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Did Serial Killer H.H. Holmes Really Build a ‘Murder Castle’?

January 23, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

Holmes allegedly killed as many as 200 by luring visitors to his lair during the Chicago World’s Far. But historians say many of the stories about Holmes, the “devil,” may be myth.

H.H. Holmes is notoriously known as one of America’s first serial killers who lured victims into his hotel dubbed the “, these sensational details can be attributed to yellow journalism, the practice of exaggerating or simply making up news stories that flourished in the 1890s.

“It’s my belief that probably all those stories about all these visitors to the World’s Fair who were murdered in his quote-unquote ‘Castle’ were just complete sensationalistic fabrication by the yellow press,” he says. “By the time I reached the end of my book, I kind of realized even a lot of the stuff that I had written was probably exaggerated.” (His book was originally published in 1994 as Depraved: The Shocking True Story of America’s First Serial Killer.)

Without any evidence, newspapers claimed Holmes used his building’s chute to transport bodies to the basement (the fact that he had a chute was not unusual, since many buildings had laundry chutes connected to the basement). These stories turned Holmes’ building into an elaborate torture dungeon outfitted with gas pipes to asphyxiate victims and soundproof rooms to hide their screams.

“All these myths—which to some extent I myself, I think, helped perpetuate a little bit—grew up around Holmes,” Schechter says.

The Real, Likely Victims of H.H. Holmes

These myths can obscure the stories of Holmes’ actual likely victims. Two of the earliest were Julia Connor and her six-year-old daughter, Pearl. They disappeared around Christmas of 1891, after Holmes had an affair with Julia and involved her in his business schemes. During his life, Holmes alternatively denied killing Julia and confessed to accidentally killing her while performing an abortion. It’s still unclear what happened to her and Pearl.

Over the next two years, Holmes may have murdered Emeline Cigrand, Minnie Williams and her sister Nannie Williams. Both Emeline and Minnie appear to have had personal and business relationships with Holmes when they disappeared. But as with Julia and Pearl, it’s difficult to say for sure what happened to Emeline, Minnie and Nannie.

The evidence for Holmes’ murders of Ben Pitezel and his young children Howard, Nellie and Alice in 1894 is more solid. Even so, investigators only tried and convicted him for Ben’s murder. Holmes received the death …read more