Henry Howard Holmes’s Murder Castle

Nov 13, 2021 0 comments

At the corner of South Lowe Avenue and West 63rd Street in Englewood, Chicago, where now stands a drab, two story building of the United States Postal Service, once stood one of the most sinister buildings ever built. Known as the “Murder Castle”, the building was erected in the late 19th century by the American serial killer Henry Howard Holmes to torture and murder an undetermined number of victims.

Henry Howard Holmes was born as Herman Webster Mudgett in Gilmanton, New Hampshire on May 16, 1861. Holmes had a fairly uneventful childhood. His father was a farmer, trader, and house painter, and the family was devoted Methodist. At the age of 16, after graduation, Holmes became a teacher, and later, after marriage, he became a certified public accountant and served as city manager of Orlando, Florida.

At the age of 21, Holmes enrolled at the University of Michigan's Department of Medicine and Surgery and graduated two years later. While studying medicine, Holmes had the first taste of dissection. First, he worked in the anatomy lab under the chief anatomy instructor. Then he apprenticed under a noted advocate of human dissection. It was during medical school when he first turned to crime. Holmes stole cadavers from the laboratory, burned or disfigured them, and then planted the bodies making it look as if they had been killed in an accident. Holmes then collected insurance money on these people. But these occasional acts of fraud were nothing compared to what was to come later.

Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes.

In 1886, Holmes changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes to distance himself from his previous scams, and moved to Chicago, where he got a job working at a drugstore. Holmes proved himself to be a hardworking employee, and when the owner of the drugstore passed away, he bought the business from the widow.

After Holmes had become the owner of the drugstore, he purchased an empty lot across the street with a very specific purpose—to trap and kill victims and sell their organs on the black market and to medical institutions. For this, Holmes designed a 3-story hotel into which he would lure visitors to the city, especially young women, who came to Chicago for jobs during the World's Columbian Exposition.

The first floor of the building had several stores. The upper two levels consisted of apartment rooms. Some of these rooms were soundproof and contained gas lines so that Holmes could asphyxiate his guests whenever he felt like it—his favorite method of killing. Sometimes he would starve his victims or burn them alive. Throughout the building, there were trap doors, peepholes, stairways that led nowhere, and chutes that led into the basement, where Holmes had acid vats, quicklime and a crematorium to dispose of his victims' bodies. Holmes would use the chutes to deliver the bodies to the basement, and once there, he made use of surgical tables and an array of medical tools to dissect them before selling their organs and bones on the black market and to medical institutions. To keep the interior layout of the hotel a secret, Holmes hired and fired several construction crews so that no one would have a clear idea of what he was doing.

After the World’s Fair ended and guests to his hotel dwindled, Holmes abandoned the hotel and focused on insurance scams instead. Holmes teamed up with another conman named Benjamin Pitezel and concocted a plan where Pitezel would take out a $10,000 life insurance policy and then fake his own death, allowing Pitezel’s wife to collect the sum. The money would then be split between themselves. Instead, Holmes actually killed Pitezel and then convinced his wife that her husband was still alive. Chillingly, Holmes then went on to manipulate Pitezel's unsuspecting wife into allowing three of her five children to be placed in his custody. Holmes then murdered all three. He killed the two girls by locking them inside a large trunk and filling it with gas. He buried their nude bodies in the cellar of his rental house. Holmes killed the youngest child and chopped up the body before he burned it.

Holmes' murder spree finally ended when he was arrested in Boston in 1894 on charges of horse theft, a felony he committed in Texas. Following the discovery of the bodies of Pitezel’s children, Chicago police began investigating Holmes' building in Englewood, now locally referred to as The Castle. However, no evidence of wrong doing was found that could have connected Holmes to the dozens of missing person cases reported in Chicago. The only conviction the police could make against Holmes was for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. Holmes later confessed to 27 murders. But Holmes being a pathological liar, it’s difficult to ascertain what’s true and what's fable. For instance, some people which he confessed to murdering were still alive.

On May 7, 1896, Holmes was hanged at Moyamensing Prison.

The castle was mysteriously gutted by fire in August 1895, while Holmes was still in prison. Arson was suspected. The building survived the fire and remained in use until it was torn down in 1938 to make way for the Post Office.


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