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H.H.
Holmes:

The
First American Serial Killer

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William
Baker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

History
2020

Professor
Ross

November
1, 2017

Baker
2

H.H.
Holmes was born in 1861, as Herman W. Mudgett, in Gilmanton, New Hampshire.
H.H. Holmes is most notorious as being the man behind “The Murder Castle” of
Chicago (1892-1896). While the story of the murders is most well-known Mr.
Holmes led quite the checkered life leading up to his final arrest, that would
see him hung in 1896 for the murder of Benjamin Pietzel.

H.H.
Holmes grew up in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. His father was postmaster for
nearly 25 years1. This allowed Herman to be raised in a wealthy
family for the time. His mother was very religious and insisted on strict
religious studies, his father was a stern disciplinarian. “That
I was well trained by loving and religious parents, I know, and any deviations
in my after life from the straight and narrow way of rectitude are not
attributable to the want of a tender mother’s prayers or a father’s control,
emphasized, when necessary, by the liberal use of the rod wielded by no sparing
hand.2”. It’s believed that Herman
was bullied and picked on during school. Herman excelled in school, he was a
very smart child even at an early age. Herman’s drive caused many students to
pick on him, even so far as to stand him in front of a skeleton in the town
doctors office to terrify him further. This did effect Herman, as he grew from
that experience and found that he was increasingly interested in medicine and
the human body3. Herman practiced surgery on animals, and it is
believed that he may have been responsible for the death of one of his friends
during childhood4.

Herman
graduated high school at age 16 (1877). Two years later, Herman changed his
name to Henry Howard Holmes, he then spent the next year at the College of
Vermont. Beginning school at the University of Michigan medical school on September
21, 1882, Holmes graduated in 1884 with degrees in both medicine and surgery5.
It’s very uncommon for serial killers to complete college, normally they will
drop out but in Henry’s case, he followed through due to his passion, cadavers,
and the scams that he was pulling. While Henry was attending college at the
University of Michigan, he found a way to

Baker 3

make extra money.
Henry began taking out life insurance policies and substituting the
unidentifiable cadavers in place to collect the money. After college Herman
began traveling and his scams just increased, he travelled around the Midwest
taking many different jobs such as a drugstore clerk, asylum attendant, teacher,
and doctor. In August 1886 Howard traveled to Englewood, a suburb south of
Chicago, where he finally settled in as a druggist at ES Holton drugstore. The
store was owned by Elizabeth S. Holton, and her husband6.  In the following months Henry worked his way
from new hire to manager of the drugstore as Mr. Holton was believed to have
been sick and Mrs. Holton was busy tending to him. Mr. Holton died only months
after Holmes started his work at the shop though, and Mrs. Holton sold the
store to Holmes. Shortly after the purchase of the store Mrs. Holton filed a
nonpayment suit on Holmes, it is short lived as Mrs. Holton disappeared soon
afterwards. Many speculate that Holmes may have caused the death of Mr. Holton,
and the death and disappearance of Mrs. Holton. Although nothing was ever
brought against Holmes his only story was that Mrs. Holton had sold him the
store to move to California7.

After
acquiring the drugstore, Holmes turned his attention onto a far more sinister
plan, a plan now known as “The Murder Castle.” In 1889 Holmes had returned form
a trip to Indianapolis, Indiana where a series of insurance scams with his
accomplice, Benjamin Pietzel, paid off well. Holmes used the money from these
scams, and the legitimate money from the drugstore, to purchase an empty lot
across the street from the drugstore. The building was had 3 stories, Holmes
used many different construction crews of which he supervised and guided along
with his own visions. It’s believed that Holmes, sly as always, didn’t pay a
cent to any of the crews or for any materials that went into the building of
his house. He would hire, then fire the crews without paying them for their
services. This could have been a way for him to build his house without anyone
suspecting what he was truly trying to

Baker 4

accomplish, or he
was simply trying to scam his way into yet another business8. The
building was three stories tall and encased a giant bank vault that Holmes had
purchased on credit. The bottom floor was used for shops and stores: a pharmacy,
jewelry, barbershop, restaurant, and a blacksmith shop made up the bottom
floor. While the upper floors were where Holmes’ personal office, and the “torture
rooms” were created9.

The
basement was where Holmes’ victims found their final resting place. A steel
chamber, a steel vault, a crematory, quicklime graves, trap doors, hanging
cages and a variety of other furnishings lined the basement10. A
footprint was found to be that of one of Holmes’ victims, Miss Williams, her jewelry
was also found up to sale in Holmes’ drugstore jewel case yet another way Holmes
continues his scams during the time. Unfortunately, though, also uncovered was
a deadly oil that when found exploded, nearly adding three more to the rising
count of bodies for Holmes11. 35 rooms on the second floor were
designed specifically as killing chambers while the top floor held legitimate
bedrooms used for some guest, and Holmes’ personal bedroom. Some rooms had trap
doors, gas pipes ran to a sealed room, blacked out rooms, fake doors, false walls,
and doorways that led to nowhere. These rooms were also equipped with sensors
that would go off in Holmes’ office if the door was opened so Holmes’ could stop
any would be escapees12. Holmes’ was also cleaning bodies and selling
the cleaned and complete skeletons to local labs and schools13.

Holmes
was a very charismatic man, being very much a lady’s man. In fact, Holmes was
married 3 times. He was married on the 4th of July 1878 to Clara
Lovering following graduation from high school. They had one child together,
Robert Lovering Mudgett, who went on to become the city manager of Orlando, Florida.
His second marriage was to a woman named Myrta Belknap, of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
They were wed on January 28, 1887 while still being married to his first wife
Clara. He

Baker 5

fathered one
child with Myrta, this time a daughter by the name of Lucy Theodate Holmes. She
went on to become a school teacher. Finally, his third wife, wed January 17,
1894, was Georgina Yoke in Denver, Colorado. At this point Holmes did attempt
to file divorce papers on Clara Lovering, but the paperwork was never processed
so he remained married to her even after abandoning before attending the
University of Michigan14.

              Holmes left Chicago after The
World’s Fair came to an end, and his source of easy pray had slowed. He
traveled the country, with his partner Benjamin Pietzel. Holmes had a good run,
up until he found himself in a jail cell with none other than Marion Hedgepeth.
Holmes, thinking himself rather clever, confided in Hedgepeth that he intended
on running an insurance scheme using his partner as the victim. He asked
Hedgepeth for assistance on finding an attorney that would help Holmes claim
the $10, 000 insurance money, and for his time Holmes promised Hedgepeth $500
out of the cut. Holmes made it out of custody by using one of his many alias’
H.M. Howard, the authorities did not realize that they had the conman H.H.
Holmes in their hands and released him. Holmes carried out his plan with
Benjamin Pietzel…but this time instead of using a cadaver, he used Pietzel
himself15.

              Pietzel was found with chloroform
in his lungs and had been set ablaze, once he was found though Holmes told his
wife that Pietzel was fine and was just in hiding. Holmes convinced Mrs.
Pietzel that he should take the children with him to meet with Benjamin to help
ease the discomfort of being in hiding and to help keep her off the radar by
traveling with less children, to this Mrs. Pietzel agrees and allows three of
the children to travel with Holmes.  Holmes
travels with the children from Pennsylvania, to Indianapolis, to Detroit,
Michigan, and finally to Toronto, Canada. Holmes continued traveling the
country after the deaths of the children not knowing that detectives from the
Pinkerton angency were

Baker 6

hot on his trail
after receiving a tip from Hedgepeth, who never received his $500 from Holmes,
that Holmes may have committed the murder of Benjamin Pitezel to claim the
insurance money16.

              On November 17, 1894 Holmes was arrested
in Boston, Ma and sent to Moyamensing Prison, in Philadelphia, while in prison
Holmes gave many different interviews to different news outlets. Holmes even
confessed to the killing of 27 people, and penned his memoir while in
Moyamesing, then denied admitting to the killings. Holmes was quoted as saying,
“I was born with the Devil in me.” His accounts were found to contradict each
other, or to be flat out lies after two weeks the interviews came to an end. During
his trail Holmes decided to represent himself, feeling confident that the
charges would be dropped due to lack of evidence. This was not the case as a
detective had been sent to find the missing Pietzel children. Frank Geyer was
put on the case and had followed in Holmes foot steps across the country, Geyer
found the young son’s charred remains in a stove in Indianapolis, IN. Geyer
then found the two sisters buried in a shallow grave in Toronto. As the trial
turned against Holmes, he allowed his attorney to take over and realized his
time was drawing to a close17.

 Upon being found guilty Holmes had one request,
to be buried in 10 feet of concreate. Although being a strange request it was
allowed due to Holmes fear of being exhumed and dissected. He was found guilty
of murder in the first degree, and would be hung on May 7, 1896. Before he is
hung he accounts to all the murders to William Randolph Hearst, but again, at his
moment on the gallows Holmes recants his confession. The Castle was destoried
in a series of explosions soon after Holmes was found guilty, many believe that
it was to keep the media out of the town, others believe that it was set off by
crews searching for more information. No one truly knows exactly how many
people H.H. Holmes murdered, numbers range from 9 to 200. All who know are gone
and only questions remain, but the one answer that is for sure answered is that
H.H. Holmes will never strike again18.

              Baker 7

 

Notes

 

1.
MURDER CASTLE OF H.H. HOLMES! EXCERPT FROM “HAUNTED CHICAGO”.
Accessed December 05, 2017. https://www.prairieghosts.com/holmes.html.

 

2. Mudgett,
Herman W. Holmes’ own story, in which the alleged multi-murderer and arch
conspirator tells of the twenty-two tragic deaths and disappearances in which
he is said to be implicated, with Moyamensing prison diary appendix.
Philadelphia, Burk & McFetridge co, 1895. Pdf. Retrieved from the Library
of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/06022698/. (Accessed December 07, 2017.)
pg 6

 

3. H.H.
Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer. Directed by John Borowski. Performed by
Tony Jay, Harold Schechter. United States: Waterfront Productions, 2008.
Netflix.

 

4. “H.H.
Holmes.” Biography.com. October 16, 2017. Accessed December 05, 2017. https://www.biography.com/people/hh-holmes-307622.

 

5.  “Who is H.H. Holmes? Everything You Need
to Know.” Facts, Childhood & Family of Serial Killer. Accessed
December 05, 2017. https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/h-h-holmes-29982.php.

 

6.Ibid

 

7. “H.H. Holmes: The Truth About Dr.
Holton.” Mysterious Chicago Tours. Accessed December 07, 2017. http://mysteriouschicago.com/h-h-holmes-the-shocking-truth-about-dr-holton/.

 

8. MURDER CASTLE OF H.H. HOLMES! EXCERPT
FROM “HAUNTED CHICAGO”. Accessed December 05, 2017. https://www.prairieghosts.com/holmes.html.

 

9. H.H.
Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer. Directed by John Borowski. Performed by
Tony Jay, Harold Schechter. United States: Waterfront Productions, 2008.
Netflix.

 

10. “Page
40 The Castle.jpg.” Fold3. August 18, 1895. Accessed December 07, 2017. https://www.fold3.com/image/216160526.

 

11. Ibid

 

12. H.H.
Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer. Directed by John Borowski. Performed by
Tony Jay, Harold Schechter. United States: Waterfront Productions, 2008.
Netflix.

 

 

 

 

Baker 8

 

13. Hirschlag, Allison. “9
Things You Didn’t Know About America’s First Serial Killer, H.H. Holmes.”
Mental Floss. May 16, 2017. Accessed December 08, 2017. http://mentalfloss.com/article/72642/9-things-you-didnt-know-about-americas-first-serial-killer-hh-holmes.

 

14. “Who is H.H. Holmes? Everything You Need to
Know.” Facts, Childhood & Family of Serial Killer. Accessed December
05, 2017. https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/h-h-holmes-29982.php.

 

15. “H.H.
Holmes.” Biography.com. October 16, 2017. Accessed December 05, 2017. https://www.biography.com/people/hh-holmes-307622.

 

16. “Who
is H.H. Holmes? Everything You Need to Know.” Facts, Childhood &
Family of Serial Killer. Accessed December 05, 2017.
https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/h-h-holmes-29982.php.

 

17.
H.H. Holmes: America’s First
Serial Killer. Directed by John Borowski. Performed by Tony Jay, Harold
Schechter. United States: Waterfront Productions, 2008. Netflix.

 

18. Ibid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baker 9

Bibliography

“9 Things You Didn’t
Know About America’s First Serial Killer, H.H. Holmes”. 2017. Mentalfloss.Com.
http://mentalfloss.com/article/72642/9-things-you-didnt-know-about-americas-first-serial-killer-hh-holmes.

Borowski, John. 2004. H.H.
Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer. Video. Chicago, Ill: Waterfront
Productions.

“H.H. Holmes”.
2017. Biography.Com. https://www.biography.com/people/hh-holmes-307622.

“H.H. Holmes: The
Truth About Dr. Holton”. 2017. Mysterious Chicago Tours.
http://mysteriouschicago.com/h-h-holmes-the-shocking-truth-about-dr-holton/.

Holmes, Henry. 2017.
“Holmes’ Own Story, In Which The Alleged Multi-Murderer And Arch
Conspirator Tells Of The Twenty-Two Tragic Deaths And Disappearances In Which
He Is Said To Be Implicated, With Moyamensing Prison Diary Appendix.”. The
Library Of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/06022698/.

“MURDER CASTLE OF H.H.
HOLMES! EXCERPT FROM “HAUNTED CHICAGO””. 2017. Prairieghosts.Com.
https://www.prairieghosts.com/holmes.html.

“Page 40 The
Castle.Jpg – Fold3”. 2017. Fold3.
https://www.fold3.com/image/216160526.

“Who Is H.H. Holmes? Everything You Need
To Know”. 2017. Thefamouspeople.Com.
https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/h-h-holmes-29982.php.

 

 

             

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