H. H. Holmes: Dr Death, America's First Serial Killer
In the summer of 1886, evil stepped into the Englewood community. A growing suburb of
Chicago, Englewood flourished with business opportunities due to its proximity to the
Mrs. Holton, wife of the local druggist, moved her overweight 63-year-old body up and
down the counter filling orders. Hot and tired, her dress rustled from too much starch
every time she moved, bent or stretched to reach a bottle of tonic. Her gray hair, matted
and limp fell across her flushed face. Her customer Mrs. McNamara had flashing red hair
and good teeth. "Its my boy, Johnny. Hes feeling poorly, complains of a bellyache.
Would you have something?" she asked.
"Be with you in a second, ma'am", said Mrs. Holton. Busy, her back turned; she checked
the shelves for a stomach cure, unaware of a person entering the store. Mrs. Holton
wrapped up a mixture in a small paper envelope and handed her the order. Every now and
then shed stop and look up toward the ceiling. Closing her eyes with every moan from her
sick husband, his pain became part of her. The pain from the prostate cancer worsened
every day. Even the morphine would not hold the pain at bay.
Although not a doctor, Mrs. Holton tried to fill the prescriptions she knew well enough,
otherwise, she would run upstairs and ask her husband for help.
Turning, she saw a young man, handsome and fashionably dressed, standing near the door
looking over the store. Gold cufflinks adorned his starched white cuffs. His vested suit
tailored to fit his small frame gave him an air of elegance and grace. Immediately, he took
off his derby and nodded when Mrs. Holton noticed him. She nodded back. "May I help
you?" She asked.
"I am here concerning the position of pharmacist you posted in the daily newspaper. Im
"My husband is very ill.... he is no longer able to function as a pharmacist", her voice
trailed off as a customer entered the store, pale and in pain. He held his left side, then,
handed the prescription to her. Mrs. Holton read it and started to go toward the stairs to
ask her husband for help. Hesitating, she turned, and gave the prescription to Dr. Holmes.
He laid his walking stick against a shelf, stepped behind the counter, quickly taking bottles
moving up and down, gathering the materials, grinding powders with the mortar and
pestle, nimbly shifting the powder in a small envelope completing the order.
Impressed, Mrs. Holton hired him on the spot never checking his credentials, never
knowing how he mixed a prescription poisoning a woman in Philadelphia several months
Within a short time, the suave, handsome Henry H. Holmes increased business in the
drugstore. He had a way with the ladies that made them come back too often. This
delighted Mrs. Holton, who could spend more time with her dying husband. Holmes took
over the books. He understood the lucrative business of selling medicine.
When Mrs. Holtons husband died, Holmes saw the opportunity to approach the old
woman. "You need to rest...retire from this business", said Holmes.
"Yes...but the store...there is so much to do...I cant abandon it." Always tidy, Mrs.
Holton busied herself dusting the shelves.
"Madame, I can buy the business and pay you every month.... You would have an income
for life without all the work and worry", Holmes said.
"I could never leave the rooms, I feel Mr. Holton is still in them...no, Mr. Holmes I cant
"My dear woman", he took her hand and put the duster on the counter. "I never want you
to leave your rooms. My interest is in the business."
"I can stay, and you will pay me money?" She smiled and nodded her head. "Yes, Mr.
Holmes you can buy my business." She shook his hand, pleased at the great deal she made.
Unfortunately it was her last deal.
When Holmes failed to pay Mrs. Holton the agreed-upon payments, she took him to
court. Before the case closed, she disappeared. Customers asked about her whereabouts
but Holmes told them she moved to California, too distraught after the death of her
husband to live in his rooms. No one knew where she went and her body was never found.
Shortly after Mrs. Holtons disappearance, Holmes married Myrta Z. Belnap, a young,
pretty woman with an innocent face framed by blond curls. Her sweet brown eyes and shy
manners contrasted with Holmes self-assured flirtatious charm. Myrta's devoted
demeanor soon changed as she worked side by side with Holmes. His romantic interest in
other women made Myrta angry. Yet this shy woman protested meekly to Holmes. People
noticed that after a year of putting up with her husbands behavior, Myrta's gentle protest
became angry outbursts in front of customers. Divorce was not possible because she had
become pregnant. Holmes made an effort to divorce himself from his first wife Clara A.
Lovering Mudgett of Alton, New Hampshire. Mudgett was his real name and Holmes one
of his many aliases. Finally, Holmes sent Myrta to his parents. Now rid of a nosy wife,
Holmes had an open field to pursue his needs.
Benjamin Pitezel, of Galva, Illinois married Carrie Canning after impregnating her at
eighteen. Handsome, over six feet tall, with big shoulders and muscular arms, Benjamin
cut a good-looking figure in those days. His face was fine featured with light blue eyes,
dignified angular nose, black hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. A large warty growth on
the back of his neck was his only physical flaw. His other flaw was a weakness in
character. An early marriage, five children and a slew of jobs that dragged his family from
town to town and a particular affection for liquor would change the handsome young man.
Benjamin worked as a janitor, lumber mill worker, railroad worker, circus roustabout and
had done several stints in jail for petty crimes. No one knew when Benjamin met Holmes.
Their symbiotic relationship began in November 1889. Benjamin bound himself to Holmes
like a parasite. He fed off Holmes' bigger than life persona, gave himself up to his bidding
without question and in the process lost his soul.
At 63rd and Wallace, Holmes began the construction of his castle. The 50-foot x 162-foot
corner lot took on a mystery of its own. When the workers started to ask questions, they
were replaced, usually within a week or two. In fact, by the end of the construction over
500 carpenters, laborers, and other craftsmen had been employed. An amazing fact
considering the building was only three stories.
Holmes took advantage of the workers. After they worked a week or two, he had accused
them of inferior work, fired them, and did not pay a penny in wages. If they sued, he
would ask for one continuance after another until out of frustration, the worker gave up.
Holmes had installed an enormous walk-in safe in his office but stalled in paying. When the
safe company sent over a couple of workers to remove the safe, Holmes threatened to sue.
He built a room around the safe and warned them that they would pay for any damage.
His tactic worked, the safe stayed.
Not only did Holmes cheat the workers out of their wages, but also he kept them in the
dark about the building's design. He did not want anyone to question the enormous kiln
with its cast iron door, or the vats of corrosives like quicklime and acid, or iron-plated
rooms, secret passages, hidden chutes that ended in the basement directly above zinc-lined
tanks, sealed rooms with gas-jets, stairways that led nowhere, and a secret room only
Holmes could enter. Fifty-one doors and corridors snaked around like some mad house,
trapdoors, closets with secret passages, dissecting table, surgeons' tools and even an
invention Holmes said could stretch a human to twice their height. Truly, the modern
looking building was a Castle of Horrors inside.
A year later, the castle was finished. Holmes sold the drugstore and opened another in the
castle. The new drugstore captured the whole communitys attention with its elegant
design; roman columns, gold-lettered signs, polished wood paneling, frescoes, and arched
ceilings. Next to the drug store he had a jewelry shop, restaurant, and barbershop. An
astute businessman, Holmes invested in one of the first copier companies and even
manufactured glycerin soap. In 1890, Holmes was 30 years old. His empire grew at a
tremendous rate and he put an ad in the newspaper for more help.
Ned Conner had the same lifestyle as Benjamin, foundering from job to job, dragging his
wife and daughter along. When he answered the ad for manager and got the job, Ned
thought all his problems ended. He had married Julia Smythe, a 6-foot-tall, green-eyed
woman with reddish brown hair piled in curls on her head. Holmes noticed her talent for
detail and quickly fired his cashier, giving the position to Julia.
Thrilled about her good fortune, Julia invited her sister Gertie to Chicago. Gertie, all of
18, with a captivating innocence that caught Holmes at his first meeting, was flattered by
the older mans attention. He wined and dined the young woman, showing her all the
exciting sights of the big city. However, when Holmes professed love for her and told her
he would divorce his wife, she was appalled. Rebuking his offer, she immediately
confessed to her brother-in-law Ned. Ned helped her high tail it out of the city back to the
small town of Muscatine.
Rejected by Gertie, Holmes turned his attention to Julia. In a short time, it was noticeable
to the people around them that the two had become lovers. Ned seemed to turn a blind
eye to his wife's infidelity and took comfort in the fact that he was working a good job and
had a place to stay, after a stream of failures. One day everything changed when several
friends cornered Ned to let him know about his wifes behavior. In a saloon down the
street from the castle, Ned slugged back a few after work. This day, some of his bar
buddies decided to let him know what everyone else knew.
"My wife saw them kissing from the window. They didnt even close the door to the back
room," Ned said to his friend.
"Why I saw him touching her bottom as she stood to get some them there liver pills I use,"
said another man.
"Last week when you were downtown, he closed the shop. I saw both of them get into a
By the time Ned heard everything, he was pretty liquored up. Slamming down his drink,
sending the whiskey splashing all over the bar, he stormed out.
Julia opened the door to her room, reached to light the gas lamp on the wall. She wore a
navy blue dress that curved around her body ending in a bustle. Her jacket, trimmed in red
piping gave her a smart professional look; it matched her navy and red hat. Turning
around, she was startled to see Ned sitting in the chair near the window. A cloud of smoke
obscured his face. Julia walked over to the bed and removed her hatpins placing them on
the night table.
"Had a talk with some people today", he said.
"Oh", said Julia, who began unbuttoning her jacket, "about what?" She walked to the
closet and hung her jacket.
"About my dear, sweet, beautiful wife", he spit out as he put down his pipe, and walked to
the bed, "being bedded by my employer!"
"I dont believe I like your tone, Ned ... people gossip, ignore them."
"No one had to tell me what I already suspected ... I wanted to believe it was just innocent
flirting ... Holmes is a destroyer of marriage ... he wanted to divorce his wife for your
sister ... you were just second best."
She whipped around the bed and faced Ned. "He loves me...hes handsome, successful,
intelligent caring...everything you arent. You couldnt shine his shoes, Ned Conner."
"I forbid you to see him again ... you will quit the job and be my wife. You dont have to
work. Never see Holmes again."
"I will not quit my job. I will not stop seeing Holmes."
The fighting went on for hours and resulted in Ned packing and sleeping on the floor of
the barbershop downstairs.
Julia continued her affair with Holmes and inevitably became pregnant. By that time, Ned
had moved out of the castle, filed for divorce, and was about to marry another woman.
Julia had entrenched herself into Holmes business so deeply she had become a threat. He
convinced her she was the love of his life and wanted to marry her only if she had an
abortion. When she thought of her daughter, Pearl, she could not bring herself to do it.
Holmes persisted and assured Julia he had performed many such procedures during his
time as a medical student. Julia kept putting it off. Finally, on December 24, 1891, Julia
agreed to an abortion. Too upset to put Pearl to bed, she asked Holmes to do it.
Afterwards, he led her down to the dark basement and makeshift operating room.
Gripping his arm and sobbing she had no idea she would never see another Christmas
again, and neither did Pearl.
Charles M. Chappell worked for Holmes doing a variety of jobs around the castle for
about two years. His previous job was in the same building that housed the Bennett
Medical School. Curious by nature, and good with his hands, Chappell picked up a rather
unusual skill -- articulating skeletons. He first observed the procedure and, after a short
time, he actually did the work. In the winter of 1892, a few months after the disappearance
of Julia, Holmes summoned Chappell to his office.
"Charles, would you like to pick up some extra money?" asked Holmes.
Charles stood in front of his desk and smiled. "Of course, Mr. Holmes."
"I would like to use your special skills...to articulate a skeleton."
He led Chappell to a second floor room with poor lighting. On a table, a cadaver of a
female lay. Chappell told authorities that the body looked like a jackrabbit that has been
skinned by splitting the skin down the face and rolling it back off the entire body. He also
said, considerable flesh had been taken off. Chappell thought Holmes was doing an
autopsy on one of his patients. After stripping the flesh off and articulating the bones the
body was prepared. Chappell was paid $36 for his work.
The skeleton was sold to Hahnemann Medical College for $200. Dr. Pauling, a surgeon,
had the skeleton placed in his private offices in his home. Looking at the skeleton, he often
wondered what had taken her life, consumption, childbirth, a bad heart? Fascinated with
the skeleton he often would show visitors his unusual female skeleton that was over six
Emeline Cigrand was a stenographer in her hometown of LaFayette, Indiana at the County
Recorder Office. In July 1891, she began working in Dwight, Illinois, home of a
sanitarium for alcoholics. Dr. Keeley, the director, had discovered a treatment for
alcoholism by giving injections of bichloride of gold, a mixture of gold salts and
Emeline's stunning beauty caught the eye of Benjamin Pitezel, a patient in for "the Cure."
Tall, blond, with piercing blue eyes and a captivating smile, she fascinated Pitezel. Emeline
enjoyed conversations with Pitezel about his job and his interesting, wealthy employer, Dr.
Intrigued with Pitezels description, Holmes wrote Emeline, enticing her with a job paying
over 50% more than the sanitarium. She accepted the job working for Holmes and lived in
a boarding house one block from the Castle.
Holmes began his seduction: sightseeing, flowers, dinner, jewelry and compliments. By
summer they were lovers and Emeline had written back home about her fiancÚ, Robert E.
Phelps, an alias Holmes told her to use so as not to jeopardize his eminent divorce from
Myrta. Emeline wrote her sister Philomena, that they might be moving to England to share
an estate with her beloveds father, an English lord.
In the fall, Emelines relatives arrived. Holmes, conveniently busy, did not meet with them.
One of them pointed out the poor workmanship of the building and the inferior quality
lumber that was used. But Emeline did not want to hear any disparaging remarks about
her perfect love, so she ignored the suggestions that Holmes was not what he appeared to
Holmes planned the wedding for December -- a civil ceremony with just his witness.
"Simple, quick and then a long trip abroad, so I may spend all my time with you, only
you", Holmes said.
"It will be beautiful no matter where we wed because Ill be with you", Emeline said. Her
eyes traced his face; Holmes pulled back from their embrace, reached in his inner pocket
and presented her with 12 envelopes.
"Address these my dear, with your beautiful handwriting to all the family and friends back
home.... I have ordered printed announcements of our wedding etched in gold."
Holmes planned to kill her, not for money, but for lust. Only in a dead state could he
achieve the ultimate sexual thrill. In early December, probably a few days before the
wedding, Holmes summoned Emeline. He sat at his desk, papers stacked, looking busy.
"My dear, can you fetch me the white envelope in the vault marked property deeds?"
"Of course," Emeline said. She unspun the lock and stepped into the vault. Standing on
her tiptoes, she slid her hand back and forth along the shelf as she looked for the envelope.
The light from the other room dimmed. She did not hear Holmes walk up to the vault
door. She did not notice the door slowly begin to close until darkness surrounded her.
Then, Emeline froze, as the vault door shuddered close, the lock spun, and the room
became her tomb.
Holmes stood near the vault excited at what he had done. He pressed his cheek against the
metal, feeling the coolness and the tiny thumps on the door as Emeline pounded for her
life. Emelines screams were deep and guttural. Holmes felt their vibration against his
groin as he pressed against the door. Aroused, by the power of life and death, he exposed
himself and masturbated as he listened to Emelines screams. His eyes glazed in ecstasy as
he chewed on his lower lip and jerked vigorously to his ultimate climax.
Holmes went back to work, occasionally listening to Emelines screams, which according
to Holmes, "continued for hours."
Several weeks after the incident, the LaSalle Medical School bought a skeleton from Dr.
H.H. Holmes -- a young female.
One of the requirements of employment with Holmes was a life insurance policy for $5000
naming Holmes as beneficiary. This was money in the bank in case his other swindles
When Jennie Thompson, 17, blond, blue eyed, small-town girl from Eldorado, Illinois
came to work in the Castle, Holmes saw another opportunity. Jennie confided in Holmes
that she had not written her family. Originally, she told the family she was going to New
York to live. They had no idea she landed such a good job in Chicago. Again, he used the
vault trick. Jennie suffocated in the vault; her body was stripped of flesh, skeletonized and
sold to University of Illinois Medical School.
Another victim, Mrs. Pansy Lee, a widow from New Orleans, took a room in the Castle.
Holmes used his usual charm after learning Pansy had $4000 in a false bottom of her
trunk. He asked her to let him put it into his vault for safekeeping. Pansy refused, insisting
she could take care of the money as she had done travelling all over the United States.
Holmes killed her and cremated her body in his custom built oven.
Holmes ever-faithful dog, Pat Quinlan, got a girl that worked at the Castle in trouble. His
wife lived in Ohio, but she planned on joining her husband at the Castle sometime in the
future. Heated arguments with his mistress made Quinlan confide in Holmes about his
"Can ya deliver the baby, Dr. Holmes? I need to keep this quiet so the missus dont find
out", said Quinlan. His eyes were tired; his thin nose flared, lifting his moustache with each
heavy breath. Quinlans agitation grew as Holmes stroked his chin, and stared at the
distraught man before him.
"Ill do anything I can", said Holmes, smiling and patting him on his back.
Shortly after Holmes offered to help, Pat again found himself in a state of panic. Clutching
a telegram, Pat paced back and forth in front of his bosss desk. Handing Holmes the
telegram, he stepped back, hands in his pockets, waiting for the response.
"Theres something else, sir besides my missus coming today...the girl knows and
threatened to tell my wife."
"You know what must be done, Pat?" Pat hung his head and said, "Yes."
Quinlan unable to look Holmes in the eye cleared his throat. "One more problem...the girl
told her sister."
"That makes one for each of us to take care of...doesnt it, Pat?"
Quinlan looked up. "I cant possibly..." Holmes icy stare made Quinlans words dissolve
in fear. "I mean whatever ya say, Mr. Holmes."
That day, Quinlan brought the two women to a small room in a remote part of the
building, explaining to his mistress and her sister that the room would be better for the
baby so the childs crying would not disturb the other tenants. He left the two women and
met Holmes in the basement. The two men turned on the various gas jets to the room.
Within a few minutes the two sisters were dead. Their bodies disposed of in the usual
In the early 1890's, Chicago became the site of a kind of world's fare celebrating the four
hundred year anniversary of Columbus's voyage to America. Holmes's castle was a perfect
place to lure tourists, steal their money and murder them. There were gas jets in the
rooms to asphyxiate the victims and the kilns below to cremate the bodies. Fifty tourists
who visited the Columbian Exposition and took rooms in the Castle never returned home.
Many of those who met their doom in the "Castle of Horrors" were young women.
In the midst of his murderous pursuits as a hotelkeeper, Holmes fell in love with a young
woman named Georgiana Yoke. To keep her interest, Holmes told Georgiana lies upon
lies. First, he told her both his parents were dead as well as his brothers and sisters. His
only family left was a bachelor uncle, Henry Mansfield Howard, telling her this to justify
the reason he sometimes used two names H.H. Holmes or H. Howard -- his adopted name
as opposed to his birth name.
When he asked her to marry him, she accepted him and his two names. Little did she know
he was considered married to Myrta, who continued to live in Wilmette with their child
Lucy. Technically, he was married to his first wife, Clara Lovering, who lived in Tilton,
New Hamphsire where Holmes parents lived.
Holmes and Georgiana decided to wed in the winter of 1893, but the stress of his
murderous and larcenous past began to take its toll. Creditors caught up to Holmes,
threatening to take the Castle.
Harold Schechter in Depraved says of Holmes: "Deception was so deeply ingrained in
H.H. Holmes's character that he was incapable of telling the truth about the simplest
matterNothing he said could be trusted or taken at face valueIronically, Holmes
possessed the sort of boldness, savvy and boundless ambition that might well have earned
him the financial success he so frantically craved. His colossal energies (when they weren't
being misspent on his countless frauds, scams, and far more sinister pursuits) were
devoted to outwitting his creditors."
Holmes, always several jumps ahead, planned a quick retreat with Georgiana. A few
weeks after Georgiana accepted Holmes proposal, Pat Quinlan set the Castle on fire. The
fire destroyed the top floor. As usual, he had insured the building with several companies
for a total of $25,000. An astute investigator noted the fire started in several places. After
investigating Holmes, his report that Holmes tried to defraud the insurance companies did
not pan out. Holmes was not charged and was free to go. However, he did not collect the
The biggest scheme brewed in Holmes mind long before the Castle swindles fizzled and
proved to be his downfall. He convinced Ben Pitezel to take a $10,000 life insurance
policy with Fidelity Mutual Life of Philadelphia and fake his own death. A corpse with a
badly disfigured face would be Bens double. Holmes assured Ben he would find a corpse
to match his physical characteristics. "With my connections the corpse will be no trouble",
he told Ben.
The plan was for Ben to go into hiding and not tell his family anything. Ben could not just
disappear without saying something to his wife Carrie, so he went against Holmes'
instructions. He told her about the scheme. Carrie, distraught that something could go
wrong, begged her husband to reconsider. He did not. He told his older daughter Nessie
not to believe anything she read in the newspaper about him. Ben Pitezel left Chicago and
Meanwhile, Holmes creditors got wind of the arson at the Castle. They banded together,
got an attorney, and threatened Holmes with criminal charges. November 22, according to
witnesses, was the last time anyone saw Holmes in public, although, he did make a few
clandestine visits to his wife and daughter.
On January 9, 1894 Homes married Georgiana Yoke in Denver. She became Mrs. Henry
Mansfield Howard. From Denver, they moved to Ft. Worth, Texas and met Ben. Holmes
told his new wife he had business to take care of in Ft. Worth. Again he changed his
identity. The couple became Mr. and Mrs. H.M.Pratt. He, as Pratt, along with his assistant
Ben formulated schemes to bilk wealthy Texas businessmen from money, property and
His psychopathic arrogance made him reckless in decisions. Instead of skipping town like
any other embezzler, Holmes stayed in Ft. Worth. They stole a freight of horses and
shipped them to Chicago. Texans did not take horse theft lightly. The crime was found out
and the law latched onto their trail.
They worked their way across the country to New York, Philadelphia, Memphis, Denver,
and St. Louis. Continued carelessness and greed landed Holmes in jail for the first time.
He tried to defraud the Merrill Drug Company using a scam like the one in Chicago. The
drug company found out and had him arrested. Georgiana, bemoaning the indignity of his
husband's arrest, eventually bailed him out.
During his stay in jail, Holmes met Marion Hedgepeth, a very bad man, according to the
Pinkerton Detective Agency. Marion was a celebrity criminal. Perhaps that was why
Holmes felt comfortable. Comfortable enough to let his guard down and reveal his
swindle. Marion gave Holmes the name of a lawyer, for a promise of $500. The lawyer
would help him in the insurance scheme involving Ben. Now everything was in place for
the insurance fraud.
Ben went on to Philadelphia, opened a phony patent office, rented the room in the back,
and waited for the plan to unfold.
Holmes stay in prison was short. He met with Jeptha Howe, the lawyer to whom
Hedgepeth referred Holmes. Howe would take care of the details of the insurance fraud.
Holmes returned to his wife Georgiana and they left for Philadelphia for business.
Georgiana had been feeling poorly for a few days and was distressed Holmes could not
wait until she felt better. "Its a great opportunity...Ill make $10,000 dollars for you", he
said. His wife agreed and off they went on another journey.
Upon arriving in Philadelphia, he set up an appointment, and then cancelled it when he did
not like the meeting place. Ben was disappointed. Holmes asked Ben if they could meet at
his room. Ben agreed. It was the last agreement Ben would ever make to his trusted
The next night, Holmes watched Ben from the shadows drink himself into oblivion at a
local tavern. He followed his drunken friend back to his room, checking his pocket for the
tools of his murderous plan and waited for the right moment. When Ben opened his door
after several tries, Holmes jumped from the shadows, chloroformed his colleague, gently
allowing the body to slip to the floor. Working quickly, he took a vial of chemicals from
his pocket, poured it on Bens face. A small explosion ensued, obliterating Bens features.
He arranged the body so that the face would get the full glare of the sun, thus ensuring
quick decomposition. Holmes medical training came in handy once more.
Ben had missed an appointment with one of his potential inventors. The man had come by
the shop a few times and felt concern for it was always closed. Finally, he pushed the door
of the shop and it opened. He called out for Ben several times. Cautiously, he went toward
the back of the store and reached the stairs to the upper rooms. He noticed a foul odor.
Up, up he went until he arrived at the top floor. He opened the door slightly, saw a body
on the floor, shot down the stairs, and ran four blocks to the police station.
Holmes lost no time at all. He returned to Georgiana at the rented rooms, told her the deal
had gone through, and they should make $10,000.
Next morning, they boarded a train for Indianapolis and spent a short time in the city. He
checked newspapers to see if Ben's death was discovered. A few days after arriving, he
saw the notice. Holmes was delighted his scheme was working. He said good-bye to his
wife and headed back to St. Louis.
Carrie Pitezel bordered on hysteria when she read the story about Ben's death in
Philadelphia. Her daughter Dessie tried to calm her down by reminding her what her father
said -- not to believe what was in the newspapers. Holmess arrival at that moment could
not have been timed better. Finding Carrie in a state of collapse, he pulled her into a
private room, and chided her for believing Ben's death notice.
"He's hiding out...you must play along...this is what Ben wants...he is not dead."
After a while, she believed his smooth talking manner and calmed down. Holmes was
worried Carrie would crack. Also, she and the baby had been terribly ill for several days.
He knew that in this state she might blow the whole scheme. He convinced her to let him
take Alice, even though she was only 15 years old. Dessie, the oldest, had to stay to take
care of the baby while her mother was ill. Alice would be needed to identify the body in
Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Holmes and Alice went to the insurance company. Carrie Pitezel
gave the "power of attorney" to Holmes. The problem with the insurance company was
that Ben had used a ficticious name. So, they needed a more positive identification.
Days had passed since Ben's death. He was already buried. An order for exhumation was
filed to allow the positive identification. Fidelity insurance agents felt something
suspicious, but chose not to pursue it at that time. According to the police report, the
death was an accident. What alerted the agents had to do with the fact that Ben made his
payment two days before he died by wiring it into the office last minute. Alice looked so
impoverished and pitiful when she arrived at the office, the agents didn't have the heart to
pursue an investigation.
The coroner had laid out the exhumed body of Ben Pitezel, covering his badly disfigured
face. Alice frightened and nervous clutched Holmes for moral support. "Any distinguishing
marks", asked the coroner of Alice.
"My father had a scar on his knee", Alice said, the coroner pulled back the cover to
expose his knees, "and a mole on his neck." Both times she nodded yes. "That's my
papa...I can tell by his hands", she cried.
Holmes lifted the covering on Ben's face, "Yes, that is Ben Pitezel, who has worked for
When the identification was over, Holmes took Alice to Indianapolis leaving her there
while he returned to St. Louis.
Now it was Carrie's turn to finish the scheme. She accompanied Holmes to Jeptha Howe,
the lawyer he got from his cellmate Marion Hedgepeth. After the paper work was signed
at the insurance company, Holmes told Carrie there would be a lawyer's fee, and money
Ben owed him on an investment in Texas. In the end, Carrie walked away with $500
dollars out of Ben's $10,000 insurance policy.
He also convinced Carrie to let him take Howard and Nellie to join Alice in Indianapolis
so they could stay at a wealthy lady's home. Carrie returned to Galva, Illinois at her
family's home and waited for Ben to contact her.
The insurance company received a letter from Marion Hedgepeth outlining the insurance
fraud. Did Holmes merely forget to pay Marion? We'll never know, but it caused his
ultimate downfall. Although Marion told the insurance company that Holmes had
substituted a cadaver, the agents were convinced it was the real Ben Pitezel. They hired
the Pinkerton Detective Agency to investigate. The Pinkertons gathered a great amount of
information about Holmes' past schemes from Chicago to Texas. They decided to follow
Holmes from city to city as he dragged the three children along in a sojourn that was made
to confuse anyone trying to follow him.
Finally, in Boston with the help of 20-year police veteran Frank Geyer, they were able to
arrest Holmes. They intercepted a letter with Holmes' code sent to Carrie asking her to
remove a bottle of expensive chemicals from the basement to the attic. Unbeknownst to
Carrie, the bottle was filled with nitroglycerin. Holmes made arrangements on a steam ship
to Europe. The Pinkertons had to move fast. Frank Geyer aided the Pinkertons in
surrounding the Adams House, and arrested Holmes for "conspiracy to commit fraud". At
the same time, Carrie Pitezel was picked up and brought to Philadelphia for her part in the
conspiracy. Little did they know that Holmes was a serial killer.
Overnight Holmes became a notorious celebrity. News of his numerous swindles, horse
thefts, and frauds gave people a sense of admiration for the sheer genius of his plots. By
the time Carrie had arrived in Philadelphia, she was ready to confess to anything. Believing
her husband alive and part of the elaborate scheme, Carrie kept faithful to Holmes' story.
She verified that this was fraud not murder concerning her husband. When she had to
identify the body of her husband Carrie, she turned on Holmes, screaming about the
whereabouts of her children -- Howard, Nellie, and Alice. Holmes claimed the children
were with a rich lady in England. Suspicious, Frank Geyer retraced Holmes' journey,
traveling from city to city, from East Coast to Midwest, and even Canada. Dauntlessly, he
pursed his gut feeling that Holmes had killed the children. Back at headquarters, police
gave the real story about Holmes to his young naive wife -- Holmes, as bigamist, as
swindler, as killer. Georgiana, realizing the police were telling the truth, cooperated as
much as she could.
When the bodies of the children were found -- Howard buried beneath a house; Nellie and
Alice suffocated in a trunk -- public opinion called for his death.
Herman W. Mudgett, alias H. H. Holmes was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. In
the end, he thought his facial features had changed to that of a demon. His lawyer asked
him how many people he killed. Holmes told him 133. Even in prison, he made money
selling his story to William Randolph Hearst Corporation for $10,000.
On Thursday May 7, 1896 at 10:25am, H.H. Holmes was hanged.
Fearful of grave robbers, he left explicit instructions for his burial. Ironically, a man did
offer a large sum of money for his body. A grave ten feet deep, eight feet long, and five
feet wide was dug. In the coffin, Holmes' face was covered with a cloth, and cement
poured over every part of his body. Thirteen men dragged the coffin to the grave. The
weight of the coffin caused it to fall into the grave upside down. Instead of facing the
heavens, he faced hell.
|Holmes' Infamous Castle of Horror