Dr. Holmes was the world’s first serial killer who ran a hotel in Chicago that he turned into his own torture house claiming to have murdered 200 people.
Though his crimes are said to pre-date the elusive Jack the Ripper, who murdered and mutilated prostitutes in Victorian London, Holmes isn’t as well known and that might be due to the fact versus fiction in his story.
Dr. Holmes’s real name was Herman Webster Mudgett, but was better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes or simply H. H. Holmes. Born May 16, 1861, Holmes arrived in Chicago by the time he was 25, in 1886, and became owner of what was supposedly called the ‘World’s Fair Hotel’ which also became known as ‘The Murder Castle’.
Dr Holmes’ story pre-dates Jack the Ripper by a few years, at least in terms of preparation for his torture house, but his first murder was around Christmas Eve of 1891 when he murdered his mistress, Julia Smythe.
This would mean Jack the Ripper actually beat his to it and is in fact the world’s first serial killer, but 1891 may not have been Holmes’ first murder so it’s difficult to pin point which of the two was the world’s first serial killer. We are considering Jack the Ripper the first serial killer with Holmes being America’s first serial killer.
By 1892, Holmes had completed construction of a 3-story hotel, complete with a basement and the Murder Castle was born.
The torture house consisted of a first floor store front and a third floor for apartment rooms. The second floor consisted of elaborate torture rooms with a chute that led down to the basement. He also had hinged walls, false partitions, rooms that lead to secret passageways and other rooms that were connected to gas pipes which he used as a gas chamber.
After his victims were torture and/or gassed, he would deliver the bodies to the basement via the chute and there he would place them on surgical tables. Holmes had a background in medical education and earned the right to sell skeletons to medical institutions for illustration and research. This is one of the methods he used to dispose of the bodies. The organs were sold on the black market.
There’s not much information of how he tortured his victims, but it was sure to be pretty grizzly. There’s no precise number of victims, but Holmes did confess to 27 murders. 18 of the murders he confessed to couldn’t be confirmed and some of his claimed victims were actually still alive, making it difficult to give a clear kill count.
1940s pulp magazines claimed he has killed as many as 200 people, but there’s not much more evidence for this number beyond a couple of magazine articles.