9 Things You Didn't Know About America's First Serial Killer, H.H. Holmes

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

H.H. Holmes—who was born Herman Webster Mudgett on May 16, 1861—would come to be recognized as one of America's first serial killers. But to this day, because of the nature in which he disposed of the bodies and his wildly inconsistent stories and confessions, much of the facts about his life are unclear. So is his death count: Police at the time suspected around nine or 10 victims, while other estimates are in the hundreds; in his published confession, Holmes himself claimed credit for the deaths of 27 people—but several “victims” were later found to still be alive. To make matters more confusing, Holmes took back his earlier confession while on the gallows and claimed to have killed only two people.

Though nearly it's nearly impossible to completely verify them because of Holmes's tall tales—and because he spun them at the height of the era of Yellow Journalism, when nearly everything was hyper-exaggerated—these facts tell the story of his infamous crime spree.

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A KID.

Because of his contradicting lies, not much is known about Holmes’s childhood (he even manipulated the information on his census forms), but it’s believed that when he was young, his classmates teased and bullied him. When they discovered that he feared doctors, they forced him to stand in front of a human skeleton in a doctor’s office and stare at it. While he was certainly scared at first, Holmes later said the experience exorcised him of his fears about death, and may have lead to his fascination—and later, his unhealthy obsession—with it.

2. HE STOLE AND DISFIGURED CADAVERS.

When Holmes was in medical school at the University of Michigan, he stole several cadavers from the lab, disfigured them, and tried to collect insurance by saying they died in an accident. Over the years, he perfected these insurance scams, and supposedly became the beneficiary on the policies of several women who worked for him, many of whom mysteriously died shortly after.

3. HE WAS MARRIED TO THREE WOMEN AT THE SAME TIME.

Holmes married his first wife, Clara, in 1878; he was only about 19. Two years later, the couple had a son, but Holmes soon abandoned them and married Myrta Belknap in 1887—even though he had yet to divorce Clara. He filed a few weeks after, but the papers never went through. Finally, he married Georgiana Yoke on January 17, 1894, in Denver, Colorado, not long before he was arrested for insurance fraud. So technically, Holmes was still married to Clara, Myrta, and Georgiana when he was put to death in 1896.

4. THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE "MURDER HOTEL" WAS A MYSTERY TO MANY—EVEN THOSE BUILDING IT.

Around the time of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Holmes bought property that he would later use for a hotel, primarily utilized to murder people. In order to ensure that he was the only one who knew the hotel’s true purpose, Holmes hired several different contractors to complete the building's construction. Every so often, he’d fire one if he thought they were seeing too much. Despite this precaution, the plans must have caused at least a little suspicion among the builders. The blueprints included 51 doorways that opened to brick walls, 100 windowless rooms, stairs that led to nowhere, two furnaces, and body-sized chutes to an incinerator.

5. HE SOLD THE SKELETONS OF HIS VICTIMS TO MEDICAL SCIENCE.

As a former medical student, Holmes had many connections that enabled him to sell his victims’ skeletons to local labs and schools. He, and sometimes a hired assistant, were accused of stripping the flesh off the bodies, dissecting them, and preparing the viable skeletons. The rest of the remains would be tossed in pits of lime or acid, effectively breaking down the remaining evidence.

6. HE MADE HIS BUSINESS PARTNER FAKE HIS OWN DEATH.

For yet another insurance scam, Holmes had his friend and accomplice, Benjamin Pitezel, fake his own death so that his wife could collect his $10,000 life insurance payment (which would ultimately go to Holmes). However, rather than find a cadaver lookalike for Pitezel, Holmes decided to just kill Pitezel. Holmes rendered him unconscious with chloroform, then set him on fire. Later, Holmes claimed to have murdered three out of five of Pitezel’s children as well.

7. HE WAS BROUGHT TO JUSTICE BY A HORSE.

The police had been suspicious of Holmes ever since a former cell mate (train robber and Wild West outlaw Marion Hedgepeth) started talking. According to the National Police Journal, “While in the prison Howard [an alias of Holmes] told Hedgepeth that he had devised a scheme for swindling an insurance company of $10,000. And promised Hedgepeth that, if he would recommend him a lawyer suitable for such an enterprise, he should have $500 promised him.”

But Holmes never paid up; as payback, Hedgepeth shared the information with the police. While initially the authorities had little evidence with which to convict Holmes, they did have his outstanding warrant for stealing a horse in Texas.

Holmes was terrified of being sent back to Texas where the punishment would be “rough and ready” and confessed to the insurance scam—but not the murder of Pitezel, according to the National Police Journal. He claimed to have gotten a body from a doctor in New York who shipped it to Philadelphia (where he was living at the time), using his medical knowledge to fit the body in a trunk.

Holmes nearly got away with it, but then the inspector remembered that when the body was first discovered, it was in full rigor mortis, meaning the person had died recently. So the inspector asked what techniques Holmes had learned to stiffen a body after rigor mortis had been broken. Holmes had no answer—and the game was up.

8. AFTER BEING SENTENCED TO THE DEATH PENALTY, HE REQUESTED TO BE BURIED IN CONCRETE.

Holmes asked to be buried 10 feet under and encased in concrete, because he did not want grave robbers to exhume and later dissect his body. Despite being somewhat odd, the request was granted in the end.

9. NEWSPAPERS PAID FOR HIS CONFESSION.

Holmes was paid $7500 (about $215,000 today) by Hearst newspapers to tell his story. However, they didn’t quite get what they bargained for—Holmes gave a number of contradictory accounts, which ultimately discredited him. But one thing a contemporary newspaper reported him saying stuck with people, and later inspired the book and upcoming movie The Devil in the White City: “I was born with the devil in me.”

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Alan Turing’s OBE Medal, Doctoral Diploma, Letters, and Other Memorabilia Found in Colorado Nearly 40 Years After They Were Stolen

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In 1984, a woman named Julia Schinghomes visited Alan Turing’s former school in Dorset, England, and made off with an entire collection of artifacts that had been donated by Turing’s mother.

According to The Guardian, library employees didn’t realize anything had been stolen until she sent them a letter expressing joy at having the items in her possession; since they hadn’t inventoried the collection in the first place, they weren’t even sure what was missing. The woman wrote again to notify the library that she would soon be mailing the items back, and she kept her word—sort of. A package containing some items arrived, and the librarians never heard from the woman again. However, certain key effects were still missing, including Turing’s OBE medal, his doctoral diploma from Princeton, his school report cards, a letter from King George VI, and more.

Then, in 2018, a woman named Julia Turing offered those items to the University of Colorado, Boulder for display, prompting an investigation that led to the Department of Homeland Security confiscating the items from her home in Colorado.

Now, Planet Princeton reports that the U.S. attorney for Colorado has filed a lawsuit calling for the artifacts to be officially forfeited to the U.S. government on the grounds that they were stolen and smuggled into the country illegally.

The lawsuit [PDF] reveals that the woman at the center of the drama is neither Julia Schinghomes nor Julia Turing—she’s Julie Ann Schwinghamer. She legally changed her name to Julia Mathison Turing in 1988, and, according to the court filing, Schinghomes was a side effect of sloppy handwriting rather than an intentional pseudonym. Although she claimed to be related to Alan Turing when she contacted the University of Colorado, she’s apparently just an especially zealous fan.

It’s unclear if there are plans to eventually return the items to their original home at Sherborne School. If they end up on the market, they could fetch a pretty penny—a notebook of Turing’s sold for more than $1 million in 2015.

[h/t The Guardian]

A Monkey Is On the Loose in Galveston, Texas—For the Second Time

Seregraff/iStock via Getty Images
Seregraff/iStock via Getty Images

Citizens of Galveston, Texas should keep their eyes peeled for a glimpse of a runaway capuchin monkey named Lilly.

According to Galveston’s The Daily News, Lilly went missing after her owner’s East End house was broken into on Monday, January 20. Local police don’t believe the thieves broke into the house in order to kidnap Lilly, so they’re assuming she escaped by herself during or after the crime. Initially, Lilly was believed to be dead, but according to Click 2 Houston, those reports were "premature" and police have resumed their search for the missing capuchin.

Galveston Police Department spokesperson Xavier Hancock told The Daily News that although Lilly is socialized, anybody who spots her shouldn’t try to catch her themselves—instead, they can call the police at 409-765-3702. Owning a monkey is against the law in Galveston, but the owner hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing.

It’s not the first time that the area has hosted an elusive monkey. Back in September, there were reported sightings of an unidentified primate swinging through the trees in the nearby town of Santa Fe. Though no monkey was ever found, the situation stirred up a fair amount of online discussion and more than a little misinformation.

Some had originally identified the animal as a chimpanzee, but Bayou Animal Services seemed confident that it was a small monkey—maybe a capuchin—rather than an ape. And The Daily News reported at the time that one website had published stock video footage of a monkey along with its report of the incident, which caused some people to think the animal in the video was the actual one on the loose.

The mystery of Santa Fe’s anonymous monkey probably won’t be solved, but hopefully Lilly will be located and brought to safety soon.

[h/t The Daily News]

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