Born Herman W. Mudgett in 1860, H.H. Holmes, which he changed his name to, was to become America's first serial killer. As a boy he was always getting into trouble which continued through his later years. He was remembered for his cruelty to animals and children. He was, although, a good student and used the money his wife had inherited to pay for his tution to medical school.
He transfered to the Univeristy of Michigan and figured out a way of stealing dead bodys from the lab. He would make them unrecongnizable and put them where it seemed as if they had been in terrible accidents, before which he had taken out insurance policies for his "family members". He would then collect the insurance money.
When things started getting a little risky he left Ann Arbor and disappeared for six years. He finally resurfaced in Englewood where he was hired as an assistant druggist. The owner, Mrs. Dr. Holden, mysteriously disappeared and Holmes said that he had bought the drugstore when she had "moved west" with no forwarding address.
Two years later he purchased the property across the street and started building a large house there. It was three stories with a basement, false battlements, and wooden bay windows that were covered in iron, the "castle" had over sixty rooms and fifty-one doors that were cut strangely into various walls. Also included were trapdoors, hidden staircases, secret passages, rooms without windows, chutes that led into the basement, and a staircase that opened out over a steep drop to the alley behind the building.
The first floor was comprised of shops, and the upper floors could be used as living quarters. Most of the rooms would be used for guests but they wouldn't ever check out. Evidence proved that he used some of the rooms as "asphyxiation chambers," where he would release a gas to kill his guests. Other rooms were lined with iron plates and had blowtorchlike fixtures in the walls. In the basement was a dissecting table and a crematory. Also was an acid vat and pits filled with quicklime, where bodies could be disposed of. All of his "prison rooms" had alarms installed so that he would know if someone tried to escape. The total body count has never been determined, but at least fifty were found in what was named the Murder Castle.
In June of 1895, after he was arrested for insurance fraud, Chicago detectives were able to search his home. On the second floor, with its hidden stairways, secret panels, and maze of narrow, winding passages, was a hidden vault that was barely large enough to stand in. It was thought to be a gas chamber, fitted with a shaft that went straight to the basement.
In addition the second floor also had thirty-five guest rooms. Several didn't have any windows and could be made airtight by closing the door. Others were lined with sheet iron and asbestos with burn marks on the walls, equipped with trap doors that led to smaller rooms below, or fitted with lethal gas jets that were used to suffocate or burn the victims.
Dozens of human bones and pieces of jewelry were found, also scraps of cloth and a bloody dress. One set of bones was thought to be that of a small child aged six to eight.
In August of 1895 the castle burned to the ground. There were three explosions and in less than an hour the roof and walls collapsed. It was never discovered who did it or how the fire started.
His trial was started before Halloween of 1895. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Even though the fall had broke his neck, the heart kept beating for fifteen minutes after.
The legend of the Holmes Curse is one of the best known. Shortly after Holmes's body was buried, Dr. William Matten, a coroner's physician who was a major witness in the trial, suddenly dropped dead from blood poisoning. More deaths came quickly including the head coroner, Dr. Ashbridge, and the trial judge who had sentenced Holmes to death. Both men were diagnosed with sudden deadly illnesses. Next the superintendent of the prison where Holmes had been imprisoned committed suicide. Then the father of one of Holmes's victims was horribly burned in a gas explosion.
Shortly thereafter the office of the claims manager for the insurance company that Holmes had cheated caught fire and burned. Everything in the office was burned except for a framed copy of Holmes's arrest warrent and two portraits of the killer.
Several weeks after the hanging, a priest who had prayed with Holmes before his execution was found dead in the yard behind his church. The coroner ruled the death as uremic poisoning, but according to reports, the priest had been badly beaten and robbed. A few days later the jury foreman was electrocuted in a strange accident involving electrical wires above his house.
In the following years, others involved with Holmes also had violent deaths.