Nuggets of Wisdom

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Nightly Frights: America's First Serial Killer

If you were visiting Chicago back in 1893, you’d probably be advised not to stay the night at the World's Fair Hotel. No, it’s not because of the bedbugs! Those were all too common back in the 19th Century. No, you wouldn’t want to stay the night there because, chances are, you wouldn’t make it out alive. That’s because the hotel was infamously known as the “Murder Castle”, and it was owned by America’s first serial killer.

H. H. Holmes first purchased the building around 1889, and opened it around the time of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Opening his establishment around the time of such a large scale event allowed him to lure many guests to his hotel. At least 27 never made it out alive, though it has been rumored that he was responsible for more than 200 murders.

While first overseeing the construction of the hotel, he was sure to have the very top floor specially constructed for his devious purposes with, as described by his Wikipedia article, a “maze of over 100 windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways leading to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside and a host of other strange and labyrinthine constructions.”

Wikipedia goes into further detail on how he used his hotel to lure and kill his unfortunate guests:
Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time. Holmes would also lock his victims in a room where the walls were covered with iron plates and had blowtorches installed to incinerate them. Some victims were taken to one of the rooms on the second floor, called the "secret hanging chamber", where Holmes lynched them. Other victims were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office, where they were left to suffocate. There was also a secret room that was completely sealed by solid brick that could only be entered through a trapdoor on the ceiling; Holmes would lock his victims in this room for days to die of hunger and thirst. The victims' bodies were dropped by a secret chute to the basement, where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also buried some of the bodies in lime pits for disposal. Holmes had two giant furnaces used to incinerate some of the bodies or evidence, as well as pits of acid, bottles of various poisons and even a stretching rack. Through the connections he had gained in medical school, he sold skeletons and organs with little difficulty.
Inevitably, his scheme was uncovered, and Holmes was arrested on Nov. 17, 1894, after which, he was tried and executed by hanging. As for his infamous “Murder Castle”, it was mysteriously burned down one year later.

As you’d probably imagine, such a story about such a notorious killer spread like wildfire during the time, mostly through the publicity of yellow journalists such as Hearst who saw money signs in the gruesome tale.

If you want to learn more of the gritty details behind this real-life horror story, watch the following documentary below. (Apologies for the poor quality, as the video was purposely cropped and flipped to avoid copyright):