The Twenty Seven Murders of Henry H. Holmes, Part Four
The Twentieth and Twenty-First
"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;
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.
Victims Twenty and Twenty-One
Minnie and Nannie Williams
Secretary and her sister
Method: Locked in vault and
Site: Holmes Castle. Possibly
Time: approximately July 5th,
1893 and unspecified time, early 1894.
Confirmation of murder: Generally
accepted as being among those Holmes killed.
Minnie and Nannie (Annie)
August 27, 1895
"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.
Motive: Did not have money.
Site: Holmes Castle.
Time: During the Chicago
Exposition. May to October, 1893.
Confirmation of murder: none.
"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
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
"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.
Baldwin H. Williams
Site: Leadville, Colorado.
Time: 1894? 1893?
Confirmation of murder: None. A
man by this name did die a year earlier than mentioned.
On January 4, 1894 in Denver, Colorado, Holmes married Georgiana
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 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...
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
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'
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.
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.
Left to right: Howard, Nellie
and Alice Pitezel
Howard, Nellie and Alice
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.
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
"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
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
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 of Alice Pitezel to her
Benjamin Frelan Pitezel
Method: Burned alive.
Site: 1316 Callowhill Street in
Time: September 2nd, 1894
Confirmation of murder:
Victims Twenty-Five through Twenty-Seven
Howard, Alice and Nellie Pitezel
Friends of the family
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:
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."
[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
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."
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, Philadephia
The more bad-ass mustache
The Twenty Seven Murders of H.H. Holmes, References, Citations and Notes
The Twenty Seven Murders of H.H. Holmes,
Seven Murders of H.H. Holmes, Part Two
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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