Dr. H. H. Holmes is considered America’s first serial killer. The number of victims is estimated to be 27, and later discoveries of corpses revealed as many as 200. Holmes initially committed crimes such as fraud and forgery. In 1893 he built a three story building and named it the “castle” as a hotel, drug store, and commercial store fronts for the Chicago World’s Fair. Holmes used the windowless hotel to lure his victims in to torture and kill. He was arrested by Pinkertons for horse thieving in 1895.
While the investigations for fraud and theft were ongoing police discovered his connection to his assistant Benjamin Pitezel, and three of his children. Holmes was put on trial for the murder confessing to 27 murders claiming to be the devil himself (Lane & Gregg, 1994). The Biological, Psychological, and Social Factors Dr. Henry Holmes was born Henry Mudgett in Gilmantown, New Hampshire 1860. Holmes was born to an affluent family and there is no sign of neglect in the family history. Henry’s family claimed he had above level intelligence at an early age.
His father was noted as a stern man that never spared the rod in his punishment of Henry. Henry’s mother was devoutly religious and read the bible often to him as a child. There is no documented history of mental, physical, or sexual abuse in Henry’s family or childhood (Beasley, 2004). There is no biological history of abnormalities in his family history. The only negative psychological history in childhood is Henry’s claims he was bullied classmates who dragged him to his doctor’s office and forced him to touch a skeleton after discovering that Henry was scared of his doctor.
After the incident, Holmes developed a fascination and obsession with death. This is reportedly the beginning of the killing and experimental surgeries on animals (Beasley, 2004). Henry was suspected of the involvement in his best friend’s death. Holmes graduated high school at the age of sixteen. In 1878 he married Clara Lovering at age eighteen and produced a son in 1880. Holmes developed an interest in medicine and enrolled in the University Of Michigan School Of Medicine.
While a medical student Holmes greed led to fraudulent crimes of theft stealing bodies from the school laboratory disfiguring the corpses claiming accidental death and collecting life insurance money on the bodies. Henry moved to Chicago to pursue a career in Pharmaceuticals, it is noted that he began other fraud scams during this time such as real estate scams and shady business deals under the name of H. H. Holmes. Henry met and married Myrta Belnap in 1887 while still married to Clara making him a bigamist producing a daughter in 1889.
Holmes filed for divorce from Clara but never finalized the paperwork. Henry married another woman named Georgiana Yoke in 1894 in Colorado making wife number three, providing evidence of his abilities to maintain social relationships (Kennedy, 2006). In 1885 Holmes took interest in a drug store on the corner in downtown Englewood, Chicago. The owner Dr. E. S. Holton was suffering from cancer and his wife overwhelmed trying to care for Holton and run the drugstore, was easily manipulated by Holmes and convinced to allow him to manage the store. Later Holmes manipulated Mrs.
Holton into selling him the store and insisted she remain residing in the upstairs apartment. Holmes made the payments by selling inventory in the store. Holmes fell behind in payments, Mrs. Holton filed legal action and Mrs. Holton suddenly disappeared. In 1893 Holmes built the three story structure named the “Castle” on the lot across the street. The evidence of narcissist manipulation suggests Holmes possibly displayed personality disorders with lack of empathy or compassion to others (Heide & Keeney, 1995). Holmes designed the building which housed a windowless room hotel, drug store, commercial space, and his office.
The basement was fitted with a soundproof vault, operating table, and a cremation oven. The entire hotel building had trap doors, secret passageways, and pipelines connected to a gas tank all controlled from one central control room in his room (Schechter, 2012). During the construction of the “Castle” Holmes hired a carpenter named Benjamin Pitezal as his assistant because Holmes deemed him to be unintelligent and easily manipulated due to alcoholism. The victims Holmes prayed on were generally young single woman with no social ties. Holmes used a variety of methods to kill the victims.
After killing the individuals; Holmes stripped the corpses of flesh and paid an individual to assemble the bones into skeleton models to sell to medical colleges for money (Wilson & Seaman, 2011). When Holmes failed to pay his debtors he and his assistant went on the run. Holmes was arrested for fraud and bonded out, however while in his jail cell he bragged to another inmate about the insurance fraud who would later reveal the crime and link to the serial killers crimes. The pair moved state to state committing frauds and petty crimes.
Holmes convinced Pitezal to fake his own death so the two could collect on a $10,000. 00 in another fraudulent life insurance scheme (Schmid, 2006). Holmes turned on his assistant killing not only him, but three of his young children as well. Pitezals wife alerted authorities to her missing children and husband, she was informed the remains of her husband were discovered and the realization of what had occurred with her family was uncovered. Later the decomposed remains of her daughters and then her son were unveiled in two of Holmes’ past residences (Iserson, 2002).
The Pinkertons arrested Holmes while on a manhunt for him on a horse thief warrant and the discovery of the murdered victim’s corpses at past residences were later uncovered. In 1896 Holmes was hanged by slow death after fifteen minutes of strangling. Holmes admitted to 27 murders only after a reward was paid to him by the newspaper for the confession, although over 200 corpse’s remains were discovered on his properties (Seltzer, 1998). The victims were primarily woman (blonde) but men and children were included.
His only comments about the murders were calling himself the devil and requesting that no one be allowed to examine or explore his corpse after death as he had done to so many of his victims (Schechter, 2012). He also directed the funeral home to fill the bottom of his casket with ten inches of cement before his body was laid inside it, then more cement poured on top of the body, and finally the coffin nailed shut. To ensure no one would dig his corpse up he further ordered his body be buried in a ten foot grave with two more feet of sand and cement poured over the top before covering with dirt (Myers, 2002).
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(2002). Demon Doctors: Physicians as Serial Killers: JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 288(22), 2896-2897. Schechter, H. (2012). The A to Z encyclopedia of serial killers. Simon and Schuster. Schmid, D. (2006). Natural born celebrities: Serial killers in American culture. University of Chicago Press. Seltzer, M. (1998). Serial killers: Death and life in America’s wound culture. Psychology Press. Wilson, C. , & Seaman, D. (2011). The serial killers: A study in the psychology of violence. Random House.