A Brief History
On November 17, 1894, the murderous career of HH Holmes, one of the first modern documented serial killers, came to an end when he was arrested in Boston, Massachusetts. A thoroughly evil man, Holmes not only was a killer, he was also a bigamist, kidnapper, and con artist. In fact, he actually had a “house of horrors” hotel built specifically so he could murder people and dispose of the bodies covertly! His actual death toll is unknown, but estimates as high as 200 seem possible.
The World’s Fair Hotel located in Chicago, Illinois, was built by Holmes (actually born Herman Mudgett in New Hampshire in 1861) was 3 stories high and a block long, earning it the local name of “The Castle,” later referred to as “The Murder Castle.” Holmes had secret passages and rooms built into the building that only he knew the layout of, and used these to grab his victims and send them to the basement unseen via a special chute built into the walls. Soundproof rooms and gas pipes to suffocate his victims were part of the structure. He even had a secret room for hanging people, he called “The Hanging Chamber.” A large bank vault was also used to suffocate people, the thick steel keeping their cries unheard. Lime pits and furnaces in the basement were used to dispose of the bodies. The building also contained the pharmacy Holmes ran as his overt occupation.
Holmes/Mudgett often took out life insurance policies on the wives of his employees, collecting the payoff when they mysteriously died. Holmes suffered from chronic money problems despite his insurance scams, business, and other scams he ran. A scheme to fake his own death and collect a huge insurance settlement was hatched, and Holmes traveled around the country to avoid creditors and detectives, marrying and having children along the way. In one insurance scam, Holmes conspired with his partner in crime to fake the partner’s death and collect the money, but Holmes just killed the guy anyway! (It does not pay to scheme with a serial killer. Lesson learned too late.)
Once Holmes was arrested and the depths of his depravity began to unravel, searches of his hotel of horrors found evidence of numerous bodies disposed of there. Partially due to some confessions (including to 27 murders) by Holmes, the nut case murderer was convicted of (only) 9 murders the authorities could definitely pin on him and was sentenced to death. Holmes was executed by hanging in 1896, and instead of a quick and easy death from a broken neck, Holmes slowly strangles for 15 minutes, at least some sort of justice for this monster.
Holmes Murder Castle suffered an arson fire in 1895 and was heavily damaged, but was repaired and was not torn down until 1938. A Post Office sits on the hotel’s former location.
The creepy life of only 34 years is so convoluted with so many schemes, crimes, redundant marriage, kids and shenanigans with insurance and other schemes, we can only give the slightest hint of the complicated life and crimes of this psychopath. If you are into reading about murder and serial killers, we would recommend Herman Mudgett, aka HH Holmes as a fine subject to study, but only if you do not fear nightmares!
Question for students (and subscribers): If you were the judge in Holmes’s trial, what sentence would you have given to him? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Griffith, William and Adam Selzer. The Murder Castle of HH Holmes: Expanded Edition (full length, newly edited): An annotated scrapbook of pictures, diagrams, eyewitness accounts, legal records, and more from Mysterious Chicago. Mysterious Chicago, 2013.
Schechter, Harold. Depraved: The Definitive True Story of H.H. Holmes, Whose Grotesque Crimes Shattered Turn-of-the-Century Chicago. Gallery Books, 2008.