Henry Howard Holmes was born Herbert Webster Mudgett, but changed his name and moved to Chicago in 1886. Described as charming, fashionable and intelligent, Holmes was well liked by everybody he met. He soon started working at a drugstore and purchased an empty lot across the street. Here he began to construct a three storey building, now known as The Murder Mansion or Murder Hotel, because of the horrific acts that he committed within it. The mansion had over 100 rooms and stretched for an entire block. Holmes disguised the construction as a business venture, renting out the first and third floors, but keeping the second floor and basement for himself.
The building had many secrets and Holmes avoided detection by changing builders several times during construction. Some of the features of the Murder Hotel were:
- Rooms with no doors, and others with five or more.
- Secret, airless chambers hidden beneath floorboards.
- Iron plated, lined walls to stifle sounds.
- Hinged walls and false partitions.
Holmes’ personal apartment had a trapdoor in the bathroom, which led to a cubicle with a large chute. The doors in the building were also connected to an alarm system, and a buzzer would go off in Holmes’ room whenever one was opened.
After the building was completed in 1892, Holmes began to collect victims in his new home. Most of these were his employees, and mistresses, many of whom came from wealthy families. Nobody suspected the horrors that were taking place in the building, and he continued to perform his gruesome deeds until 1894. At this time, police had begun investigating H. H. Holmes because of financial schemes he had been involved in. This led to his arrest on November 17, 1894, and a routine search of his premises. When they arrived to conduct the search, officers were greeted with horrors beyond their wildest expectations.
The first of the gruesome discoveries was a pile of bones, belonging to small animals and humans. In the cellar they found a woman’s blood-soaked clothing lying beside an operating table. This was also covered in blood and next to a surgical surface with a crematory, medical tools, a torture device and disintegrating acids. The police deduced that Holmes would drop his victims down the chute and, after killing them, dissect the bodies and sell the organs on the black market or to medical institutions. He also kept photographs of his favourite victims, many of whom were young and beautiful.
Holmes represented himself at trial and confessed to killing at least 27 people, although this number may be as many as 200. About himself, Holmes said, ‘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.’ Despite his charm, he was unanimously sentenced to be hanged. Holmes requested that his body be encased in cement, within his coffin, after his death. The sentence was carried out in 1896 and, in what many believe to be a fitting ending to an evil life, Holmes’ neck didn’t break. After the hanging, the killer’s body remained twitching for 20 minutes, before being pronounced dead.