12 Unbelievable Facts About H.H. Holmes

One of the most infamous serial killers in the United States committed his horrible crimes in the late 19th century.

Let’s take a closer look at some interesting facts about H.H. Holmes, a man with one of the craziest track records in modern history.

1. He was born in a small town in New Hampshire

H. H. Holmes (1861-1896) was born Herman Webster Mudgett on May 16, 1861, in a small town called Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in the northeast of the United States.

His parent’s names were Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page Price, both descendants of the first English immigrants in the United States and he was the third of 5 children.

HH Holmes parents
His parents / Wiki Commons

2. It’s assumed that he had a relatively normal childhood

Little is known about the childhood of Holmes other than the fact that his parents were devout Methodists, a movement within the Church of England that started in the 18th century.

His father had a farming background and had several jobs during his lifetime. Even though some historians claimed that he suffered from his father’s violent streaks and tortured animals as a child, no proof of this has been discovered, not even by eyewitnesses.

Holmes also received the proper education and was a smart student. he graduated at the age of 16 from Phillips Exeter Academy, a highly exclusive and one of the oldest secondary schools in the United States.

Phillips Exeter Academy
Phillips Exeter Academy / Wiki Commons

3. He married at 17 and continued to marry other women

Shortly after graduating, he started doing teaching jobs and he also got married at the age of 17 on July 4, 1878. His wife’s name was Clara Lovering and they had a son together named Robert Lovering Mudgett who was born on February 3, 1880.

One of the most fascinating facts about H.H. Holmes is that this was far from the last time that he would get married!

He subsequently married Myrta Belknap ​(1886)​, Minnie Williams ​(1893)​, and Georgiana Yoke ​(1894), without actually being officially divorced from any of these women.

Clara Lovering
Clara Lovering / Wiki Commons

4. He committed fraud in a particular way during college

At the age of 18, he enrolled at the University of Vermont in Burlington but eventually ended up entering the University of Michigan’s Department of Medicine and Surgery, which is where he studied anatomy, something that would prove to be very important during his crimes.

He eventually graduated in 1884, but during his time here he started committing his first crimes. He dissected animals and used various parts to defraud life insurance companies.

This was eventually what he would end up doing, but with people instead!

HH Holmes facts
The serial killer / Wiki Commons

5. He built his own “Murder Castle” in Chicago to kill his victims

His wife left him before he graduated in 1884 so he moved to Chicago in August of 1886. It’s here that he defrauded construction companies to build a two-story building that housed shops on the first floor and apartments on the second. This building was dubbed by the media as “The Murder Castle.”

In reality, he used the second floor as his personal space to commit his heinous crimes. It consisted of mazes of hallways and soundproof rooms. Each of these rooms had a shaft that led directly to the basement where he would surgically remove the organs of his victims before throwing the rest of their bodies in tubs of acid.

Even though there are stories abound of horrible torture chambers and devices, none of this was found when police investigated the crime scene after his capture.

HH Holmes Murder Castle
The “Murder Castle” / Wiki Commons

6. He told investors that he would turn his building into a hotel

Perhaps one of the most remarkable facts about H.H. Holmes is that he managed to convince investors to fund the third floor of his building which would serve as a hotel, even after it turned out he didn’t even pay the initial investors.

The building was located about 3 miles (5 kilometers) away from the upcoming “1893 World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition,” an event in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World.

This hotel was supposed to be called the “World’s Fair Hotel,” but was never completed after investigators found rooms connecting to gas pipes which Homes supposedly used as gas chambers to murder his victims.

1893 World's Columbian Exposition
1893 World’s Columbian Exposition / Wiki Commons

7. He was arrested for the first time in 1894

It’s assumed that Holmes murdered his first victims, his mistress named Julia Smythe, and her daughter Pearl, on Christmas Eve of 1891. This means that his murder spree in Chicago lasted nearly 3 years because he left the city in July of 1894.

Shortly after, he was arrested for the first time for the crime of selling mortgaged goods in St. Louis, Missouri. When he bailed out shortly after, he instantly made plans to build another “Murder Castle,” this time in Fort Worth, Texas.

Yet again, he managed to attract investors who funded his project. Luckily this time he got out of town before he put the building to use because creditors weren’t as lenient as in Chicago!

HH Holmes mug shot
Mug shot of the serial killer / Wiki Commons

8. He killed his right-hand man to collect insurance money

All this time, Holmes had a right-hand man who did a lot of the dirty work for him. This man was Benjamin Pitezel, a carpenter who finally agreed to get involved in a major life insurance scam in which he would fake his death and use animal body parts to collect the life insurance policy.

Instead of faking it, Holmes actually ended up killing Pitezel, a man described as “Holmes’ tool … his creature.”

He subsequently claimed the insurance money with the real body! It netted him $10,000, but his serious legal troubles were about to begin!

His biggest mistake was to tell a fellow inmate named Marion Hedgepeth, aka the “Handsome Bandit,” about the scheme and he eventually led detectives to Holmes!

Marion Hedgepeth
Marion Hedgepeth / Wiki Commons

9. His final schemes were literally mind-blowing

Something that defines the con artist H.H. Holmes, who also called himself Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, and who took on multiple aliases to dupe people, is the events after the murder of his right-hand man Benjamin.

Initially, he convinced Benjamin’s wife that her husband was fine and in London, and even managed to get custody over 3 of her 5 children. She traveled on a parallel route towards Canada with her baby and oldest daughter while keeping in touch with Holmes.

At the same time, Holmes also seemingly traveled on the same route with his unsuspecting third wife!

This means that he was moving around 3 groups of people at the same time all across the country, without any of these groups knowing of each other or what was actually going on.

Benjamin Pitezel
Benjamin Pitezel / Wiki Commons

10. He was only convicted of 1 murder but is suspected in over 200

His final heinous crime was murdering the 3 missing children who were traveling with him. He put the 2 young girls in the trunk of his car and ended up gassing them. The boy ended up being drugged, chopped to pieces, and burned.

The bodies of the girls were eventually found in a grave in the Toronto home he stayed in by Philadelphia police detectives who were on the case.

One of the most remarkable facts about H.H. Holmes is that he was only convicted of 1 murder, that of Benjamin Pitezel, but suspected in over 200 murders in total!

Pitezel Children HH Holmes
The 3 Pitezel children / Wiki Commons

11. He confessed to 27 murders but some of these people were still alive

After his arrest in Boston on November 17, 1894, the craziness was far from over. He was thoroughly questioned by investigators and initially claimed that he was merely an insurance fraudster.

He eventually confessed to 27 murders and 6 murder attempts, but these confessions turned out to be complete nonsense because some of the people he claimed to have murdered were actually still alive at this time!

The main reason he wrote down this confession was that he was paid a total of $7,500 by the Hearst Newspapers, another clear sign of the twisted mind of this sick individual!

So how many people did H.H. Holmes kill?

Lead investigator of the case Frank Geyer claimed that there was enough evidence to pin 4 murders on Holmes. However, countless people have disappeared while he lived in Chicago, many people visiting the fair and some of his close associates, so this number is without question way higher!

HH Holmes murder castle floor plan
Floor plan of his “Murder Castle.” / Wiki Commons

12. He was sentenced to death and hanged on May 7, 1896

Holmes was eventually sentenced to death and hanged at Moyamensing Prison on May 7, 1896, 5 days before his 35th birthday. It was said that he remained calm and charming during the entire process and showed little signs of anxiety.

Despite his heinous crimes, the man remains intriguing and Holmes’ great-great-grandson, Jeff Mudgett, even investigated in 2017 whether or not his distant relative was in fact infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper.

The same year, his body was exhumed because there were claims that he in fact escaped execution. This was quickly disproven and because his coffin was contained in cement, his mustache was even still intact!

This notorious Chicago serial killer was then quickly reburied.

Execution of Herman Webster Mudgett
Execution of Herman Webster Mudgett / Wiki Commons