A Predatory Mind

 
  Who Was Dr. Henry H. Holmes?
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Dr. HH Holmes DR. H.H. HOLMES


The Twenty Seven Murders of Henry H. Holmes, Part Four


The Twentieth and Twenty-First Victims.

    "The Williams sisters come next. .... I first met Miss Minnie R. Williams in New York in 1888, where she knew me as Edward Hatch .... Early in 1893 I was again introduced to her as H. H. Holmes in the office of Campbell & Dowd. of Chicago, to whom she had applied for them to secure her a position as a stenographer. Soon after entering my employ I induced her to give me $2500 in money and to transfer to me by deed $50,000 worth of Southern real estate and a little later to live with me as my wife .... I also learned that she had as sister Nannie in Texas who was an heir to some property and induced Miss Minnie Williams to have her [sister] come to Chicago upon a visit. Upon her arrival I met her at the depot and took her to the Castle .... It was an easy matter to force her to assign to me all she possessed. After that she was immediately killed in order that no one in or about the Castle should know of her having been there save the man who burned her clothing. It was the foot-print of Nannie Williams, as later demonstrated by that most astute lawyer and detective, Mr. Copps, of Fort Worth, that was found upon the painted surface of the vault door made during her violent struggles before her death. [snip] I took Minnie] eight miles east of Momence [Illinois] upon a freight line that is little used, and ended her life with poison and buried her body in the basement of the houseb."

    Holmes had a high turnover rate among secretaries. He killed them. Having known Minnie Williams for years, in March, 1893 he acquired her services as a stenographer. She was an orphaned child raised by a rich uncle in Fort Worth, Texas. Her younger sister, Anna "Nannie" Williams grew up in Mississippi and became a school teacher in Texas.

    Holmes wooed and quickly married Minnie Williams in a private ceremony with just the two newlyweds and the preacher — who may not have been a preacher. The marriage was never registered29; the ceremony was probably intended to induce Minnie to sign over her properties. With another wife living closeby, Holmes moved Minnie into a house away from the Castle.

    Perhaps concerned about all of the letters Minnie wrote to her sister, Holmes asked Minnie to invite Nannie to come visit. In contrast to Holmes's confession, when Nannie arrived, he treated the two sisters to a tour of the Columbian Exposition. Holmes is believed to have killed Nannie in his vault on or about July 5th, 1893.

    What happened to Minnie is uncertain. Holmes confessed to killing her and burying her in the small town of Momence south of Chicago. There are several indications that she lived for several more months, presumably unaware of the fate of her sister.

     In his explanation for Nannie's disappearance in Holmes' Own Story, he offered up his most brazen act of chutzpah. He claimed Nannie became enamored by the irresistible Holmes and Minnie killed her in a fit of jealousy. Afterwards Minnie suffered a series of nervous breakdowns and institutionalizations. Holmes claimed she later took the Pitezel children [victims twenty-five through twenty-seven] and headed off for London to start a massage establishment with Edward Hatch.

Summary: Victims Twenty and Twenty-One
Minnie and Nannie Williams
Secretary and her sister
Motive: Money.
Method: Locked in vault and suffocated. Poisoned.
Site: Holmes Castle. Possibly Monence, Illinois.
Time: approximately July 5th, 1893 and unspecified time, early 1894.
Confirmation of murder: Generally accepted as being among those Holmes killed.

Minnie and Nannie Williams
Minnie and Nannie (Annie) Williams
Hopkinsville Kentuckian, August 27, 1895


Victim Twenty-Two.

    "A man who came to Chicago to attend the Chicago Exposition, but whose name I cannot recall, was my next victim. ... I determined to use this man in my various business dealings, and did so for a time, until I found he had not the ability I had at first thought he possessed, and I therefore decided to kill him. This was done, but as I had not had any dealings with the "stiff" dealer for some time previous to this murder, I decided to bury the body in the basement of the house that I formerly owned near the corner of Seventy-fourth and Honore streets, in Chicago, where, by digging deeply in the sandy soil, the body will be foundb."

    The Chicago Exposition, more properly "The World's Columbian Exposition," closed on October 30, 1893, giving an anchoring point for the timeline of this story. Although Holmes provided some additional details on how to find the man's name, no such victim was ever identified and his body was not unearthed.

Summary: Victim Twenty-Two
Unknown
Castle guest.
Motive: Did not have money.
Method: Unspecified.
Site: Holmes Castle.
Time: During the Chicago Exposition. May to October, 1893.
Confirmation of murder: none.

Victim Twenty-Three.

    "After Miss Williams' death I found among her papers an insurance policy made in her favor by her brother, Baldwin Williams, of Leadville, Col. I therefore went to that city early in 1894, and, having found him; took his life by shooting him, it being believed I had done so in self-defense. A little later, when the assignment of the policy to which I had forged Miss Williams' name was presented to John M. Maxwell, of Leadville, the administrator of the Williams estate, it was honored and the money paidb."

    In Holmes' Own Story, he ascribes the death of the Williams brother to a train accident taking place before Minnie came to work for him. Holmes quotes Minnie as telling him, "At about that time my brother, whom I had never seen much of, was killed, or rather died, as the result of a railroad accident at Leadville, Colorado...a"

    A Baldwin H. Williams of Leadville, Colorado died in early 1893.

    "Estate of Baldwin H. Williams, Deceased. The undersigned, having been appointed administrator of the estate of Baldwin H. Williams, late of the county of Lake and the state of Colorado, deceased, hereby gives notice that he will appear before the county court of Lake County at the court house in Leadville, at the January term, on the third Monday in February next being the 20th day of February, A.D. 1893, at which time all persons having claims against said estate are notified and requested to attend for the purpose of having the same adjusted. All person indebted to said estate are requested to make immediate payment to the undersigned,
Dated this 17th day of January, A.D., 1893, John M. Max[?]e[?]l, Administrator30."

    In the newspaper notice, no cause of death is given. This death took place before Holmes hired Minnie Williams supporting Holmes non-confessional version of the story. Holmes did have the detail of estate administrator correct.

    What can be made of this? Holmes had known Minnie Williams for years including when she lived in Boston and Denver. Immediately before she moved to Chicago, she lived in Denver. Perhaps the death of her brother gave her the impetus to move on. Perhaps Holmes visited her there and helped settle her brother's estate. Or perhaps he remembered details of this from what he had later told her.

Summary: Victim Twenty-Three
Baldwin H. Williams
Brother-in-law
Motive: Money.
Method: Shooting.
Site: Leadville, Colorado.
Time: 1894? 1893?
Confirmation of murder: None. A man by this name did die a year earlier than mentioned.

Leaving Chicago.

    On January 4, 1894 in Denver, Colorado, Holmes married Georgiana Yoke31. She remained in rapturous ignorance of his three other wives and his myriad schemes. She would defend him and when necessary, bail him out. Together they headed to Fort Worth, Texas where Holmes attempted to collect on the estate of Minnie Williams. Once there, intent on starting a franchise, Holmes initiated the construction of a new murder castle. He found a new accomplice, John C. Allen, alias "Mascot." They tried their hands at a horse swindle which ended in St. Louis where Holmes was jailed. While incarcerated he concocted a plan to kill off an old associate for the insurance money.

Victims Twenty-Four through Twenty-Seven: The Pitezel family.

Benjamin Frelan Pitezel
Benjamin Frelan Pitezel

    "Benjamin F. Pitezel comes next. .... It will be understood that from the first hour of our acquaintance, even before I knew he had a family who would later afford me additional victims for the gratification of my blood-thirstiness, I intended to kill him...b"

    Holmes was convicted and executed for just one murder: that of Benjamin Frelan Pitezel. Holmes insured Pitezel for $10,000 and set him up in a storefront in Philadelphia where he offered to buy inventions. Holmes told Pitezel he would fake a disfiguring accident, provide a substitute corpse and they would split the proceeds from the insurance fraud. On September 2, 1894, Holmes got his long-time friend drunk. Once he had passed out on the floor...

    "Only one difficulty presented itself. It was necessary, for me to kill him in such a manner that no struggle or movement of his body should occur, otherwise his clothing being in any way displaced it would have been impossible to again put them in a normal condition. I overcame this difficulty by first binding him hand and foot and having done — I proceeded to burn him alive by saturating his clothing and his face with benzene and igniting it with a matchb."

    In Holmes' Own Story, he maintained that Pitezel's death was suicide. The suicide note, which, naturally Holmes had to destroy, asked him to stage the death as part of a crime scene. "He wished me to so arrange his body in one of two ways that it would appear that his death had been either accidental or that he had been attacked by burglars and killed, giving the details of how I was to carry our either course: First, that his family should not at present know of his death; second, that the children should never know he had committed suicide...a"

    If nothing else, Holmes' Own Story was inventive for its range of explanations behind the disappearance of so many: one staged his death for insurance, one ran off to get married, they killed each other, suicide, accidents, they were still alive (sometimes true)...

    With his associate dead, Holmes headed back west to undertake the steps involved in collecting the insurance. Benjamin's wife, Carrie Pitezel, knew of the scheme and believed the corpse to be a substitute. The five Pitezel children believed their father dead. Holmes couldn't bring Carrie to Philadelphia to identify the body — she would see who it really was. So, instead, Holmes instead brought fifteen-year-old Alice to identify her father's body. On September 20th, she wrote to her mother.

"Just arrived Philadelphia this morning ... I am going to the Morgue after awhile ... Have you gotten 4 letters from me besides this?32"

Holmes intercepted and never mailed any of her letters, stashing them in a tin box.

    On September 27th, Holmes received the insurance money. He told Carrie that, with her husband still alive, they were to take separate paths and later meet up with him. With Holmes having long been a family friend, a virtual uncle to the children, he convinced Carrie to let him transport three of her children.

Howard Pitezel Nellie Pitezel Alice Pitezel
Left to right: Howard, Nellie and Alice Pitezel


Howard, Nellie and Alice Pitezel.

    Holmes saved his greatest act of sadism for his last three victims. Their murders seemed without motive, a cruelty beyond fathoming. It left no doubt Holmes could not be romanticized as an anti-hero or be pitied as some pathetic creature.

    With the insurance money in hand, Holmes began to hopscotch between cities with three of the Pitezel children in tow. He ordered them to stay in the hotels, indoors. They were cold. Alice wrote, begging, "Tell Mama that I have to have a coat33."

    Eight-year-old Howard Pitezel became the first to die.

    "I called at the Irvington [Indiana] drug store and purchased the drugs I needed to kill the boy ... I called him into the house and insisted that he go to bed at once first giving him the fatal dose of medicine. As soon as he had ceased to breathe I cut his body into pieces that would pass through the door of the stove and by the combined use of gas and corncobs proceeded to burn it with as little feeling as 'though it had been some inanimate objectb."

    Unaware of her brother's fate or what awaited the rest of them, Alice wrote home, saying, "Howard is not with us now34."

    In Holmes' Own Story, he tried to pass off the child's disappearance on the mysterious Edward Hatch, a name he invoked sixty-six times. "I met Hatch and Howard later upon the street. This was the last time I ever saw the boy Howard...a"

    The detectives were not impressed. Holmes complained, "They at once branded my statements concerning Hatch as untrue, and said that he was a mythical person, asking me to name any one who had ever seen him...a"

    Now with only Nellie and Alice Pitezel in his charge, Holmes continued to move from town to town. In Detroit with the two girls stashed in a hotel, he met up Carrie Pitezel and her other two children. He planted explosives to kill them but was unsuccessfulb.

    He transported the children to Toronto where, on October 25th, he enticed the Pitezel girls to climb inside a trunk where he locked them in. "[After] 8:00 P.M. I again returned to the house where the children were imprisoned, and ended their lives by connecting the gas with the trunk, then came the opening of the trunk and the viewing of their little blackened and distorted faces, then the digging of their shallow graves in the basement of the house, the ruthless stripping off of their clothing and the burial without a particle of covering save the cold earth, which I heaped upon them with fiendish delightb."

    In Holmes' Own Story, he claimed the Pitezel girls went off with the still-living Minnie Williams and the never-seen Edward Hatch, headed to London where they would use the insurance money to open a massage parlora.

    Why kill the Pitezel children? Perhaps the telling clue comes in the fact he tried to kill Carrie Pitezel and the remainder of the family. With Benjamin Pitezel's death being real, he feared Carrie would soon realize he had arranged the murder. She and the children were witnesses.

Letter, Alice Pitezel to her grandparents Second page
Letter of Alice Pitezel to her grandparents, October 14, 1894


Summary: Victim Twenty-Four
Benjamin Frelan Pitezel
Long-time associate
Motive: Money.
Method: Burned alive.
Site: 1316 Callowhill Street in Philadelphia.
Time: September 2nd, 1894
Confirmation of murder: well-documented.

Summary: Victims Twenty-Five through Twenty-Seven
Howard, Alice and Nellie Pitezel
Friends of the family
Motive: Witnesses?
Method: Howard, poisoned. Alice and Nellie locked in a trunk and gassed.
Site: Howard, Irvington, outside Indianapolis, Indiana. Alice and Nellie in Toronto.
Time: Howard, October 5, 1894; Alice and Nellie: October 25, 1894.
Confirmation of murder: well-documented.

End of the Line.

    In order to secure the Pitezel insurance money, Holmes needed a crooked lawyer. To find a crooked lawyer, he asked the notorious train-robber, Marion Hedgepeth. Hedgepeth turned in Holmes, telling the authorities and the insurance company about the swindle.

    On November 17, 1894, Holmes was arrested in Boston. While on a train being transported to custody, he tried to bribe his way free.

    "I'm a hypnotizer. If you let me hypnotize you so that we can escape, I'll give you $500."
    "Hypnotism," [responded Detective Crawford], "always spoils my appetite35."

    While insurance scams were common enough, Holmes, with his multiple wives, proved to be a particularly salacious scandal. His story made national headlines. Holmes tried to account for his polygamy. "He explained that when he left New Hampshire he went west and while traveling there he had his skull fractured and was robbed of his gold watch and considerable money in a railroad accident. In the hospital he was given the name of H.H. Holmes and went out never knowing he had any other. During the year [sic] of his mental trouble he married a western woman and by her had one child36."

    Holmes was imprisoned, charged with insurance fraud. Even within a week, newspapers began speculating he was responsible for at least six murders: the Williams sisters and the Pitezels.

Holmes vs. Holmes.

    On June 3, 1895 Holmes pled guilty to insurance fraud and received a mild sentence. With his national notoriety, the Chicago police began searching the Castle, uncovering blood and bones. Frank Geyer, a Philadelphia detective, embarked on a hunt to track down the location of the three missing Pitezel children, fearing they had been abandoned somewhere. His methodical investigation was broadcast day by day across American newspapers. Geyer became known as the American Sherlock Holmes. On July 15th, he discovered the bodies of the Pitezel girls. On August 27th, he discovered Howard Pitezel.

    Although generally acknowledged as having killed a dozen more, perhaps scores of victims37, in late October 1895, Holmes was tried only for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. For part of the proceedings he acted as his own lawyer. He lost.

    On May 9th, 1896, while walking to the gallows in the courtyard of Moyamensing Prison, Holmes made one last confession, again rewriting his story.

    "Gentlemen, I have very few words to say. In fact, I would make no remarks at this time were it not that by not speaking I should acquiesce in my execution. I only wish to say that the extent of my wrong-doing in the taking of human life consists of contriving the killing of two women that have died at my hands as a result of criminal operations. I wish to also state, so that there can be no chance of misunderstanding my words hereafter, that I am not guilty of taking the life of any of the three Pitezel children, or the man for whose death I was convicted, and for whose death I am now to be hanged. That is all I have to say38."

    The phrase "criminal operations" has been interpreted as abortions, although, in his confession to the murder of Anna Betz, "operation" could also have meant "criminal venture."

    At 10:13 a.m., H.H. Holmes was hung. He took fifteen minutes to die.

Frank Geyer, detective
Frank Geyer, Philadephia detective.
The more bad-ass mustache always wins.

The Twenty Seven Murders of H.H. Holmes, References, Citations and Notes

More to the story

The Twenty Seven Murders of H.H. Holmes, Part One
The Twenty Seven Murders of H.H. Holmes, Part Two

The Twenty Seven Murders of H.H. Holmes, Part Three
The Twenty Seven Murders of H.H. Holmes, References, Citations and Notes
Holmes and The Resurrectionists

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copyright 2013, Martin Hill Ortiz