The lovable con-man, H.H. Holmes

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The lovable con-man, H.H. Holmes

Post by ophion1031 on December 11th 2016, 12:16 am

I just read a rumor about an H.H. holmes movie being in the works that will star Leonardo DiCaprio and be directed by Martin Scorsese. That would be sick!! Anyways... I was a bit surprised to see we don't have a thread on Holmes so I decided to start one.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._H._Holmes

Herman Webster Mudgett (May 16, 1861 – May 7, 1896), better known under the name of Dr. Henry Howard Holmes or more commonly H. H. Holmes, was one of the first documented serial killers in the modern sense of the term. While he confessed to 27 murders, of which nine were confirmed, he may have killed as many as 200 people. He brought an unknown number of his victims to his World's Fair Hotel, located about 3 miles (4.8 km) west of the fair, which was held in Jackson Park. Besides being a serial killer, H. H. Holmes was also a successful con artist and a bigamist.

Holmes was born as Herman Webster Mudgett in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, on May 16, 1861, to Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price, both of whom were descended from the first English settlers in the area. Mudgett was his parents' third-born child; he had an older sister Ellen, an older brother Arthur and a younger brother Henry. Holmes's father was a farmer from a farming family, and his parents were devout Methodists. According to the 2007 Most Evil profile on Holmes, his father was a violent alcoholic. Holmes excelled in school, which led to bullying by jealous classmates. In an attempt to scare him, the bullies forced him into the local doctor's office and made him stand face to face with a human skeleton, and placed the skeleton's hands on his face. Holmes later recalled that at first he was frightened, but then found the experience fascinating. He also wrote that the experience cured him of his fears. Holmes soon became obsessed with death and later started a hobby of dissecting animals.

At the age of 16, Holmes graduated from high school and took teaching jobs in Gilmanton and later in Alton, New Hampshire. On July 4, 1878, he married Clara Lovering in Alton. Their son, Robert Lovering Mudgett, was born on February 3, 1880, in Loudon, New Hampshire. As an adult, Robert became a certified public accountant, and served as city manager of Orlando, Florida.

At the age of 18, Holmes enrolled in the University of Vermont in Burlington, but was unsatisfied with the school and left after only one year. In 1882, he entered the University of Michigan's Department of Medicine and Surgery and graduated in June 1884 after passing his examinations. While enrolled, he stole cadavers from the laboratory, disfigured the bodies and claimed that the victims were killed accidentally in order to collect insurance money from policies he took out on each deceased person. His marriage to Clara quickly fell apart, and he eventually abandoned his wife and son. He spent the next couple of years working various jobs and continued with his scams. After he moved to Mooers Forks, New York, a rumor began spreading that Holmes was seen with a little boy, who later disappeared. He claimed that the boy went back to his home in Massachusetts. No investigation took place and Holmes quickly left town. He later travelled to Philadelphia and eventually got a job as a keeper at Norristown State Hospital, but quit after a few days. He later got a position at a drugstore in Philadelphia. While he was working there, a boy died from taking medicine that was bought from the store. Holmes denied any involvement with the child's death and immediately left the city. Right before moving to Chicago, he decided to change his name to Henry Howard Holmes to avoid the possibility of his previous scam victims catching up with and reporting him.

On January 28, 1887, while he was still married to Clara, Holmes married Myrta Belknap (b. October 1862 in Pennsylvania) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He filed for divorce from Clara a few weeks after marrying Myrta, but the divorce was never finalized. Holmes had a daughter with Myrta, Lucy Theodate Holmes, who was born on July 4, 1889, in Englewood, Illinois (as an adult, Lucy became a public schoolteacher). Holmes lived with Myrta and Lucy in Wilmette, Illinois, and spent most of his time in Chicago tending to business. Holmes married Georgiana Yoke on January 17, 1894, in Denver, Colorado, while still married to both Clara and Myrta.

Holmes arrived in Chicago in August 1886 and came across Elizabeth S. Holton's drugstore at the northwest corner of South Wallace Avenue and West 63rd Street in the Englewood neighborhood. Holton gave Holmes a job, and he proved himself to be a hardworking employee. After the death of Holton's husband, Holmes offered to buy the drugstore from Holton, and she agreed. Holmes purchased the store mainly with funds obtained by mortgaging the store's fixtures and stock, the loan to be repaid in substantial monthly installments of $100 (worth $2,600 in 2015). He continued to make money from the drugstore by selling water that could cure the sick. When he accumulated enough money to fund his activities, he left. Holton was never seen or heard from again, and whenever any regular customers asked Holmes about her whereabouts after she sold the drugstore to him, he would say that she moved to California to be close to relatives.

Holmes purchased an empty lot across from the drugstore where he built his three-story, block-long hotel building. Because of its enormous structure, local people dubbed it "The Castle." The building was 162 feet long and 50 feet wide. The address was 601-603 West 63rd Street. It was called the World's Fair Hotel and opened as a hostelry for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, with part of the structure devoted to commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes' own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a labyrinth of rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways leading to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside and a host of other strange and deceptive constructions. Holmes was constantly firing and hiring different workers during the construction of the Castle, claiming that "they were doing incompetent work." His actual reason was to ensure that he was the only one who fully understood the design of the building.

During the period of building construction in 1889, Holmes met and became close friends with Benjamin Pitezel, a carpenter with a criminal past. He used Pitezel as his right-hand man for his criminal schemes. A district attorney later described Pitezel as "Holmes' tool ... his creature."

After the completion of the hotel, Holmes selected mostly female victims from among his employees (many of whom were required as a condition of employment to take out life insurance policies, for which Holmes would pay the premiums, but was also the beneficiary), as well as his lovers and hotel guests, whom he would later kill. Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time. Some victims were taken to one of the rooms on the second floor, called the "secret hanging chamber," where Holmes hanged them. Other victims were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office, where they were left to suffocate. There was also a secret room that was completely sealed by solid brick that could only be entered through a trapdoor in the ceiling; Holmes would lock his victims in this room for days to die of hunger and thirst. He also invented a unique alarm system and installed it to all the doors on the upper floors to alert him whenever anybody was walking around in the hotel. The victims' bodies were put inside either a secret metal chute or a dummy elevator which led to the basement, where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also buried some of the bodies in lime pits for disposal. Holmes had two giant furnaces used to incinerate some of the bodies or evidence, as well as pits of corrosive acid, bottles of various poisons, and even a stretching rack. Through the connections he had gained in medical school, he sold skeletons and organs with little difficulty.

One victim was his mistress, Julia Smythe. She was the wife of Ned Conner, who had moved into Holmes' building and began working at his pharmacy's jewelry counter. Holmes began an affair with Smythe. After Conner found out about the affair, he quit his job and moved away, leaving Smythe and her daughter Pearl behind. Smythe gained custody of Pearl and remained at the hotel, continuing her affair with Holmes. In 1891, Smythe told Holmes that she was pregnant with his baby, and demanded marriage. Holmes agreed to marry her, but told her that they could not have a child. He then suggested performing an abortion, and she agreed. The abortion was planned for Christmas Eve. Holmes murdered Smythe by overdosing her with chloroform, and later killed Pearl. When confronted by a tenant in the building, who questioned the whereabouts of Smythe and her daughter, Holmes said that they had left for Iowa to attend a family wedding. After Christmas, Holmes hired a man named Charles Chappell to articulate Smythe's skeleton. Holmes introduced himself to Chappell as "Henry Gordon" and took him to one of the rooms on the second floor to show him the body. After some discussion, they agreed that Chappell would put the arms in a bag and take them home to be articulated and Holmes would do the rest of the body. After Chappell arrived home with the arms, Holmes and another man (possibly Pitezel) showed up at the door and gave him the rest of the body, which had been cut into two pieces. Holmes later hired Chappell again and took him to the same room, this time to process the body of a man. The third job was for the body of another woman. After Chappell finished the third skeleton, Holmes refused to pay the money he owed him, due to some financial trouble; Chappell then refused to give Holmes back the skeleton and kept it inside his home. After Holmes was caught and his crimes became public, Chappell cooperated with the police and gave them the skull for examination. The room where Holmes kept the three bodies was later established by investigators as "the room of the three corpses."

Holmes met a railroad heiress named Minnie Williams while on a business trip in Boston. He introduced himself to her as "Henry Gordon." They started dating and then entered into a relationship. Although Holmes had to return to Chicago, he kept in touch with Williams and sent her love letters. In February 1893, she moved to Chicago and contacted Holmes. He offered her a job at the hotel as his personal stenographer, and she accepted. After rekindling their relationship, Holmes was able to persuade Williams to transfer the deed to her property in Fort Worth, Texas to a man named Alexander Bond (an alias of Holmes). In April 1893, Williams transferred the deed, with Holmes serving as the notary (Holmes later signed the deed over to Pitezel, giving him the alias "Benton T. Lyman"). After proposing to Williams, Holmes encouraged her to invite her sister Annie to Chicago, and she accepted the invitation. Holmes eventually started a friendship with Annie Williams and even gave her a personal tour of the hotel. While working in his office, Holmes asked Annie to go inside his office vault to get a file for him. While she was inside the vault, Holmes locked her inside and turned on the gas line that led to the vault, killing her. About the same time, Minnie Williams also "vanished."

Following the World's Fair, with creditors closing in and the economy in a general slump due to the Panic of 1893, Holmes left Chicago. He reappeared in Fort Worth, Texas, where he had inherited property from the Williams sisters. There, he sought to construct another "castle" along the lines of his Chicago operation. However, he soon abandoned this project. He continued to move throughout the United States and Canada. The only murders verified during this period were those of longtime associate Pitezel and three of Pitezel's children.

In July 1894, Holmes was arrested and briefly incarcerated for the first time, on the charge of selling mortgaged goods in St. Louis, Missouri. He was promptly bailed out, but while in jail, he struck up a conversation with a convicted train robber named Marion Hedgepeth, who was serving a 25-year sentence. Holmes had concocted a plan to swindle an insurance company out of $10,000 by taking out a policy on himself and then faking his death. Holmes promised Hedgepeth a $500 commission in exchange for the name of a lawyer who could be trusted. Holmes was directed to a young St. Louis attorney named Jeptha Howe. Howe was in practice with his older brother, Alphonso Howe, who had no involvement with Holmes or Pitezel or their fraudulent activities. Jeptha Howe, however, found Holmes' scheme brilliant. Nevertheless, Holmes' plan to fake his own death failed when the insurance company became suspicious and refused to pay. Holmes did not press the claim; instead he concocted a similar plan with his associate Pitezel.

Pitezel had agreed to fake his own death so that his wife could collect on a $10,000 life insurance policy, which she was to split with Holmes and the unscrupulous attorney, Jeptha Howe. The scheme, which was to take place in Philadelphia, was that Pitezel would set himself up as an inventor, under the name B.F. Perry, and then be killed and disfigured in a lab explosion. Holmes was to find an appropriate cadaver to play the role of Pitezel. Holmes instead killed Pitezel by knocking him unconscious with chloroform and setting his body on fire with the use of benzene. In his confession, Holmes implied that Pitezel was still alive after he used the chloroform on him, prior to being set on fire. He proceeded to collect the insurance payout on the basis of the genuine Pitezel corpse. Holmes then went on to manipulate Pitezel's unsuspecting wife into allowing three of her five children (Alice, Nellie, and Howard) to be in his custody. The eldest daughter and the baby remained with Mrs. Pitezel.

Forensic evidence presented at Holmes' later trial showed that chloroform had been administered after Pitezel's death (a fact which the insurance company was unaware of), presumably to fake suicide in order to exonerate Holmes should he be charged with murder.

Holmes and the three Pitezel children traveled throughout the northern United States and into Canada. Simultaneously, he escorted Mrs. Pitezel along a parallel route, all the while using various aliases and lying to Mrs. Pitezel concerning her husband's death (claiming that Pitezel was hiding in London), as well as lying to her about the true whereabouts of her three missing children. In Detroit, just prior to entering Canada, they were only separated by a few blocks. In an even more audacious move, Holmes was staying at another location with his wife, who was unaware of the whole affair. Holmes would later confess to murdering Alice and Nellie by forcing them into a large trunk and locking them inside. He drilled a hole in the lid of the trunk and put one end of a hose through the hole, attaching the other end to a gas line to asphyxiate the girls. Holmes buried their nude bodies in the basement of the rental house. A Philadelphia detective, Frank Geyer, had tracked Holmes, finding the decomposed bodies of the two Pitezel girls in Toronto, buried in the cellar at 16 St. Vincent Lane. After removing the bodies from their shallow graves, Geyer noticed that Nellie's feet had been removed. After discovering that Nellie had club foot, he theorized that Holmes had cut off her feet to prevent a distinctive identification of the body. He then followed Holmes to Indianapolis, where Holmes had rented a cottage. Holmes was reported to have visited a local pharmacy to purchase the drugs which he used to kill Howard Pitezel, and a repair shop to sharpen the knives he used to chop up the body before he burned it. The boy's teeth and bits of bone were discovered in the home's chimney.

In 1894, the police were tipped off by Holmes' former cellmate Hedgepeth, whom Holmes had neglected to pay off as promised for his help in providing attorney Jeptha Howe. Holmes' murder spree finally ended when he was arrested in Boston on November 17, 1894, after being tracked there from Philadelphia by the Pinkertons. He was held on an outstanding warrant for horse theft in Texas, as the authorities had become more suspicious at this point and Holmes appeared poised to flee the country in the company of his unsuspecting third wife.

The police began interviewing the Castle's employees. The caretaker, Pat Quinlan, informed police that he was never allowed to clean the second floor. The police began a thorough investigation over the course of a month, uncovering Holmes' torture chambers and secret passageways on the upper floors. Inside a large stove on the third floor, they found a piece of a gold chain, women's hair, and a woman's shoe. Suspecting that the chain belonged to Minnie Williams, they took it to a local jeweler (who had sold jewelry to Minnie in the past), who confirmed that it was hers. The police later looked inside Holmes' office vault and found several scratch marks, and a mark of what appeared to be a woman's shoe. Holmes later stated in his confession that the shoe print in the vault came from Annie Williams, during her violent struggle before dying. When the police finished the upper floors, they moved their investigation down to the basement. They found a pile of human bones mixed with animal bones, a dissection table covered with dry blood, and a pile of bloody women's clothes.

The investigators dug up the lime pits and found skeletal remains of Holmes' victims. The lime had turned most of the remains into dust, but they identified two strands of hair, one brown and one fair, in two soft spots in the hard clay. The strands matched the respective hair colors of Minnie and Annie Williams. Investigators also found a pile of lime with a female footprint on it; they suspected that the footprint came from Minnie. They also looked inside the acid pit and found several bones at the bottom. In one part of the basement, investigators unearthed several bones belonging to a child estimated to be 6 to 8 years old. They also found a dress that they suspected had belonged to Julia Smythe. They later showed the dress to Conner, who confirmed it was hers.

Three firemen later explored a nearby tunnel that led from the basement to the street. The tunnel ended in a hollow-sounding wall. After the firemen had torn it down, a plumber lit a match for illumination and accidentally caused an explosion powerful enough to shake the whole building. Several of the men were injured and had to be taken to the hospital. Afterwards, investigators found the fumes that caused the explosion were coming from an oil tank hidden behind the wall. Holmes had no explanation for the oil tank, but the chemists who examined the oil stated that the fumes were strong enough to kill someone in less than a minute. Holmes later stated that the bodies that were found in the basement were bought from a man who stole them from a local cemetery, but he could name neither the man nor the cemetery.

Only nine murders were confirmed, but the number of his victims has been estimated between 20 and 100, and even as high as 200, based upon missing persons reports of the time as well as the testimony of Holmes' neighbors, who reported seeing him accompany unidentified young women into his hotel, whom they never saw leave. Many people came to Chicago to see the World's Fair but, for one reason or another, never returned home. Holmes personally confessed to 27 murders, and right before being hanged, claimed he'd only murdered two people. Some of the names listed in the confession, for which The Philadelphia Inquirer paid him, turned out to be those of people still alive, although police had commented that some of the bodies in the basement were so badly dismembered and decomposed that it was difficult to tell how many bodies there actually were. Holmes' victims were mainly women (primarily blonde), but included men and children.

Holmes sat in prison in Philadelphia after confessing to the insurance scam, while sentencing was delayed until after the trial of Howe, his co-conspirator in the insurance fraud. Meanwhile, Chicago police had begun an investigation of his operations in that city, as the Philadelphia police sought to unravel the Pitezel situation—in particular, the fate of the three missing Pitezel children: Alice, Nellie, and Howard. Detective Geyer was tasked with finding answers. His quest for the children, like the search of Holmes' Castle in Chicago, received wide publicity. His eventual discovery of their remains essentially sealed Holmes' fate, at least in the public mind.

In October 1895, Holmes was put on trial for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel, and was found guilty and sentenced to death. By then, it was evident that Holmes had also murdered the Pitezel children. Following his conviction, Holmes confessed to 30 murders in Chicago, Indianapolis and Toronto (though some he confessed to murdering were, in fact, still living), and six attempted murders. Holmes was paid $7,500 (worth $213,690 today) by the Hearst newspapers in exchange for his confession. Holmes gave various contradictory accounts of his life, initially claiming innocence and later that he was possessed by Satan. His propensity for lying has made it difficult for researchers to ascertain the truth on the basis of his statements. While writing his confessions in prison, Holmes mentioned how drastically his facial appearance had changed since his imprisonment. He described his new, grim appearance as "gruesome and taking a Satanical Cast", and wrote that he was now convinced that after everything that he had done, he was beginning to resemble the Devil.

On May 7, 1896, Holmes was hanged at Moyamensing Prison, also known as the Philadelphia County Prison, for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. Until the moment of his death, Holmes remained calm and amiable, showing very few signs of fear, anxiety or depression. Despite this, he asked for his coffin to be contained in cement and buried 10 feet deep, because he was concerned grave robbers would steal his body and use it for dissection. Holmes' neck did not snap; he instead was strangled to death slowly, twitching for over 15 minutes before being pronounced dead 20 minutes after the trap had been sprung.

On New Year's Eve 1909, Hedgepeth, who had been pardoned for informing on Holmes, was shot and killed by police officer Edward Jaburek during a holdup at a Chicago saloon.

On March 7, 1914, the Chicago Tribune reported that, with the death of Quinlan, the former caretaker of the Murder Castle, "the mysteries of Holmes' Castle" would remain unexplained. Quinlan had committed suicide by taking strychnine. His body was found in his bedroom with a note that read, "I couldn't sleep." Quinlan's surviving relatives claimed that he had been "haunted" for several months and was suffering from hallucinations.

The Murder Castle was mysteriously gutted by fire in August 1895. According to a newspaper clipping from the New York Times, two men were seen entering the back of the Castle between 8 and 9 p.m. About a half an hour later, they were seen exiting the building, and rapidly running away. Following several explosions, the Castle went up in flames. Afterwards, investigators found a half-empty gas can underneath the back steps of the building. Some people believe that the perpetrators broke into the Castle and started the fire in order to destroy evidence that the police hadn't discovered yet. Other people believe that some outraged citizens started the fire to prevent the Castle from becoming a future tourist attraction. The building survived the fire and remained in use until it was torn down in 1938. The site is currently occupied by the Englewood branch of the United States Postal Service.


Last edited by ophion1031 on December 13th 2016, 9:52 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: The lovable con-man, H.H. Holmes

Post by ophion1031 on December 11th 2016, 12:21 am










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Re: The lovable con-man, H.H. Holmes

Post by ophion1031 on December 11th 2016, 1:32 am

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Re: The lovable con-man, H.H. Holmes

Post by Rocketman on December 11th 2016, 4:36 pm

If I had to pick a favorite serial killer it would be Holmes just because of his 'murder hotel.'
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Re: The lovable con-man, H.H. Holmes

Post by ophion1031 on December 11th 2016, 9:45 pm

Rocketman wrote:If I had to pick a favorite serial killer it would be Holmes just because of his 'murder hotel.'

Me too, not counting Zodiac of course. Didn't his "murder hotel" get turned into a post office or something?
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Re: The lovable con-man, H.H. Holmes

Post by Eric X on December 12th 2016, 9:09 pm

I hate Leonardo decaprio but love martin scorcese so I would watch the movie for sure.
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Re: The lovable con-man, H.H. Holmes

Post by ophion1031 on December 13th 2016, 9:51 pm

Eric X wrote:I hate Leonardo decaprio but love martin scorcese so I would watch the movie for sure.

Scorsese is one of my favorite directors. Leo... eh, he's a good actor but he overacts sometimes.
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Re: The lovable con-man, H.H. Holmes

Post by ophion1031 on December 13th 2016, 11:15 pm

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Re: The lovable con-man, H.H. Holmes

Post by Eric X on February 19th 2017, 10:12 pm

its funny that I see the word 'loveable' in the thread title about one of the worst serial killers in the history of mankind
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