Courtesy of ‘Supernatural’ (God bless you Sam and Dean) I learned about H.H.Holmes just last night (yes I know, I’m a bit of a ‘Supernatural’ noob, I’ve only just discovered it, been meaning to watch it for ages, just never got round to it so yes I’m only on Season 2) and I was intrigued.
Similar to ‘The Winchester Mystery House’, which is a personal favourite of mine, H.H.Holmes built what was later termed a “murder castle”, full of mazes, doors which led to nowhere, windowless rooms, doors which only opened from the outside and a series of secret passages hidden in the walls.
Dr Henry Howard Holmes (real name – Herbert Webster Mudgett – no wonder he changed it) led a troubled life. Born in 1861 in New Hampshire, U.S, he soon discovered as a child that he was fascinated by death and decided to go to medical school. There, he studied cadavers and later stole the corpses and disfigured them to make them look like accident victims and claimed the life insurance money on them.
He was a serial bigamist (as well as a serial killer) and was married to three women at the same time, whilst also having a relationship with the wives of one of his employees in his “hotel”.
He established a drugstore located on the bottom floor of a three-storey building, of which he occupied all floors. He opened it as a hotel and carefully chose young, pretty and usually blonde women to be his employees, all of which he insisted take out life insurance policies (I know where I’d be telling him to stick it if he suggested that to me. It proper screams “weirdo” if you ask me).
The top two floors of the building contained Holmes’ personal office and a maze of bizarre rooms, which he had hired a variety of different builders to develop for him, changing builders all the time. Only he himself fully understood the entire building.
Using his self-taught “charm” (a notable serial killer trait, which is often the reason they don’t get caught straight away) he lured victims (including his own employees) into his hotel, which was dubbed the “murder castle” by the neighbourhood after his arrest, and tortured and killed them.
Methods of Torture and Murder
Holmes used his bizarre castle to hide soundproofed rooms which were gas chambers so he could lock his victims in and suffocate them, rooms which had blowtorches built into the iron walls which would slowly cook his victims to death. Some victims were simply left in rooms to suffocate or starve. Katherine Ramsland from Crime Library described the following:
Schechter describes what the place was like: Holmes’ Castle included soundproof sleeping chambers with peepholes, asbestos-padded walls, gas pipes, sliding walls, and vents that Holmes controlled from another room. Many of the rooms had low ceilings and trapdoors in the floors, with ladders leading to smaller rooms below. The building had secret passages, false floors, rooms with torture equipment, and a specially equipped surgery. There were also greased chutes that emptied into a two-level cellar, in which Holmes had installed a large furnace. There was even an asbestos-lined chamber with gas pipes and evidence of something having been burned inside. It was believed that Holmes placed his chosen victims into the special chambers into which he then pumped lethal gas, controlled from his own bedroom, and then watched them react. Apparently, he gained some fiendish pleasure from this activity. Sometimes he’d ignite the gas to incinerate them, or perhaps even place them on the “elasticity determinator,” an elongated bed with straps, to see how far the human body could be stretched. When finished, he might have slid the corpses down the chutes into his cellar, where vats of acid and other chemicals awaited them. (Many more details about Holmes’ activities here can be found in Schecter’s and Larson’s books.)
Holmes was arrested in 1894 after police were tipped off by Holmes’ former cellmate from a previous incarceration.
He was sent to Moyamensing Prison where he confessed to 30 murders (although later investigations implied that his actual count could have been as many as 200). He was hung in 1896, taking a full 20 minutes to die by strangulation when his neck didn’t snap immediately. The murder castle was burned to the ground shortly afterwards.
Holmes’ custodian for the castle, Pat Quinlan committed suicide in 1914 by poisoning himself with strychnine (a poison which causes uncontrollable and highly painful muscle spasms and a fairly quick death. Its most notable feature is its ability to retract the muscles of the lips, giving the victim a horrifying grin-like appearance). Quinlan’s family claim that he was “haunted” (not sure the meaning behind this, either the fact that he couldn’t cope with all the murders that had happened in his place of work or that he was actually haunted by an apparition) for a long time before his death and hadn’t slept for months.
I really wanted to just get this article out there because this guy is pretty much unheard of in the U.K (I really can’t understand why), but the whole subject is fascinating. He wasn’t your average Ted Bundy or Jeff Dahmer and combined a bizarre concept (the castle) with horrific serial murders.