About Herman Webster Mudgett
"Like the man-eating tigers of the tropical jungle, whose appetites for blood have once been aroused, I roamed about this world seeking whom I could destroy" H.H. Holmes
- D.O.B. : May 16, 1860
- D.O.D. : May 7, 1896
- Murderers committed: ?
Dr. Holmes, for unexplained reasons, seems to have been forgotten by many true crime enthusiasts. At the same time he was committing his crimes, "Jack the Ripper" was terrorizing London. Many people do not realize that Holmes was Americas first documented Serial Killer. There are several different accounts of Holmes's activities, not the least of which is the doctor's own confession written in 1896. While doing my research for this archive I have discovered many, many different versions of the story. Some even claim the Doctor is responsible for over 200 murders, but I have found no evidence to back up any of these statements. Nobody can seem to agree on what actually took place. What I have written here is what I hope to be one of the most accurate accounts. Dr. Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett on May 16, 1860, in Gilmantown, New Hampshire. Holmes Was often beat regularly by his drunken father, and the local neighborhood bullies. At an early age he was fascinated by all aspects of surgery. He would often capture stray animals and perform strange and crude experiments on them.
Herman graduated high school at the age of 16, married Clara Loveringat, at the age of 18, and graduated medical school at the University of Michigan, located in Ann Arbor in 1884 at the age of 24. While studying medicine at the University of Michigan, He would steal corpses, render them unrecognizable with acid, and then collect on the life insurance policies he had previously taken out under fictitious names. Herman got away with several of these frauds before a nightwatchman caught him removing a female corpse, hence he was kicked out of the university for "unusual activities".
Herman moved to the Chicago suburb of Englewood, Ill, in 1886, after abandoning his wife and committing a variety of felonies, even defrauding one of his own in-laws. He was know as a swindler, and decided it was time for a new lease on life and took on the alias: Henry Howard Holmes, AKA: "DR H.H. Holmes". In 1888 Holmes was hired as a chemist at a popular Chicago area drugstore located in the suburb of Englewood.
In 1890 the proprietress of the drugstore, an elderly widow, mysteriously disappeared. Holmes quickly took over the business, and began selling patent medicines of his own invention by mail order, including fake "cures" for alcoholism. Holmes eventually amassed a nice fortune. Holmes soon wed Myrta Z. Belknap, without even bothering to divorce his first wife. Myrta soon bare foot and pregnant, left him within a year, and moved in with her parents.
In 1888, Holmes bought a vacant lot across from his pharmacy business and began to build a "hotel". During construction Holmes changed contractors several times and shuffled the workers around frequently so that no one was ever able to get a clear idea of the floor plan or what the building, was for. Most of the rooms had gas vents that could let off lethal or sleep inducing gases, the vents could only be controlled from a closet in Holmes's bedroom. Many of the rooms were soundproof and could not be unlocked from inside. It was a three-story building with shops on the first floor and a bizarre labyrinth of windowless rooms, false floors, secret passages, trapdoors, a well equipped surgery area as well as several instruments of torture, such as an "elasticity determinator," a contraption he claimed could stretch experimental subjects to twice their normal length. Those who viewed it said it appeared to be a medieval torture rack. A few rooms were lined with asbestos, and the place was filled with doors that opened to brick walls, stairways to nowhere, an elevator without a shaft and a shaft without an elevator. There was an airtight and soundproof vault, human-sized greased chutes leading from the living quarters to the cellar. The bedrooms had peepholes and were equipped with asphyxiating gas pipes connected to a control panel in Dr. Holmes' closet. Holmes was nothing if not thorough.
Upon completion of the "castle", Holmes soon tapped into a city water line in his cellar, mixed the water with vanilla, and sold it for 5 cents a glass as an elixir called Linden Grove Mineral Water. He was eventually caught but no charges were ever filed. On another occasion he purchased a huge safe on credit, then moved it into his castle, he built a room around it with only a tiny exit. When creditors eventually came to haul it away, humorously they couldn't get it out.
During the Great Chicago World Fair in 1893, (the entrance to which was only a few blocks from Holmes's establishment), when the city filled with visitors, Holmes would rent rooms and/or lure girls and young ladies to his "castle" where he would attempt to seduce them before drugging them. They were then popped into one of the empty shafts that ran through the building. The hapless girls would come round only to find themselves trapped behind a glass panel in an airtight death chamber into which Holmes would pump the lethal gas. Afterwards the body would be sent down a chute to the basement which contained vats of acid and lime and, in the center of the room, a dissecting table. Mudgett would cut up the corpses, removing particular organs which took his fancy and dispose of the remains in the vats. After killing them, Holmes would sometimes sell the bleached skeletons to medical universities.
In 1894 Holmes wed Georgiana Yoke, again not bothering to divorce his previous wife. His charm and good looks wooed countless women, and enhanced his talents as a schemer.
Only one man knew the truth of what was going on in the "castle", Herman Pitezel, Holmes lackey and accomplice. A weak man, Pitezel was easily controlled by Holmes. Despite his cleverness though Holmes was going broke. He knew his Chicago gig was almost up. In desperation, Holmes murdered two visiting Texan sisters and, rather than quietly dispose of their remains, he set fire to there house in an attempt to get the insurance money. The insurance company refused to pay and the police began an investigation into the blaze. Strangely, the police work was not pursued vigorously enough to produce any evidence of Holmes bloody activities; but the killer did not know this, and so he fled.
Soon Holmes turned up in Texas, where he traced relatives of the sisters he had murdered. Having integrated himself with them, he tried to swindle them out of a $60,000 fortune. They were suspicious so he again took to the road, this time on a stolen horse. Police caught up with him in Missouri where, using the name H. M. Howard, he was charged with a further fraud attempt. With the help of a crooked lawyer, he was granted bail, and promptly left town.
Holmes next turned up in Philadelphia where he concocted an elaborate scheme.... Herman Pitezel, took out a life-insurance policy on himself for $10,000 with Holmes as beneficiary. The plan was that Pitezel would "disappear" to Philadelphia and Holmes would produce a false corpse, identify it as Pitezel's and share the payoff with Pitezel's family. But.... Instead, Holmes burned his pal alive in Philadelphia and collected the money. But someone tipped off the police about the scheme, and Holmes fled with the Pitezel's eldest daughter. Telling Mrs. Pitezel that her husband was hiding in a nearby city, Holmes convinced her to follow him, and for months the trio moved separately and together around the United States and Canada, taking the four other Pitezel children with them. During the group's wanderings Herman Pitezel's body was discovered near Indianapolis, and Holmes killed three of the five Pitezel children. The bodies of Alice and Nellie Pitezel were found in a cellar in Toronto, the girls had been stuffed into a trunk and gassed. Now their are three different versions as to how the police caught up with Holmes. The first is that detectives traced Mudgett through his mother who told them the whereabouts of her son, the second is that while Jailed in Missouri, Holmes shared a cell with the infamous train robber Marion C. Hedgepeth, "The Handsome Bandit", perhaps wanting to brag about his own criminal prowess, Dr. Holmes told Mr. Hedgepeth about the Pitezel scam. and Hedgepeth squealed. And the third is that, aided by Mrs. Pitezel, the police captured Holmes.
At any rate Holmes was charged with murder. The police searched Holmes place in Chicago, and numerous human fragments, including several complete skeletons, were discovered throughout the premises. Holmes continued to protest his innocence loudly. Holmes plead not guilty to killing Pitezel, and his trial began on Oct. 28, 1895. Holmes fired his lawyers and questioned the prospective jurors himself. None-the-less he was convicted in the "trial of the century", of first degree murder on November 4, 1895, and sentenced to death. He quickly became known throughout the land as: "Holmes, the Arch Fiend".
"I was born with the devil in me", "I couldn't help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing. And I was born with the Evil One standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world. He has been with me ever since."
In 1896, while awaiting execution, Holmes received an offer from the Hearst newspaper syndicate to write a confession. In the confession Holmes claimed to have killed 27 people. Investigators could neither confirm nor disprove Holmes's assertion because the contents of the iron tanks and crematory, although recognizably human remains, could not be differentiated. Holmes later recanted his confession and several people he had claimed to have murdered turned up alive. "The confession is a mixture of truth and falsehood. Holmes never could help lying," said George Graham, Philadelphia's district attorney at the time.
On May 7, 1896, at Philadelphia's Moyamensing Prison, as he stood with his head in the hangman’s noose, Holmes loudly exclaimed: "As God is my witness, I was responsible for the death of only two women! I didn't kill Minnie Williams! Minnie killed-" But at that moment, the trap door sprung and Herman Webster Mudgett, a. k. a. : Harry Holmes, died. Holmes body was laid in a pine box, the box was then filled with cement. The coffin was buried 10 feet deep in a suburban Philadelphia cemetery, then covered with another thick layer of cement. Upon his death, the New York Times reflected, "It takes a very convinced opponent of capital punishment to maintain that any better disposition could have been made of the wretch Holmes". *NOTE* Holmes was descended from many of the founding families of Hampton, NH, including Batchelder, Sanborn, and Dearborn. Holmes was also distantly related to the well known Frank and Jesse James brothers. Believers of superstition may wish to note that within a few years of Holmes death a great number of people associated with the case, prison officials, lawyers, and relatives, died suddenly, some of them under unexplained circumstances. Holmes castle burned down on August 19, 1895. The cause of the fire was never determined. The Holmes "crime of the century" was also the subject of "The Holmes-Pitezel Case", a "True Detective" story, published in 1896 in Philadelphia "by permission of the district attorney and the mayor." Just how many people Herman Webster Mudgett, a. k. a. : Harry Holmes, truly murdered is unknown, for this is a secret he took with him to his grave and we will never be certain of the exact number of victims that lost there lives in "Murder Castle"....
Herman Mudgett's Timeline
May 16, 1861
Gilmanton, NH, USA
July 4, 1878
Alton, NH, USA
February 3, 1880
Loudon, NH, USA
- June, 1884
January 28, 1887
Minneapolis, MN, USA
January 9, 1894
Denver, CO, USA
May 7, 1896