"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.
The first documented serial killer, H.H. Holmes, holds a dubious and gruesome record that few serial killers in history have broken. This devil incarnate committed over 27 murders. Before forensics and CSI were invented, this man made an infamous mark on the 19th century.
Born Herman Webster Mudgett in 1861, and described as an unruly school boy who enjoyed being cruel to and even killing animals for fun, Holmes was also amazingly smart. It was this high intelligence that would serve him well in luring so many unsuspecting victims into his murderous lair.
This image is the blueprint of the building constructed in 1893 and fittingly called 'Murder Castle' by so many of those in law enforcement – though no record of the hotel's actual name was ever recorded. It was to this hotel that Holmes used an advertisement to lure unsuspecting people going to Chicago's World Columbian Exposition in 1893. As lodging was difficult to obtain in those days, particularly with the flood of tourists going to the event, Holmes had no shortage of victims.
Back then, one could easily open a drugstore without any experience or education. Holmes had been in the pharmaceutical business all of his life (to learn more, go to Prairie Ghosts). There was a drugstore located on the first floor of the long, extravagant three-story building. There were also various shops on that floor. This made the place inviting, the perfect place to to entice people into a trap.
According to construction plans, the upper two floors "contained his [Holmes's] personal office and a maze of over one hundred windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly angled hallways, stairways to nowhere, doors openable only from the outside, and a host of other strange and labyrinthine constructions." However, no one really knows what the inside of the building looked like because builders kept being changed so as to throw the police off the scent. Additionally, few people ever escaped this building and lived to tell the tale.
Holmes selected mostly blond, female victims, who were put through chilling torture rituals. They were brutalized and then incinerated in Holmes's own crematorium on the building's grounds, and the victim's families never knew exactly what happened to their missing loved ones. Holmes sold some skeletons of his victims, for he was one of history's best con artists. Because of his charm and good looks, no one ever suspected anything awry about Holmes until it was too late.
Investigators learned long after the execution of Holmes in 1896 that victims were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that allowed him to asphyxiate them at any time. Some were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office where they were left to suffocate. The victims' bodies were dropped by secret chute to the basement, where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also cremated some of the bodies or placed them in lime pits where they disintegrated. Holmes had two giant furnaces, as well as pits of acid, and even a stretching rack on which he placed skeletons and organs – which he later sold with ease.
Other sources state that Holmes was a proliferate rapist, who enjoyed the sexual torture of the women he conned into being employed by him through bogus, non-existent jobs. He never actually used many of the 35 or so guest rooms that were in the 'Murder Castle'. However, he was all too eager to utilize his macabre "laboratory" of torture devices, various jars of poison, and even a wooden box that contained a number of female skeletons. Investigators never found all of the remains or evidence of what exactly happened in Holmes's deadly lair.
This was an inhumane killer who started his killing career stealing cadavers from medical school, then dispersing them in inconspicuous places in the city so that it looked as if they had died from natural or accidental causes. While the police were still to discover the bodies, he had already successfully taken out bogus life insurance policies on their remains. While attempts were made to contact the families of the deceased, he was conveniently available at the right time to collect the bodies, and made sizable profits from the life insurance claims.
This was one of the ways Holmes supported his lavish lifestyle. Another way was through marriage to rich women. He had three wives in all and was married to two of them at the same time. According to records, he only had one child, Lucy, but is suspected of having murdered the others.
Here is the infamous 'Murder Castle', viewed from the outside, located on 63rd Street in Chicago.
Post office where the Murder Castle once stood
Unfortunately more pictures of the mansion are not available, as it burned down to the ground in 1895. It was suspected that an accomplice who didn't want to be held accountable for his part in the killings made the place go up in flames. On the very spot the chamber of horrors was located a post office now stands.
As Holmes himself has been quoted as saying, "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." These are very haunting words indeed from one of history's most infamous serial killers.