Tuesday, January 8, 2019

America's First Serial Killer

Secret passages, sliding walls, trapdoors in the floors, oddly angled hallways, stairways to nowhere, windowless rooms, doors which opened only from the outside...

A fun house?

No. This was no fun house. This was a torture-chamber of horrors in real life, built in Chicago 1893. At this time the World's Columbian Exposition (World's Fair) was held in Chicago, and many people were drawn to the fair. Holmes Castle seemed to be exactly the place to stay. Large, it took up a whole block and was three stories tall. Built by a man by the name of H.H. Holmes.

Sound-proof sleeping chambers with peepholes, asbestos-padded walls, gas pipes leading into some, and sliding walls, or vents that Holmes controlled from some other place in his huge “castle”, which he himself only knew the actual lay out, as he would change builders during the construction.

You would definitely not want to spend a night here. Your sleep would be permanent. After being asphyxiated. Or worse. It was believed that Holmes would place his victims into these special chambers, and then pumped lethal gas into them, controlled from his own bedroom where he would watch what happened.

In some cases he might ignite the gas to incinerate them, or sometimes a stretching rack he had devised.

Holmes had trapdoors in the floors with greased shoots, leading down into a two-level cellar. There he had installed a large furnace. In some cases it is thought that he would take twisted pleasure in dissecting the corpses, strip the flesh from the bones, and sell the skeletons to a medical school. (Later on, it was said that parts of bodies found were so dismembered and decomposed that it was difficult to tell how many bodies there actually were.)

His alias was Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. Aside from being a psychopathic serial killer, he was a swindler. He liked to swindle insurance companies. In many cases having a ready made corpse for the body of someone so as to collect on the insurance. He was also married to two women at the same time in two different states. He also liked to marry rich widows and then get them to leave him their wealth and then kill them.

His undoing was his last swindle. He found a lawyer who would go in on a plan to swindle an insurance company out of $10,000 by taking a policy out on himself, and faking his own death. He promised a man he went in on with $500 commission for the name of the lawyer who he could trust his plan to. The insurance company became suspicious and refused to pay. He decided to try a similar plan with his associate, Benjamin Pitezel. Pitezel had agreed to fake his own death, arranging that his wife would collect. Holmes was to find an appropriate cadaver to play the role of Pitezel. Instead, Holmes killed Pitezel. Evidence in the case against him was that he had administered chloroform to Pitezel after he died, trying—presumably--to fake a suicide.

The only thing that foiled Holmes was that he forgot to pay off a man who helped supply him with the name of the lawyer to help him with this scheme, and he tipped off the police.

As far as “the Castle” Holmes built in Chicago, a custodian for the place informed the police that he was never allowed to clean the upper floors, and so the police began a thorough investigation over the next few months. There are conflicting numbers as to Holmes' victims, but it has been said that anywhere from 20 to 100, and as many as 200, based upon the missing persons reports of the time, and testimony of his neighbors who saw him escorting young women to his hotel. Yep. A real life “Hotel California” where nobody leaves. He apparently liked blondes.

Holmes was convicted of murdering Pitezel and he confessed soon after, to 30 murders in Chicago, Indianapolis and Toronto. Some of these people were actually still alive. Apparently the man was such a good liar, even he couldn't keep track of his lies. At one point he even said he was possessed by Satan. You think?

On May 7, 1897, Holmes was hanged. It's really too bad we can't hang them a second and maybe a third time. However, he didn't die right away. It took him approximately 20 minutes to die.

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