Holmes: America's First Serial Killer

Whenever I see this picture I am always drawn to his eyes.
His victims and many other women noted that his eyes looked kind and caring.
They were a stunning blue.
Appearances seem to always trick us.
He didn’t kill prostitutes or drug women.
They came willingly because he was handsome.
But looking at him now, what else could look more soulless.

The hotel at the corner of 63rd and Wallace in Englewood, designed by, built for, and owned by Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, was much more than just a place to lay your head during the years around the World’s Columbian Exposition. Holmes’ hotel, which later became known as the “Murder Castle,” was also the final resting place for handfuls of unsuspecting victims. 

Holmes, who was constantly hiring and firing work crews, was the only person to fully understand the design of the hotel. The first floor contained his drug store, while the second and third floors “contained his personal office and a maze of over one hundred windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly angled hallways, stairways to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside, and a host of other strange and labyrinthine constructions,” all put into place with murder in mind. 

Holmes, who mainly preyed on females, tortured and killed his victims in various ways. He would lock them “in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time,” or he would lock them “in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office where they were left to suffocate,” among other horrific methods. Holmes would then drop dead the bodies down a secret chute to the basement where they “were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and then sold to medical schools." 

While the total number of his victims has never been confirmed (it could be more than 200), Holmes confessed to 27 murders during his time in Englewood.

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H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer (trailer)

Narrated by Tony Jay

*recommends*

Might be streaming on Netflix for those of you who have it.

“Holmes purchased a lot across from the drugstore, where he built his three-story, block-long "Castle"—as it was dubbed by those in the neighborhood. It was opened as a hotel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, with part of the structure used as commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes’s own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a maze of over one hundred windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly angled hallways, stairways to nowhere, doors openable only from the outside, and a host of other strange and labyrinthine constructions. Holmes repeatedly changed builders during the construction of the Castle, so only he fully understood the design of the house, thus decreasing the chance of being reported to the police.

During the period of building construction in 1889, Holmes met Benjamin Pitezel, a carpenter with a past of law breaking who Holmes exploited as a stooge for his criminal schemes. A district attorney later described Pitezel as Holmes’ “tool…his creature.” 

After the completion of the hotel, Holmes selected mostly female victims from among his employees (many of whom were required as a condition of employment to take out life insurance policies for which Holmes would pay the premiums but also be the beneficiary), as well as his lovers and hotel guests. He tortured and killed them. Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time. Some victims were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office where they were left to suffocate. The victims’ bodies were dropped by secret chute to the basement, where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also cremated some of the bodies or placed them in lime pits for destruction. Holmes had two giant furnaces as well as pits of acid, bottles of various poisons, and even a stretching rack. Through the connections he had gained in medical school, he sold skeletons and organs with little difficulty.”