Since I'm in Chicago right now it seems only appropriate to draw your attention to something spooky from out Chicago way. This happened over a century ago, and it deals with something that's disturbing even by today's standards. In 1893 Chicago hosted the world's fair and celebrated all the marvels of civilization, but only three miles away from it one of the world's most prolific serial killers was at work in a castle he built for one purpose: Murder.
H.H. Holmes' story is so unbelievably horrible that it shouldn't be surprising that it has been retold in popular culture. Recently it was the subject of the bestselling book Devil In The White City, by Erik Larson, and it is currently being developed for the big screen by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. It's has been just over a century since his despicable crimes, but the story of "America's First Serial Killer" is still haunting people.
Holmes' story starts off in classic serial killer fashion. As a child he was obsessed with dissecting animals, and animal mutilation is a common trait found in the childhood stories of serial killers. His home life was violent, and he was the subject of childhood bullying. One bullying incident saw Holmes being forced to stare into the face of a skeleton with its hands on his face. From that moment on, he was obsessed with death.
H.H. Holmes graduated from the University of Michigan Medical & Surgery School. While he was there he would steal cadavers and mutilate them, then try to use them to claim insurance policies that he took out on the deceased person. Later there were rumors that he was seen with a young boy that went missing. While there was no investigation into this rumor, it wasn't long after it started that Holmes quickly left the New York town he was living in. From there he moved to Philadelphia, where he worked as a druggist. During this period a child was poisoned by a prescription that was filled from his pharmacy. He denied any involvement, but he then changed his name and moved to Chicago.
Around this time Holmes married Berta Belknap in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While married, he began building a hotel that was a block long and three stories high. During its construction he hired and fired crew with regularity so no one would fully know what the full nature of the building was. Construction of the World's Fair Hotel was completed in 1893 to serve the World's Fair workers and visitors.
The World's Fair Hotel had three floors. The first floor was for shops and commercial space, the second and third floors contained his personal offices and rooms for guests and employees. Floors two and three were filled with labyrinthine hallways, doors that could only open from the outside or would open to a brick wall, soundproof rooms, as well as one room made of brick that could only be entered from the ceiling. This was a messed up building.
Holmes was clearly beyond your run of the mill serial killer. He didn't just strangle, shoot, or stab. These crimes were planned out and methodical. I mean, he went so far as to build a castle with specialized rooms for what he had planned, and he had chutes to send his victims to the basement for disposal. Honestly, I'd get into descriptions of what he did, but it's shocking by today's standards. His methods were diabolical and grotesque in their creativity. Without getting into details, I would say that the icing on the cake was that he would sell the organs and skeletons of his victims to medical school. That's probably the mildest part of this story. The Wikipedia page for H.H. Holmes is filled with gruesome details, so read all about it... IF YOU DARE.
Holmes was never caught in Chicago. The hotel closed after the World's Fair closed and the economy took a turn. He did jail time on an unrelated charge involving a scam, and was eventually caught in Boston in 1894. Between Chicago he killed a business associate and their family, and that was when his life as a murderer began to unravel.
Police began to interview employees from Chicago and to search Holmes' murder castle. The caretaker said that he was never allowed to clean the second floor of the building, so investigators started there and began discovering the bizarre details of what happened over the years. Weirdly, there was still evidence all over the building, including piles of bones in the basement. They also found bodies of adults and children buried down there. Holmes claimed that some of the bones were purchased from a man that stole bodies from area cemeteries, but that seems like six of one, half dozen of another.
After Holmes was convicted of his Philadelphia business associate he admitted to an additional 30 killings in Chicago, Indiana, and Toronto, though many believe he was responsible for up to 200 deaths. At times he claimed to be innocent, and other times he said he was possessed by Satan, but his responses seem to be geared towards what his audience was at any given time.
In 1897 Holmes was hung for his crimes. His neck did not snap, and was slowly strangled for 15 minutes. This seems almost poetic, given the nature of his crimes. It was his wish to have his casket encased in cement 10 feet underground, because he was worried about grave robbers. Despite arson attempts over the years, the castle was in use until 1938, when it was torn down and replaced by a post office.
Well, that was grotesque! Sleep well, you guys. We'll have to move on to a post about something more uplifting like lurking clowns or something.
GET READY FOR THE FIRST PSYCHIC TEST ON TUESDAY MORNING!