Step 1. Steal a cadaver (Check!)

by TerryWalstrom 9 Replies latest jw friends

  • TerryWalstrom

    Step 1. Steal a cadaver (Check!)

    I live in Fort Worth. For a time, so did serial murderer Henry Howard Holmes.

    Henry, as a young medical student in 1861, was a future serial killer.
    Did he know his destiny? Hard to say.
    Here is what is known and true.

    Henry was a medical student with a wild imagination. There were all these dead bodies lying about and nobody to exploit them for profit. If only somebody could concoct a scam and collect money from insurance companies using those corpses...hmmm?

    Henry to the rescue!

    Step 1. Steal a cadaver (Check!)
    Step 2. Steal the identity of the deceased. (Check!)
    Step 3. Take out a life insurance policy. (Check!)
    Step 4. Name yourself beneficiary in case of death. (Check!)

    Let’s cut to the’re getting ahead of the story. Obviously, Henry was able to collect plenty of money. After all, he could provide proof of death, right?

    The fun part was setting up an accident and positioning the body. Sound like fun? Well, for a future serial killer it sure would be!
    This sort of fraud was more exciting than some of Henry’s earlier schemes, profitable as they were, such as Mail Order cures for alcoholism. (Synopsis: stop drinking.)

    Then there was the wonderful contraption Henry invented which extracted “illuminating gas” from the water. (Do I have to tell you our boy had piped in natural gas from the city pipes?)
    Investors were impressed.
    The money rolled in. Henry rolled out.
    As Henry grew more sophisticated in his thinking, he turned to marrying rich widows!
    These women’s assets found their way into our ‘hero’s’ bank account shortly before the honeymooners went off on a trip around the world. Henry always came back. The spouse never did turn up! Divorce was unnecessary.
    30 years passed from the corpse theft days. All sorts of criminality found its way into Henry H. Holmes’ biography. Cattle theft was the least exciting, while hotel building proved to be one of the grandest and most grisly schemes this man’s twisted mind embarked upon for murderous purposes.

    As I told you at the start, I live in Fort Worth. For a time, so did serial murderer H.H. Holmes. In fact, Henry built a fabulous hotel in my fair city. The year is 1885 and the location was at the corner of today's Commerce St. and 2nd St.
    H.H.Holmes had married a railroad heiress in Cowtown and took possession and control of his wife and sister’s inheritance, their property, (before he murdered them).
    You can read the story here on the front page of the Fort Worth Gazette.
    Upon prime downtown real estate Henry constructed a hotel which would house his own version of a chamber of horrors.

    Let’s call this building what newspapers later called it, TEXAS MURDER CASTLE.
    Another newspaper called it THE RUSK STREET FIRETRAP. Even that long ago, media couldn’t get its stories straight. (Commerce St. was the wrong street name, Rusk was the right name.)
    We can gather facts about his macabre building by comparing it with a later hotel he also constructed during the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.
    To wit:
    The street-level floor was for shops and his pharmacy, while the upper two stories were hotel rooms (or boarding house rooms) and his office. However, the upper two stories were laid out like a maze, with doors that opened into walls, stairways that went nowhere, and gas pipes which he apparently controlled to suffocate people. There were also chutes and a dumbwaiter, purportedly intended to deliver the bodies of his victims to the basement where he might bury them, burn them in his own crematory ovens, or dissect and render them (in acid) in order to convert them to skeletons to sell to medical schools. He apparently lured quite a number of women into these torture chambers / charnel house, as well as a few men, before he was eventually found out.”

    The problem with being a serial killer, fraudster, thief, and Con man is having way too many loose ends to tie up before somebody gets wise and comes after you.

    H.H.Holmes was going by the name of O.C. Pratt in Fort Worth and one of his illicit enterprises involved a far more serious crime than serial murder: Horse thievery!
    It would not be an exaggeration to say, it was the horror at his making off with a railroad car filled with fine horses which got him run out of Fort Worth and eventually arrested in Chicago where his serial killing via Hotel Horror chambers brought him into the crosshairs of police.
    His life’s work of death was thus interrupted before he could chalk up new outlines on the floors of his Ft.Worth Hotel.

    Now, this is the story as it is commonly told locally. It isn’t quite correct.
    According to historian and author Adam Selzer:

    Throughout winter and spring, 1894, Holmes supervised construction of the new building in Fort Worth, which was, in fact, actually completed, though never occupied or used. Though about twice the square footage, being on a wider lot, it was almost exactly the same design as the Chicago castle on the outside.
    Galveston Daily News reported “The grim, half-completed building nearby, (and) the dark alley give the place an uninviting appearance. The weeds grow above the spot and the smell of the surroundings is suggestive enough.”
    The same article further noted that in the middle ages, the place would have been called “The Castle of Many Doors.” Rumors suggested there was a chute leading right to a sewer, which would have been a great way to dispose of a body.

    Worth noting:
    67 people who checked into the Chicago Hotel during the Word’s Fair never checked out or were seen or heard from again.
    For greater details about H.H.Holmes try this new book:
    H. H. Holmes The True History of the White City Devil by Adam Selzer

  • scratchme1010

    Interesting creepy facts about the town where you live. Sadly we always remember the criminal and never the victims.

  • TerryWalstrom

    Author Adam Selzer goes into as much detail as can be extracted from various sources still extant. One big problem comes from the ill preserved newspaper sources.
    Holmes, he writes, is said to have killed more than 200 people in his “murder castle,” but he was only actually accused of killing one person at that location.
    This fellow had one of the most extraordinary careers in murder as far as variety and bizarre circumstances.
    I could spend days going through the newspapers if I could locate them.

  • stillin

    I have read Devil in the White City and I didn't realize that there was so much more to know about this guy! Wow! What a creep!

  • TerryWalstrom

    Diabolical, endlessly inventing, lying, back-stabbing, contriving, cheating...

  • Iown Mylife
    Iown Mylife

    So horrible. My granddaughter had a summer assignment involving that book last year - it took almost the entire vacation but she enjoyed learning about Chicago world's fair and how the detective worked to catch that guy.

  • TerryWalstrom

    I have many videos on YouTube on the subject. One author complained how many dead end stories had been published by reporters who didn't bother doing the actual on-the-ground legwork. These reporters made up lurid headlines and tickled the sensational aspect.
    He tried to find stories by reliable reporters willing to chase down leads, witnesses, and verification.
    Journalism hasn't really changed all that much today.

  • under the radar
    under the radar

    What a coincidence! The article below from the Washington Post appeared in today's Union Leader, NH's leading newspaper. I tried to post a copy of the article exactly as it appeared in the paper, but that failed multiple times, so here it is converted to simple text. If anyone's interested, PM me and I'll email you a PDF of the article as it appeared in the paper (Sunday, May 7, 2017).

    Serial killer from Gilmanton to be dug up to prove his identity


    Washington Post

    The three-story hotel in downtown Chicago known as the “Castle” was by all appearances just another place for tourists to stay during the 1893 World’s Fair except for one thing: Many young women entered through its doors but not that many left. Or so neighbors would later recall.

    For years, its owner, Dr. H.H. Holmes — born Herman Webster Mudgett in Gilmanton, N.H.— had invited people, mostly young women, into the hotel he designed, promising jobs and lodging while hinting that he was a wealthy man seeking a bride.

    What no one knew was Holmes didn’t merely design a hotel. He fashioned a labyrinthine house of horrors, a “Murder Castle” with trap doors, peepholes and stairways that led nowhere. Many of its 100 or more rooms were soundproof. Others included gas lines, which allowed Holmes to fill the rooms with gas to easily asphyxiate guests, according to the Crime Museum.

    The basement was equipped with a dissecting table, stretching rack and crematory. Holmes would deliver fresh corpses to this makeshift morgue by dropping them down chutes positioned around the hotel. He would then either dissolve them in acid or strip them of their skin and organs — and sell the skeletons to medical schools (obscuring their origins).

    Eventually, he was caught and tried in Pennsylvania.

    Herman Mudgett was born on May 16, 1860, in Gilmanton. His parents were devout Methodists; his father and grandfather were farmers. The boy “spent a good deal of time alone in his room reading Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe and inventing things,” according to Erik Larson’s best-selling book about Holmes, “The Devil in the White City.”

    Larson described Mudgett/ Holmes as “a small, odd, and exceptionally bright boy.” His only close childhood friend, he wrote, “was killed in a fall while the boys were playing in an abandoned house.”

    No one knows how many people Holmes killed. He admitted to 28, but some believe the number exceeded 200.

    “I was born with the devil in me,” he said while confessing, according to History. “I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing.”

    For these crimes, Holmes was sentenced to death.

    He was hanged in Pennsylvania in 1896. That’s how the story goes. But maybe that wasn’t all, after all.

    For more than a century, rumors persisted that Holmes, also a highly skilled con man, managed to avoid his hanging via trickery.

    Now, at the behest of Holmes’s great-grandchildren, who hope to finally quell such rumors, his remains are being exhumed from the Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pa., the Associated Press reported.

    John and Richard Mudgett and Cynthia Mudgett Soriano submitted DNA samples to the University of

    Pennsylvania, where a DNA analysis will be performed. The remains will then be reinterred in the grave, regardless of whether they turn out to belong to Holmes.

    They are not commenting on the exhumation at this time.

    The rumors began after Holmes’s body was snugly in the ground, Adam Selzer wrote in “H.H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil.”

    Robert Latimer, a man Holmes had confessed to killing but who was very much alive, told reporters Holmes hadn’t been hanged. Instead, Latimer contended, Holmes convinced his prison guards he was innocent, and they chose to help him.

    Wrote Selzer: They’d brought in a fake body and hidden it behind a partition below the scaffold. When Holmes was brought out to be hanged, the guards had formed a semicircle around him, momentarily blocking the view of the smaller-than-usual number of reporters and jurymen while (the executioner) pretended to bind his arms and put the hood over his head. In those few crucial seconds, the hooded substitute body was raised behind the semicircle, and Holmes himself slipped away to be smuggled out in a casket. The guards had propped up the hooded dead body for a moment before hanging it.

    Local newspapers wrote up this account, quoting Latimer as saying, “H.H. Holmes was never hanged in Philadelphia. He cheated the gallows, and is today alive and well and growing coffee at San Paramaribo, Paraguay, South America.”

    “This was quite a popular story at the time,” author Matt Lake told NBC Chicago. “A cynical person might say this was just designed to sell more newspapers, and it did sell newspapers.”

    Furthermore, it was more difficult than usual to verify the identity of his corpse after burial. When he was sentenced to death, Holmes had a strange request, which was granted. He wanted to be buried in a pine box filled with wet cement that would dry and encapsulate his body. Once he was lowered in the ground, four barrels of cement were poured on top of the coffin, Selzer wrote.

    “If somebody went to check later, they couldn’t verify that it was his body,” Lake said.

    More than century later, though, that’s no longer a problem. Soon, the world will know if Holmes was actually hanged and buried in Pennsylvania.

    Many, though, don’t feel the need to await a DNA test. Among them is Erik Larson, who wrote about Holmes in his 2003 bestselling book “The Devil in the White City.”

    “I have absolute confidence the body in that grave is Holmes,” Larson said.


    Herman Webster Mudgett, better known under the name of Dr. Henry Howard Holmes or more commonly H. H. Holmes, was one of the first documented serial killers in the modern sense of the term. WIKIPEDIA

  • TerryWalstrom

    Serial killer from Gilmanton to be dug up to prove his identity


    Washington Post

    These sorts of stories are so endlessly fascinating--if for no better reason than we are the same species as the bestial killers.

    I read yesterday that some folks are eager to attach H.H.Holmes to
    JACK THE RIPPER's mayhem. The same time period and Henry's elusive disappearance from one place to another is invoked.

    We'll see what comes. Sooner or later all is revealed.

  • TerryWalstrom

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