The infamous “Murder House” in Chicago. Does the name H.H Holmes sound familiar? You don’t have to be a true crime or history aficionado to have heard it before. H.H Holmes was born in New Hampshire on May 16, 1861. He became a certified public accountant before later returning to school to attend the University of Michigan’s Department of Medicine and Surgery. He worked in the anatomy lab under the direction of Professor Herdman then went on to apprentice under the noted advocate of human dissection, Nahum Wight.
Dr. H.H Holmes spent his life being a professional fraudster in every sense of the word. He was known to have been married to several women at any given time, many at once. His wives mysteriously died shortly after they were married but not until Holmes ensured that they had a life insurance policy that named him as the beneficiary. His first wife luckily escaped such fate. Holmes continued his fraudulent ways for years. He was also known to dig up cadavers and sell them to local medical schools, all the meanwhile he managed to keep under the radar, likely from having a day job.
In 1887, Holmes bought an empty lot close to the pharmacy where we worked. He built a two-story mixed-use structure that had retail on the main level and apartments on the second floor. He failed to pay the architect and the steel company, which resulted in a lawsuit against him.
In 1892, he decided that he wanted to add a third floor in supposed anticipation to use it as a hotel for the upcoming Worlds Columbian Exposition. H.H Holmes somehow coerced investors and suppliers into the plan. The hotel portion was never completed, however other parts to the third floor were. The building now consisted of a basement, main floor retail, the second floor was torture rooms and the third was only partially completed. Holmes never paid the suppliers and they soon found out that he was hiding the goods throughout hidden rooms and passages amongst the 3-story building.
The “Murder Hotel” as it started to become locally known as had soundproof rooms and a maze of hallways that lead to nowhere. Several of the rooms had built-in chutes (similar to a laundry chute, but for bodies) that went straight into the basement. Dr. H.H Holmes stored vats of acid, quicklime (calcium oxide, more reactive than hydrated lime. Used to be used to accelerate the decomposition of cadavers and it also helped eradicate the smell of decomposition). He also had a crematorium that was used to take care of the remaining parts of his victims once he was done dissection, often selling human organs and bones to the local medical community on the black market.
By 1895, Chicago reporters were hot on the trail and started to investigate the mysterious Holmes building that stood in Englewood. It was known at the time as either “The Castle” or “Murder House”. Holmes was eventually arrested and detailed without release. He confessed to several murders…however, a truly accurate amount has never been known and could be as many as 200. Holmes never did give an honest confession and only spoke of some of the murders when enticed with a monetary reward…
On May 7, 1896, Holmes was hanged for murder, as his neck did not break so he slowly strangled to death. Ironically enough, he requested that his coffin contained concrete and be buried 10 feet deep to prevent grave robbers from stealing his body and using it for dissection.