|“||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... I was born with the evil one standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.||”|
— Holmes's death row confession
Henry Howard Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett), better known as H.H. Holmes or "The Beast of Chicago", is one of America's most well-known criminals. Holmes is famous for being considered America's first modern prolific serial killer and for creating the infamous "Murder Castle".
Holmes was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, under the name of Herman Webster Mudgett on May 16, 1861. He was the third-born child to Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price. His father was described as an alcoholic who was severely abusive towards his entire family. Despite the abuse, Holmes was considered an amazing student at his school, which resulted in him being bullied by classmates. In an attempt to scare Holmes, bullies forced him to stand face to face with a human skeleton and place the skeleton's hands on his face. Holmes was initially frightened, but then, he found the whole experience to be fascinating, later crediting that it cured him of his fears. The experience eventually resulted in Holmes becoming obsessed with death, and he later began to dissect animals as a hobby. He graduated from high school at the age of sixteen and later married a woman named Clara Lovering. Together, they had a son, who they named Robert Lovering Mudgett.
Three years later, Holmes enrolled in the University of Vermont in Burlington but left one year later. In 1882, he entered the University of Michigan's Department of Medicine and Surgery and graduated two years later. While he was a student there, Holmes stole several cadavers from the laboratory, disfigured the bodies, and claimed that the victims were killed in accidents in order to collect insurance money. Holmes eventually abandoned Clara and Robert and spent his next years working on various jobs and making more scams. He moved to Mooers Forks, New York, and was seen with a little boy who later went missing. Holmes claimed that the boy went back to his home in Massachusetts and subsequently left town. The police believed his claim and no investigation took place. He later got a job as a keeper at Norristown State Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but quit days later. While he was still in Philadelphia, he began to work at a local drugstore. During his time there, a boy died from taking medicine that was brought from the store. Like last time, Holmes denied any involvement with the boy's death before leaving the city.
Holmes later changed his birth name to Henry Howard Holmes to avoid being caught for his previous scams and moved to Chicago, Illinois. While still married to Clara, he married another woman, Myrta Belknap, and had a daughter with her, Lucy Theodate Holmes. Holmes tried to divorce Clara but failed. He then married another woman named Georgiana Yoke. In Chicago, Holmes began to work at Elizabeth S. Holton's drugstore and proved himself to be a hardworking employee. After the death of Holton's husband, she sold the drugstore to Holmes and was never seen again. When asked about her whereabouts, Holmes would say that she moved to California to be close to relatives. Later, Holmes purchased an empty lot located across from the drugstore, where he built his hotel building, dubbed "The Castle" by local residents. The Castle was not a regular hotel, as it contained a labyrinth of rooms with doorways leading to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways leading to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside, and other strange constructions. To ensure that no one discovered how odd the building's design was, Holmes fired and hired different construction workers. Holmes later met with a former criminal and carpenter named Benjamin Pitezel, and turned him into his right-hand man.
Murders, Arrest, and Execution
Following the completion of the Castle, Holmes began luring victims (mostly women) there and killed them in a variety of ways. One of his victims was a mistress of his, Julia Smythe, who was married to a man named Ned Conner at the time of her murder. Conner eventually discovered Smythe's relationship with Holmes and moved away, leaving Smythe and her daughter Pearl alone with Holmes. In 1891, Smythe told Holmes that she was pregnant with his baby and demanded they be married. He agreed to marry her under the condition that they do not have the child and suggested performing an abortion; she agreed. Holmes later overdosed Smythe with chloroform before poisoning and butchering Pearl. When asked about their whereabouts, Holmes replied that they left to attend a family wedding in Iowa. To articulate Smythe's skeleton, Holmes hired a man named Charles Chappell and showed him the body. Chappell took the arms and legs to his home to articulate them, followed by the rest of the body. Chappell was hired again twice; during the second time, Holmes refused to pay the money he owed him. In response, Chappell refused to give him the skeleton and kept it in his home. Later, Holmes met with a railroad heiress named Minnie Williams while on a business trip in Boston, Massachusetts. They began dating and entered into a romantic relationship. Holmes eventually returned to Chicago but constantly sent love letters to Williams.
In February of 1893, Williams moved to Chicago and began to work at his hotel as his personal stenographer. Holmes persuaded her to transfer the deed to her property in Fort Worth, Texas, to a man named Alexander Bond, who in reality was Holmes himself. In April 1893, Williams transferred the deed and later signed the deed over to Benton L. Lyman, an alias used by Pitezel. Williams later invited her sister Annie over to Chicago. Shortly after her arrival, Holmes and Annie became close friends. While working in his office, Annie was tasked by Holmes to get a file for him inside his vault. As she searched for the file, Holmes locked her inside and gassed her before poisoning her sister. Following the World's Fair, Holmes left Chicago and moved to Fort Worth. There, he planned to construct another Castle but eventually abandoned the project. In July 1894, Holmes was arrested and incarcerated for the first time, for a horse swindle that ended in St. Louis. While in jail, Holmes met with convicted train robber and famous Wild West outlaw, Marion Hedgepeth, a.k.a. "The Debonair Killer". Holmes had a plan to swindle an insurance company out of $10,000 by taking out a policy on himself and then faking his own death. He promised Hedgepeth a $500 commission in exchange for the name of a lawyer who could be trusted. Holmes was directed to an attorney named Jeptha Howe, who found Holmes' plan to be brilliant. Nevertheless, Holmes' plan to fake his own death failed when the insurance company became suspicious and refused to pay.
Holmes decided to not press the claim and instead formulated a similar scheme with Pitezel. The second scheme involved Pitezel being an inventor named B.F. Perry, who was killed in a lab accident. The original plan was to find an appropriate cadaver to play the role of Pitezel, but instead, Holmes knocked Pitezel unconscious with chloroform and burned him alive with benzene. He eventually collected the insurance and manipulated Pitezel's wife into allowing three of her children (Alice, Nellie, and Howard) to be in his custody. While traveling throughout the northern U.S. and into Canada, Holmes forced both Alice and Nellie into a trunk and gassed them to death. He then buried their bodies inside the basement of a rental house. A detective named Frank Geyer found the bodies later on and noticed that Nellie's feet were missing. He eventually discovered that Nellie had a clubfoot and theorized that Holmes had removed it in order to prevent identification of the body, as it was a distinctive body part. Geyer followed Holmes to Indianapolis. There, Holmes visited a local pharmacy to purchase drugs, which he later used to kill Howard. After killing Howard, Holmes mutilated his body and removed his teeth before placing his body inside the home's chimney.
In 1894, Hedgepeth told police investigators about Holmes because he was not paid as promised for assisting his schemes. Holmes was arrested in Boston after being tracked down by a detective agency known as the Pinkertons, for horse theft. Several Castle employees were interviewed after his arrest. One of them, the caretaker Pat Quinlan, said to the police that he was never permitted to clean the second floor. This information sparked an interest to search said floor. There, Holmes' secret rooms and torture chambers were discovered. Police also investigated the basement in hopes of finding more evidence against Holmes; several human bones were found. While exploring deeper within the hotel, a plumber lit a match and triggered a sudden explosion, injuring several men. It was later discovered that the cause of the explosion was an oil tank hidden behind the wall. In October 1895, Holmes was put on trial for the murder of Pitezel, was found guilty, and sentenced to death. He initially claimed to be innocent and that he was driven to commit his murders because he was possessed by the Devil. On May 7, 1896, Holmes was hanged at Moyamensing World. Before his death, he asked for his coffin to be contained in cement and buried ten feet deep to avoid grave robbing. During the hanging, Holmes's neck did not snap, and as a result, he was strangled for over fifteen minutes before being pronounced dead five minutes later, aged 34.
Holmes varied in his victimology and M.O. His victims were usually employees, lovers, and hotel guests. Some of them were locked in soundproof rooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them. Others were taken to the "Secret Hanging Chamber", where they would be hanged by Holmes. Others were locked in a soundproof bank vault and left to suffocate. Others were taken to another secret room that was sealed up by solid bricks and could only be entered through a trapdoor in the ceiling; these victims were locked there and left to die of starvation and dehydration. After their deaths, Holmes would take the bodies to a metal chute or a dummy elevator leading to the basement, where most of them were dissected, stripped of their flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and sold to medical schools. Alternatively, Holmes would dispose of them in lime pits; incinerate the bodies; or use corrosive acid, poison, and even a stretching rack on the bodies. According to Holmes, he once sent an unnamed accomplice to kill a man named Milford Cole for him.
On Criminal Minds
- Season Two
- "Legacy" - While not directly mentioned or referenced, Holmes appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Charles Holcombe - Both were serial killers who owned a complex with gas-emitting vents, random dead ends, and a furnace (presumably for disposing of bodies), which they used to torture and murder their victims.
- Season Four
- "Masterpiece" - While not directly mentioned or referenced, Holmes appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Henry Grace - Both were serial killers who placed victims in gas chambers. Henry placed Kaylee Robinson and the children inside a gas chamber with gas lines to suffocate them to death in a similar way Holmes killed some of his victims.
- Season Eleven
- "Tribute" - Holmes was mentioned as an example of infamous serial killers in Chicago.
- Wikipedia's article about Holmes
- Murderpedia's article about Holmes
- A Predatory Mind article about Holmes and his victims
- Raford University's summary of Holmes's life
- Geni articles: