The First American Serial Killer: H.H. Holmes

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By bestselling paranormal author Gare Allen –

Born Herman Webster Mudgett, he was Dr. Henry Howard Holmes to society while alive and posthumously, H.H. Holmes. He is hardly remembered for his doctorate or an alliteration in his name. Indeed, his claim to shame is being the United States’ first serial killer.

His actions were clearly that of a sociopath, as he constructed an elaborate prison under the guise of a lush, overnight accommodation to capture, torture and murder his unsuspecting guests.

According to the 2007 Most Evil profile on Holmes, he suffered as a child at the hand of a violent alcoholic father. Additionally and from his own account, he was mistreated by his classmates in school and made to stand face to face with a human skeleton in response to his apparent fear of doctors. Despite that, he graduated from the University of Michigan in 1884 having passed his examinations in their Department of Medicine and Surgery.

H.H. built a hotel in Chicago to capitalize on the tourism of the visiting crowds to the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the last and greatest of the nineteenth century’s world’s fairs. Modern décor adorned an inviting but secretly deadly hotel to which the vacationers flocked. The oblivious guests were sadly unaware of the carefully constructed traps that masqueraded as quiet, comfortable rooms.


Throughout its construction, H.H. hired and fired workers before completion of their tasks to avoid payment as well as ensure that only he understood the complicated layout of his hotel. Stairs that led to nowhere, doors that opened to brick walls, doors that could only open from the outside and over 100 windowless rooms were some of the strange features of the labyrinth inside his structure.secret-trapped-doors-hh-holmes

(Above: Secret trap door from the murder hotel )

The hotel murders favored the employed women as well as his lovers and other guests. His acts of homicide clearly provided a financial benefit and his methods of murder were varied but clearly displayed a degree of competency.

Some of his victims were trapped inside a soundproof vault where they would endure the pains of suffocation. As the oxygen was inhaled and carbon dioxide exhaled, dizziness, panic and fear consumed a desperate man or woman as they questioned the reason for their painful death in the last seconds of life.

Others would meet their fate locked inside the very rooms they paid to stay in overnight, feeling safe and wary from the day’s events. H.H. released gas form hidden lines inside the room that easily asphyxiated the unwitting guests. Some rooms were constructed with iron covered walls that boasted hidden blowtorches, ready to ignite human flesh at any time. Many had eyeholes into which Holmes would peer and watch his victims slowly and sadistically die.


(Above: H.H. Holmes)

A clandestine chute transported the choked or charred bodies to a basement where two massive furnaces easily erased the evidence of the murders. It was later discovered that often, prior to incineration, vital organs were removed and sold for additional compensation.

In 1894, the police investigated a tip from a custodian of the hotel that led to HH’s arrest. The janitor informed the authorities that he was never allowed to clean the upper floors. A month-long investigation revealed secret passageways and torture chambers. These atrocities paled in comparison to the mound of human remains of bones and hair found in the basement. Dried blood covered the walls and floor. Based on the human remains, missing persons reports and testimony of hotel workers who saw H.H. escort women into the hotel but never to be seen again, it is estimated that he killed 200 people, mostly women and often blond.

The horrific events and evil attacks that occurred inside the hotel’s walls would later label the ill-fated structure, Murder Castle.

Holmes was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. He would give many contradictory statements of his innocence but finally confessed to just 30 murders in his Chicago hotel.

In response to his atrocities, he was quoted as saying, “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing…I was born with the evil one standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.”

H.H. Holmes was hanged on May 7, 1896.

Murder Castle suffered destruction from several unexplained explosions prior to Holmes’ death in an apparent attempt at an insurance scam. His partner, Mrs. Quinian, confessed to an un-awarded policy and the rest of the castle was demolished.

A United States Post Office was built on the site in 1938 and not surprisingly, there are several accounts of haunted activity. Ghostly apparitions, strange noises and even reports that dogs will run across the street to avoid walking near the building. Postal workers have reported hearing screams and cries for help they believe are the tortured spirits of H.H. Holmes’s victims.

Gare Allen is the author of The Dead: A True Paranormal Story.


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  • Conrad Wesley Clough

    America had serial killers before Holmes (although the term hadn’t been coined yet). The Harp brothers were active nearly a hundred years before Holmes started killing people. Delphine Lalaurie, John “Liver-Eating” Johnson, Jesse Pomeroy, and the “Bloody” Bender family also spring to mind as predating Holmes by a decade or more.