What’s the clinical definition of a serial killer? According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), it involves two or more killings spread out geographically and over an amount of significant time such as weeks, months, or even years. Ask anyone on the street which serial killer had the most victims, you’ll likely get answers like Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy, or Jeffery Dahmer. While their crimes were horrific and terrifying, there is another sadistic serial killer in the United States who claimed to have victim levels of over two hundred.
Here are eight rare and shocking facts about H.H. Holmes and his legacy of murderous terror. You know, before you go see Leo in The Devil in the White City.
- H.H. Holmes was born as Herman W. Mudgett in 1861 to a normal farming family in rural New Hampshire. His parents were devout Methodists, but in later years there were long unconfirmed rumors of physical and emotional abuse by his father, accompanied by lone behavior that resulted in him torturing small farm animals which is a classic hallmark for serial killers as children.
- Holmes attended the University of Michigan Medical and Surgery school and he actually graduated according to school records in 1894. He began to work to a degree forensic pathology and had learned to dissect recently deceased people under the apprenticeship of a senior doctor. This is another instance where it’s said that Holmes perfected his vivisection and surgical skill on the many cadavers he had access to.
- Insurance fraud via the cadavers was one of the ways Holmes had enough money to move to Chicago. He then changed his name from Herman to Henry Howard Holmes so as to avoid any connection to the scams he ran. He also previously worked in a drugstore in Philadelphia where medicine was given to a small child who then died unexpectedly. His move to Chicago was a strategic one, as to avoid further police inspection.
- Holmes had a three-story pharmacy constructed that also contained a jewelry counter, retail stores, and a top floor hotel. To have enough employees, Holmes put out newspaper ads looking for employees eager to work in the retail and hospitality business with the only caveat being, they all had to sign up for high priced life insurance policies as employees. Money was tight due to the turn of the century economy and many signed up right away to work Mr. Holmes. This was later referred to as the “Murder Castle” by authorities.
- The construction of the Murder Castle was quite complex at the time. The hotel rooms alone numbered over one hundred. During the construction, Holmes made sure that virtually all the rooms were made to be soundproof so as no other guests could audibly hear that others were being murdered. Also, there was an ingenious piping of gas vents that allowed Holmes to randomly asphyxiate guests in their rooms at any moment. Trap doors, chutes, and glorified dumbwaiters throughout the building’s hallways invariably led to the hellish confines of the basement, which itself was bondage racks, solitary confinement cells, dissection tables, and miniature crematory.
- Murder was entirely random in Holmes mind. Unlucky guests where either consciously or unconsciously taken to the basement where he sometimes vivisected them for personal interest. Other times for extra money, he would sell the cadavers or whole skeletons to medical schools. Reports have stated that the crematorium was semi-operational at times and therefore unreliable due to the number of bodies Holmes was trying to dispose of. To hide the evidence and get rid of the bodies faster, Holmes employed the use of discarding entire bodies into giant tubs of acid. Over the course of a day or two, the acid he used (which he had access to by being a pharmacist still) would completely render the bodies and bones to a slushy pulp that was either further burned, or buried in a ditch or plot around town.
- Holmes downfall came not at the expense of an escaped victim in the Murder Castle, but rather over an insurance fraud scam involving horses he purchased while on a business trip to Texas. A Texas judge issued a warrant for his arrest and with the help of the Chicago police were led to the Murder Castle and it’s grisly, and murderous contents. Veteran Chicago police were said that there were so many dismembered body parts floating in acid as well as partially cremated remains, that they honestly could not ever come up with an accurate count of just the current number of victims found.
- October of 1895, Holmes was put on trial for his crimes. He had no remorse and was quoted in court 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.”
- Hearst Newspaper reporters got to him and paid him a sum of $7,500 to confirm how many people he killed. Holmes nonchalantly told them twenty-seven, but the evidence provided by the prosecution far superseded that. In short order, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. On May 7, 1896, Holmes was hung on the prison gallows, however, the noose was never knotted properly and his neck never broke. Instead, he slowly strangled to death for over twenty minutes without any intervention from the executioner. Holmes’s last words before his hanging?
“Take your time. And don’t bungle it”.