June 5, 2023

The Devil Went over to Philly

If the name Dr. Herman Webster Mudgett is not familiar to you, perhaps his pseudonym Dr. H.H. Holmes is. Still not ringing any bells? Then let me tell you a story that will be sure to stick with you.

The year is 1893 in Chicago, Illinois and it is the Chicago World’s Fair. Holmes’ hotel that would later be dubbed the Murder Castle housed occupants and attendees of the Fair that would never leave. Holmes built the hotel in a way where he could easily access any of his guests if he wanted to or simply kill them in their own rooms.

With windowless rooms, secret passageways, trap doors, and a ventilation system that could pump in gas that was controlled from Holmes’ room, his sick mind reflected in the way he had sound-proof walls and doors that only locked from the outside.

No one truly knows the number of people he killed, but he has been linked to other deaths across the United States and Canada. Holmes wouldn’t have been caught if he hadn’t decided to kill his business partner in Philadelphia three years later.  

The “Beast of Chicago” was not only a murderer, but a scam artist as well. Holmes joined forces with Benjamin Pitezel, and traveled all over to work insurance scams. Of course, a good thing like that can’t always last. After an old “friend” tipped off the authorities, Holmes went to go tie up some loose ends by not only killing Pitezel, but also Pitezel’s wife and three of his children. When insurance fraud turned into murder charges, Holmes’ confessions were confusing, especially when he admitted to killing 27 people and then later changing the number; A Philadelphia court convicted Holmes for the murder of Pitezel and later hanged him on May 7, 1896.

Over the years, people have speculated that Holmes’s death was not his at all, but a man Holmes tricked into taking his place. His great-great grandson, Jeff Mudgett, for example, actually believed that the U.S. was not the only place his grandfather killed. He and many others believed that H.H. Holmes and the notorious Jack the Ripper from London, England were one in the same. It was a rather far-fetched idea, but with proof from diaries, Mudgett was convinced enough to launch an investigation, became a television series called “American Ripper” on the History Channel.

After years of speculation, a judge granted permission to allow the grave of H.H. Holmes to be unearthed and examined to truly see if it was him in there all along. With anthropologist Samantha Cox preforming the procedure, she determined that it was in fact Holmes buried in the Philadelphia grave, officially quelling the rumors of “the Devil in the White City.” Because of his strange burial requests of being interred in a pine box filled with cement then buried 10 feet under another layer of cement, his body never properly decomposed: his clothes were near perfect, and his mustache lay on his skull.

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