Body of America’s first serial killer H.H. Holmes exhumed to end escape rumors

Goran Blazeski
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The great-grandchildren of Dr. H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer, have requested to have his body exhumed, hoping thereby to put an end to the rumors that he actually managed to avoid execution and escaped to South America.

A Pennsylvania court has issued an order to have the body of the notorious serial killer exhumed from his grave at Holy Cross Cemetery.

It’s been more than 120 years since Dr. H. H. Holmes was hanged, but he made the headlines once again. Apparently, we are still fascinated by him and as John Russick, vice president for interpretation and education at the Chicago History Museum told Fox News, “part of it is the morbid curiosity in his crimes, but part of it is the effort to confirm that he is dead and was not actually able to outwit the law. There is the desire to confirm that legend is not true.” 

Dr. H. H. Holmes

H.H. Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett on May 16, 1861, in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, into a wealthy family. However, his childhood was not ideal as he had an abusive father who was an alcoholic and young Herman was also often bullied by his classmates in school.

Holmes was an unusually intelligent child and at an early age showed interest in medicine, performing surgery on animals and exploring their biology. Herman changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes upon high school graduation and enrolled at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

There he stole corpses and started robbing graves and morgues so he could sell them to medical schools or used them to make false insurance claims.

H. H. Holmes’ mugshot, 1895

After he had passed his medical exams, he decided to move to Chicago where he got a job at a drugstore. Several months later, the owner of the drugstore mysteriously disappeared, and Holmes managed to convince the owner’s wife to sell him the drugstore. Shortly after, the lady also disappeared under mysterious circumstances and was never seen again.

Holmes purchased an empty lot across from the drugstore and constructed a three-story hotel called the “Castle.” This hotel would later become known as “Murder Castle,” and is considered by many to be the most infamous building in the United States.

H. H. Holmes’ “Castle”

Many guests entered the hotel, but few of them managed to get out alive. Holmes constructed the hotel as a labyrinth with secret passages, soundproof rooms that had gas jets, stairways that led to nowhere, a torture chamber, a kiln to cremate the bodies, and room for conducting human experiments. He would perform experiments on them and later sell the skeletons to medical schools.

Most of his victims were females, but up to this day nobody knows precisely how many people were killed in the “Murder Castle.”

Full confession of H. H. Holmes

Holmes was finally caught by the police on November 17, 1894, in Philadelphia and was convicted of insurance fraud, but after the police had investigated the “Castle”, it was clear that the case was way more than just an insurance fraud. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and hanged on May 7, 1896.

However, many newspaper accounts are suggesting that Holmes faked his death and escaped to South America. Reportedly, Holmes bribed the prison guards to substitute a cadaver in his place so he could escape.

Full confession of H. H. Holmes

The fact that he left specific instructions for his burial also support the rumor that he might have faked his death. According to CrimeFeed, he “requested a double-deep coffin, and that it be topped off with wet cement. He claimed it was to protect his remains from being stolen and dissected.” But one might conclude that he did this so he could prevent identification of the body.

Read another story from us: The Harpe brothers: The first recorded serial killers in the United States

The University of Pennsylvania’s Anthropology Department will make the DNA analysis and will most probably put an end to the conspiracy theories of whether or not Holmes pulled off one last scam.