Acknowledged as America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes was hanged on May 7, 1896. He lured men, women and children from the World’s Fair to his “murder castle” in Englewood. A fraud and a liar, it is difficult to ascertain how many people he killed, although it may have been up to 200.
En route to murder: Holmes was born Herman Mudgett in New Hampshire in 1861. He claimed that in his youth other children made him touch a human skeleton. It instilled a lifelong fascination with death. Attending the University of Michigan, he used laboratory cadavers in the place of “victims” for an insurance scheme. A pharmaceutical career brought Mudgett to Chicago. He adopted the name Holmes for schemes and bigamy. Mudgett married Clara Lovering in 1878; Holmes married Myrta Belknap in 1887.
Holmes built the murder castle as a drug store and hotel for the 1893 World’s Fair. The three-story torture chamber featured stairways and hallways to nowhere, soundproofing, poison gas rooms, and chutes to lime pits and acid to dispose of bodies. The plans for the building were kept in his head. He routinely hired and fired builders so that no one else could comprehend the design.
He left Chicago after the World’s Fair, in part to escape debts. Marion Hedgepeth, an illegitimate business partner of sorts, steered police in Holmes’ direction after a failed payoff. Police arrested Holmes in Boston on November 17, 1984. Holmes’ hanging occurred in Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia, PA. His neck did not break; it took him 20 minutes to die of strangulation.
The story became a 2003 bestseller in Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.