|April 15, 1896, Indiana State Journal, page 2|
Why the Legend of Holmes Endures
In reality, few serial killers fit the popular conception provided by fiction: that of the intelligent hunter. Most are misfits who prey on the vulnerable.
Holmes, however, wore the mask of success: an entrepreneur and a small town kid made good. He was a medical doctor, a stylish dresser, well-spoken and literate, a charmer, and a lady's man.
He was also a sadist, a polygamist and a murderer who killed friends, lovers, colleagues and their children.
Holmes's appearance on the national stage came at the perfect moment for him to acquire infamy. In a war for circulation, newspapers engaged in yellow journalism and strove to come up with the most sensational stories. While awaiting execution, William Randolph Hearst paid Holmes the unheard of sum of $7500 at the time for the rights to print his life story, over $200,000 in today's money. And Holmes did present a lurid confession to twenty-seven murders -- even though several of his "victims" were still living.
Holmes was not America's first serial killer, but he was the first cross-country killer. States that could lay claim to his infamy included: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Colorado and Iowa, along with Canada, and possible crimes in Rhode Island, New York and Texas. Newspapers from every region played up his local connections.
His story played out over the course of a year and a half in such a way that there were regularly newer and more horrific revelations. First, he was arrested for insurance fraud and his polygamy made him a national scandal. Then, it became clear that several of his associates and family were missing. Although murder was suspected, he was only convicted of fraud and received a short sentence. Then, while Holmes served his time, an intrepid detective undertook a meticulous manhunt for three children who disappeared while in Holmes' care, uncovering their bodies in Toronto and Indianapolis. Rumors of others victims came forward and the demented building Holmes constructed was scoured and the body count grew. The newspapers declared the building a "Murder Castle."
Why does the legend of Holmes endure? He was a suave, debonair killer whose fiendishness captured the imagination. He strung along his victims, torturing them with the hope of freedom. The detectives assigned to his case regularly underestimated his viciousness. The greater the innocence, the crueler his crimes. He often killed for no apparent reason or just for his amusement. Whether considering the documented truth or the elaborate fiction of his story, he displayed a cruelty so depraved that he invaded the psyche to become America's bogeyman.
Holmes was the genuine nightmare.
In my novel, A Predator's Game, (first chapter) I have created a fictionalized Holmes, more in line with the master criminal, Professor Moriarty. Adam Selzer of Mysterious Chicago, who has published several treatises on Holmes, describes him as more of a Walter White character than a Hannibal Lecter. There is some truth in this. Holmes was a professional who engaged in business dealings wherein murder became the less complicated option. But there was more to Holmes, somewhere between known and the unknowable.
In this blog, I have been trying to demystify the story of Holmes. Here are the entries thus far:
Holmes at the University of Vermont, Burlington
Holmes at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (part one)
Holmes at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (part two)
Holmes at the University of Michigan, supplemental material
New York Herald, 1895. An astrologer attempts to explain Holmes' destiny
I have gone on to examine the twenty-seven murders to which Holmes confessed.
A Predator's Game is available in soft-cover and ebook editions through Amazon and other online retailers.
A Predator's Game, now available, Rook's Page Publishing.
Back page blurb.
When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.
Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, will be available from Rook's Page Publishing, March 30, 2016. It features Nikola Tesla as detective.
His recent mystery, Never Kill A Friend, is available from Ransom Note Press. His epic poem, Two Mistakes, won second place in the 2015 Margaret Reid/Tom Howard Poetry Competition. He can be contacted at email@example.com.