Valerie Jones’s article “Theories of Criminal Behavior” examines the background and personality traits of H. H. Holmes, also known as Herman Webster Mudgett. In Phillip Neely’s abstract, Holmes’s privileged upbringing and exceptional intelligence during his early years are highlighted as potential indicators of his later criminal behavior.
Holmes showed an early fascination with medicine and had a particular interest in the medical field. He led a solitary life and was involved in dubious activities. Studies indicate that Holmes’ inclination towards murder started during his childhood when he faced intimidation from bullies who exposed him to human skeletons. Instead of being scared, Holmes found them intriguing. His obsession with death gradually took over him, leading him to become a proficient liar and deceitful criminal. Eventually, he gained infamy as a twisted mass murderer.
Holmes carried out a series of deceptive acts, specifically targeting individuals who would later become his victims. This charismatic person successfully charmed professionals and deceitfully convinced three young women to marry him. H. H. Holmes is widely acknowledged as one of history’s most infamous criminals. Writers specializing in crime often label murderers like H. H. Holmes as “monsters” due to their fulfillment of specific criteria, exemplified by Holmes’ later life. According to existing records, Herman was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire in 1861 to Theodate Paige Price and Levi Horton Mudgett.
Herman’s parents were the original settlers in the area. His father developed a drinking problem, while his mother was a devout Christian who regularly read him passages from the Bible. As he got older, Herman attended The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to study medicine. During his teenage years, he married a woman from a wealthy family in New Hampshire, who played a significant role in his education. In mid-1878, in Alton, New Hampshire, Herman married Clara Lovering and they had a son named Robert Lovering Mudgett, born in February 1880. Once grown up, Robert pursued a career as a CPA in Orlando, Florida.
Herman wedded Clara in Minneapolis, Minnesota in early 1887. He also married Myrta Belknap and they had a daughter named Lucy Theodate Holmes, who was born in July 1889. They relocated to Englewood, Illinois where Lucy grew up and pursued a career as a public schoolteacher. While attending school, Holmes developed an enduring interest in cadavers. In 1884, he completed his studies at the Medical School of the University of Michigan where he became captivated by a new pastime. It was during medical school that Holmes conceived the notion of acquiring insurance policies on bodies that he would pilfer from the laboratory and subsequently disfigure.
Herman, upon graduating, participated in illegal activities like pharmaceuticals and real estate deals under the alias H. H. Holmes. His primary objective was to accumulate wealth through insurance fraud, and he managed to elude capture for a considerable period of time thanks to his cunning. Eventually, Holmes became a doctor while his wife and children returned to New Hampshire. After completing his education, Holmes vanished from public view for more than ten years but later reemerged as a fugitive to his family.
Holmes participated in different fraudulent activities, employing deception to cheat insurance companies and obtain more than $15,000. Nevertheless, not all of his schemes resulted in success. Despite already having a spouse, he opted to wed a woman from an affluent family residing in Wilmette, Illinois – an upscale suburb located north of Chicago. In the city of Chicago, Holmes persisted with his deceitful practices, particularly through pyramid schemes involving credit. Additionally, he succeeded in having three additional children and establishing a reputable standing among the inhabitants of Wilmette. Throughout this period, his wife remained oblivious to his growing number of secret endeavors.
It is unclear how he justified his prolonged absences. The task was daunting for most people, but likely uncomplicated for someone as imaginative as Holmes. Holmes had a broad knowledge base, studying hypnosis and the supernatural. He conducted experiments on the human body. During this period, Holmes’s childhood fascination with dead bodies resurfaced. In his mind, Holmes planned to commit more substantial crimes for greater financial gain. In 1892, Holmes started constructing what became known as his murder castle. A few years later, Holmes would ultimately end up in confinement.
During this planetary period, it was believed that Holmes may have murdered over 100 women, with newspapers suggesting the total could be even closer to 200 victims. The individuals who went missing while visiting The World Fair in 1893 were thought to be Holmes’s targets, making it extremely difficult to determine the fate of each of his victims. At that time, Holmes resided in Wilmette, Illinois, alongside a woman named Myrta, whom he ultimately chose to wed. A significant portion of Holmes’s time in Chicago was devoted to engaging in dubious business transactions.
After marrying Myrta, Holmes initiated a divorce from Clara; nonetheless, this divorce would never reach its conclusion. In January 1894, while residing in Denver, Colorado, Holmes was still legally wedded to Clara while Myrta entered into matrimony with Georgiana Yoke. It was during his stay in Chicago that Holmes’s dubious and criminal behavior escalated. Initially employed at a drugstore, Holmes eventually purchased the establishment and made a commitment to allow the current owner to reside there after her husband’s passing. However, upon her husband’s demise, the woman mysteriously vanished and raised suspicions regarding her whereabouts. Holmes fabricated a story, asserting that she had relocated to California, where she found great satisfaction and had decided to permanently reside there.
These individuals ultimately became the initial victims in his extensive series of murders, and it remains uncertain when and how he killed them. Shortly thereafter, Holmes acquired numerous acres opposite the drugstore and constructed what would later be referred to as his Murder Castle (where it is believed he concealed the bodies of Dr. E. S. Holton and his wife). Holmes subsequently shifted his focus to 63d Street and relocated his operations to the Chicago district, where he would gain notoriety. In Chicago, Holmes succeeded in ousting a female business owner while working at a drugstore.
Across the street from the drugstore, he decided to construct an enormous building with a width of 50 ft. and a length of 150 ft. It was a massive and irritating structure, towering over three stories high with a colossal basement. The first floor was comprised of a mix of stores, including a drugstore at the corner. In total, the building had over 100 rooms. Staircases that led to nowhere were scattered throughout the building, along with blind passageways and fabricated barriers. Some rooms had multiple doors, while others had none.
These rooms on the second floor were dedicated to the unfortunate and prohibited structure that he constructed. Holmes would have his own apartment at the front of the second floor. Trick doors were installed by Holmes in the main bathroom wall, and there were numerous secret staircases that connected windowless compartments on different floors. These compartments would become the central part of the household, allowing bodies to be dropped through a chute into the cellar. In 1893, Holmes transformed the building into a hotel for visitors of the World’s Columbian Exposition.
Many of the world’s exhibition patrons would remain unknown, as much of the structure served as profit-making areas. Holmes claimed personal offices and labyrinthine, windowless rooms on the upper floors. Numerous doorways led to brick walls, while there were also peculiarly angled hallways and stairways leading nowhere. Some doors could be opened from outside, and various other peculiar and intricate alterations were made to the building. Holmes frequently switched builders to prevent anyone from comprehending the building’s design and to decrease the likelihood of being reported to the police.
It was mandatory for employees to obtain life insurance policies while working for him. Holmes frequently chose women as employees who would eventually fall victim to him. Holmes also required his romantic partners and guests at his hotel to have life insurance, which he would then pay for and become the beneficiary. Once the construction was finished, Holmes subjected people to unimaginably horrific acts of torture and murder. Some were trapped in soundproof rooms equipped with gas lines, allowing Holmes to asphyxiate them whenever he pleased. Additionally, he locked individuals in airtight bank vaults near his office, leaving their bodies to suffocate.
Holmes would dispose of his victims’ bodies by dropping them down hidden chutes to the basement. He then stripped the flesh from the bodies and systematically dissected them, transforming them into bone carcasses that he would eventually sell to medical schools. Some bodies were cremated, while others were placed in lime pits for destruction. Holmes utilized a large furnace, acid pits, various poisons, and a stretching rack to assist him in getting rid of the bodies and eliminating any incriminating evidence. He established contacts within medical schools, allowing him to easily sell skeletal remains and organs.
With his mastery of trapdoors and chutes, it was challenging to ascertain the precise number and identities of Holmes’ victims. He utilized these mechanisms to dispose of them effortlessly, leaving no trace as their bodies were incinerated in the basement. Throughout this disturbing process, Holmes continued his insurance scams. However, it was ultimately one of these deceitful schemes that caused his downfall. It is astonishing that a genuinely haunted house was discovered in Chicago’s South Side.
The exact number of individuals who lost their lives during a period exceeding three decades remains uncertain. Estimates concerning the total casualties ranged from as few as 20 to potentially several hundred. The victims were believed to have been killed through various methods, including chloroforming, gassing, strangulation, and brutal beatings. Holmes then traveled to Texas where he allegedly stole a horse. It was during this time that he encountered Minnie Williams, a young woman who would later play a significant role in his criminal activities. At a later point, Holmes crossed paths with Benjamin F. Pitzel, an easily influenced man driven by a desire for theft. Ultimately, it was Pitzel’s murder that led to Dr. Holmes’ execution by hanging. Whether or not Pitzel and Holmes lived together is still unknown.
In 1892, Pitzel found himself in a Terre Haute jail facing charges of fraudulent checks. Holmes, however, bailed him out and the two joined forces to collect $10,000 from an insurance company. The nature of Holmes and Pitzel’s partnership before the insurance scam was a mystery, but it ultimately led to Pitzel’s downfall. Minnie Williams, who came to Holmes’ house from Texas, had an unclear role in this sinister affair. While she became one of his victims, it remained unknown whether Minnie was his accomplice.
It was believed that Holmes may have used Minnie’s Fort Worth residence in some of his suspicious schemes, possibly without her knowledge. Minnie, who was both Holmes’ mistress and a witness during his marriage to his third (and final) wife, had no doubt about this. As Holmes grew mentally and physically stronger, he transitioned from small-scale fraud to committing mass murder for financial gain. Eventually, due to economic reasons, he left Chicago and moved to Fort Worth, Texas. In Fort Worth, he inherited a property from two sisters whom he had promised to marry but ended up killing instead.
Holmes’s initial plan was to build another castle, but he abandoned it and decided to travel across the United States and Canada. There were suspicions that he might have committed more murders while on his journey, but no evidence was found to support these claims. Eventually, Holmes’s killing spree ended when he was captured in Boston in late November 1894. The Pinkerton detective agency successfully located him in Philadelphia. At the time of his arrest, Holmes was wanted for a Texas horse theft warrant, although authorities had limited information at this point. It seemed that Holmes intended to escape the country with his unsuspecting third wife.
A custodian at the Castle was the one to inform the police that Holmes forbade him from cleaning the upper floors. During the following month, the police conducted a thorough investigation and discovered Holmes’s systematic methods for committing murders and getting rid of the bodies. While Holmes waited in prison in Philadelphia, Chicago police detectives started investigating his activities in that city. In Philadelphia, the police also began untangling the Pitzel situation and determining the fate of missing children who were linked to the Pitzel investigation.
Detective Frank Geyer, a member of the Philadelphia police department, was assigned the responsibility to uncover Holmes’ search for the children. Once he thoroughly examined Holmes’s murder castle, it began to gain significant attention from the public. The discovery of remains solidified Holmes’s fate in the minds of people. Subsequently, Holmes faced trial for the Pitzel massacre, and later confessed to the crime. He was eventually convicted for multiple murders committed in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Toronto. Furthermore, Holmes stood trial for six attempted murders.
In exchange for a confession, Holmes received $7,500 from The Hearst Newspapers, which is equivalent to $197,340 in today’s dollars. Throughout his life, Holmes provided conflicting accounts and claimed innocence, often stating that he was possessed by Satan. His constant lies made it difficult for researchers to determine the truth based on his statements. On an early May day in 1896, H. H. Holmes was executed by hanging. Before his execution, Holmes consumed three boiled eggs, several pieces of dry toast, and a cup of coffee as his last meal. Even at the gallows, Holmes changed his story once again. He would only admit to killing two people. At precisely 10:13 a.m., the trapdoor opened, and Holmes was hanged. It took 15 minutes for him to strangle to death on the gallows. At the age of 35, Holmes met his demise on the gallows, and all his criminal activities were exposed. The unraveling of this case was initiated by the suspicions of a police informant. Fearing that body-snatchers might try to exploit his corpse, Holmes made a request: he demanded that no postmortem examination be conducted on his body. To ensure this, he instructed his attorneys to bury him in a coffin filled with cement.
Upon Holmes’ death, his coffin was transported to Holy Cross Cemetery in Philadelphia, where Two Pinkerton guards kept watch over the grave the first night. Their purpose was to ensure that Holmes’ body was interred in a double grave that had been filled with cement. No markers were placed to indicate Holmes’ burial spot; instead, it was duly noted in the cemetery registry. Despite various offers, Holmes’ attorneys refused to entertain any proposals concerning his body. Furthermore, they declined to send Holmes’ brain to Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute, which had hoped to conduct expert analysis on his organs in order to gain insights into his criminal mind.
After Holmes’ execution, a sequence of peculiar occurrences took place, lending credibility to rumors regarding Holmes’ madness. These events included multiple bizarre deaths and fires at the District Attorney’s Office. All documentation related to Holmes’ murderous escapades was eradicated. The public became captivated by the infamous location known as the Chicago Murder Castle. Former police officers opted to remodel the notorious structure and labeled it as “Holmes’s Horror Castle.” This revamped establishment was intended to serve as an attraction, providing guided tours to witness its suffocation chambers and torture rooms.
Before the completion of the castles’ renovation, they mysteriously burned to the ground. Furthermore, in December 1910, Marion Hedgepeth was fatally shot by a police officer in a Chicago saloon holdup, soon after receiving a pardon for his collaboration with Holmes. The former caretaker of the Murder Castle’s death was reported by the Chicago Tribune in March 1914, yet numerous mysteries surrounding Holmes’ murder castle remained unanswered. Notably, Holmes was regarded as one of the earliest and most notorious serial killers.
It was horrific what he did, resulting in the loss of many lives. His desire for a secured burial plot was a demonstration of both his madness and intelligence. The most applicable theory to describe H. H. Holmes would be psychological trait theory. My research did not mention any drug use or a troubled childhood for Herman; it just mentioned his father’s alcoholism. Given this information, the Psychological Trait Theory would be most suitable for understanding H. H. Holmes, H. H.
Holmes exhibited signs of a mental disorder and displayed aspects of personality development indicative of his condition. His reasoning process was flawed, resulting in irrational behavior. Moreover, his perception of right and wrong was distorted, implicating the role of Moral and Developmental theory in his crimes. It is important to note that as Holmes was growing up, he made decisions to engage in fraudulent activities that eventually escalated to murder. References: http://www. harpers. org/archive/1943/12/0020617 Borowski, John, (November 2005). Estrada, Dimas. Ed. The Strange Case of Dr. H. H. Holmes: World’s First Serial Killer.
West Hollywood, California: Waterfront Productions. “H. H. Holmes Biography.” 2011 (A&E Television Networks) http://www.biography.com/articles/H.-H.-Holmes-307622?part=1
Holmes, H. H. Holmes Own Story. Burk & McFetridge, 1895.
Ramsland, Katherine. “H. H. Holmes: Master of Illusion.” http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/history/holmes/.html
Schechter, Harold, (August 2008). Depraved: The Definitive True Story of H. H. Holmes, Who’s Grotesque Crimes Shattered Turn-of-the-Century Chicago (2nd Ed.). New York: Pocket Books