Herman Webster Mudgett

True Crime

photo credits:  https://images.app.goo.gl/J6Xvna4926YFS2fZ7

photo credits: https://images.app.goo.gl/J6Xvna4926YFS2fZ7

Nola Plennert, Writer

Herman Webster Mudgett, (H.H. Holmes) was a con artist, and who was one of America’s first serial killers. He was believed to have killed somewhere between 20 and 200 people in his “Murder Castle”. When he was a child, he showed an interest in medicine, which reportedly led him to practice surgeries on animals.

When he was a medical student, he stole the corpses and used them to make false insurance claims. He also may have used the bodies for experiments. In 1885, he moved to Chicago, Illinois. He soon started working in a pharmacy, using a nickname, which is now his infamous alias, Dr. Henry H. Holmes. He had a three story building built nearby, creating an elaborate house of horrors.

The upper floors were where he loved, and had many small rooms where he tortured and killed his many victims. There were also trapdoors and chutes that helped him move the bodies down to the basement, where he could burn the remains in a kiln, or he could dispose of them in other ways if wanted.

During the 1893 Columbian Exposition, he opened up his home as a hotel for new visitors. Many guests did not survive there, in what became known as the “Murder Castle.” Many of these victims were women who were seduced, swindled, and then killed.

He left Chicago shortly after the World’s Fair to continue his schemes, including a plan with a friend named Benjamin Pitezel, in which Benjamin would fake his death to collect $10,000 from a life insurance company. Jailed at one point for another fraud, Herman told a fellow inmate, and notorious outlaw, Marion Hedgepeth about the life insurance plan. Marion later helped investigators by revealing details of their discussion.

The police eventually identified Howard as Holmes, but they did not catch on soon enough to stop his final killings. Howard killed Benjamin, and told his wife that Benjamin was still alive and in hiding. Howard convinced her to let him travel with three of her five children, who soon became his new victims.

After several weeks of outrunning police, Holmes was finally caught in November 1894. While he was in custody, he gave many stories to police, once admitting to killing 27 people. He was convicted in 1895, and appealed his case but lost. Estimates of the total number of people he killed range from 20 to as many as 200. He died on May 7, 1896, after getting hanged for the Pitztel murder.

A small fun fact about him is that James Patrick March from the fifth season of American Horror Story is based off of Herman Webster Mudgett, and the Hotel Cortez is based off of the Hotel Cecil.