Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, was born May 16, 1861 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. He was one of the first recorded American serial killers.
Mudgett had a difficult childhood, growing up with a violent alcoholic father. His mother was a devout Methodist who read the Bible to him. He claimed that, as a child, once his classmates discovered he was afraid of the local doctor they forced him to look at and touch a human skeleton. The bullies just wanted to scare him, but some believe that instead this is where his fascination and obsession with death started.
In June of 1884 Mudgett graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School. While attending school he stole bodies from the laboratory, disfigured them and then claimed the people were killed accidentally so he could collect insurance money from policies he took out on each deceased person.
After school, Mudgett moved to Chicago to seek a career in medicine. At this time he created and started going by the name of H. H. Holmes while he began getting involved in crooked businesses, real estate and promotional deals.
While in Chicago he bought a plot of land and designed and built a hotel which opened in 1893 for Chicago’s World Fair. The hotel was called “The Castle” by locals and on the ground floor Holmes ran his drugstore and different other shops. The top two floors held his personal office and maze of more than one hundred windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairs to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside, and many other bizarre constructions. Holmes would change builders often during the building of the hotel so that only he fully understood the design of the house.
After the hotel was completed Holmes chose mostly females to employ. Many of them were required to take out life insurance policies as a condition to this employment. Holmes would pay the premiums for these policies but was also listed as the beneficiary so that when he killed these victims he could cash in on the policies. It wasn’t only his employees that ended up his victims, also his lovers and hotel guests would fall prey to him.
There were many different ways he would kill. Some were locked in soundproof rooms equipped with gas lines that allowed Holmes to suffocate them at any time. Others were closed up in a bank vault near his office, where they were left to die. Some of the bodies would be dropped to the basement from a chute where he would then experiment on them, strip them of flesh and then make them into skeleton models that he would sell to medical schools. He also sold organs as well with little trouble, using connections he had gained in medical school. He had two giant furnaces that he would cremate some of the bodies in and pits of acid that bodies would be placed in to be destroyed. He also had a stretching rack he used to torture people.
After the World’s Fair, the economy fell and when creditors started closing in on him Holmes left Chicago. He then appeared in Fort Worth, Texas where he met two sisters that were railroad heiresses. He promised marriage to one of them and inherited property from her. He ended up killing them both. On this property he planned to build another “castle” but then abandoned it when he realized the law enforcement in Texas was too hostile.
Holmes traveled throughout the United States and Canada until July 1894 when, for the first time, he was arrested and incarcerated
for a short time for horse swindling that ended in St. Louis. He was soon bailed out, but in the short time that he was in jail he devised a plan with his cellmate, Marion Hedgepeth, who was serving a 25 year sentence for train robbery. Holmes wanted to cheat an insurance company out of $10,000 by taking out a policy on himself and then faking his death. He vowed to give $500 to Hedgepeth if he would provide a name of a lawyer who could be trusted. Hedgepeth told him to talk to Colonel Jeptha Howe, who thought Holmes’s plan was brilliant. Ultimately his plan failed when the insurance company grew suspicious and refused to pay.
Holmes never paid his former cellmate and in 1894 was tipped off to the police by Hedgepeth. Holmes’s murdering spree ended in Boston on November 17, 1894 when he was arrested after being tracked down by the Philadelphia Pinkertons, who were a private detective agency.
The authorities didn’t have much to go on except suspicions and were afraid Holmes would flee the country, so they held him on an outstanding warrant for horse theft from Texas. Police began a thorough investigation after being informed by the Castle’s custodian that he was never allowed to clean the top floors of the hotel. Over the course of the next month police discovered Holmes’s methods of committing murders and then the disposal of the bodies.
There was thought to be between 20 and 100 victims, some even believe as many as 200, based upon missing persons reports during that time as well as the testimony of neighbors who reported seeing Holmes escort unidentified young women into his hotel, but never seeing them leave. There are 27 verified victims, but police have said that some of the bodies found in the basement were so badly dismembered and decomposed that it was difficult to tell for sure how many bodies there actually were.
Holmes was put on trial and after being convicted, confessed to 30 murders in Chicago, Indianapolis and Toronto and six attempted murders. With his aptitude at lying, it was hard to confirm any truth on the basis of his statements. Some of the people he confessed to murdering were, in fact, still alive. Holmes was paid $7,500 for this confession by Hears Newspapers. He gave different accounts of his life, initially claiming innocence, then later saying he was possessed by Satan.
After a last meal of boiled eggs, dry toast and coffee, Holmes was hung on May 7, 1896 at Moyamensing Prison, also known as the Philadelphia County Prison. Holmes was calm up till the moment of his death, showing very few signs of fear, anxiety, or depression. His neck did not snap, so instead he was strangled to death slowly, twitching over 15 minutes before being pronounced dead 20 minutes after the trap had been sprung.
Holmes made one request before his death and that was that he wanted no autopsy and to be buried in a coffin filled with cement so that body snatchers could not capitalize on his corpse.
He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery south of Philadelphia. His body was buried in a double grave filled with cement and no stone was placed to mark it, though it is recorded on the cemetery registry.
Pat Quinlan, the former caretaker of the murder castle, committed suicide by taking strychnine, a pesticide, on March 7, 1914. His surviving relatives claimed that he had been “haunted” for several months before his death and could not sleep.
Jeff Mudgett, who his Holmes’s great-great-great grandson believes that his ancestor may have been Jack the Ripper. Writing samples from Holmes examined by experts suggest that Holmes and Jack the Ripper are the same person. There was a 97.95% chance that the samples are a match. Other findings that suggest that Holmes was Jack the Ripper:
* He had a similar M.O. to Jack the Ripper.
*Many believed Jack the Ripper was surgically trained by looking at the way he mutilated the internal organs of his victims.
*The Chicago Sun Times reports that Holmes allegedly traveled to London in 1888, the year of the Ripper’s murders.
Could H. H. Holmes really be Jack the Ripper or is his descendant just making wild claims to sell a book that he’s working on? What do you believe?