Dr Howard Holmes was an American serial killer, con artist and bigamist. Often compared to Jack the Ripper (or believed to even have been him!) some consider Holmes to be America’s first known serial killer. Better known nowadays as H. H. Holmes, the man confessed to killing 27 men and woman. Bizarrely however, some of the people he confessed to killing weren’t even dead at the time and only 9 of the others could actually be confirmed as his victims. Some believe the real number of his victims may be as high as 200.
Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett on 16th May 1861, the third of five children born to devout Methodist parents Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price. It is claimed that Holmes followed typical serial killer traits such growing up in an abusive family home and getting enjoyment from torturing animals in order to practise surgery on them. However, by all accounts, the family was comfortable financially and Holmes performed well academically, graduating from high school and going onto study medicine at the University of Michigan. Working under Dr. Nahum Wight, chief anatomy instructor, Holmes learnt about human dissection. He later confessed to using cadavers to carry out life insurance fraud throughout college as well as claiming he killed a fellow medical student, Dr. Robert Leacock, for the same gains. However, this was a lie as Dr Leacock didn’t die until 1889 – in Canada!
At aged 18 and whilst still at university, Holmes met and married Clara Lovering and the pair welcomed the birth of their son, Robert Lovering Mudgett, on February 3, 1880. However, the marriage wasn’t a happy one, with friends reporting Holmes was often violent and abusive towards Clara. She left him in 1884, returning to Hampshire and had nothing further to do with him.
Shortly after Clara left, Holmes graduated from medical school and briefly moved to New York. A young boy, who had last been seen with Holmes, disappeared and rumours soon started to spread. Holmes told people the boy had left for Massachusetts. Although no one was investigating, the rumour mill was still churning so Holmes made a hasty retreat, eventually settling in Chicago in 1886, where he now went by the name Henry Howard Holmes instead of his birth name.
1886 was a busy year for Holmes. He had managed to secure himself a job working at S. Holton’s drugstore where he worked hard as a pharmacist. (He eventually went on to buy the store from Mr Holton) As well as moving to Chicago and getting a job, Holmes also re-married, this time to a lady named Myrta Belknap, only attempting to divorce Clara afterwards but it was never finalised. The couple went on to have a daughter, Lucy Holmes and lived in Willmete, although Holmes spent most of his time in Chicgao.
Holmes built himself a house in Chicago, across the road from his work. He told people he planned to open part of the building as a hotel during the World’s Columbian Exposition, but that never happened, He allegedly had the building built with underground tunnels that often led nowhere, mazes, trapdoors, secret rooms with chutes leading directly to vats in the basement that were filled filled with acid and a kiln, (also in the basement) that he would use to incinerate the bodies of his victims. Part of the building became the new drugstore, and the 3rd floor was made into long term rent-able apartments, the rest became Holmes’s alleged torture rooms in what would later be infamously known as the ‘Murder Castle’.
It is believed, during 1893, Holmes seduced and killed many woman. He would get engaged to them, swindle them out of their life savings and then murder them. He usually disposed of his victims in the basement but sometimes he would sell their bodies to medical schools.
Around 1891, Holmes employed a man named Ned Connor, who lived with his wife Julie, and their daughter Pearl, 6, in one of Holmes’ apartments on the 3rd floor. Connor found out Holmes and Julie were having an affair and he promptly left his wife and daughter, having nothing more to do with them. Julie and Pearl had disappeared by the end of the year and when questioned, Holmes claimed she had died during an abortion. However, that was never confirmed and it didn’t explain Pearls whereabouts. Many of Holmes’ other victims were people who had come to the ‘Castle’ for employment but where never seen again. All his employees were suspiciously required to have life insurance, naming him as the sole beneficiary.
Another of Holmes’ Victims were sisters Minnie and Annie Williams. After entering into a relationship with Minnie, Holmes convinced her to transfer her property deeds to himself (using an alias). The pair ended up briefly renting an apartment together in Chicago where her sister Annie came to visit. Neither Minnie or Annie were seen again after that.
Holmes made a plan with friend / associate Benjamin Pitezel. Their great idea was to fake Pitezel’s death and for Holmes to collect the insurance money, which was to be shared between them. Only, Holmes really did kill Pitezel, and then murdered 3 of his children too, just in case they grassed him up. Unfortunately for Holmes, he had confided in fellow criminal, Marion Hedgepeth, about his and Pitezel’s fraud scheme. He had met Hedgepeth whilst serving prison time for fraud. Confiding in him would later become Holmes’ undoing.
The following year Holmes married again, this time to Georgiana Yoke. Although he was still legally married to Clara and illegally to Myrta. It was around this time Detectives began investigating Holmes for Pitezel’s ‘fake’ murder. Hedgepeth had disclosed to them the conversation he’d had with Holmes regarding the insurance scheme. What detectives originally thought was a fraud case soon turned into a murder enquiry. They discovered the remains of two of the Pitezal children (Alice and Nellie) in the cellar of Holmes’ rental home in Toronto, Canada and the remains of the third child (Howard) in the chimney breast in a cottage also rented by Holmes. Holmes confessed to gassing the girls in a trunk and drugging the boy before dissecting and burning him.
“I ended their lives by connecting the gas with the trunk, then came the opening of the trunk and the viewing of their little blackened and distorted faces, then the digging of their shallow graves in the basement of the house, the ruthless stripping off of their clothing and the burial without a particle of covering save the cold earth, which I heaped upon them with fiendish delight.”sites.google.com
He was arrested in 1894, (after many weeks on the run) and held in jail while they searched the ‘Castle’ but no evidence of the murders that took place there was ever found.
Holmes went on trial for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. He was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out on on May 7th, 1896. It was after his conviction that Holmes confessed to killing 27 people, although, as mentioned above, some of his confession was later proven to be nonsense. During his hanging, the noose did not snap his neck, instead he died slowly of strangulation.
References Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._H._Holmes The biography.com website: https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/hh-holmes Britannica.com: https://www.britannica.com/biography/H-H-Holmes Sites.google.com: https://sites.google.com/site/thelifeofhhholmes/subtopic-2 Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/250653535485860554/