Posts Tagged ‘america’

H. H. Holmes

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.

Jane Toppan

Jane Toppan was as violent a shock to nineteenth century America as the Manson murders would be almost a century later. One of many serial killers using an avocation to nursing or medicine, Jane Toppan was a nurse who had access to both medicine and victims with little or no supervision. But many experts attest that Jane Toppan was less a programmatic serial killer than simple an insane woman whose access to medical resources enabled her to end life in the double digits.

The rare female serial killer, Toppan used her medical resources to experiment on patients with fake charts and using strychnine and atropine. Dubbed the “Angel of Death” from later newspaper reports, Toppan “topped” over seventy victims in her New England hunting ground. Getting private income from members of the public as a private nurse and earning respect as a ward sister, Jane Toppan has institutional credibility in an era when public knowledge of clinical medicine was rare.

Jane Toppan needed no vehicle to cruise for patients. As a nurse at Cambridge Hospital, they were already within her purview. While initially her victims were patients she disliked, there is no reason to suppose anyone was safe from her killer bedside manner. The epithet “Angel of Mercy” was common to nurses in the period. But Jane Toppan delivered a special meaning to about thirty human beings of which mercy played no part.

Born Honora Kelly in 1857, Jane Toppan was the name her life evolved her into. Who knows who “Honora Kelly” might have been? Jane’s birth father and sister both went insane. Jane wasn’t far behind. Adopted by the Toppans from a Boston orphanage at age five, Jane was raised in the shadow of her pretty and privileged foster sister. Jane’s memories of her “mother’s” abuse would come back to haunt them.

Donald Henry Gaskins

Donald Henry Gaskins was a serial killer of absolutely ugly dimensions who ruled the Deep South with an unimaginable terror. South Carolina was an unsafe place to be looking for a ride on the highway, especially from 1955 through to 1977. The target of Gaskins’s murders was principally women, although the motivation is unclear. His early petty theft career landed him in dark places, where a career in murder soon started. An early marriage and parenthood didn’t soften a lifetime of brutal aggression.

Gaskins started out life diminutive and not particularly brainy. But not every man five feet four inches commits serial murder. Adolescent assault on women triggered a reform school and incarceration climate where sexual abuse due to his size was unavoidable. But knowing how this might come to pass, why did Gaskins commit crime after crime that would railroad him toward the very confinement that would institute his sexual abuse? Gaskins did as much to pursue a path of positioning himself in abusive conditions as possible.

Gaskins claimed a deep hatred of women but the origin is not certain. Gaskin’s killings were so numerous he is termed by many criminologists as a mass murderer. Did Gaskins’ physique determine his outcome in life, or did his psyche merely condition him for a lifetime of misguided aggression to take the life of others? Was Gaskins headed down the road of a psychotic criminal and serial murderer no matter what his height?

Called “Pee Wee” for his physically diminutive stature, Gaskins was part of a set of boys known as the Trouble Trio and was soon committing burglaries and other crimes with them. One burglary too many resulted in a former schoolmate recognizing him, and the law intervened. Donald Henry Gaskins was a product of the juvenile home for boys called the South Carolina Industrial School for Boys. In this facility until age eighteen, Gaskins was sexually abused in a homosexual manner of rape. Yet his homicidal aggression does not stem strictly from this period.