Step 1. STEAL A CADAVER (Check!)
I live in Fort Worth. For a time, so did serial murderer Henry Howard Holmes. Fortunately, he preceded me by half a century!
Henry was an industrious young man who'd eventually become an extraordinary 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! He was methodical.
First things first ...and so on.
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 chase...you’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 a hoot? 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.
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 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 on the front page of the Fort Worth Gazette in 1894.
Upon prime downtown real estate Henry constructed a hotel which would house his own version of a chamber of horrors. Maybe...
His customary scam consisted of creating a large project on prime property and utilizing the grandeur of the construction to con various businessmen and issuing promissory notes which would never be paid.
Holmes (as Pratt) left Fort Worth owing so many people so much money one wonders at his prowess. The hotel had never been occupied. A large NO ADMITTANCE sign had been attached to prevent gawkers and the idly curious from wondering what those strange and mysterious halls and passageways were about.
The property and its edifice languished uninhabited.
Let’s call this building what newspapers later called it, TEXAS MURDER CASTLE. (After the fact of his arrest)
Another newspaper called it THE RUSK STREET FIRETRAP.
(Abandoned buildings tended to attract vagrants and accidents.)
We can gather facts about his macabre building by comparing it with a previous hotel he also constructed during the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.
“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 cross-hairs 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. (If this ever was his actual intention.)
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.
67 people who checked into the Chicago Hotel during the Word’s Fair never checked out or were seen or heard from again.
Holmes 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.
Alas, he was hanged for that one murder.
Dead is dead, right?
It seems too good for such a man so remorselessly evil.
I enjoyed writing this a bit too much.
For greater details about H.H.Holmes try this book:
H. H. Holmes The True History of the White City Devil by Adam Selzer