We put a lot of trust into our doctors, but what happens when medical professionals have evil hearts and sinister plans? In this post I will be discussing details behind the gruesome murders that were committed by H.H. Holmes in the late 19th century. Holmes is considered to be one of America’s first serial killers and has gained notoriety for his rumored involvement in the Jack the Ripper case as well as for his murder hotel.
Herman Webster Mudgett was born in 1861 in New Hampshire and many would say that he lived an impoverished existence in his early years (Biography.com). While in school, he claimed that a classmate forced him to touch a skeleton, an event that affected him his whole life (Graig). He developed an interest in medicine at a young age, despit the bullying, and was known to perform cruel surgical procedures on animals that he found in his neighborhood. Herman Mudgett became a medical student at the University of Michigan (considered a top medical school at the time) and he managed to supplement his income by stealing corpses and reselling them and also by using them to commit insurance fraud (Biography.com). Upon graduating, he took up employment in a pharmacy in Chicago in 1886 and, concerned people would recognize him as a con artist, took up the name H.H. Holmes. In 1887 construction began on his home, which he also intended to use as a hotel for the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
Construction of Murder Hotel:
This three story building was actually constructed to serve as Holmes’ personal murder house, thus earning it the nickname, “Murder Castle” (Murphy). The hotel was meant to confuse and disorient guests with doors that led into brick walls, useless staircases, and endless hallways. Holmes was known to get into frequent fights with his construction crews and switched contractors frequently, thus ensuring that no one fully understood the layout of the entire building. The structure contained trapdoors, doors that locked from the outside, soundproofing, peepholes, and some rooms even had connected gas lines so that Holmes could asphyxiate guests (Murphy). On top of all that, there were also chutes that would allow Holmes to transport bodies to the basement where his work space was located. In the basement there was also a kiln which was used to cremate his victims (“H.H Holmes”). Some of the bodies were dissected and their skeletons sold to medical students, while others were dissolved in acid or burned.
Eventually, Holmes decided to return to his scamming ways and traveled across the country. His accomplice, Benjamin Pitezel, and him had developed a plan that involved them faking Pitezel’s death and then splitting the insurance check two ways (“H.H. Holmes”). Holmes ended up killing Pitezel by knocking him unconscious and then burning him alive. The insurance company did not pay out because they were suspicious of Holmes and he began being investigated. In 1893 he was arrested and confessed to 27 murders but some believe that he may be responsible for up to 200 in total. He was hanged in 1896 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Murphy).
“I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing.”
Jack the Ripper Theory Highlights:
Some people believe that H.H. Holmes may also have been Jack the Ripper, a serial killer active in London in 1888 who was never caught. First of all, he was active during the same years as Jack the Ripper and the bodies of the victims in London were dissected in such a way that investigators believe that the man had some medical training (Hewitt). Another compelling piece of evidence is the fact that H.H. Holmes had very detailed records of his travels, but his papertrail is blank between July 1888-1889 and Jack the Ripper was actively killing women between August 1888-November 1888 (Hewitt). Not long after the murder of Mary kelly, a ship log was found showing that a man listed as H. Holmes had traveled from England to America (Hewitt). One last interesting tidbit is that fact that the bodies of Jack the Ripper victims almost always had organs missing. Perhaps it is possible that those organs were sold for a profit and H.H. Holmes killed for profit. It is important to note that Holmes’ murders in America were committed behind closed doors and were oftentimes carefully planned out, unlike the murders that took place in the dark streets of London in plain sight. What do you think? Do you think it is possible that H.H. Holmes was indeed the infamous Jack the Ripper? Regardless, Holmes was a sadist that found joy in doing harm to others and had evil cravings that were uncharacteristic of doctors who should strive to heal and comfort people.
After his death, his home was actually purchased with the intention of making it into a tourist attraction, the “Holmes Horror Castle.” The structure burnt to the ground shortly before it was going to open to the general public.
If you liked this story, please feel free to check out some of my other Horror-related posts HERE.
Until Next Time
- Hewitt, Les. “Was H.H. Holmes Jack the Ripper?” HistoricMysteries. Accessed 3 May, 2021. https://www.historicmysteries.com/was-hh-holmes-jack-the-ripper/
- “H.H. Holmes.” Crime Museum. Accessed 3 May, 2021. https://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/serial-killers/hh-holmes/
- “H.H. Holmes (C. 1861-1896).” Biography.com. 12 June, 2020. Accessed 3 May, 2021. biography.com/crime-figure/hh-holmes.
- Greig, Charlotte & John Marlowe. Serial Killers and Psychopaths: True-Life Cases That Shocked The World. Arcturus: New York, 2016.
- Murphy, John. “The Dark Side of Medicine: 5 Doctors Who Became Serial Killers.” MDLinx. 21 October, 2019. https://www.mdlinx.com/article/the-dark-side-of-medicine-5-doctors-who-became-serial-killers/lfc-4792