Mazes, gas lines, and bricked over windows were H.H. Holmes’ game. A trickster and mass murderer all in one man, he loved his “work” and was prepared for anything. But, 1880’s Chicago was not prepared for the likes of this mutilated mind.
H.H. Holmes was born in was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire on May 16th, 1860 as Herman Webster Mudgett. Mudgett’s early life was relatively uneventful. Though he claimed to have been bullied by fellow students, no real evidence exists of any life events that could have led to the creation of such a monster, though claims of an alcoholic father and a fear of skeletons seem prevalent. What we do know is that Mudgett graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1884. After graduation, Mudgett moved to Chicago to practice pharmacy, and history was made.
It is important to note that Mudgett married several women concurrently. This action seems to be common among serial killers.
Using the pseudonym H.H. Holmes (which we will use for the duration of this article), he began a series of fraudulent business practices. These practices were the center of a fund raising journey that eventually led to the building of Holmes’ “Castle” in Chicago. The “Castle” was a block long series of buildings constructed by numerous contractors. Holmes used many different builders for fear that any one man would know what was inside. The “Castle” was two stories high with the lower level housing businesses while the upper levels held terror.
The upper levels of the “Castle” were constructed into interweaving mazes with bricked over windows, doors that could only be opened from the outside, a chute that lead to a basement, trap doors, secret rooms, sliding walls, torture equipment, elongating beds and gas lines run to each room. The “Castle” was opened concurrently with the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 as a motel. Once in the rooms, victims would never escape.
To better understand the mind of this serial killer let us go through the motions of a killing. Holmes, armed with the knowledge that in Chicago you could fire an employee before two weeks of employment were up and never pay them a dime, frequently hired female motel workers. Before completing her first two weeks she would somehow end up in a torture room where Holmes would gain pleasures from the mutilation he so loved. The woman may be beaten, poisoned, burned alive or stretched to see how far the body would go before tearing into pieces. After the torture, Holmes would use a greased chute, to slide the body into the basement where he continued his pleasurable actions. The basement was built with vats of acid, furnaces and lime pits. Here he sometimes chose to strip the body of all flesh and turn the skeleton into a teaching tool which he would later sell to medical schools. Organs were also saved and sold for profit. The remains could be burned, eaten by acid or covered in lime.
Holmes was captured and hanged in Philadelphia on may 7, 1896. Reports claim his final words were to the executioner. “Take your time: Don’t bungle it!” he said. Ironically, the noose did not break his neck immediately and it took more than 10 minutes for Holmes to die.
H.H. Holmes was an extraordinary killer in every true sense of the word. He terrorized a city from inside a skillfully constructed tomb. The number of actual murders will never be known, though some estimate it to be in the hundreds. Holmes was an intelligent medical mind turned putridly insane!
“H. H. Holmes.” Wikipedia. 26 May 2007
Ramsland, Katherine. “H.H. Holmes: Master of Illusion.” The Crime Library. 26 May 2007