Born Herman Mudgett in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in 1861; the twisted swindler eventually moved to Chicago and took a job as a pharmacist under the name ‘Dr. Henry Howard Holmes’. The timing was perfect as the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as Chicago World’s Fair, was expected to bring 750,000 tourists to the city in 1893 and Holmes devised a cunning plan.
10 Horrifying Facts About America’s First Serial Killer H. H. Holmes
Holmes built a hotel which became the last resting place of many victims. Each room at the ‘Murder Castle’ was a death trap designed to torture and kill. Holmes is considered to be the first serial killer in America. He eventually confessed to 27 murders, yet the actual body count could have been up to 200.
He famously stated, “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.” If the walls of this hotel could talk—they would most likely scream.
10 Holmes Acquired The Hotel Dishonestly
Holmes was known as a highly intelligent child and later in life he attended the University of Michigan Medical School where he studied medicine. Due to his academic success, Holmes was regularly bullied at school and one of his earliest memories is bullies forcing him to hug a skeleton. However, for Holmes this had the opposite intended effect as he felt no fear, instead, it was therapeutic for him—a sign of what was about to become.
In 1885, he moved to Chicago and took a job working in a pharmacy in Englewood. When the owner of the pharmacy passed away, Holmes managed to convince his widow to let him take full control of the business. It wasn’t long before the widow went missing, although Holmes claimed she had moved to California, this is an unlikely story.
Holmes now owned his own thriving pharmacy and from this, he had enough to capital to also purchase the property across the street which he redesigned as a 3-story hotel. This was just the beginning of his evil plans.
9 Only Holmes Himself Knew The Layout Of The Hotel
Holmes designed the elaborate hotel himself. The impressive building located on the corner of 63rd Street took up an entire block and passers-by would often stop to admire the ongoing construction.
Initially, the building was to be completed in six months, however, it took three times as long due to Holmes constantly firing the contractors. He became known for accusing laborers of carrying out shoddy work and not paying them at all.
Not only did Holmes’ scheme save him a small fortune on wages, but it also meant only he knew the real layout of the hotel. To the average onlooker, the building’s winding corridors with doors that appeared to lead to nowhere appeared like a product of poor design.
Later the Chicago Tribune wrote in 1937, “O, what a queer house it was! In all America, there was none other like it. Its chimneys stuck out where chimneys should never stick out. Its stairways ended nowhere in particular. Winding passages brought the uninitiated with a frightful jerk back to where they had started from. There were rooms that had no doors. There were doors that had no rooms. A mysterious house it was indeed — a crooked house, a reflex of the builder’s own distorted mind.”
8 Each Room At The Hotel Was A Death Trap
Finally, in 1892, the ‘Castle‘ was complete—boasting three floors and a cellar. The first floor was made up of street-level shops that he leased to merchants. Now, Holmes was ready to welcome guests for the first time as tourists flocked to the city in celebration of Chicago’s World Fair.
The narrow, dimly-lit corridors were fitted with gas jets on the wall. There were many dead ends and stairways that led to nowhere; only Holmes’ had the key for many of the doorways. Opposite a room where Holmes’ built his own personal office was a walk-in bank vault that also had a gas pipe fitted within the wall. From his own bedroom closet, Holmes could control the gas flow.
Although the bedrooms appeared ordinary; they were all airtight, soundproofed and equipped with peepholes. No doubt for the twisted serial killer to watch his victims as they drew their last breath. The rooms were also fitted with alarms so if anyone was to escape, Holmes would be alerted.
Then when the evil deed was done; the second story contained trapdoors and hidden panels in the closest so bodies could be thrown down the greased shafts directly to the cellar below where the cadavers were a precious commodity to Holmes.
7 The Basement Of Horrors
Holmes did not mind getting his hands dirty when it came to disposing of the victims. Once the bodies were in the basement, he placed them in the many vats of acid and quicklime pits. He also had several operating tables, cabinets filled with surgical instruments and a large kiln that could fit an entire body which he used to cremate his victims.
Then there was the twisted centerpiece—a medieval rack. Holmes later referred to this instrument of torture as an “elasticity determinator” that would be used to stretch out the human body. Some theories suggest that this was part of his own scientific experiment as he wanted to kick-start a new race of giants, whereas another theory claims he would torture victims until they revealed details of their finances.
When detectives eventually discovered the basement of horrors, they found one vat acid still contained a human skull and eight ribs that had not fully dissolved.
6 The Chilling Footprint Of Emeline Cigrand
Young Emeline Cigrand relocated to Chicago after Holmes offered her a position as his personal secretary that paid three times the average salary for this line of work.
She arrived with $800 in savings and it wasn’t long before Holmes managed to get his hands on the money, claiming it would be invested well. Things eventually turned sour and Emeline told a neighbor she was heading back home. That was the last time anyone had seen her alive.
A female footprint was later discovered etched onto the door of the vault. In ‘The Devil In The White City’, author Erik Larson explains, “The best guess posited that Holmes had lured a woman into the vault; that the woman was shoeless at the time, perhaps nude; and that Holmes had closed the airtight door to lock her inside. She had left the print in a last hopeless effort to force the door open.”
It’s believed that Holmes had poured acid onto the floor of the vault to hasten the consumption of oxygen. The theory is that Emeline stepped in the acid and kicked at the vault door in a final attempt to save her own life. The footprint was a chilling reminder of the real-life horrors that took place within the hotel walls.
5 Cadavers For Cash
Word soon got around that Holmes was not to be trusted; he had gained a reputation of purchasing goods from creditors and failing to keep up with the invoices. The hotel itself was furnished in the finest interiors—yet all for show, as the owner had no intention of paying for any of it.
This was not the worst of his crimes as he was also encouraging his employees to take out life insurance policies, then when they eventually ‘disappeared’—he forged the documents so vast amounts of cash would be left in his name.
With the body count mounting higher than ever, Holmes also realized he could cash in on the cadavers. He knew from experience that skeletons were high in demand as medical schools acquired them for the students. Once the business of murder was out the way, Holmes stripped the corpses of their flesh, bleached the bones and sold off the skeletons for a good price.
It was reported corpses were sold for $25—$45 apiece and cleaned skeletons sold for as much as $200 (around $20,000 today).
4 He Murdered His Only Accomplice
Holmes had befriended a carpenter named Benjamin Pitezel who also came with his own criminal past. The two soon became schemers together and an attorney later described Pitezel as Holmes’ very own “creature”. It is unknown how involved Pitezel was in the murders and selling of the bodies but eventually, he also met the same fate.
Pitezel agreed he would fake his own death so his wife could collect on a $10,000 insurance policy. The money was then to be split between the family and Holmes as he would stage his death to look like an accident. However, Holmes knocked his friend unconscious with chloroform then set the body on fire to make it appear as a suicide.
Holmes then murdered Pitezel’s three children; the twisted serial killer locked the children in a trunk that had a hole drilled on the side and used gas to asphyxiate the young victims.
One man who had been an acquaintance of Holmes had seen news of Pitezel’s death and the payment of $10,000 insurance. He wrote a letter to the police stating:
“When H. H. Holmes was here some months ago, he told me he had a scheme to make $10,000, and needed a lawyer who could be trusted. He told me he’d give me $500 for introducing him to such a lawyer. I was to get $500 if it worked. It is hardly worthwhile to say I never got the $500 Holmes held out to me for introducing him.”
Police were now ready to investigate Holmes on murder charges.
3 There Was Plans For A Second Hotel
In 1894, Holmes met railroad heiress Minnie Williams whilst he was visiting Boston and he told her his name was ‘Harry Gordon’. When she moved to Chicago to be with him, he advised her to call him ‘Holmes’ as this was his business alias. Later, Holmes ‘married’ Minnie although there was no proof the marriage was ever legal—another Holmes-type swindle.
Holmes murdered Minnie and her sister Anna then inherited property in Fort Worth, Texas, following their deaths. He told those who questioned the disappearance of the two young sisters that they had simply traveled to Europe.
Holmes had previously tried to burn his ‘Hotel of Horrors’ in Chicago to the ground so he could collect the $6,000 in insurance money. He failed at his plans and instead relocated to Fort Worth with the intention to build a second hotel and double-up on his crimes.
Detectives were on the hunt for Holmes following the discovery he had killed Pitezel and his three children in cold blood. It wasn’t long before they caught up with him before he could take another innocent life.
2 The Hotel Is Destroyed By Fire
On November 17th, 1894, Holmes was finally arrested in Boston. Then in August 1895, much of the hotel was destroyed by a fire which created many different theories about the real motive behind the incident.
Some believed Holmes had paid an associate to burn down the ‘Murder Castle’ so the detectives couldn’t discover anything else—although, there was already enough gut-wrenching evidence to send Holmes to the gallows. Another theory is that a group of local vigilantes started the fire so the building itself would no longer be a dark reminder of all the evil deeds that took place within its walls
Following the fire, the upper floors of the hotel were removed and the shops at street level were reopened. Then in 1937, the building was sold to the U.S. government who demolished the site and opened the now Englewood Post Office. Today, there are no signs or plaques to remind passers-by of the horrors that took place there, almost as if nothing sinister took place at all.
1 Holmes Became The Final Victim Of The Hotel
Despite his execution date looming ahead, Holmes had not quite retired from making money just yet. His full confession was sold to the Hearst Corporation for $7,500 (worth $230,000 today) which was later found to be mostly nonsense as he claimed satanic possession was at play.
On May 7th, 1896, Holmes was hanged at Moyamensing Prison aged 34-years-old. His last request was that his body was to be buried 10-feet deep in the ground and his casket encased in cement as he did not want grave robbers to steal his corpse and use it for dissection.
A Sherrif placed the noose around his neck and then Holmes fell to his doom. However, his neck did not snap and instead, he died via strangulation. Although he was unconscious, his heart was still beating for 15 minutes before several physicians examined him and pronounced he was dead. Then his corpse was cut down. Pictures is Holmes’ exhumed body.
About The Author: Cheish Merryweather is a true crime fan and an oddities fanatic. Can either be found at house parties telling everyone Charles Manson was only 5ft 2″ or at home reading true crime magazines. Founder of Crime Viral community since 2015.