Murder Castle

The Murder Hotel of H. H. Holmes

In 1995 a New Jersey collector buys a set of 100 year old wax cylinders, one of the first mediums used for recording sound. What he discovers is a voice admitted to the murder and torture of multiple people. His investigation reveals this is the story of H. H. Holmes the infamous and perhaps first serial killer in the United States. A man who dug up graves and sold body parts for money and ultimately built his Murder Castle in Chicago. What we have in this investigation is a slight different take on the Holmes story with some new and interesting interviews.

The story starts with Holmes becoming a medical student. He used the money and influence from his first wife to get into medical school, then left her shortly thereafter. His daily routine was to dissect and catalog bodies. It’s not hard to imagine he no longer saw a value in human beings. They were simply a commodity. It was also during this time he was introduced into the racket of getting corpses and selling the skeletons to the medical school. He learned this from the school janitor who had access to all parts of the college and was easily influenced. From here Holmes made a very tidy profit of digging up graves and selling the parts.

From the selling of bodies he moved to insurance fraud. He came up with the idea to fake his own death and collect the insurance with a friend. His brilliant planned turned to frustration as he couldn’t find the right body. Strangely, the event turned him to thoughts of suicide and he was sent to an asylum. While locked away he revises his plan and comes up with something new. He gets his friend to take out an insurance policy and Holmes kills him for real to collect $20,000. This is the money he uses to head to Chicago.

Holmes is able to buy property and establish himself. He starts off with the chemist shop then has grand ideas of building his hotel. From the day the first bricks are laid this will be a house of murder. The chutes, trap doors and dead end hallways weren’t added later, the castle was built from the ground up with those in mind. Holmes knew what he was doing and knew he was going to murder a lot of people.

Holmes performs a series of swindles and profits huge amounts of money from them. Between the chemist shop, the previous insurance fraud and the money from selling skeletons, he’s a very wealthy man. But it’s not enough and Holmes keeps pushing forward to earn yet more money and swindle even more people. It seems to me he took this as a game. He enjoyed taking advantage of people. It was a thrill and a sport to use his charms and power of persuasion to get what he wanted.

Unlike popular belief, Holmes enjoyed the company of women and seemed to relish in the idea of seducing them. He had many lovers, had multiple children and was even married multiple times. Whether or not his sexual gratification came from brining harm to these woman isn’t quite known, but he had multiple affairs and even set up a ladies employment agency so he could find new female talent. But not all the women gave in to his charms. He was rejected a few times and one of those women, Emilline Segrand ended up getting gassed in his vault. It’s believed her footprint is seared onto the door of the vault.

Holmes also killed Minnie William, an heiress from Texas with $50,000 worth of land in Texas. He carried on relationships with Minnie and her sister. Both women ended up dead, but Holmes didn’t get a stake of that Texas land.

As the Columbian Exposition or World’s Fair gets underway, Holmes is ready with his hotel. He’s able to get dozens of guests onto the grounds and because of the secret passage ways and chutes is able to kill without anyone noticing. Holmes goes so far that he has a surplus of bodies laying around. The bodies are even crated up and waiting to be shipped out when the police come to discuss his many outstanding debts around town.

It’s unclear how long Holmes could have gotten away with work, but it was his insurance fraud of Benjamin Pietzel (Pitezel) that caused his downfall. Holmes set up yet another insurance scam to substitute a body for Ben and they would split the money. Holmes simply went ahead and killed Ben to collect the money. From there he tries to keep Pietzel’s wife placated by telling her Ben is in hiding and works to take her to him. This is the cross country flight from justice that leads to many of the Pietzel children being killed.

What is interesting, and something we haven’t seen before is the great-grandchildren of Benjamin Pietzel. They have followed the trail of Holmes in order to bring closure into their lives. Like Jeff Mudgett who is trying to make sense of his family tree, the Pietzel’s are trying to understand the events that lead up to the murder. And it was by sheer accident, coincidence or perhaps good fortune that their grandfather was spared. He was the baby of the family and while his brother’s and sister’s met with a terrible end, he was left alone. It’s sort of easy to forget that Pietzel was ultimately victim in all this too. He met a horrible end by being tied up, doused with benzene and set on fire. He was burned alive.

When Holmes was caught it was because of insurance fraud, not murder and investigators knew nothing of the Murder Castle, Ben Pietzel or the children he was whisking around the country. He was even held in conjunction with horse theft in Texas, but nothing ever came out about murder. All of that came to light much later and the letters the children wrote, which Homes kept, allowed Geyer to ultimately track them down and charge him with a single murder.

It seems more and more evidence is coming to light about Holmes. But as it does, it seems the story gets more cloudy. Holmes was a murderer, but how many people did he actually kill? Was it just Ben Pietzel and Emiline Segrand or did he really use the Castle as a murder factory? Is the body count closer to 200 or perhaps even higher? And what of his multiple confessions? Did he exaggerate to make a name for himself in history? Did he want to burn bright for decades to come rather than just fading away? And is there a link between Holmes and Jack the Ripper? The handwriting samples supplied by Mudgett suggest there is. It’s also stated that Holmes was out of Chicago during the time of the murders? Was he in London? Does that explain why the killer wasn’t caught?

This story just keeps getting deeper and deeper. And I think more people are on the trail of discovery. The remnants of Holmes still linger and we can still track them. The site of his Castle still exists. His diary has been uncovered. The grandchildren of his victims are speaking out. I wonder where this story will take us from here?

Oh, and by the way, I don’t believe for a moment that the voice on the cylinder is actually the voice of Holmes. The chances of that are slim to none. Rather, I’m sure that’s a voice actor reading the confession Holmes was paid to write.

H.H. Holmes – Serial Killer – Murder Hotel
3D View of the Murder Castle
H.H. Holmes on Wikipedia

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Haunted History Season 1, Ep. 3 "Murder Castle"

image A new series from the History Channel just popped onto my radar and one episode in particular grabbed my attention. The name "Murder Castle" should strike a chord with plenty of people. While this isn’t the first episode in the series, I felt compelled to jump ahead and see what new information they had to offer. Holmes is a uniquely fascinating, bizarre and terrifying creation. As you read of his ill deeds and lengths he would go it seems like the whole thing is made up. This is stuff or horror movies. Sadly, it’s real. Perhaps through time embellishments have been made, but there is no doubt that Holmes specifically built the Murder Castle within walking distance of the World’s Fair so he could find victims, perform experiments, carve up their bodies, sell the skeletons, steal money and property and then incinerate the bodies.

This episode expands on "H.H. Holmes – America’s First Serial Killer" which is where I first learned of these events. Since the original feature was made in 2004 a couple of new events have come to light, specifically we have Jeff Mudgett, the Great, Great, Grandson of H.H. Holmes who offers more insight into Holmes and goes so far as to say that Holmes is more than likely Jack the Ripper. Much of this can be found in his book, "Bloodstains", which I have read and find fascinating. But there is a slight problem. Much of what Jeff writes is hard to discern as fact versus hypothesis. You get the sense he’s revealing the truth, but in reality it may just be his opinion. So what does Murder Castle have to offer?

Jeff Mudgett and author Adam Selzer offer their understand of Holmes and the events he perpetuated on Chicago. Holmes started off his career as a doctor and made a fortune digging up bodies and selling the skeletons to medical schools. He would make hundreds of thousands of dollars in this endeavor. But money wasn’t enough. He enjoyed the kill and took that vast wealth to build the Murder Castle in Chicago. It is indeed a real place and when police investigator found it, it really did have hidden rooms, body chutes, an incinerator, acid baths, gas tubes for asphyxiating guests, peep holes so he could watch his guests, rooms that locked from the outside and holes in the floor that dropped people to their death. It was designed from the ground up as a way for Holmes to trap victims, kill them and make money off their death. And while the Castle was destroyed, a Post Office has been built on the site and the basement is largely intact.

New to this episode is the idea that Holmes is Jack the Ripper. Holmes bought the land for the Murder Castle in the summer of 1888, but construction didn’t begin until Spring of 1889. And during this time Holmes is unaccounted for in Chicago. There is evidence to suggest he took a boat abroad. There is also evidence of an American doctor selling skeletons to the University of London Medical School. As we all know, this was his old tried and true method of making money.

Mudgett puts forth the theory that based on the murders, medical training would be needed. Holmes had this training and would be quite adept at performing these procedures in the conditions of London. Holmes had the training, the temperament and perhaps even the timing to be Jack the Ripper. And since the Ripper was never caught, does this coincide with Holmes whisking back to Chicago before being caught?

We also get some more evidence about the Pietzel and some of his other victims. Could there be links to those victims and some paranormal activity that new homeowners are experiencing? Are the Holmes victims trying to be heard? Some Post Office workers speak about their experiences down in the basement of the building.

While most of the information has been presented in different books and documentaries, it’s interesting to see and hear it all in one place. Mudgett offers his interpretation of the events and Selzer offers his insight based on research and investigation.

Did Holmes fake his death? Did he commit the murders under the guise of suicide and what became known as the Holmes Curse? Were there far more victims that we realize? And most of all, can Holmes be linked to the events of Jack the Ripper?

This new documentary is available on Amazon as an Instant Video purchase. I only wish it were longer, there is simply too much story to tell in the 44 minutes that are allotted.


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