Sunday, October 30, 2011
Prelude to a Murder
When many people think of serial killers or sociopath murderers they tend to think of Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Zodiac Killer, even Jack the Ripper. Very little is spoken of the first reported serial killer on American soil, H. H. Holmes.
His story- as crazy and enigmatic as it is-, is one of enormous proportions. H.H. Holmes was born as Herman Webster Mudgett in the town of Gilmanton, New Hampshire in 1861.
His ancestors were among the very first settlers in that region.
Holmes was raised in a strict Catholic household, as well as speculated abuse from an alcoholic father. As a child he was a weak boy who was often bullied by the older boys in school. It was noted that one time his schoolmate bullies dragged his hysterical and fearful body into the Doctor’s office in order to terrorize Holmes, as he was deathly afraid of skeletons.
Unfortunately, this account seems to have been the catalyst that not only proved to conquer his fear of death but also sent him plummeting into a dark abyss of obsession with death. From then on, all he seemed to think of was death and he became curious about the human anatomy.
Holmes was a very intelligent person well beyond his years, and this proved to help him in his quest to gain access to becoming the absolute best at what he was determined to be. He excelled in school and even went to College first at the University in Vermont and then transferring to the University of Michigan after learning that the medical school was studying and working on human cadavers. This was an element he was not only intrigued in but also obsessed by.
At the University he was able to dissect human bodies with his classmates, all the while no one had any idea what was going on in his sick, twisted mind. Thus he flew under the radar, so to speak.
After graduating in 1884, he moved around from city to city to evade the police and bill collectors. Holmes liked to perform fraudulent scams on unsuspecting victims monetarily and physically. Some of them even claimed that he had poisoned his patients. During his younger years he was married to two women at the same time and gave both women one child each. He later left the both of them (who had no prior knowledge of the other) and moved out to Chicago.
The Makings of a Horror Movie
Holmes moved to Chicago after having answered an advertisement in the paper for E.S. Holton Pharmacy. Everett Holton the owner and pharmacist, was dying of cancer which left his wife Claire to run the business alone. She was an elderly lady in charge of a lot and it was quite a load of work for her to take on while tending to her ill husband. Holmes used his good looks, smooth talking charm and intelligence to convince Claire to sell him the pharmacy. In exchange he would run the business and she would continue to live in her apartment upstairs. He agreed to take care of all of her expenses and she would have nothing to worry about for the rest of her life. After Everett passed away, Claire accepted Holmes’ offer and just days later Claire disappeared.
The neighbors began asking where she was after time had passed, however Holmes was always a step ahead having already rehearsed the story that Claire went to visit family in California and had decided to stay there. No one ever thought twice to look into it, and so Claire’s disappearance was dismissed.
After buying the pharmacy he later sold it and purchased the land across the street. He made plans to build a gargantuan building that was 3 stories high (including a 4th level basement) and it was 7,500 square feet on each floor. His plans for this building were not only of pure evil origination, but also proved to be one of the most sinister of places in history.
During the construction of this “House of Horrors”, Holmes hired hundreds of skilled laborers to work on one piece of the house at a time and then he would quickly fire them. He always used an excuse that they weren’t good workers but he had a method to his madness. As long as he kept the work like a “revolving door” of laborers he could conceal the true layout of the house therefore no one would really know the entire format of the house.
If you think the Winchester House in San Jose was strangely designed with its staircases leading to the ceiling or doors and windows leading to a brick wall, then I can assure you Holmes’ “Castle” was the first to use this dark and mysterious architecture.
Holmes design of the house was in fact a labyrinth of hallways, rooms leading to other rooms, rooms with trap doors and even sound proof rooms. He had staircases and doors that led nowhere and even constructed a secret door in the middle of the wall that had a ramp that led all the way to the basement.
Holmes designed the home with torture and death in mind. It was so magnificent a maze in fact that all of his victims came in and never came out. After the building was complete he purchased furnishings for the entire building using credit but then refused to pay. When the company came to repossess the furniture the building appeared to be completely empty. However, no one saw any of the furniture removed from the building. Holmes’ had put all the furnishings in one room and sealed the room up completely making it look as if there was a wall there and when the movers came to take the items back it appeared that the building was empty.
The 3rd floor was Holmes’ apartment and it also had rooms and offices he planned to rent out. He rented many rooms during the widely anticipated “Worlds Fair” of 1893 where in upwards of 50 people went missing. The 2nd floor was off limits to all employees and the janitor as this was Holmes’ torture level. The first floor he used for his pharmacy and the basement was also a forbidden zone that no one dare tread to. Holmes would lock his victims in their rented rooms and turn on gas that was being piped into their rooms, they would choke to death on the fumes and he would later drop their bodies into the shoot or trap doors down to the basement. He would then dissect his victims and dispose of them, sometimes even selling their organs and other various body parts as well as their skeletons.
He even invented his own set of alarms to sound if any of his victims were trying to escape. He would hire stenographers and typesetters to do work for him and instead of paying them, they would just disappear. Strangely, Holmes’ records show that during times when his lady friends and women employees had disappeared, that Holmes would sell a skeleton of a woman to his connections at different medical schools across the country.
Holmes was a clever person and was always looking for a way to scam someone. He would often hang around the banks after they had closed waiting for people who were planning to exchange loose bills for larger bills. When they would realize the bank had closed he would offer to write them a personal check for that amount and he would then take their cash. Of course Holmes had no money in his bank, therefore the victim lost his money.
Holmes also concocted a scheme that he had a panacea for the ailment of alcoholism, claiming that it was the modern day “cure all” elixir. In fact it was just reverse osmosis water that he obtained from tapping into the city water line. He had invented his machine and later sold it to a Canadian for $2,000.00.
After pulling the machine out of the wall to sell he realized the hole in the wall would be a great area to put a lime pit where he could dispose of his victims’ bodies. In fact, the basement of his Castle (as it was called) held medieval torture devices that stretched its victims limb from limb, a wooden dissection table, and many torture devices and surgical utensils. He also had a crematorium in the basement so he could burn the bodies if he chose to.
Holmes’ had several girlfriends all whom he eventually murdered. The first of his girlfriends who later became his victim was Julia Conner. She was said to have been married and had a daughter named Pearl. When Julia’s husband left her for unknown reasons she and her daughter moved in with Holmes. Julia introduced herself to neighbors as his wife, although she was not. She was also reportedly very jealous and would cause quite a commotion if she witnessed Holmes even speaking to another woman. Holmes grew so tired of her that he installed a buzzer on the 3rd stair of the main staircase so that it would notify him when she was coming down.
He later met and became involved with another lady named Minnie Williams who had just inherited an estate with a value estimated at $20,000 at that time. Holmes’ wooed her as Harry Gordon and even proposed marriage to her, in order to follow through with his plan. Holmes tricked Minnie to not only sign the estate over to him, but also talked her younger sister Anna to come stay with them in the “Castle”. Shortly thereafter the two girls just vanished.
In later records Holmes denied having had anything to do with the murder of Anna Williams. In fact he claimed that Minnie killed her own sister in a jealous rage, as they seemed to be fighting over him. He did not deny killing Minnie, and he even admitted that he killed Julia and her daughter Pearl shortly after Minnie arrived. Before Minnie died she did witness Holmes remarry this time to his 3rd legal wife Georgi Anna Yoke, as the marriage records show Minnie as a legal witness to the ceremony. Holmes never hurt Georgi Anna, in fact it is said that she was probably the only woman he ever loved. She lived a long life and even testified against Holmes later in his trial.
All that time Holmes was killing and committing fraud and getting away with it, but it wouldn’t be long before he slipped up. Holmes was also known for committing life insurance fraud although no one could prove it. In medical school he would steal bodies and then take life insurance policies out on them. He then would place the bodies to look as if they died of natural causes. Once he convinced the life insurance company he was the beneficiary and that it was all true, he then collected on the deceased person’s policy.
The Castle Comes Crumbling Down-
Holmes had gone briefly to jail on a small crime and met a young robber named Marion Hedgepeth. Hedgepeth convinced Holmes that he should fake his own death or the death of a friend and switch the bodies in order to collect on a life insurance policy. He also told him he knew of an attorney that could help him. In return Holmes would owe Hedgepeth $500 as a referral fee. The two agreed and after Holmes was freed he went on his way to contact this attorney friend.
Holmes’, his stooge and partner in crime Benjamin Pitezel and Pitezel’s wife were in on the fraud together with the help of Hedgepeth’s attorney’s brother Jeptha Howe. Holmes and Pitezel moved around a lot during that time due to creditors being hot on their tail for unpaid debts. The plan was that the “staged death” was to take place in Philadelphia 1895.
Somehow Holmes changed his strategy and decided to really kill Pitezel instead of switching the body with an unknown cadaver. Some say he began to worry that with Pitezel’s alcohol problems he may say too much about their past activities during a drunken stupor. Nevertheless Holmes didn’t let on to anyone that he wasn’t going through with the original plan. Both the attorney and Pitezel’s wife believed the Benjamin Pitezel had left the country and that this whole death was just a scam for money.
During the time that the Insurance Company was investigating, Holmes told Pitezels’ wife to send her children out to be with him so that they could all be reunited with their father. Sadly, that was not his intentions. Slowly one by one he killed 3 of the children.
Marion Hedgepeth learns of Pitezel’s death and realizes that the scam went off without him getting his cut. He then informs the police and the insurance company that Holmes had committed fraud. Soon thereafter detectives tracked Holmes whereabouts and discovered the remains of the children he had murdered. This horrible discovery prompted the Pinkerton Detective Agency to get involved, eventually finding and arresting Holmes.
During this incarceration they searched the “Castle” in Chicago and found his sick, demented lair for torture as well as all the proof they needed to convict him of murder. During the trial he seemed unaffected by emotions of the witnesses brought in including Pitezel’s wife who brought the entire courtroom to tears. He fired his counsel in order to keep some sense of control in his mind, but as he could see he was losing his case he then requested counsel once again. Eventually he was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
All the while that he was jailed he continued to write his own autobiography making himself out to be this upstanding citizen in such denial of what he had done. It was obvious a farce since this man was too smart, too cold and too calculating to be such a good person as he claimed. For some reason he actually thought that the rest of the world was stupid and would believe his lies.
On May 7, 1896- H.H. Holmes died at Moyamensing Prison. He was hung. Ironically his neck did not snap at the initial hanging and he was left to dangle, clinging on to life and suffering for close to 20 minutes before the officials declared him dead. I still think that was nothing compared to what he did to his victims. The "Castle" Holmes had built later mysteriously burned to the ground years later.
H.H. Holmes admitted to 26 actual murders throughout the course of his life, although the real amount was said to be between 100-200 victims. He was too smart for his own good, and too evil for this world. He was a true monster from 63rd street.
J'aime Rubio (Copyright-2011) All Rights Reserved