Dr. Henry Howard Holmes is believed to have been America’s first documented serial killer, having been connected with over 200 victims!
In the 1880’s he built himself a hotel in Chicago, designed to attract the influx of visitors to the are for the World’s Fair. What these innocent victims didn’t know was that his hotel contained a secret, that of some of the most horrifying murders to ever occur in the United States!
H.H. Holmes called his hotel the World’s Fair Hotel. No one who entered this famed ‘murder castle’ was guaranteed to come out alive, as he was responsible for murdering his hotel guests, lovers, and employees.
The hotel was filled with bottomless closets, secret passageways, gas chambers, a dissection room, and a room filled with bodies. Everything that he would need in order to carry out his 4-year reign of terror.
He had death traps all over the hotel, allowing him to kill them in many ways. Some victims found themselves locked in rooms that doubled as soundproof gas chambers. With the flick of a switch, Holmes could asphyxiate these innocent guests of the hotel at any given time.
Other guests were locked into rooms where the walls were covered with iron plates. In these rooms, he had installed blow torches, allowing him to incinerate them. Some even found themselves locked up in the attic and simply left to die of dehydration and starvation.
Obsessed with science, after death his victims were placed into a secret metal chute, or dummy elevator, taking them down to the basement. Once down there he would take the time to meticulously dissect them, slowly stripping them of their flesh and crafting them into the perfect skeleton models.
Those that were not made into skeleton models were often experimented upon, and then later disposed of either by burying them in lime pits or incinerating them in one of the two giant furnaces he had installed.
When Holmes was caught in 1894 he confessed to 27 murders, however, only 9 were ever confirmed. It is believed that his body count is likely closer to 250. He confessed by saying, “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing.” He was hanged in Philadelphia in 1896.
Here are 15 little-known facts about Dr. Henry Howard Holmes:
- H. Holmes was bullied as a child.
When asked about his past Holmes told a series of contradicting lies, so little is known about his childhood. He even went as far as lying on his census forms to keep the truth hidden! The story goes that at a young age he was afraid of doctors. A group of children forced him to stand in front of a human skeleton in the doctor’s office one day, with nothing to do but stare at it. He claimed this scared him at first, but as he moved past his fears this led to his fascination with death.
- When in medical school he stole cadavers.
Holmes attended medical school at the University of Michigan, where he stole several cadavers from their lab. He disfigured them in order to create the impression they had died in an accident and then attempted to collect insurance money for them. He perfected this scam, and carried it through to his hotel, becoming the beneficiary on the insurance policies of several of the women he employed. Many of these women died mysteriously shortly after obtaining their policies.
- H. Holmes was married, in fact, he had 3 wives at the same time.
In 1878 Holmes married his first wife, Clara, at the age of 19. They had a son two years later, however, he abandoned them shortly after, marrying Myrta Belknap in 1887. At this stage, he had not filed for divorce from Clara. He did make the effort to file a few weeks following his second marriage, however, the paperwork never went through. In 1894 he then married Georgiana Yoke in Denver, Colorado, just a short time before he was arrested for insurance fraud. This means that at the time he was put to death, in 1896, he was still married to all three women.
- The construction of his “Murder Castle” was a mystery, even to those that worked building it.
In order to build exactly what he wanted without raising suspicion Holmes had three separate architects work on his castle, slowly constructing his perfect ‘killing factory’. Furthermore, to ensure that he was covering his tracks, he would regularly fire construction works stating that they were ‘incompetent’ just to ensure that it was a constant revolution of new people, with no one person gaining too much knowledge. It is surprising that nobody reported suspicion, however, as the plans included 100 windowless rooms, stairs that lead to nowhere, 51 doorways that opened to brick walls, two furnaces and body-sized chutes leading to an incinerator.
- He sold the skeletons of many of his victims to both doctors and scientists.
Due to his time attending medical school, Holmes had several connections in medical circles. This allowed him to sell the skeletons of a large number of his victims to both local labs and schools. Due to the efforts that he had taken to clean the skeletons, they did not arouse suspicion, and the rest of the victims’ remains were tossed either in pits of lime or acid to ensure that all evidence was broken down.
- Holmes made his business partner, Benjamin Pitezel, fake his own death.
Holmes convinced Pitezel to fake his own death, allowing his wife to collect a $10,000 insurance payment. What Pitezel didn’t realize is that he had other plans, already arranging that the insurance money would ultimately come back to him. Rather than finding a cadaver that could pass for Pitezel, Holmes rendered him unconscious using chloroform, and then set him on fire. When questioned about the murder, he also confessed to having killed 3 of Pitezel’s 5 children.
- He was brought to justice by a horse.
The arrest of H.H. Holmes came back to a stolen horse when all was said and done. The National Police Journal states, “While in the prison Howard [an alias of Holmes] told Hedgepeth that he had devised a scheme for swindling an insurance company out of $10,000. And promised Hedgepeth that, if he would recommend him a lawyer suitable for such an enterprise, she should have $500 promised him.” Holmes never did pay up, and as payback, Hedgepeth shared all of the information with the police. There was little evidence, however, the did have an outstanding warrant for the theft of a horse in Texas. Afraid of being sent back to Texas (where punishment was sure to be much rougher) he confessed to the insurance scam, but not the murder of Pitezel, claiming he got a body from a doctor in New York for the scam. When this body was later found to be that of Pitezel all his lies began to come crashing down.
- After he was sentenced to the death penalty, Holmes requested that he be buried in concrete.
Due to his obsession with death, and the many acts he had performed on the bodies of his victims following their own demise, Holmes was hyper sensitive to what may happen to his own body following death. For this reason, he requested that he be encased in concrete, and buried 10 feet under. This would prevent grave robbers from later exhuming and dissecting his body. While this request was odd, it was ultimately granted.
- Newspapers paid Holmes for his confession.
The Hearst newspapers paid Holmes $7,500 (the equivalent today would be approximately $215,000) to tell his story. Holmes provided them with many contradicting lies, ultimately discrediting all that he would share. One quote, provided to a contemporary newspaper, did stick with him, later inspiring the book and upcoming movie The Devil in the White City: “I was born with the devil in me.”