The Murder Hotel of H. H. Holmes
In 1995 a New Jersey collector buys a set of 100 year old wax cylinders, one of the first mediums used for recording sound. What he discovers is a voice admitted to the murder and torture of multiple people. His investigation reveals this is the story of H. H. Holmes the infamous and perhaps first serial killer in the United States. A man who dug up graves and sold body parts for money and ultimately built his Murder Castle in Chicago. What we have in this investigation is a slight different take on the Holmes story with some new and interesting interviews.
The story starts with Holmes becoming a medical student. He used the money and influence from his first wife to get into medical school, then left her shortly thereafter. His daily routine was to dissect and catalog bodies. It’s not hard to imagine he no longer saw a value in human beings. They were simply a commodity. It was also during this time he was introduced into the racket of getting corpses and selling the skeletons to the medical school. He learned this from the school janitor who had access to all parts of the college and was easily influenced. From here Holmes made a very tidy profit of digging up graves and selling the parts.
From the selling of bodies he moved to insurance fraud. He came up with the idea to fake his own death and collect the insurance with a friend. His brilliant planned turned to frustration as he couldn’t find the right body. Strangely, the event turned him to thoughts of suicide and he was sent to an asylum. While locked away he revises his plan and comes up with something new. He gets his friend to take out an insurance policy and Holmes kills him for real to collect $20,000. This is the money he uses to head to Chicago.
Holmes is able to buy property and establish himself. He starts off with the chemist shop then has grand ideas of building his hotel. From the day the first bricks are laid this will be a house of murder. The chutes, trap doors and dead end hallways weren’t added later, the castle was built from the ground up with those in mind. Holmes knew what he was doing and knew he was going to murder a lot of people.
Holmes performs a series of swindles and profits huge amounts of money from them. Between the chemist shop, the previous insurance fraud and the money from selling skeletons, he’s a very wealthy man. But it’s not enough and Holmes keeps pushing forward to earn yet more money and swindle even more people. It seems to me he took this as a game. He enjoyed taking advantage of people. It was a thrill and a sport to use his charms and power of persuasion to get what he wanted.
Unlike popular belief, Holmes enjoyed the company of women and seemed to relish in the idea of seducing them. He had many lovers, had multiple children and was even married multiple times. Whether or not his sexual gratification came from brining harm to these woman isn’t quite known, but he had multiple affairs and even set up a ladies employment agency so he could find new female talent. But not all the women gave in to his charms. He was rejected a few times and one of those women, Emilline Segrand ended up getting gassed in his vault. It’s believed her footprint is seared onto the door of the vault.
Holmes also killed Minnie William, an heiress from Texas with $50,000 worth of land in Texas. He carried on relationships with Minnie and her sister. Both women ended up dead, but Holmes didn’t get a stake of that Texas land.
As the Columbian Exposition or World’s Fair gets underway, Holmes is ready with his hotel. He’s able to get dozens of guests onto the grounds and because of the secret passage ways and chutes is able to kill without anyone noticing. Holmes goes so far that he has a surplus of bodies laying around. The bodies are even crated up and waiting to be shipped out when the police come to discuss his many outstanding debts around town.
It’s unclear how long Holmes could have gotten away with work, but it was his insurance fraud of Benjamin Pietzel (Pitezel) that caused his downfall. Holmes set up yet another insurance scam to substitute a body for Ben and they would split the money. Holmes simply went ahead and killed Ben to collect the money. From there he tries to keep Pietzel’s wife placated by telling her Ben is in hiding and works to take her to him. This is the cross country flight from justice that leads to many of the Pietzel children being killed.
What is interesting, and something we haven’t seen before is the great-grandchildren of Benjamin Pietzel. They have followed the trail of Holmes in order to bring closure into their lives. Like Jeff Mudgett who is trying to make sense of his family tree, the Pietzel’s are trying to understand the events that lead up to the murder. And it was by sheer accident, coincidence or perhaps good fortune that their grandfather was spared. He was the baby of the family and while his brother’s and sister’s met with a terrible end, he was left alone. It’s sort of easy to forget that Pietzel was ultimately victim in all this too. He met a horrible end by being tied up, doused with benzene and set on fire. He was burned alive.
When Holmes was caught it was because of insurance fraud, not murder and investigators knew nothing of the Murder Castle, Ben Pietzel or the children he was whisking around the country. He was even held in conjunction with horse theft in Texas, but nothing ever came out about murder. All of that came to light much later and the letters the children wrote, which Homes kept, allowed Geyer to ultimately track them down and charge him with a single murder.
It seems more and more evidence is coming to light about Holmes. But as it does, it seems the story gets more cloudy. Holmes was a murderer, but how many people did he actually kill? Was it just Ben Pietzel and Emiline Segrand or did he really use the Castle as a murder factory? Is the body count closer to 200 or perhaps even higher? And what of his multiple confessions? Did he exaggerate to make a name for himself in history? Did he want to burn bright for decades to come rather than just fading away? And is there a link between Holmes and Jack the Ripper? The handwriting samples supplied by Mudgett suggest there is. It’s also stated that Holmes was out of Chicago during the time of the murders? Was he in London? Does that explain why the killer wasn’t caught?
This story just keeps getting deeper and deeper. And I think more people are on the trail of discovery. The remnants of Holmes still linger and we can still track them. The site of his Castle still exists. His diary has been uncovered. The grandchildren of his victims are speaking out. I wonder where this story will take us from here?
Oh, and by the way, I don’t believe for a moment that the voice on the cylinder is actually the voice of Holmes. The chances of that are slim to none. Rather, I’m sure that’s a voice actor reading the confession Holmes was paid to write.
Other Articles of Interest:
- The Dark Life of H.H. Holmes
- Haunted History Season 1, Ep. 3 "Murder Castle"
- Martina Cole’s Ladykillers
- Bloodstains – Jeff Mudgett
- H.H. Holmes to be exhumed
- Dr. H. H. Holmes and The Whitechapel Ripper – A Review
- Ryan Buell arrested and facing criminal charges
- Bloodstains – The Analysis
- The Devil in White City
- Holmes Own Story