The Chicago World’s fair has a grandiose and sumptuous feel to it even in the 1880’s suggesting grand hotels, formal dresses, and fancy mustaches. This Fair was to cast a positive glow over a city that regularly made headlines for violence, riots, and murders. Even the Mayor of Chicago was murdered on his own doorstep. But the reputation of Chicago still had bolgias to descend to, literally. The plan for the World’s Fair was to keep the image of the city of Chicago somewhat attractive for future generations. But in the basement of the Holmes Castle a horror lay hidden.
Yet during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, a “Murder Hotel”, run by a stunningly precocious serial killer, performed ritual murders with outlandish and elaborate equipment. The University of Chicago at Ann Arbor issued a medical license to one Dr. Herman Mudgett, who later renamed himself A. A. Holmes. Holmes would be the first and most stunningly inventive of the American serial killer pantheon. The story of the Holmes Murder Castle transcends mere crime history and succeeds into a new one: Americana Macabre.
While no serial killer is more infamous than Jack the Ripper, Chicago’s nightmare had barely begun. In the shadow of the Whitechapel murders, a hotel offering White City lodgings did a brisk business in young female guests, secretaries, and romantic ladies. Camouflaged by the activity of the big city thriving, H. H. Holmes performed triple digit murders in an era where even a street attack would cause a sensation. The Mudgett episode is one of America’s darkest.
Ironically, just as Sigmund Freud was introducing the superego and conscious to the thinkers of Eastern Europe, individuals on the other end of the planet were subduing it. Small town life and frontier romance had built new cities where elements of the metropolis included industrial malaise and immigrant labor. Uneducated women took what jobs they could get. Mudgett was an educated con man with charm, looks, and money to burn. He was also a monstrous serial killer.
Help was needed in Chicago by a congenial employer. The attractive and charismatic A. A. Holmes ran his drugstore business like a grand hotel, and the anonymity of the big city and the completely backwards forensic techniques allowed a body count to rise from one single serial killer, the scion of “Murder Castle”. Holmes claimed he was “born with the devil in me”. His continued reign of terror knew countless hours of torture and death per victim.
Experts analyze H. H. Holmes as the most prolific serial killer ever. His macabre hotel contained inner chambers fitted with controlled gas lines, a sunken basement dissection chamber, and a dumbwaiter used to ferry bodies to the dissection chamber. The killings were performed in a volume that is unquestionably the record of any serial killer.
The Dr. Mudgett who had financed his physician education with a dark market in skeletons and corpses, changed his named to Holmes as a result of the impact of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous books. Bowler-hatted, natty, and educated, even in 1888 “Holmes” had no problem getting women to notice him and do what he wanted. No person born in 1861 could have imagined the horror Mudgett would introduce to the citizens of Chicago.
The Murder Hotel was Holmes’ questionable legacy to American history and the culture of the serial killer. The “lowbrow” attractions and all manner of exhibits drew visitors from all over the world. Americans and in particular lone travelers flocked to the Chicago World’s Fair. Mudgett/Holmes had thoughtfully provided a hotel for them to stay at. From this population H. H. Holmes had a smorgasbord of victims to select from daily.
Bludgett was born into a good family and then married young. But after his wife mysteriously left him, with the infant son, his insurance frauds and claimed cadavers increased. As the “only living relative”, “Holmes” collected a respectable sum from multiple victims. The device of murdering an acquaintance or contact for business uses was practiced with no conscience whatsoever. His medical knowledge supported his access and knowledge of administration of serial killing death.
The typical zoosadim of the serial killer was developed as the consequences of a bullying episode gone too far. The doctor’s office where young Henry Bludgett was taken fascinated him instead of terrifying him. Modern psychologist and addictive disorder specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky has claimed that the gestalt of childhood or early terror becomes the lust object of later life and sexual desire.
Herman Webster Mudgett had developed his dissection habits of small animals into an obsession. His medical degree from the University of Michigan helped get him a clerkship at the establishment of Mrs. E. S. Holton. His druggist ambitions were tidily met when the widow disappeared. “Holmes” became wealthy using his various income methods, including the sale of legitimate apothecary wares.
With money from the venture, Holmes designed a sort of “mall” residents called a castle. By 1862 it was complete. Three stories of “hotel” hid two furnaces and third level filled with execution chambers and dissection laboratories. Holmes had acquired abilities to negotiate and swindle people so easily the Castle was built for next to nothing. So many different construction entities were involved that only Holmes himself knew where the curving halls, empty stairways, and mysterious chemical smells began and ended.
The third floor of the “Murder Castle” had many vacant rooms, where occupants might pass out when the controls from Holme’s rooms were administered. The chambers on the third level could house aimlessly any innocent “guest”, service, or employee of the hotel. These were windowless outside-locking doors with suffocation and torture could occur without witnesses. H. H. Holmes lived in a dwelling of evil, constructed explicitly for serial killing.
In the world of the White City, illuminated by Tesla and Westinghouse, a new world was possible. New breakfast foods and new vistas into the future were presented to an awed public. But World Fair visitors and hotel and shop employees met with painful and bloody ends inside the Murder Castle. H. H. Holmes had built a hotel that reaped profit while providing a killing zone for his personal serial killer appetites. The Murder Castle lived up to its name all too well.
But before abandoning his Murder Hotel, Holmes wanted one last scam. Using his insurance fraud scheme, he joined Benjamin Pitezel and Marion Hedgepeth in a plan to collect on Pitezel’s “death”. After the lab explosion, Holmes’ supplied cadaver would organize the death benefit collection. A $10,000 death benefit was at stake. But Holmes performed actual murder on Pitezel, and Hedgepeth was stunned to find himself left out of his cut.
Even more bizarre was that Holmes had carried off Pitezel’s children and killed them. After getting caught and tried for murder, Holmes’ Murder castle was raided. The dissection chamber for human corpses where Holmes disassembled his prey for skeleton resales. An acid vat and a lime pit were also present. Hundreds of innocent victims perished for the deviant lusts of H. H. Holmes. And his multiple spouses miraculously suffered mysterious ends too.
The resulting sensation of the Murder Castle and the A. A. Holmes tragedy was detailed in the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst, whose readers were mesmerized. Film, and television culture have adapted themes and the story of the Murder Castle to suit viewers and readers agog over the story. Sadly, Chicago missed quite a few human beings in the making of this notoriously monstrous serial killer.
H.H. Holmes was convicted and executed for the murder of 27 people but may have murdered as many as 230 people over his lifetime.
Article by Roy Whyte. Visit his Google+ page for more.