Born Herman Webster Mudgett in May 1861, the future Henry Howard Holmes, a name chosen in honor of detective Sherlock Holmes, grew up in a wealthy New England family. He became America’s first identified, publicly known, serial killer. His life of crime began early as a medical student, he was known to rob graves and engage in life insurance scams on the recently deceased. At some point he took on the moniker H.H. Holmes, opened a pharmacy in Chicago, and began a dastardly killing spree that lasted for years.
Holmes purchased a large home near his pharmacy, later dubbed “The Murder Castle”. He began his killings by murdering his girlfriend and her family. He soon moved on to his business associate and his family members. Domestic servants, new girlfriends, and other acquaintances soon followed. His penchant for insurance scams continued and eventually forced him to flee Chicago and move to Fort Worth, Texas and then to Philadelphia.
In Philadelphia he combined his penchant for murder with his insurance scams. He took out a policy on a business associate and together they plotted to fake the man’s death to collect. Holmes didn’t tell his victim that it would be more convincing if he actually died. He was found drugged and burnt to death in a basement pharmacy lab. He then went on to murder the man’s three children. Philadelphia police detective Frank Geyer was on the case, and soon came up with probable cause to search a house that Holmes had rented in Canada. There police found the bodies of the 3 murdered children. This discovery led him to the “Murder Castle” in Chicago where more victims were found.
On November 17, 1894, Holmes was arrested in Boston. He was initially held on a horse theft charge from his days in Texas as Geyer and other detectives worked the multiple murder cases. Holmes eventually admitted to 27 homicides, but the true number is unknown. The press had a field day with the case, and Holmes played up his crimes as much as possible in a sick desire for fame. Many of his statements were discredited but Detective Geyer’s great investigative work was enough for a conviction and death sentence. Detective Frank Geyer was also made famous by the case and went on to write a book detailing the investigation. It is still in print: Holmes-Pitezel case: a history of the greatest crime of the century and of the search for the missing Pitezel children is available on Amazon. The book Devil in the White City by Frank Larson also details the crimes of H.H. Holmes.