Horrors of the real world: H.H. Holmes and The Murder Castle

H.H. Holmes, or Herman Webster Mudgett (May 16, 1861 – May 7, 1896) is one of the most infamous serial killers in history. His victim count is rumored to be in the 200s even though he had only confessed to killing 27, many of which were killed in his famous Murder Castle.

 

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I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing..I was born with the evil one standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.” – H.H. Holmes

H.H. Holmes was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, on May 16, 1861 in a wealthy and respected family in which he was the third out of four children. He had a rough childhood as his parents were very abusive and violent, something that tends to be a recurring thing in serial killer’s biographies. This was possibly one of the reasons he became the evil man that he was, was his father who used to hold kerosene soaked rags on him and his siblings in an attempt to quiet them while they were crying, deprived them of food and subjected them to long periods of isolation. This led to Holmes to seek refuge in the nearby woods where he began his morbid fascination with dead creatures  as he started to dissect animals. This was one of the things that made Holmes obsessed with the human anatomy.

He was also often bullied in school since he had good grades and an odd demeanor. One incident in particular was in his school when a few classmates placed a skeleton hand on his face. An event that further increased his fascination of the human anatomy which would lead him to pursue a degree at the University of Michigan Medical School in 1884.

While in medical school Holmes started to acquire human bodies to study and research. He also began robbing graves and morgues for bodies which he used to scam insurance companies.

As an adult, he left his child and wife, moved to Illinois in 1885 and legally changed his name to Holmes.

Holmes purchased an empty lot in Englewood and started work on his “Castle”. The structure contained a few shops on the first floor and apartments above. Work on the structure took three times as long as it should have. He kept firing an hiring workers which kept the workers in the dark about the design of the structure which he filled with secret corridors, traps and passages. The second floor for example had 51 doors, 6 hallways and 35 rooms. Some of the rooms were as big as a closet and were rigged with gas pipes. Exit doors had alarms which signaled Holmes if a guest tried to escape. His basement contained a crematory, dissecting table and a stretching rack and an acid room.

Holmes used this building to lure victims. Opening it for and renting it for tourists who were in town for the fair as well as targeting young women with classified ads for jobs and offering himself for marriage.

In 1894 Holmes left Chicago due to prosecution from insurance companies for the arson of his hotel. Holmes had set it on fire in order to acquire the insurance. Moving to Texas he began work on a second “hotel” and focused on insurance scams.

Unfortunately those insurance frauds would prove to be his downfall. One of his insurance fraud partners would end up reporting him to the police due to Holmes not paying his partner. Soon after that the police ended up investigating the castle and revealed all the horrors that took part in the building. They tracked him down in Boston and took him into custody in November 1894.

Holmes was hanged on May 7th 1896 for the murder of Pitezel, his friend and accomplice. During the hanging when the trap door opened, Holmes spent 15 minutes dangling on the noose dying slowly and painfully.

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