Do you know Holmes? Not the detective: the serial killer
When you say “Holmes” you think about Sherlock. But in the years when Conan Doyle wrote the adventures of the famous detective, another Holmes was carrying out serial killings in Chicago.
Sherlock Holmes' first adventure, “A Study in Scarlet”, was published by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887.
DOYLE'S HOLMES WAS A GENIUS OF GOOD
The English writer never gave indications on the family origins of the investigator, who in novels never utters his most famous sentence, “elementary, Watson”, which is instead due to the actor William Gillette, interpreter of the theatrical drama “Sherlock Holmes” in 1899, written in collaboration with Doyle.
Always to Gillette, it is the custom to make Sherlock wear a deerstalker, that is the typical hunter's hat, and make him smoke a calabash pipe, both characterizations being absent in the original novels.
THE OTHER HOLMES, THE BAD TWIN
Maybe Doyle should have done it: in those same years, across the Atlantic, in Chicago, there was another Holmes, who could have been Sherlock's perfect “bad twin”.
Henry Howard Holmes, born Herman Webster Mudgett, doctor (fake, having never really achieved a medical degree) and businessman with a remarkable inventiveness (especially in devising insurance fraud), at first glance it may seem to possess some of the qualities of Doyle's character, at least as wit.
A TRUE DEADLY CASTLE
Except that Henry Howard Holmes had built an impressive three-story building, nicknamed “the castle”, which served as a home, pharmacy, shop, and hotel for travelers arriving in the city to visit the Great Exhibition of Chicago of 1892
For unfortunate patrons (also friends and collaborators), the labyrinth of rooms connected with secret passages, sliding walls, peepholes, armored doors, secret rooms, soundproofed rooms, stairs, and corridors that ended up against a wall, sooner or later turned out to be a deadly trap.
ACID POOLS, GAS CHAMBERS, AND CREAM OVENS
Many rooms had hatches hidden in the floor that opened on command causing the victim to fall into the cellar where there was a large swimming pool filled with corrosive acid in which Holmes immersed the bodies and corpses of his victims.
Even if they had not fallen into these traps, the rooms themselves, with asbestos-lined walls, could be transformed on command into gas chambers. A crematorium was even found in one of the secret rooms.
UP TO 150 VICTIMS FOR THE FIRST USA SERIAL KILLER
We don't know exactly how many victims in his criminal madness Henry Howard Holmes killed. Hounded by Pinkerton agency detectives, Holmes was arrested in Boston in 1894 shortly before embarking for Europe with his wife.
After Holmes confessed to being the author of 27 murders in prison, becoming the first serial killer case in American history, the police searched the castle ruins and claimed to have found the skeletons of 150 victims.
MANY OF THE VICTIMS WERE WOMEN
Holmes in the following two years wrote his autobiography and went to confess 133 murders, including that of Julia Smithe, ex-wife of one of his business partners, Ned Conner, became his lover and to whom he had promised to marry her once he got divorced from his wife Myrta.
She was not the only lover that Holmes killed: the same fate fell to Emeline Cigrad, and to Jennie Thompson, as well as various employees of the “castle”, to whom Holmes had a life insurance policy signed in his favor before hiring them (and subsequently killing them).
HOLMES was HANGED, THE CASTLE DESTROYED
Eventually, Henry Howard Holmes tried in the fall of 1895, was sentenced to death for 9 of the 27 murders confessed and hanged, in Philadelphia, on May 7, 1896, at the age of just 34 (a sentence that resulted in a 15-minute agony because of the poorly made loop).
His body rests at the Holy Cross Cemetery at Yeadon (Philadelphia), while of its macabre castle, which was reduced to ruin after the first fire in 1895 but still the destination of many onlookers, was destroyed by a second fire in 1938. In its place now stands a branch of the US postal service.
The exhumation OF 2017
In 2017, the spread of rumors about the possibility that Holmes had escaped execution, led to the opening of the coffin (contained in a concrete sarcophagus, as requested by the condemned man) and to the exhumation of Holmes' body.
The tests were conducted by Janet Monge of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. The serial killer corpse was largely undamaged, his clothes were almost perfectly preserved and his mustache was intact. The body was identified as that of the murderer by his teeth, after which he was buried again.