Americas First Serial Killer
Table of contents
On May 16, 1861 Herman Webster Mudgett was born. His home town was Gilmanton, New Hampshire and he soon would become the notorious Dr. H. H. Holmes, Americas’ first Serial Killer. He was a small white male born into a devout Methodist family. Holmes’ mother Theodate Page Price forced strict religious studies while his father, Levi Horton Mudgett handed out the harsh, strong discipline. Holmes had one brother and sister.
Intelligence, Social Achievement, Social Adjustment in School
Holmes was thought to be unusually intelligent at an early age. With his great ambition and drive he excelled in school. He attended Gilmanton Acade3my High School, University of Vermont for one year, and in 1882 attending University of Michigan Medical School and graduates from medical school in 1884. It is his time spent at University of Michigan that he develops his lust for blood and becoming immune from death and dismemberment. This is also where he develops and masters the art of scamming and because of this he changes his name to Dr. H. H. Holmes in 1886 to elude former acquaintances from coming forth with accusations of fraud or death.
Family Structure and Environment
Holmes was the son of Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price and had a very privileged childhood. The environment of the household was that of any family of this era, the 1800’s. They raised their children to be good people, never lie, work hard, pray for everything good and bad, and always show respect. Holmes had a brother and sister but there is no information on them which makes it difficult to explain birth order.
Emotional adjustment in the family
Herman Webster Mudgett (Dr. H. H. Holmes) was raised in a very privileged home but under strict and very structured circumstances. His relationship with his family was typical of any young boy. He had respect for his family and says that he “was well trained by loving and religious parents”.
Social/Emotional Adjustment Outside the Family
H. H. Holmes did have friends and acquaintances but was very specific about who he would allow to be close. His deceptions started at the age of eight but all were just childish lies that seemed like the simple acts of a young boy.
He was disciplined for them but they seemed to be harmless in nature and out of boredom. He befriended his first true friend in college. This friend was a classmate form Canada who he describes as “one of the very few intimate friends I have ever allowed myself. ” Holmes did marry in 1878 to Clara Lovering, then in 1887 married Myrta Belking who he had a daughter with and his last wife Georgina Yoke in 1894. He managed to be married to all three without any of them knowing and handled a few mistresses in between.
Employment History, Adjustment, Work Habits
During a school vacation Holmes takes a job as a book agent which turns out to be a fraud and was paid no money at all. He them after graduation he takes numerous jobs in numerous states serving as drug store clerk, asylum attendant, teacher, and doctor to name a few. He opened a practice in Mooers Forks, NY and stayed for one year doing “good and conscientious work” with lots of gratitude but little money as a physician. He seemed to get either bored with a job or just did not make the amount of money he required so he kept his options open moving from state to state to make money however he could.
Throughout Holmes’ life he seemed to be more and more unsettled. He could not stay in one place for long and his relationships were short but there was always someone there whether it be one of his wives, an employee, or a mistress. He was extroverted in the sense that he could hold regular relationships with women and made friends but did not keep them around for long and did not allow too many people to get close at one time.
Demeanor, appearance and grooming
Holmes was always very well groomed and had a very sophisticated appearance.
Coming from a very privileged, hard working, religious family he kept himself very clean. He was very charming and very attractive so he had no problems with he ladies. He always wore a hat and tie and came across as a well like, trusted businessman.
Pathological behavior characteristics
H. H. Holmes’ pathological problems started at the age of eight with him starting to lie. His lies and scams grew along with his age and by the age of 25 he changed his name to H. H. Holmes to elude accusations from those he lied to and scammed.
He continued to con and manipulate using his trusting looks and medical degree swindling thousands of dollars from insurance companies by taking cadavers from medical school, taking insurance policies out on them and telling the insurance that he was a family member to collect the money. Holmes was such a pathological liar and has given so many accounts about the number of people he has killed that to this day the true number is unknown. He always needed stimulation and a proneness to boredom, and was conning and very manipulative. He had numerous wives and had promiscuous sexual behavior by having several mistresses.
Holmes was considered to be a geographically transient serial killer. He moved from state to state killing in almost each one. He would move through the states because this was his way to elude capture or being suspected of the crimes he committed. After he changed his name in 1886 he settled in Chicago for a while and found a drugstore he worked at that was owned by a husband and wife. The husband owner passed away mysteriously and after the wife signed over the store to Holmes she mysteriously disappeared. H. H. hen built a hotel eventually called the “Castle” across the street from the store that he turned into his killing chambers. The entire second floor was dedicated and designed with rooms that he put people into and killed. Even though he traveled he always killed close to home or where he worked. The patrons of this hotel would check into the hotel but would never check out. He had full access to victims that came to him of their own free will out of trust. This type of victim search is called the trapper method, and once they arrived he had full control over them and did not let them leave this is called the ambusher attack method.
The Castle (H. H. Holmes Hotel)
As an organized offender he was very much in control of what he did to his victims. His crimes were planned out and he was a highly competent individual. The murders that took place at the “Castle”, for instance each room was designed specifically to kill the individuals he placed inside. He had gas lines placed into some of the rooms with controls in his room, which was on the third floor, so he could turn the gas on and through a peep hole in the wall of the room watch the victim being gassed to death and plead for their lives.
Holmes was known to be very good looking, very charming, and geographically and occupationally mobile which allowed him more opportunity to continue to scam and murder.
Being in control of how he killed his victims is a characteristic of an organized offender. None of his killings were sexually motivated which would also make him a comfort-oriented serial killer, someone who kills specifically for personal gain. None of his crime scenes were chaotic and not only would Holmes plan out how his victim would expire but he also planned out very carefully how this victim would be disposed of.
H. H. was completely fascinated with death and the human body. He was also very driven by money and used this drive to kill to obtain it. As a comfort-oriented serial killer he would con his victims into giving him their money, property, or business then kill them after his profit. The conning of his victims would become his M. O. and his signature would be the way he dismembered and incinerated his victims. Holmes did not take trophies from his victims and the souvenirs he would take from the victim would be their money.
He would not keep or take any personal items from the at all. Most of the murders took place in Chicago at the “Castle” during the world’s fair in 1893. It started in May of 1893 and ended in October of 1983 and it is estimated that over 20 million people visited the world’s fair from all over the world. As they left their homes to visit Chicago not knowing where to stay their family members did not know their whereabouts either. This made them an easy target because they would not be missed. These people would rent rooms at his hotel and some would stay and leave and others would never be heard from again.
He would not need to stage the scene of the crime because no one knew they were there at his hotel. After killing them he would dump them into a chute that lead to the basement where he would dismember them, skin them clean, and sell their skeletons to medical schools for money. Some of them he would make up to $200 a skeleton which in those times was a fortune. Because acid vats, and a crematorium disguised as a glass blowing furnace were Holmes’ favorite way to dispose of his victims the identification of those bones at the scene was very difficult.
The medical examiner could not identify whether they were animal or human bones because the bone fragments were so small. The bones, hair, and teeth found at the scene of where the three children (Alice, Nellie, and Howard Pitezel) he murdered were identifiable by the medical examiner and did lead to Holmes being charged for those with that evidence. There are only a few crime scene photos found.
It is truly unknown as to how many people Holmes has killed. There are at least 50 missing people from the world’s fair that were eventually traced back to Holmes and the “Castle. He was not particular about the age or the race of his victims although quite a few of them were female assuming that he used his good looks and charm to earn their trust, con and kill them. All of his mistresses were killed but oddly all of his legitimate wives lived out their lives in full. In 1890 Julia Connor with her daughter Pearl answered a newspaper add to work for Holmes. Julia became his mistress and when she found out she was pregnant she confronted Holmes and demanded marriage. He agreed on the condition that he perform an abortion which she agreed to.
Julia and her daughter pearl were never heard from again. In 1892 yet another employee and mistress of Holmes, Emiline Cigard, was asked to go into the volt to retrieve papers and was locked in and suffocated to death. Two women that were easy targets, did not have family close, and needed work. Then Benjamin Pitezel came along to work for Holmes. Benjamin had a wife, Carrie, and five children. He could not hold down a job for long and was an alcoholic. He needed the job that Holmes provided to take care of his family.
Pitezel was Holmes’ right hand man and was more that aware of his scams. Holmes’ and Pitezel thought up a life insurance scam that required Pitezel to take out a life insurance policy and then he would disappear and be classified as dead so his wife could collect on it. He told Carrie all about it and she begged him not to do it. After the policy was taken out Ben Pitezel was dead. Holmes made his death look like suicide by the use of chloroform. At that time there was nothing to find the chloroform so there was no proof.
Three of his children, Alice, Nellie, and Howard, met Holmes to identify the body and traveled with him, the children were never seen again. Obviously from the murders at the castle not all of the victims were acquaintances. The common theme with all of the victims is that they were all easy targets. Some were not in their own cities and not close to family, some were women alone and needy, some were emotionally unstable, and they were all killed for money.
The question why is always asked when these types of crimes are committed. In H. H. Holmes case the motive was financial gain.
The criminology theory that best describes Holmes is the choice theory. He used at fee will a rational, intelligent decision to commit the acts of fraud and murder to dispose of his victims the way he did to continue his fantasies of working on cadavers.
Holmes’ one mistake is not paying a fellow inmate that was in on the Pitezel insurance scheme the $500 he owed him from when Holmes was briefly incarcerated for fraud. The inmate, Hedgepeth, read in the paper that Pitezel had been killed and immediately told the warden who advised the insurance company.
The insurance company contacted Pinkerton Detective Agency and the case began. Holmes was found and arrested by the Pinkerton Detectives on November 17, 1894 in Boston. He was then taken to Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia and tried for conspiracy to defraud the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company. Holmes pleads guilty and insists that Ben Pitezel committed suicide and made numerous conflicting statements as to where the Pitezel children were located. Soon suspicion grew that Holmes had killed the children which were later found dead and buried.
After this was discovered detectives searched Holmes’ hotel only to find the basement where he dismembered and burned his victims. Once this information got out amongst the public that Holmes was a murderer he quickly became sensationalized. His case was the case of the century and he was then known at H. H. Homes Americas First Serial Killer. After all of the press the castle was burned to the ground with no reason or no ideas as to who torched it to the ground. While Holmes was incarcerated he wanted to be remembered as being innocent so he wrote his own autobiography called “Holmes’ Own Story. His trial started on September 23rd, 1895 and was found guilty some months later by a jury of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Holmes would be hanged on May 7, 1896 only nine days short of his 35th birthday. For fear that his brain might go to medicine men for study he requested he be buried in concrete so no one could dig him up, and he was buried in concrete. To date there is no concrete evidence as to how many people Holmes did actually murder.