I am having troubling sleeping tonight and thought I would continue with our tour of the world’s horror locales. [I am not having nightmares about H.H. Holmes, if that is what you are thinking or even about any other horror topic.]
One of America’s first and most prolific serial killers was Herman Webster Mudgett, who went by his now better known alias of H.H. Holmes (1861-1896). Although his life has been recently documented in a few films and books, Holmes is still perhaps one of America’s lesser known serial killers. Most of the following information is taken from the Wikipedia article on Holmes, which supports my previous readings on Holmes in several sources. Please go to Wikipedia for more details than my brief synopsis provides. It is a well-written article and I rely on it here, only because I wish to provide a brief introduction to Holmes to support the photos and visual record I am providing.
Holmes started his criminal career while attending the University of Michigan Medical School, where he would steal cadavers from the laboratory, disfigure them, and then try to collect on insurance policies he had taken out on them after claiming they had been killed in accidents. After graduation, Mudgett moved to Chicago to pursue a career in pharmaceuticals, but also began conducting many shady business deals while being a bigamist and philanderer in his private life.
After moving to Chicago in 1886, Holmes took a job at Dr. Elizabeth Holton’s drugstore. After her husband’s death, Holmes
bought the business and the lot across the street at 601-603 West 63rd Street. [I had not noticed this before, but if one takes the first digit in each number of the address and combines them, the result is 666.] In the lot he built what would become known as his murder castle.
Wikipedia provides a nice synopsis of what happened there:
“Holmes purchased a lot across from the drugstore where he built his three-story, block-long “castle” as it was dubbed by those in the neighborhood. The address of the Castle was 601-603 W. 63rd St. It was called the World’s Fair Hotel and opened as a hostelry for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, with part of the structure devoted to commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes’ own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a maze of over 100 windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways to nowhere, doors openable 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.
“During the period of building construction in 1889, Holmes met Benjamin Pitezel, a carpenter with a past of lawbreaking, whom Holmes exploited as a stooge for his criminal schemes. A district attorney later described Pitezel as Holmes’ “tool… his creature.”
“After the completion of the hotel, Holmes selected mostly female victims from among his employees (many of whom were required as a condition of employment to take out life insurance policies, for which Holmes would pay the premiums but was also the beneficiary), as well as his lovers and hotel guests, whom he would later kill. Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time. Other victims were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office, where they were left to suffocate. The victims’ bodies were dropped 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. Through the connections he had gained in medical school, he sold skeletons and organs with little difficulty.”
After the World’s Columbian Exposition ended, Holmes moved out of Chicago to evade creditors and continued pursuing his
various nefarious trades throughout the country. Eventually, he was arrested by the Pinkertons for an insurance scam. While Holmes was in prison awaiting trial, authorities interviewed the former janitor at Holmes’s castle and found out that he had never been allowed entry to the upper floors. Upon further investigation, the real purpose behind Holmes’s castle was discovered.
Estimates of the number of Holmes’s victims range from 20-200, with 27 being the only number verified by any means. Most of his victims were women, though a few were men and children. Holmes confessed to murdering thirty people in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Toronto, though some of the people he claimed to have killed were later found to still be alive.
Holmes was put on trial for the murder of his partner-in-crime, Benjamin Pitezel, in October, 1895. He was hanged in Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison on May 7, 1896, for Pitezel’s murder. Holmes’s castle was mysteriously gutted by fire in August, 1895, two months before his trial began. The building was finally razed in 1938.
The site is now the location of the US Post Office’s Englewood Branch.
I have included a few photos of the castle and the Englewood Post Office for your viewing pleasure.
By coincidence, while gathering photos for this article, I found a statement on Cragin Spring’s Flickr page that a movie on Holmes called “Devil in the White City” was due out in 2013 and was to star Leonardo DiCaprio. A Wikipedia article on it states that it is based on a 2003 book by Erik Larson and Leonardo DiCaprio bought the film rights in 2010. Imdb states only that it is in development.