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10 Facts About H. H. Holmes

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Public domain; published prior to Jan. 1, 1928.

Public domain; published prior to Jan. 1, 1928.

Birth and Family

1. Henry Howard Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett on May 16, 1861, in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. His parents were Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price. Henry was the third of five children.

Childhood

2. Henry was known to have killed and performed unnecessary surgeries on animals at a very early age and was suspected of killing a childhood friend. His friend, Tom, died from falling from a landing in an abandoned house the two were exploring together.

Education

3. Henry was intelligent and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy when he was 16. He first attended medical school in Vermont but left after one year. He entered the University of Michigan’s Department of Medicine and Surgery in 1882, and graduated in 1884. During this time, he developed an interest in dismantling corpses, as well as grave robbing and stealing bodies from morgues to sell to medical schools.

Insurance Scam Developed While in College

4. Holmes developed an insurance scam while in medical school, whereby he took out insurance policies that named him as the beneficiary of corpses that he stole. Henry would burn the bodies and stage them to look like they had been in an accident, then collect the insurance.

Acquisition and Remodel of the ‘Murder Castle’

5. After moving to Chicago, Henry changed his name from Herman Mudgett to Henry Holmes. He took his pharmacy exam in Chicago, and this was when his new name began showing up on official documents.

Henry bought the building from Dr. Elizabeth S. Holton and her husband. He designed his hotel using numerous builders so that none of them suspected the reasons for his unusual architectural whims. The room designs were varied and included lead-lined floors and walls, chutes directly to the basement, gas fixtures that could be turned on from adjacent rooms, hidden entrances, and trap doors.

2nd Floor Layout and Exterior of the ‘Murder Castle’

2nd Floor Diagram

2nd Floor Diagram

Exterior of the ‘Murder Castle’

Exterior of the ‘Murder Castle’

Confessions, Conviction and Victims

6. Despite being suspected of murdering over 100 people in his hotel, he was only convicted of killing 9. Initially, he claimed to have killed 27 people, and later, he admitted to killing 130. While in prison awaiting execution, he penned a biography recounting his life and murders and sold it to the Hearst Corporation for $7,500.

Holmes’ known victims from the trial (with the exception of Howard Pitezel):

1. Emiline C. Cigrande - Holmes’ stenographer and typist

2. Julia L. Connor - Holmes’ bookkeeper

3. Pearl Connor - Julia’s 8-year old daughter

4. Benjamin F. Pitezel - Holmes’ partner

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5. Alice Pitezel - Benjamin’s daughter

6. Nellie Pitezel - Benjamin’s daughter

7. Howard Pitezel - Benjamin’s son (his grave wasn’t discovered until after the trial)

8. Emily Van Tassell - worked for Holmes

9. Minnie Williams - third wife of Holmes

10. Anna (Nana) Williams - sister of Minnie

Depiction of Holmes’ Victims

10-facts-about-h-h-holmes

Holmes is Sentenced

Holmes Sentenced

Holmes Sentenced

Death and Burial

7. Henry was hanged on May 7, 1896, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after being convicted of his crimes. Per his request, he was encased in cement in a pine box before his burial. Due to his fear of having his skeleton stolen, he was buried 10 feet in the ground.

The unmarked grave is located in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.

Day of Reckoning

Holmes speaking on the gallows before being hanged.

Holmes speaking on the gallows before being hanged.

2017 Body Exhumation

8. His body was exhumed in April 2017 at the request of his grandchildren because they wanted to lay to rest rumors of him escaping from prison before the execution. His bones, mustache, and clothing were intact. Unfortunately, due to the decomposition of the body while in concrete, a DNA test could not be performed. His teeth and skeletal appearance confirmed his identity.

Possible Connection to Jack the Ripper

9. While never proven, his movement from England to the United States coincided with the end of the Jack The Ripper slayings in White Chapel. His medical training puts him in the running as a possible suspect for Jack the Ripper.

Why He Committed Murder

10. Henry’s reasoning for murdering people was, as he stated, “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing.”

Holmes: A Serial Killer In His Own Words

© 2023 C Gerber

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