information he knew.  Apparently Holmes had hired him to help dispose of bodies.  Holmes had first hired him to help with the body of Julia Smythe, then later the body of a man.  When Holmes had Chappell help with the body of another woman, as he often did with people Holmes then failed to pay Chappell. Chappell in turn kept the skeleton of the woman and would later show it to police.  

The city of Chicago was outraged, along with the rest of the country, especially those who had relatives who had disappeared during the time of the World's Fair.  While Holmes was awaiting his death sentence the castle would catch fire in August of 1895.  It was ruled as arson as witnesses said they saw two men running from the area just before several explosions in the castle erupted.  There was a half empty gas can found near the back entrance.  Some speculate that it was done to hide evidence not yet found by the investigators but most believe it was simply done because the sight of the castle sparked its own outrage in people and they believed to rid themselves of seeing the building would begin healing.  


Popular posts from this blog

Matthew Heikkila

Rebecca Simpson

The murder of Jarrod Davidson