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Inside the Legend: No Exit

 

 

BORN WITH THE DEVIL

Henry H. Holmes, whose real name was Herman M. Mudgett, was born in 1860 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. His father was an abusive man, and his mother was a tiny submissive woman. Mrs. Mudgett would do everything his father commanded and this was the way that Holmes would always expect women to behave.

Early in life, Mudgett dropped is given name and became known as H. H Holmes, a name under which he attended medical school and began his career in crime. He was constantly in trouble as a boy and young man and in later years was remembered for his cruelty to animals and smaller children. By puberty Mudgett had developed a hobby of killing and dismembering stray animals. He was fascinated with anatomy and would often conduct experiments on his prey.

In 1879, he transferred to the medical school of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While enrolled, he stole bodies from the school laboratory. Disfiguring the corpses and claiming the unlucky soul had been accidentally killed. Conveniently, Holmes had already takes out insurance policies on these “family members: and he would collect on them as soon as their bodies were discovered. His hopes of becoming a doctor were soon dashed when he was expelled at 24 from the university after he was discovered stealing cadavers.

In 1887 H. H. Holmes began working as an assistant at a local drug store. Mrs. Dr. Holden, who ran the drug store at 63rd and Wallace, could not handle the trade any longer and thus needed assistance. It was not long before Holmes seemed to be more the manager of the store and less the prescription clerk. In 1887, Mrs. Dr. Holden vanished without a trace. A short time after, Holmes announced that he had purchased the store from the widow, just prior to her “moving out west.”

Two years later, he acquired a large lot across the street from the drug store and began construction on an enormous edifice that he planned to operate as a hotel for the upcoming Columbian Exposition (World Fair) in 1893. There are no records to say what Holmes decided to call this building but for generation of police officers, crime enthusiasts and unnerved residents of Englewood, it was known simply by one name—“The Murder Castle.”

MURDER CASTLE

The building was an imposing structure of three stories and a basement with false battlements and wooden bay windows that were covered with sheet iron. There were over 60 rooms in the structure and 51 doors that were cut oddly into various walls. And his favorite room- the basement with it’s dissection table and surgical tools and implements.

Holmes had an office on the second floor, but most of the rooms were to be used for the guests—guests that would never be seen again. There were secret hallways and closets connecting the seventy-one bedrooms. Holmes' Castle included soundproof sleeping chambers with peepholes, asbestos-padded walls, gas pipes, sliding walls, and vents that Holmes controlled from another room. Many of the rooms had low ceilings and trapdoors in the floors, with ladders leading to smaller rooms below. The doors could only be locked from the outside and all of his “prison rooms” were fitted with alarms that buzzed in Holmes’ quarters if a victim attempted to escape.

It has come to be believed that many of his victims were held captive months before their deaths. Evidence would later be found to show that Holmes used some of the rooms as “asphyxiation chambers,” where his victims were suffocated with gas. It was believed that Holmes placed his chosen victims into the special chambers into which he then pumped lethal gas, controlled from his own bedroom, and then watched them react. Apparently, he gained some fiendish pleasure from this activity. Sometimes he'd ignite the gas to incinerate them, or perhaps even place them on the "elasticity determinator," an elongated bed with straps, to see how far the human body could be stretched. When finished, he might have slid the corpses down the chutes into his cellar, where vats of acid and other chemicals awaited them.

Holmes carefully supervised the building of his castle of horror, making sure that no workman stayed on the job for more than a week. Claiming their work was second rate, he fired them, refusing to pay for their services, and at the same time, ensuring that no one knew the exact layout of the building. As far as the police were able to learn, he never paid a cent for any of the materials that went into the building. The castle was completed in 1892…

He planned ahead for the many visitors who would be searching for lodging as close as possible to the fair, knowing that among them would be the most vulnerable prey: single, naïve women on their own who would easily succumb to a successful and charming “doctor.”

DEATH CALL

Holmes was stunned by the beauty of Julia, a 6 foot tall red-haired green-eyed woman. Holmes instantly fired his current cashier and hired Julia.

Julia could not believe her luck. She rang and invited her 18 year old sister to visit her in Chicago. Gertie was as beautiful as her sister and quickly caught Dr Holmes' eye. He showered the young woman in gifts and affection. Holmes even told Gertie he would divorce his wife to be with her.

Gertie was shocked by his proposal and hastily left Chicago. Holmes rebounded quickly from Gertie's rejection by turning his attentions to Julia. He told Julia that Holmes did not love her, she was only his second choice after Gertie rejected him.

Julie was deeply in love with Holmes and subsequently became pregnant with his child - a fact that Holmes did not like. The doctor told his lover that he would only marry her if she aborted the pregnancy. Being a mother to Pearl already and feeling the unborn child inside her, Julia could not face the prospect and continually put the procedure off.

In 1893, Holmes met a young woman named Minnie Wiliams. After further insistence by Holmes Julie, sobbing agreed that he could perform the procedure. Holmes put Pearl to bed and then carried the hysterical Julia down to his makeshift operating theatre in his basement. Neither Julia nor Pearl were ever seen alive again. In Holmes’ confession, he admitted that Julia had died during a bungled abortion that he had performed on her. He had poisoned Pearl. He later admitted that he murdered the woman and her child because of her jealous feelings toward Minnie Williams. “But I would have gotten rid of her anyway,” he say. “I was tired of her.”

Minnie Williams lived at the castle for more than a year and knew more about Holmes’ crimes than any other person. It was not until much later that Holmes confessed to killing her too. Although her body was never found, it is believed to have joined other victims in the acid vat in the basement.

PLAYING THE LAW

In July 1894, Holmes was arrested for the first time. It was not for murder but for one of his schemes, the earlier horse swindle that ended in St. Louis. Georgianna promptly bailed him 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 bilk an insurance company out of $20,000 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.

Benjamin Pitezel another of Holmes' lackeys hung off his every word, he did everything asked of him and soon would give his life for Holmes. The two men came up with an insurance scam where they would share in $10,000.

The plan was that Pitezel would take out a life insurance policy for $10,000. Holmes was the beneficiary. Pitezel would disappear to Philadelphia, Holmes would get a corpse, disfigure it, then with the help of Pitezel's children he would have the body identified as Pitezel and claim the $10,000.

The "accident" took place on the morning of September 4, when neighbors heard a loud explosion from the patent office. A carpenter named Eugene Smith came to the office a short time later and found the door locked and the building dark. For some reason, he became concerned and summoned a police officer to the scene. They broke open the door and found a badly burned man on the floor. The death was quickly ruled an accident and the body was taken to the morgue. After 11 days, no one showed up to claim it and so the corpse was buried in the local potter’s field.

The plan worked brilliantly and Holmes claimed the money. However Holmes was fearful when the police became interested in him and torched the Castle and fled Chicago with one of the Pitezel daughters with Mrs Pitezel following behind. Presumably to meet up with Benjamin in Philadelphia. What Mrs Pitezel did not know was that Holmes had murdered Benjamin.

Holmes never bothered to contact the train robber again, a slight that Hedgepeth did not appreciate. He brooded over this awhile and then decided to turn Holmes in.

 

GRIM DISCOVERIES

Detective Frank Geyer, a twenty-year veteran, of the Philadelphia Police Department, was a driven man who was looking for just such a case to focus his attention on-something to keep him from dwelling on his personal tragedy, a recent house fire that claimed his wife and only daughter. It was in Toronto where he finally hit pay dirt when Thomas Ryves came forward claiming that Holmes, along with two young girls, had rented the house next door to him on St. Vincent Street. Ryves told a chilling tale. His new neighbor came by to borrow a shovel explaining that he needed to dig a spot in the cellar where his sister could keep potatoes.

Taking a Toronto Police Officer with him, Geyer went to the house in question knowing full well what awaited him. The two men headed straight for the cellar. Brandishing a shovel, Geyer dug only two feet when a human arm bone resurfaced. The bodies of Nellie and Alice Petizel were unearthed and now H. H. Holmes was not just guilty of an insurance scam- he was also a killer.

Back in Englewood, detectives paid a visit to the castle. They were hardly prepared for what they found. Inside the large stove still in Holmes’ office, they discovered a human rib and a hank of long hair- most likely a woman’s. In the basement, they located a wooden tank hidden behind one wall. Lighting a match to help them see, they unwittingly ignited an explosion. The tank, as it turns out, was filled with chemicals. As soon as the air cleared, the detectives returned to the house where they found the skeletal remains of a young child- probably Pearl Conner. Now, they were convinced that the castle of horrors, and the man who built it, held unimaginable secrets.

Name after name of missing persons once associated with Holmes appeared. The list went on and on and so did the evidence when a mound of human bones, hidden among soup bones, were found in the basement. The press went wild with the heinous stories sweeping a shocked public into an unprecedented frenzy of horror.

Meanwhile, Detective Frank Geyer was still looking for Howard Pietzel. His search led him to Irvington, Indiana, six miles outside of Indianapolis. There, he found a real estate agent who remembered dealing with Holmes in October 1894. He was looking for a house to rent for his widowed sister. The house was located on the east side of Irvington, and just as Geyer suspected, the charred body of a young child was found inside the chimney. All three Pitezel children were now accounted for.

On October 28, 1895, Holmes went on trial for the murder of Benjamin Pietzel. Labeled as ‘the trail of the century,’ crowds clamored to the Philadelphia courthouse hoping to get a glimpse of the fiendish doctor. The daily newspapers painstakingly covered the entire trial delivering every sordid detail to a demanding public. In the end, Holmes was fund guilty of first degree murder. Eventually, he admitted killing twenty-seven men, women, and children, including Benjamin Pitezel and his three children. His confession, however, proved to be dubious when some of his purported victims came forward still alive and breathing. Exactly how many people Holmes murdered remains a mystery, but some estimates number more than 200.

On August 19, 1895, the castle burned to the ground. Three explosions thundered through the neighborhood just after midnight and minutes later, a blaze erupted from the abandoned structure. In less than an hour, the roof had caved in and the walls began to collapse in onto themselves. A gas can was discovered among the smoldering ruins and rumors argued back and forth between an accomplish of Holmes’ burning down the house to hide his role in the horror and the arson, being committed by an outraged neighbor. The mystery was never solved, but, regardless, the castle was gone for good.

H. H. Holmes was hanging on the morning of May 7., 1896, but his strange story continued.

 

KILLING FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE

According to his wishes, the bottom of his coffin was filled with ten inches of cement and then his body laid inside. The coffin was then filled with more cement being nailed shut. He was buried in a double grave ten feet deep. Two more feed of sand and cement were poured into the open grave before it was covered with dirt.

There were a couple of macabre legends associated with Holmes’ execution. The most enduring supernatural legend of H. H. Holmes is that of the “Holmes Curse.” The story began shortly after his execution, leading to speculation that his spirit did not rest in peace. Some believed that he was still carrying on his gruesome work from beyond the grave. In the years that followed, those involved with Holmes met violent deaths in rapid order. Perhaps Holmes got his revenge after all…

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
-
MURDER CASTLE BLUEPRINT:

ENTER THE MURDER CASTLE

Through my research I took alot of the key elements. Provided below are links to the main sites about H. H. Holmes and his sadistic Murder Castle.

THE MURDER CASTLE OF H. H. HOLMES

CRIME LIBRARY: H. H. HOLMES

AMERICAN GOTHIC: THE STRANGE LIFE OF H. H. HOLMES

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Inside the Legend by Dean5339


 

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