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H. H. Holmes: First Serial Killer In American History, Who Built A Castle To Commit Heinous Crimes!

H.H Holmes: First Serial Killer In American History, Who Built A Castle To Commit Heinous Crimes!

Does the name Herman Webster Mudgett sound unfamiliar? He carried out his operations under several pen names. Henry Howard Holmes, Henry M. Howard, Henry Gordon, Alexander Bond, O. C. Pratt, D. T. Pratt, A. E. Cook and G. Howell are some of them.

Holmes, one of the most infamous and probably the first serial killers in American history. Dwelled in Chicago in 1886, he killed more than 200 people. During the Columbian Exposition of 1893, he lured his victims to his “Murder Castle”. Holmes’ 100-roomed house consisted of gas chambers, trapdoors, a human-sized stove, and a blind staircase.

But, what led this person to commit these murders and become famous as the first serial killer in American history? Read this article to find the dark secrets behind Holmes’ crimes.

Early Life

Born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, the United States on May 16, 1861, to Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodore Page Price. His parents named him Harman Webster Mudgett. Born into a wealthy family, he was highly intelligent compared to his age.

He had a keen interest in medicine and trapped animals for performing surgery on them. People even accused him of killing one of his childhood playmates.

Holmes completed his graduation from Phillips Exeter Academy. Then he started his career in teaching in Gilmanton and Alton. He married his girlfriend, Clara Lovering on July 4, 1878, with whom he had a son.

After this, he enrolled in a medical school at the University of Michigan, where he was a fair student and completed his graduation in June 1884. During his time in the university, he also worked in the anatomy lab under Professor Herdman. Holmes had also apprenticed in New Hampshire with Nahum Wight, a well-known advocate of human dissection.

A glimpse into the future, people suspected Holmes of a murder. But, later, he claimed to be nothing more than an insurance fraudster. He confessed to utilizing cadavers to deceive life insurance companies many times in college.

His Housemates described him as treating Clara, his wife violently, in 1884, a little time before his graduation; Clara moved back to New Hampshire and wrote that she knew little of him.

How it all started

After Holmes moved to Mooers Forks, New York, gossip spread that a little boy seen with Holmes went missing. Holmes accepted the acquaintance with the boy although he denied any abductions or murder. But, said that the boy returned to his home in Massachusetts. No investigation took place and taking this as an opportunity.

Holmes silently left town and travelled to Philadelphia. There he worked as a keeper at a state hospital. He later took up a position at a drugstore, at his time working there, a boy died after taking medicine that he bought at the store. Holmes once again denied any involvement in the child’s death and fled.

Before he shifted to Chicago, Harman Webster Mudgett changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes so that none of his victims recognized him. He later got married without any official divorce from Clara.

The Murder Castle

His time in Chicago, August 1886 to be exact, he met Elizabeth S. Holton’s drugstore. Holton gave Holmes employment, and he was a hardworking worker, ultimately acquiring the store. Although many books portray Holton’s husband as an elderly man who vanished along with Elizabeth, Holton was also a fellow Michigan alumnus. Yes, that is the connection.

Holmes bought an empty lot across from the drugstore, where the construction started in 1887 for a two-story building, with flats on the second floor, involving a new drugstore on the first. When Holmes refused to pay the architects or the steel company, they sued him in 1888.

In 1892, he added a third floor to his castle, making investors and suppliers believe his only intention was to use it as a hotel. However, the hotel portion remained unfinished. Furniture suppliers found their materials hid by Holmes.

There were many soundproofed rooms and mazes of hallways in his castle, some of which seemed to be never-ending. Most of the rooms contained only trapdoors and chutes that opened straight into the basement. Holmes lured his victims to his house, killed them, and moved the bodies into the basement. There he either burnt the remains or disposed of them in other ways.

Holmes opened up his house for the visitors during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Several guests failed to survive in the Murder Castles. Most of the guests turned into his victims, among which most were women. They were seduced, swindled, and murdered.

Holmes had a weird habit. He engaged a woman only to become his fiancée, and suddenly “disappear”. He lured other victims promising them to provide a good job that would ease their livelihood. The hotel caught fire started by an anonymous person. Shortly after the arrest of Holmes, people reconstructed the hotel. It served as a post office until 1938.

The Arrest

Police arrested Holmes in July 1894 for the first time. They charged him for selling mortgaged goods in St. Louis, Missouri. But, the cops released him on bail pretty soon. But his murder spree finally halted when he was arrested in Boston on November 17, 1894, after being tracked there from Philadelphia by the Pinkertons.

Police again arrested him on an outstanding warrant for horse robbery in Texas, as the police had become more cautious at this point and Holmes seemed poised to flee the country in the company of his naive third wife.

Following the discovery of many bodies, in July 1895, Chicago police and reporters grew suspicious. They started to investigate Holmes’ building in Englewood, now famous as “The Castle”. Though many sensational rumor's spread, there was no evidence, which could have convicted Holmes in Chicago.

In October 1895, police arrested Holmes for the killing of Benjamin Pitezel, and found guilty and convicted to death. By then, it was apparent Holmes had also massacred the Pitezel children. Following his conviction, Holmes admitted to 27 killings in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Toronto (though some individuals he “confessed” to murdering were still well and alive), and six attempted slayings.

Holmes gave many contradictory summaries of his life, initially professing innocence and a while later claiming that Satan acquired him. His inclination towards lying has made it hard for researchers to confirm the validity based on his statements.

While jotting down his declarations in prison, Holmes spoke of how drastically his facial appearance had altered since his imprisonment. He characterized his new, grim manifestation as “gruesome and taking a Satanic Cast”, and jotted down he was now certain that after all that he had done, he was starting to resemble Satan.


On May 7, 1896, the court rewarded Holmes with capital punishment at Moyamensing Prison, also understood as the Philadelphia County Prison, for the murder of Pitezel. Even in the last moments of his death, Holmes remained calm and amiable, showing no indications of fear or anxiety. He requested to enclose his coffin in cement and laid to rest 10 feet deep. Because he was afraid of grave robbers, who would snatch his body and use it for dissection.

Although Mudgett confessed to convicting 27 murders, experts’ estimates around 200 people fell victim at his hands. He sold his story to the Hearst Corporation for a sum of $10,000.

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