Friday 14 September 2012

Serial  killers  (Part 3)

 Herman Webster Mudgett

This serial killer was also known by his alias as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. He was born on May 16, 1860. He was one of the first documented Amerrican serial killers.   While he was Chicago at the time of the 1893 World's Fair, he opened a hotel which he had designed and built for himself specifically with murder in mind, and which was the location of many of his murders. While he confessed to 27 murders, of which four were confirmed, his actual body count could be as high as 200. He took an unknown number of his victims from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, which was less than two miles away, to his hotel where he then murdered them.

 This serial killer was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire to Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price, both of whom were descended from the first European settlers in the area. His father was a violent alcoholic, and his mother was a devout Methodist  who read the Bible to Herman. He claimed that, as a child, classmates forced him to view and touch a human skeleton after discovering his fear of the local doctor. The bullies initially brought him there to scare him, but instead he was utterly fascinated, and he soon became obsessed with death.  

One is forced to ask this rhetorical question. Was it the combination of a drunken and violent father and the touching of a skeleton that was the spark that ignited the hidden obsession with death of human beings? We will never know.

 Mudgett graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School l in June 1884 after passing his examinations. While enrolled in the school, he stole bodies from the laboratory, disfigured the bodies, and further, he claimed that the people (he murdered) were killed accidentally in order to collect insurance money from policies he took out on each deceased person.

 He then moved to Chicago to pursue a career in pharmaceuticals.   He also engaged in many shady businesses, real estate, and promotional deals under the name, H. H. Holmes, by which name the rest of this article refers to him.

 On January 28, 1887, while he was still married to Clara, Holmes married Myrta Belknap in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their only child, a daughter was Lucy Theodate (named after his mother) Holmes, and she was born on July 4, 1889 in Rnglewood, Illinois,  a suburb of Chicago where her father and mother lived.

 Now had he been an honest man and his mind not riveted on death and murder, he could have led a successful and happy life, but that was not to be his destiny.

While in Chicago during the summer of 1886, Holmes came across Dr. E.S. Holton's drugstore at the corner of South Wallace and West 63rd Street, in the Englewood  neighborhood. Holton was suffering from cancer so his wife minded the store. Overwhelmed by personal sorrow and the responsibility of managing a business, she needed help running the store. She gave Holmes a job assisting her.  He proved himself to be a good employee. Mr. Holton died and Holmes used his well-practiced skills of charm and persuasion to comfort and reassure the grieving widow. He subsequently convinced Mrs. Holton that selling the drugstore to him would relieve the burdened woman’s responsibilities. It was agreed that Mrs. Holton could remain residing in her upstairs apartment. Holmes's proposal seemed like a godsend to the elderly woman and she agreed. Holmes purchased the store mainly with funds obtained by mortgaging the store’s fixtures and stock, the loan to be repaid in substantial monthly installments of one hundred dollars (approximately some three thousand dollars a month in 21st century dollars).

 Will Mr. Holton dead and buried, Mrs. Holton mysteriously disappeared. Holmes told people that she was visiting relatives in California. . As people started asking questions about her return, he told them that she was enjoying California so much that she had decided to live there permanently.

Holmes purchased a lot across from the drugstore, where he built his three-story, block-long Castle—as it was later dubbed by those in the neighborhood. It was opened as a hotel for the World's Columbian Exposition  in 1893, with part of the structure being used as commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes' own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a maze of over 100 windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways going nowhere, doors that opened only from the outside, and a host of other strange and labyrinthine constructions. Holmes repeatedly changed builders during the construction of the Castle, so only he fully understood the design of the house.

 During the period of building construction in 1889, Holmes met Benjamin Pitezel, a carpenter with a past of law breaking, whom Holmes exploited as his stooge for Holmes’ criminal activities. A district attorney later described Pitezel as Holmes's “tool— his creature.”

 After the hotel was built, for the next three years, Holmes selected mostly female victims from among his employees (many of whom were required as a condition of employment to take out life insurance policies, for which Holmes would pay the premiums but was also the beneficiary), as well as his lovers and hotel guests.

 One of his first victims was Julia Connor, the wife of a jeweller to whom Holmes had rented a shop from. Soon after she came to Holmes and told him that he had made her pregnant with his baby, he murdered both her and her daughter, Pearl.

 With the high volume of people from out of town needing accommodation as a result of them visiting the Exposition, he made changes in the second floor thereby transferring it into a regular hotel which he then called, World’s Fair Hotel. Some female guests were able to return to their own homes whereas others unfortunately did not.

He tortured and killed them. Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate  them at any time. Some victims were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office, where they were left to suffocate. The victims' bodies were dropped by secret chute to the basement, where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also  cremated  some of the bodies or placed them in lime pits lime for destruction. Holmes had two giant furnaces as well as pits of acid, bottles of various poisons, and even a stretching rack. Through the people working in the medical school he attended, he sold skeletons and organs to them with little difficulty.

I don’t know if it was pecuniary aspects of his murders that prompted him to kill these hapless victims or whether it was lust in seeing human beings suffer that was upper most in his mind however, I am, inclined to believe that both purposes were equal motives in his mind. 

 Following the World's Fair, with creditors closing in on him and the economy generally in a general slump, Holmes left Chicago. He moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he had inherited property from two railroad heiress sisters, to one of whom he had promised marriage and both of whom he subsequently murdered.

While in that city, he decided to construct another castle along the lines of his Chicago castle. However, he soon abandoned this project, since the law enforcement climate in Texas had become inhospitable to him. I guess that means that the Texas Rangers were asking questions about the deaths of the two sisters.  He continued to move about the United States and Canada, and it seems likely that he continued to kill. The only murders verified during this period were those of his longtime associate Benjamin Pitezel and three of Pitezel's children: Alice, the disabled Nellie, and Howard.

In July 1894, Holmes was arrested and briefly incarcerated for the first time, for a horse swindle that ended in St. Louis. He was promptly bailed out, but while in jail, he struck up a conversation with a convicted train robber named Marion Hedgepeth,  who was serving a 25-year sentence. Holmes had concocted a plan to swindle an insurance company out of $10,000 by taking out a policy on himself and then faking his death. Holmes promised Hedgepeth a $500 commission in exchange for the name of a lawyer who could be trusted. Hedepeth directed Holmes to Colonel Jeptha Howe, the brother of a public defender, who found Holmes’s plan brilliant. Holmes's plan to fake his own death failed when the insurance company became suspicious and refused to pay. Holmes did not press his claim. It is ironic when you think of it. Had the public defender been an honest man a d reported Holmes’ scheme to the authorities, whatever Holmes did after that, wouldn’t have happened.

This act of omission on the lawyer’s part made it possible for Holmes to concoct a similar plan with his associate, Benjamin Pitezel who as previously mentioned, he murdered him and his family.

Pitezel had agreed to fake his own death so that his wife could collect on the $10,000 policy, which she was to split with Holmes and the shady attorney, whose name was Howe. The scheme, which was to take place in Philadelphia, was that Pitezel should set himself up as an inventor, under the name B.F. Perry, and then be killed and disfigured in a lab explosion.

Holmes was to find an appropriate cadaver to play the role of Pitezel. Unfortunately for Pitezel, Holmes instead killed Pitezel. Forensic evidence presented at Holmes's later trial showed that chloroform was administered after Pitezel's death, presumably to fake Pitezel’s suicide. (Pitezel had been an alcoholic and chronic depressive so that was to be the presumed motive.) Holmes proceeded to collect on the policy on the basis of the genuine Pitezel corpse. He then went on to manipulate Pitezel's wife into allowing three of her five children (Alice, Nellie, and Howard) to stay in his custody. The eldest daughter and baby remained with Mrs. Pitezel. He traveled with the children through the northern United States and into Canada where they lived temporarily in the cities of Indianapolis and Toronto. Simultaneously, he escorted Mrs. Pitezel along a parallel route, all the while using various aliases and lying to Mrs. Pitezel concerning her husband's death (claiming that Pitezel was in hiding in South America) as well as lying to her about the true whereabouts of her other children—they were often separated by only a few blocks.

A Philadelphia detective, Frank P. Geyer, , had tracked Holmes, finding the decomposed bodies of the two Pitezel girls in Torontro  buried in the cellar of 16 St. Vincent Street. He then followed Holmes to Indianapolis, where Holmes had rented a cottage. Holmes was reported to have visited a local pharmacy to purchase the drugs which he used to kill the young son of Pitezel (Howard) and a repair shop to sharpen the knives he used to chop up the body before he burned it. The boy's teeth and bits of bone were discovered in the home's chimney. I presume that the other two children were murdered in Indianapolis.

In 1894, the police were tipped off by his former cellmate, Marion Hedgepeth, whom Holmes had neglected to pay off as promised for his help in providing Howe. Holmes's murder spree finally ended when he was arrested in Boston on November 17, 1894, after being tracked there from Philadelphia by the Pinkertons Detective Agency. He was held on an outstanding warrant for horse theft in Texas, as the authorities had little more than suspicions at this point and Holmes appeared poised to flee the country, in the company of his unsuspecting third wife. Her name was Georgiana Yorke and she mistakenly believed that Holmes was a wealthy man and that is probably why she married him. 

By now, he was only suspected of committing acts of fraud. No one suspected that he was also a serial killer at this particular time. However, the news that he may have killed the three Pitezel children prompted the police in Chicago to investigate the possibility that he may have murdered other people in his castle in their city.

After the custodian for the Castle was questioned by the police and he told them that he was never allowed to clean the upper floors, police began a thorough investigation over the course of the next month, uncovering Holmes's efficient methods of committing murders and then disposing of the corpses. Shortly after that, a fire of mysterious origin consumed the building on August 19, 1895, and the site is currently occupied by a U.S. Post Office building.

While Holmes sat in prison in Philadelphia, the Chicago police started to investigate his operations in their city, as the Philadelphia police sought to unravel the Pitezel situation—in particular, the fate of the three missing children. Philadelphia detective Frank Geyer was tasked with finding answers. His quest for the children, like the search of Holmes's Castle, received wide publicity. His eventual discovery of the remains of the children essentially sealed Holmes's fate, at least in the public’s mind.

 Holmes was put on trial for the murder of Pitezel and he confessed, following his conviction of Pitezel to 30 murders in Chicago, Indianapolis and Toronto (though some he confessed to murdering were in fact, still living), and six attempted murders.  

The number of his victims has typically been estimated between 20 and 100, and even as high as 200, based upon missing persons reports of the time as well as the testimony of Holmes's neighbors who reported seeing him accompany unidentified young women into his hotel—young women whom they never saw exit. That fact doesn’t offer proof that he murdered them all on the premise that they weren’t seen leaving the castle. However, the discrepancy in numbers can perhaps best be attributed to the fact that a great many people came to Chicago to see the World's Fair but, for one reason or another, never returned home. The only verified number is 27, although police had commented that some of the bodies in the basement were so badly dismembered and decomposed that it was difficult to tell how many bodies there actually were. Holmes's victims were mainly women (and primarily blonde), but included some men and children.

On May 7, 1896, Holmes was hanged at Moyamensing Prison,  also known as the Philadelphia County Prison. Until the moment of his death, Holmes remained calm and amiable, showing very few signs of fear, anxiety or depression. Holmes's neck did not snap immediately but instead he died slowly, twitching over 15 minutes before being pronounced dead 20 minutes after the trap had been sprung.

The same kind of hanging bunglings occurred in 1946 when several of the Nazi war criminals were hanged by the Allies. I suspect that this form of bungling was deliberate so that the criminals would suffer while at the end of their ropes. In my opinion, their punishment was most fitting.




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